Fourteen Congressmen, including House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, have written to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn asking that he use his "extraordinary powers" to end the baseball strike and suggested that submitting the key issue of free-agent compensation to binding arbitration might be one way to do so.
The congressmen, most of whom represent cities with major league franchises, said settlement of the strike "does not require a clear winner and a clear loser." It can be settled by compromise, they said, and is thus a good candidate for arbitration.
"It would be difficult to conceive of an event that would have a more devastating impact than a prolonged absence of major league baseball coupled with the public spectacle of bickering players and owners," the congressmen, self-described baseball fans, said.
Their proposal was sent quietly to Kuhn June 26, but as of last night there had been no response from the commissioner's office.
However, word of the letter has been circulating among the baseball owners in recent days and some of them have been discussing the proposal with their representatives on Capitol Hill.
Kuhn was not available for comment last night, but Rep. Wyche Fowler Jr. (D-Ga.), questioned by The Washington Post, said the proposal was his idea and that he solicited the signatures on the document.
"I'm a baseball fan, pure and simple," said Fowler, who follows the Atlanta Braves. "I could have gotten 150 signatures on that letter," he continued, adding he decided to concentrate on congressmen who represent baseball cities. Among the other signers of the letter were congressmen representing Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis, Detroit and New York.
Historically, the letter to Kuhn said, the commission has been able to act swiftly to correct actions while threatened baseball's best interests, and they urged that he do so again to end the strike.
Arguing that a prompt end to the strike is vital to the long-term interest of baseball, the congressmen said the alternative is a hardening of bargaining positions and increasing bitterness among owners, players and fans. "All of this will make a settlement ever more difficult to achieve as time goes on," the letter said.
Meanwhile, player representatives made it clear that they were in full support of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and indicated they were prepared to sit out the entire season, if necessary, before they would give in to the owners' demands on the free-agent compensation issue.
Representatives from the 26 major league clubs met with Marvin Miller, executive director of the players association, for more than four hours last night and unanimously rejected the owners' latest proposal, which calls for direct compensation from a club that signs a ranking free agent.
In other strike-related developments yesterday, the chief negotiator for the baseball owners and there will be no new proposals forthcoming from a meeting of baseball owners set for Thursday and that the primary reason for the gathering is to bring the 26 owners up-to-date on the stalled negotiations and the strike.
"Definitely not," said Ray Grebey, head of the owners' Player Relations Committee, when asked about the possibility of a new proposal. "The owners have no right to do so. The PRC is the only one to do so."
Despite reports that a group of owners would make a pitch for a compromise proposal on the matter of free-agent compensation -- the key issue in the 26-day-old players' strike -- Grebey insisted that the meeting will have no special significance other than to keep the owners informed on the strike and on the status of hearings before the National Labor Relations Board on player charges that the owners have bargained in bad faith.
The owners' meeting -- their first since the strike began June 12 -- came in response to requests from eight club owners, including Edward Bennett Williams of the Baltimore Orioles, that there be such a meeting.
Grebey said the next move is up to the players to respond to the owners' July 4 proposal in which a limit of 12 per year was set on the number of free agents who would require compensation in the form of a professional player. Federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett recessed negotiations indefinitely after the players rejected that proposal, citing that the owners' proposal included a carryover clause -- for example, if only three players opted for free-agency in one year, a maximum of 21 would require compensation the next. Miller called it "so inadequate that it is almost impossible to believe."
Players contend that the owners' demand that a club signing a free agent be required to compensate the club losing him in the form of another player effectively reduces a player's mobility and thus cuts down his ability to negotiate the best possible deal for himself.
Meanwhile, the NLRB hearings on the players' charges of unfair labor practices against the owners entered their second day in New York yesterday before administrative law judge Marvin Welles, a lifelong baseball fan who startled participants and spectators at the close of testimony Monday by asking players Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles and Bob Boone of the Philadelphia Phillies for their autographs.
Testifying yesterday, Calvin Griffith, president of the Minnesota Twins, said he does not believe the free-agent compensation proposal put forth by management will have an impact on the players' bargaining power.
"If a club wants a player, they're going to go after him, no matter what happens," Griffith said. "I say we've got to get a replacement for the fellow we lost."