Owners of major league baseball's 26 teams will convene today in New York in their first such gathering since the players' strike began June 12, but the prospects of the meeting's leading to a settlement remain clouded.
At the owners' invitation, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn will attend their meeting, set for 5 p.m. in New York. There was no response from his office yesterday on a suggestion from 14 congressmen that he intervene in the strike and have the issue of compensation for free agents be submitted to binding arbitration.
"From everything I hear, it will be a very constructive meeting," said George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. "It will be a chance for everyone to ask questions and offer advice, if they have advice."
But asked if he thought a new negotiating proposal would be forthcoming from the meeting, Steinbrenner said that would be left to Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator and the director of the owners' Player Relations Committee.
"We've pretty much given him carte blanche," said Steinbrenner, one of eight club owners to call for the meeting. Earlier this week, Grebey had said there would be no new proposals coming from the gathering of owners, and he said the meeting had no special significance other than to keep the owners informed on the status of the strike and National Labor Relations Board hearings on player charges that the owners have not bargained in good faith.
Nevertheless, a number of owners are known to have been working quitely behind the scenes in an effort to achieve a consensus on a compromise that would end the walkout, which enters its 28th day today and already has forced cancellation of 338 games.
Testifying before administrative law judge Melvin Welles yesterday on the third day of the NLRB hearings, Grebey said there was no attempt on the part of the owners to do away with the free agent system, the key issue in the strike.
A compensation plan proposed by management would require teams signing free agents to provide the free agent's former team with a replacement player. The players contend this will restrict the bargaining power of the free agents by infliciting a penalty on the teams who sign them.
Testifying in New York yesterday, Grebey described the free agent system as a boon to baseball and said it is here to stay.
"It was not our objective to do damage in any form to free agency," Grebey said. "Free agency is here to stay.We stated unequivocally there was no intent or desire to attack, directly or indirectly, the level of salaries of free agents."
He said the owners support the prnciple of increased compensation to a team losing a free agent in order to help restore competitive balance and to help a team fill a void that would be created by the loss of a quality player.