Owners and representatives of the 26 major league baseball teams met for three hours tonight and emerged saying they had expressed their opinions, some new ideas and support for their chief negotiator, Ray Grebey.
Although it was not discussed at the owners' meeting, perhaps the most significant development today was a proposal for a settlement of the free-agent compensation issue from federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett. The proposal is expected to be discussed when negotiations resume at 2 p.m. Friday.
If there was any dissension or dissatisfaction among the owners, for the most part they closed ranks to deny it. The only hints that everything was not quite rosy came from Edward Bennett Williams of the Baltimore Orioles and Eddie Chiles of the Texas Rangers, two of the eight owners requesting the meeting.
"We had a full meeting, and a full expression of views," said Williams. "I had an opportunity to describe all my views, which is what I wanted. I received that opportunity -- that's all I want to say. I've spent my whole life in contest-living, and one lesson has become embedded very deeply. I've learned to win with humility and to lose with grace."
The implication was that the dissident owners had failed in their attempt to hasten the end of the 28-day-old strike.
As he faced the press with a white napkin wrapped around his brow, Chiles smiled and said, "My head is bloody but unbowed."
Moffett, it was learned, presented his proposal to both sides this morning during the hearings by the National Labor Relations Board on a labor-practice charge against the owners.
The proposal, sources say, combines elements of both the owners' proposal for direct compensation and the players' proposal for pooled compensation, along with ideas that have not been presented previously at the bargaining table.
Although the timing of the proposal leaves the clear indication that Moffett hoped it would be presented to the owners, it was not discussed. Nelson Doubleday, the owner of the New York Mets, said, "Ray said he was handed a piece of paper that was confidential and was not to be discussed until 2 p.m. tomorrow. . . We did not discuss it. He gave his word he would not discuss it. He said he had one copy and left it in his office. Nobody on our side has seen it."
Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, declined any comment on the subject.
There was a feeling the mediator's proposal might well provide the best chance for a settlement that the two sides will have for some time.
After the owners' meeting, Bob Lurie, owner of the San Francisco Giants, said, "I'm very optimistic. Tomorrow should be a telling meeting."
But asked what the basis of his optimism was, Lurie said only, "the renewal of the negotiations."
The owners' meeting was attended by representatives of every club, and chaired by Ed Fitzgerald of the Milwaukee Brewers. Fitzgerald said, "No votes were taken, none were necessary. No views were expressed that were any significant change from any owners that had not previously been expressed." a
Many club officials went out of their way to stress the unity among the owners and the positive nature of the discussion. Peter Bavasi, of the Toronto Blue Jays said facetiously, "It was unanimous: 27-0." Although the owners said some new ideas and new suggestions had come out of the meeting, they said no new formal proposals were made by any group of owners.
Gabe Paul, the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, said, "I'd hate to think we're dumb enough not to express fresh ideas." Asked if those ideas might help end the strike, Paul said, "I don't know if they are fresh enough for that."
Chiles, who has been as outspoken as any owner in the criticism of the strike and the owners' bargaining committee, called the meeting constructive and said he thought it might "contribute a great deal in the settlement of the strike. We gave Grebey some new ideas."
However, when pressed for details later, Chiles said, "I think it will help baseball, the total picture. As for settling the strike, I just don't know. I don't know what it's gonna take to settle the strike.
"I don't think I ever had the position that you had to have a win-or-lose showdown battle. You don't win a war in one night."
Earlier, Miller said at the NLRB hearing that forcing major league owners to release their clubs' financial statements could help end the strike.
Miller testified the union still needs the financial statements, even though 350 games have been missed because of the strike and bargaining appears to be at a standstill.
"We are still bargaining in the dark, without very basic information," said Miller. He was the final witness on the fourth day of a hearing before an administrative law judge of the NLRB on the players' charge of bad-faith bargaining by owners.
In the NLRB case, the players contend the owners' plan to require professional compensation for the loss of a top-quality free agent is rooted in finances.