The executive board of the Major League Baseball Players Association will meet Monday in Chicago to discuss prospects for settling the 44-day-old strike.
Right now, those prospects don't look good. Don Fehr, the general counsel for the players association, said he expected members of the bargaining committee would begin a "cross-country jaunt" after the meeting "to meet with the players on a regional basis."
Fehr said that although no final decision has been made, he expects the meetings to last from five to 12 days, during which time negotiations would be difficult. "I don't want to say impossible," Fehr said, "but I don't know what point there would be in further meetings.
"When things break down, if nothing else, you've got a moral obligation to tell them (players) why."
It is a sad time for baseball, and you could hear it in the voices of the people who spent four days in Washington this week, thinking that, finally, there might be a settlement. During Thursday's day-long session, Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan tossed a box of pretzels to National League President Club Feeney, who dropped it. Pretzel crumbs, torn proposals and wasted hopes lay all over the floor.
American League President Lee MacPhail said, "You have to feel very discouraged by the events of this week."
Eddie Chiles, the owner of the Texas Rangers, said, "I've kissed it (the season) off. I won't say we won't get back in the field at all, but it will be an exercise in futility. It will be a fictitious kind of a thing, a papier mache thing."
About the only optimistic note came from Chicago White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn, who echoed what Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, said when the talks broke off Thursday: "Both sides are very close. There is still a good chance for an agreement."
Einhorn suggested that Marvin Miller, the executive director of the players association, is the obstacle to a settlement. "I'm convinced he does not want to give in because he wants to go out with an umblemished record."
Mark Belanger, the Orioles' player representative, begged to differ. In part, Belanger said, the owners want to weaken the players' association before the bigger battles, such as over cable-television revenue, come to the fore. "They also believe this is Marvin's last year," he said, and, according to Belanger, they want to get him while they can.
The repercussions of the strike are potentially much greater than the personalities involved, or the 512 games that have been canceled. People are just beginning to talk about them. Some have begun not only to talk about a new season but about new leagues.
On the first day of the strike, June 12, Miller received a letter from the two league presidents notifying him that, "Due to the strike called by the Major League Baseball Players Association, we must regretfully announce that effective of June 12, that portion of the 1981 major-league championship season scheduled from this date is canceled until further notice."
Dick Moss, a consulting attorney for the players' association, contends that, by doing so, the owners may have called into question the legality of the contracts of all 650 players. "They (the contracts) are voidable . . . If the contracts are void, the players are free to play for anybody," he said.
MacPhail said, "He can make that claim and go file a free-agency claim if he thinks it has any substance to it." MacPhail does not.
MacPhail said the letter was sent to signify that lost games would not be made up and because of the service credit issue. According to the Basic Agreement, players receive credit for service time if they are on the active roster during the championship season. "If there is no championship season, there is no service time," MacPhail said.
The optimism that surrounded the talks early in the day was due in large part to the belief that the owners had, finally, as MacPhail put it, "embraced" the players' pool concept. During the talks Thursday, progress was made in some significant areas and, because of that, Belanger said, "I felt we were close. They were actually talking. They've talked before but we've never been that close."
But, the talks broke down, "boom, like that," federal mediator Kenneth Moffett said. What happened? For one thing, the public statements made by two players criticizing their bargaining team became an issue. There was some speculation that those remarks might have stiffened the owners' resistance.
For another thing, the owners made a "pool proposal" that the players said was not really a pool proposal.
MacPhail said some members of the board of directors of the Player Relations Committee worked yesterday on putting that proposal into writing for the players.
Fehr said the proposal meant that a team signing a free agent could lose one player for every quality free agent it signed plus one other player.
MacPhail said the proposal stipulated that a club could lose only one player a year as compensation.
Fehr said, "If that's the case, they've changed the proposal."
Still, he said, the players' counterproposal was "our bottom line and past it. That's why it broke off . . . It was a sad day."