The executive board of the major league baseball players' union today carried out recent threats by voting unanimously to authorize a players' strike vote.
No date was set for a possible walkout by the 650 major league players, although Don Fehr, the union's executive director, said, "If nothing changes, I would suspect the board to act some time after July 1."
Technically, Fehr said he could call a strike at any time. However, he said no strike would be called until after he has met with players from each of the major leagues' 26 teams, beginning with the Chicago Cubs here on Friday. He said he will not finish his talks with each of the 26 teams until "mid-June."
"The executive board doesn't just go off half-cocked and make decisions," said Philadelphia pitcher Kent Tekulve, who is a member of the board. "I feel strongly that the players will back our decision."
The next meeting between the players' union and owners is scheduled for May 31 in New York. The owners will convene in New York two days earlier.
"(A strike) would be unfortunate. All of us who have been through this before (during the 50-day strike in 1981) . . . have a terrible feeling that we have seen this all before," Fehr said at a packed news conference at the O'Hare Hilton.
"The owners have left us with the feeling that nothing much matters unless deadlines have been set. We had thought it would be different this time. From all indications that we have, it is not."
Lee MacPhail, president of the owners' Players' Relations Committee, was attending his son's wedding in Ashville, N.C., and was unavailable to comment. However, the PRC released the following statement, quoting MacPhail, "I'm not surprised at the strike authorization vote. Don Fehr told me he would ask for strike authorization and I knew if he asked for one, he would get it. Naturally, I prefer that we had not reached this stage, but it should not affect our continued negotiations toward a settlement."
Negotiators for players and owners have made little progress in replacing the collective bargaining agreement that expired Dec. 31. On Monday, owners proposed an eight-point plan that included a salary cap that would limit a team's ability to acquire players as free agents or through trades. The players' union instantly had a negative reaction.
Today, the players' executive board, which is made up of representatives from each team plus a handful of other players who were elected at large, created a one-page resolution that touched on all related points of dispute.
The resolution described the salary cap as "a blatant attempt to destroy the free agent market for players and to turn back the clock to a bygone era."
The resolution also stated that if the salary cap had been in effect last year 13 teams would have been unable to sign free agents: Atlanta, Baltimore, California, both Chicago teams, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, Montreal, New York Yankees, Oakland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Marvin Miller, the players' union executive director during the 50-day strike of 1981 and now an advisor to the union, said of the salary cap, "The 14 or 16 teams that would be knocked out (by the proposed salary cap) have signed 90 percent of the free agents. So then you say to yourself, 'Who will be able to sign free agents among the teams at the bottom of the (player salaries') list?' "
The owners disclosed last week that major league teams lost $42 million last year and could lose $155 million by 1988. The owners recently allowed the players' union to examine their financial records.
Fehr said the analysis of the records has not been completed by Roger Noll, a Stanford University economics professor who has been retained by the players' union.
"But our preliminary advice from Prof. Roger Noll," said Fehr, "has said that the owners' forecast of future calamity is 'essentially without merit.' "
In its resolution, the players' union also reaffirmed the players' right to receive a one-third share of the league's national television package for their pension plan.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was in Springfield, Ill., today told reporters he would not act as a mediator in the strike talks.
Fehr said, "It's always been the position of this organization that a strike is the last alternative. But the owners should understand that if they leave the players no alternative that the players must take the only alternative they have."