The executive board of the Major League Baseball Players Association today voted to strike on Tuesday Aug. 6 unless the union has reached a new collective bargaining agreement with club owners by then.
After a four-hour meeting of the 30-member executive board here, Donald Fehr, acting director of the players association, emphatically said: "I do not feel a strike is inevitable. I think there's at least a chance we can find a way through this . . . unless a strike is what the other side wants."
"We regret the players' decision to set an Aug. 6 strike date," Lee MacPhail, president of management's Player Relations Committee, said in a statement released in Minneapolis, site of Tuesday's All-Star Game. "We are and have been ready to collectively address the problems confronting us. We do not want a strike. It would be a failure on both our parts and unfair to our fans.
"We will make every reasonable effort consistent with our obligation to the game and the public to reach an agreement before the Aug. 6 deadline."
Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said he hopes a strike can be adverted. " . . . I am confident both sides are reasonable and ethical and that they will find an ultimate area of agreement," he said. "For the fans' sake especially, I hope the negotiations will go very well."
Ueberroth declined to be specific about what actions he might take in the negotiations.
Fehr said what he hopes will be "ongoing and rather intensive" negotiations with MacPhail and the owners will resume July 18. Fehr repeatedly assailed what he described as counterproductive negotiating tactics by the club owners, and added:
"There is more than enough time to reach an appropriate collective bargaining agreement that would avoid that occurrence . . . if the owners have any interest in trying to do that . . . "
If no agreement is reached before Aug. 6, Fehr said major league play would be suspended that day. It would be the second strike for major league baseball in five seasons and the fourth overall. In 1981, major league players struck for 50 days beginning in mid-June, forcing cancellation of 712 games.
Fehr said the Aug. 6 date did not have unanimous support from the board. "One player rep opposed the specific date chosen," he said. "He was in favor of a later date."
Most of the players who attended today's session at the O'Hare Hilton would not comment on the meeting, in which players discussed the possibility of striking the All-Star Game.
Fehr said the players at one point "strongly considered" not playing the the game.
He added that even though it is supposed to be special game for the fans, "it is only one game and it goes to the owners," citing 100 percent of the gate receipts and $20 million in television revenue for the owners, versus $2 million for the players.
"You're asking why then is the game being played? The fans enjoy it. And on that basis, the players wanted to see it played."
The few players who did comment publicly were asked about possible fan reaction. "Everybody thinks we're hard-liners, but the key is to get a settlement as fast as we can," Rick Honeycutt of the Los Angeles Dodgers said.
Jerry Reuss of the Dodgers was asked if the players are sympathetic to the fans. "We're especially sensitive to the fans," he said. "We're the ones who hear them cheer and we're the ones who hear them boo. It is a sport, but it's also a business and at the same time it's a collective bargaining issue."
Fehr also was asked about baseball fans, and if he cared that a prolonged strike, into the football season, could damage the sport much more than a mid-season strike in 1981.
"Do I think about it? Yes. Do I hope they come back? Yes," he said. "But do you make collective bargaining decisions based on that? No."
Although both sides have been meeting regularly since their contract expired, there has been little discussion of issues: minimum salary, salary arbitration, free agency, pensions and other benefits. Instead, negotiators have bogged down in financial analyses as first the owners, then the players, brought in consultants to examine the financial status of the 26 clubs.
Fehr said the players' association has "virtually" completed its study of the owners' financial books, and that report -- prepared by Roger Noll, a Stanford University economics professor -- will be presented to the owners by Thursday. It might be made public -- at least in part -- by Friday.
Fehr said one general conclusion of Noll's report is that baseball "is robust and healthy" financially.
The players association refutes the owners' claim that escalating salaries are threatening the financial health of the sport. And Fehr again outlined some of the major issues.
Among the players' demands, he said, are an increase in salary for minor leaguers, an increase in the pension of retired major leaguers, expanded health care coverage for minor leaguers, and an expansion commitment from the owners.
He said, "The premise of the bargaining is to hold down salaries . . . If there are imbalances in the salary structure -- that is, that they don't represent sound investment -- the market must correct itself.
"The owners say revenue is increasing at a rate of 5 percent per year while salaries are increasing 15 percent per year. That's just not true. Noll tells us ordinary economics is already beginning to take hold . . . The 1985 projection is for the salary increase rate to be between 9 and 11 percent."
Fehr also criticized Ueberroth, who told a national television audience on Sunday, "a strike is a failure . . . It's not a strike date; it's a failure date. It means both sides have failed to come together . . . "
Fehr countered, "That's true only if both sides are doing everything they can. (The owners') posture from the beginning has been, 'We'll talk to you tomorrow, if not then, maybe next week. Maybe.' "
He went on to say that Ueberroth has so little interest in the situation that he "doesn't even bother to keep up to date on issues."
And Fehr said the players are not inviting Ueberroth into the negotiations.
He was vague when asked why the players selected Aug. 6, even though it was obvious from talking to some players privately that several dates were discussed.
"It's the date we were most comfortable with," he said, "the date by which we hope to have an agreement, the date on balance that we thought gave us the best chance to get an agreement in the fastest possible time. It's a little over three weeks from today, more than enough time to reach an agreement if the owners have any interest in doing that."