The long-awaited pension proposal from the major league baseball team owners was delivered today, but Donald Fehr, acting executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was less than enthusiastic about the plan.
"The proposal," Fehr said, "is not one that will do anything but substantially retard any possibility of reaching an agreement. Plain and simply, this is not a proposal designed to do anything except to provoke the reaction that players in the meeting (Montreal's Gary Lucas and Jim Wohlford) had, which is, 'They must be crazy.' "
The plan would increase the owners' contribution to the pension fund from $15.5 million to $25 million per year, but would tie the contribution to increases in salaries. If salaries for all 26 teams increased by more than $13 million, there would be a corresponding decrease in the amount the owners would contribute to the pension fund.
For example, if salaries increased by $14 million -- $1 million over the limit -- then the owners' contribution would drop by $1 million, to $24 million. Salaries for 1985-88 are expected to increase on an average of $34 million per year, according to the owners. Using the owners' system, if salaries increased by $38 million, which clearly is not out of the realm of possibility, the owners would not have to contribute to the pension fund.
"Theoretically, it could happen," said Lee MacPhail, head of the Player Relations Committee and chief negotiator for the owners. "We don't foresee the salaries increasing that much. But (the players) don't get it both ways. They either get it in salaries or as part of the benefit contribution. Again, the clubs can't afford to pay twice."
Said Fehr, "In a real way, what (the owners) can expect to happen is that their pension contributions would go down. It could go down to nothing. That's how you move the ball along? You (the owners) get four times the money from the national TV package and the pension contribution goes down?"
MacPhail acknowledged that the effect of the proposal was the same as a salary cap. That proposal still is on the table but would be dropped if the union accepted this plan.
The union has threatened to strike Aug. 6 unless it has a signed agreement. The union wants the pension contribution raised to $60 million a year, which is one-third of the $1.1 billion network contract signed before the 1984 season. The owners have traditionally -- but not contractually -- contributed one-third of the TV money to the pension fund.
In noting that the owners' proposal would be a 60 percent increase in the contribution, MacPhail said, "Our objective -- as we've told the players association for some time -- is to get the clubs back to the break-even point in 1988. Therefore, we've constructed a system which will take into account our projections for the economic future and also consider their projections. Whatever happens with salaries would be reflected in the benefit (pension) contribution.
"They've been after us all year about when were we going to make a specific money proposal. We have done that. We're still waiting for them to make any adjustment in their figure, which has been one-third since December."
The look on Fehr's face appeared to say that no adjustment would be coming too soon, especially given the rest of the owners' proposal. The written proposal that he was given in the afternoon session was, he said, substantially different than the one discussed in an informal session the two sides held in the morning. He seemed greatly disturbed by the change, but wouldn't go into details.
The owners' proposal would abolish the re-entry draft. Also under the proposal, there would be no major league player compensation for a team losing a free agent. The compensation would be in the form of amateur draft picks.