The chief negotiators for baseball's major and minor leagues said yesterday that they made progress toward a new working agreement during an all-day meeting in New York, and a contract proposal expected to be delivered to minor league officials today could produce a breakthrough in the stalemate that threatens the 89-year-old marriage between the two sides.
"I felt the day was very productive. . . . I think there's a basis for an agreement on the table," said Mike Moore, chief administrative officer of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues -- the minors' governing body -- after his nearly six-hour, one-on-one session with Bill Murray, Major League Baseball's director of baseball operations.
Murray, after conferring with a committee of major league owners, said last night that he plans to send a contract offer to NAPBL officials today -- a proposal that apparently will satisfy the minors on the dispute's issue of most strenuous debate, that of control.
The majors apparently had been pressing to implement a rigid set of rules regarding minor league travel, working conditions and ownership transfers. Such rules would have brought the minors more directly under Major Commissioner Fay Vincent's control -- although Murray has been quick to point out that the major league ownership committee -- not Vincent -- had proposed the rules.
The minors vigorously resisted, maintaining that the NAPBL should retain its full measure of regulatory powers and that Vincent should continue hands-off leadership. "In a free enterprise system, we have a right to self-governance," NAPBL Commissioner Sal Artiaga said.
Murray said today's contract proposal will include the premise that "the primary role in enforcing. . . . is with the National Association, then the commissioner steps in if there's a problem." He added: "What we're trying to do is find language that satisfies both sides."
Faced with what now seems largely a battle of semantics, minor league officials remained skeptical last night about whether an agreement is imminent. "We're going to be cautious," said Miles Wolff, owner of the Class A Durham (N.C.) Bulls and a member of the NAPBL executive committee. "What they actually write in contracts sometimes isn't what they say they're going to write."
The current Professional Baseball Agreement linking the majors and minors will expire Jan. 11; 56 minor league teams already have seen their contracts with major league parent clubs expire.
According to Moore, three other issues remain unresolved -- none of which should pose a significant threat to a new contract, he said. The major leagues want to limit minor league teams to 136 regular-season games a year, he said, while the minors would like to play 140. The minors have offered to pay the majors five percent of their net ticket revenue beginning in 1992 (approximately $1.5 million); the majors want a larger payment and for the arrangement to begin next year, Moore said.
And while the minors' latest proposal -- delivered to Vincent's office and each major league team last week -- called for a 10-year contract that could be renegotiated in its fourth year, the majors are asking for a three-year arrangement that could be renegotiated in its third year.
"They're things that are important to our people," Moore said. "I don't think they're that important to the major league owners. . . . If the differences that remain are enough to prevent us from coming to an agreement, then it would appear to me that someone does not want to reach an agreement. And it's not us."
The minors' last contract offer included a request that the proposal be sent directly to a vote of major league owners, but Murray apparently has insisted that the process continue through normal negotiating channels. Meanwhile, major league officials say they are planning to begin next season with an alternative minor league system.
Murray said that studies have determined that the majors could set up developmental leagues at spring training sites by next year. Major league officials also have eyed the prospect of establishing new minor league franchises nationwide using college facilities.