CHICAGO — Responding to a lack of progress in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in baseball, the executive board of the Major League Players Assn. voted strike authorization Thursday.
Don Fehr, the union's executive director, found what he was looking for during a 4 1/2-hour meeting in the ballroom of an airport hotel.
Player representatives from 24 of the 26 teams--Baltimore and Oakland were playing an afternoon game in Oakland--unanimously voted authorization.
"A strike would be unfortunate, but I have a terrible feeling we've seen all this before," Fehr said, alluding to the 50-day strike of 1981. "Nothing seems to matter to the owners unless deadlines are set. I wish it was otherwise, but it obviously isn't."
Fehr will begin a cross-country tour today at Wrigley Field, where he will brief the Chicago Cubs on negotiation progress and ask them to vote on the question of a future strike.
Fehr could technically call a strike on his own now, but he said he feels obligated to meet with all of his constituents.
He estimated that it will take him two to three weeks to canvass the 26 teams and said that no strike will begin before July 1.
He said that the executive board discussed several dates--including a boycott of the All-Star game and a September strike that would jeopardize the playoffs and World Series. "As of now there is no consensus," he added.
"It has always been our position that a strike is the last alternative," Fehr said. "We will first exhaust every and all means (of reaching a settlement), but the owners should understand the possible consequences of their failure to bargain realistically."
Said Atlanta catcher Bruce Benedict, voicing a prevalent theme: "The players don't want a strike--it's the farthest thing from our minds--but it would be foolish on the part of the owners to think we won't again stick together on this."
Angel pitcher Ron Romanick said the players were unified on another point as well.
"The owners' one and only proposal is totally unacceptable," he said.
That eight-point proposal, including a salary-cap concept, was made Monday.
Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that was signed after the 1981 strike and expired Dec, 31, 1984, had started in November.
The next negotiating session is set for May 31 in New York City. The owners, it was learned, will meet there May 29.
Former American League President Lee MacPhail, who represents the owners, was attending a son's wedding in Ashville, N.C., Thursday, but the following statement was released by his New York office:
"I'm not surprised at the authorization vote. Don Fehr told me he would ask for strike authorization, and I knew they would give it to him if he asked.
"I'd naturally prefer that we had not reached this stage, but it should not affect the continued negotiations toward a settlement."
Angel owner Gene Autry, reached at his Palm Springs hotel, said that conversations with his players have led him to the opinion that neither side wants a strike.
He said that he hopes to be better informed after the meeting May 29 but is certain that the owners remain better equipped to handle a strike.
"A strike only hurts the players," he said. "Some of them are making so much money now I don't know if they can afford to stay out another 40 or 50 days."
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who recently urged owners to reveal their financial records in an attempt to show players that baseball is in jeopardy, said Thursday that he will not mediate a strike.
Ueberroth told the news services that his role would be to "keep the rhetoric down and keep the two sides at the table."
Fehr said that the authorization vote was taken because:
--The owners have made only one proposal since Nov. 14 and have yet to make a substantive offer regarding the major issues of the negotiation, which are (1) TV revenue and the pension plan, (2) free agency, (3) salary arbitration, (4) minimum salaries and (5) expansion.
Said Fehr: "I can only assume that the owners' delay tactics stem from their inability to reach a consensus on how and what they should negotiate, and a belief that the players still can be intimidated."
--The owners proposed a salary cap, which he said was a blatant attempt to emasculate free agency and roll back salaries. Fehr said that the concept, if it had been activated in 1984, would have prevented 13 teams from signing free agents because their player payroll was more than the 26-team average.
"It also asks for the elimination of incentive bonuses and deprives the players of the right to renegotiate or renew a contract before it expires," Fehr said. "It's a mockery. It destroys the free-market system for players."
--The owners' claim that they will lose $42 million this year and $155 million by 1988 has not been substantiated by Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, who is studying the financial records that the owners recently provided the union.