Baseball's 26 major league owners, who suddenly seem unified in a hard-line approach to free agency and a refusal to give contracts of more than three years, now appear to be of one mind on another budget-cutting procedure.
All 26 teams are considering the reduction of their regular-season rosters from 25 players to 24.
The collective bargaining agreement between management and the Major League Players Assn. permits the clubs to carry either 24 or 25.
The clubs have had the option for several years, but there was apparent concern among individual clubs that any team going to 24 players would be at a disadvantage with those staying at 25.
There also was an apparent absence of financial responsibility and direction. Now there is stronger leadership from Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and the owners' Player Relations Committee.
Barry Rona, the PRC's legal council, said Monday that a memo regarding cost-saving methods was sent to the clubs when the season ended.
He said that a roster reduction was among the suggestions and that he has since received calls from many of the clubs seeking confirmation that they can go to 24.
The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, the last and first-place teams, respectively, in the American League East, already have announced their intention to carry 24.
Other clubs are said to be considering it, among them the Angels and Dodgers.
Publicist Tim Mead discussed the subject with Angel General Manager Mike Port Monday, then said that a decision hadn't been made.
"It's not a priority," Mead said. "It's not a pivotal issue. Mike pointed out that there are many times during the season when you carry 25 players but have only 18 to 22 available because of injuries and other factors."
Dodger Vice President Al Campanis said his team will make a decision before the start of spring training.
He said the Dodgers had decided to carry only 24 players a few years ago, then went back to 25 in spring training when no other club supported the move. Now, Campanis said, there is a stronger awareness and concern for the industry's overall financial problems.
"We're talking money," he said. "We're talking about a club saving, perhaps, $340,000 in salary, plus travel expenses . . . planes, meals, hotels and spring training. It's a lot of money compared to what it used to be. And I don't think that some clubs realized how much some of the others were losing until the books were opened (during the collective bargaining negotiations)."
The exact amount a club might save would depend on the salary, on whether the 25th player was a rookie earning the $60,000 major league minimum or an experienced utility man making closer to the average major league salary of $371,157.
Campanis said he thought that most National League clubs would still carry 10 pitchers, cutting either a third catcher or extra infielder or outfielder.
In the American League, where the designated hitter reduces the number of pitching moves, the majority of clubs might carry only nine pitchers, he said.
Would a 24-man roster be easier on American League teams because of the designated hitter?
"I think it might be the opposite," Campanis said. "I think it might have more impact in the American League because a number of those teams have both a left-and right-handed DH and often use both in the same game. They might have to decide that they can't afford that luxury anymore."
Asked if he would be concerned about carrying 24 if the Cincinnati Reds or San Diego Padres were still carrying 25, Campanis said, "No, not at all. I think it still comes down to the quality of the players. I think that everyone will still have the same number of pitchers, and that's 75% of the game."
Campanis also said that a 24-man roster, coupled with the elimination of virtually all the interleague trading deadlines, might trigger a flood of mid-spring deals involving the 25th or fringe players.
It is the fringe player who is expected to suffer most amid the owners' new restraint regarding free agency. Only 13 of the 62 players eligible for free agency have signed. The players' association is concerned more by this apparent collusion among the owners than the possibility of a reduced roster.
A continuing lack of movement might prompt the union to challenge baseball's antitrust immunity.
Union legal counsel Gene Orza alluded to the scarcity of free-agent signings Monday and said: "We're patient, but we're monitoring it. You can expect a response if it doesn't change."
Of the possibility that the owners will go to a 24-player roster, Orza said: "They've had that prerogative for some time. We're not troubled by it."
He said there would be more concern and a greater impact on employment if each organization reduced the roster limit on protected players, now at 40.