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Recess Is Called as Talks Stagnate : Baseball: Federal mediators recommend break after owners and union leaders bring nothing new to the table.

August 26, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Do baseball's collective bargaining negotiations need a mediator or mortician?

The situation wasn't entirely clear Thursday, when federal mediators recommended a recess only a day and a half after the talks had resumed for the first time since the players' strike began Aug. 12.

Although there may now be some meaningful activity behind the scenes, sources said formal negotiations are unlikely to resume before Tuesday or Wednesday, possibly in Washington.

"There was no movement and no indication of movement," Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, said as the recess began Thursday.

Not quite true.

It seemed that many of the 12 owners and club executives who had joined the process on Wednesday couldn't wait to get moving.

They had previously scheduled flights to catch, as did some of the 14 players, down from the 21 of Wednesday.

Brett Butler, the Dodgers' assistant player representative, didn't attend Thursday's session because of a meeting with his financial advisers.

Curt Schilling, the Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher, was angry.

"I'm upset," he said. "I want to play baseball. A lot of us were willing to stay as many hours as it took, but we had the feeling that a lot of the owners wanted to leave and there was just no movement.

"It's just my opinion, but I don't think there's going to be anymore baseball played this season."

The union, of course, has thought that was the owners' agenda all along, forcing the players to strike by refusing to waive their right to ultimately declare an impasse and unilaterally impose their salary-cap system.

For the first time Thursday, Fehr agreed publicly with two oft-mentioned premises:

--The owners agreed to mediation only as a demonstration of good-faith bargaining in the event the union claims otherwise in protesting an impasse declaration.

--Although knowing the union will never accept it, the owners have refused to take the salary cap off the table because, in an impasse situation, labor law requires management to implement its last formal offer, and the cap is paramount to their new system.

"I look on it as evidence they don't want to reach agreement," Fehr said of the owners' refusal to budge on the cap because of the impasse option. "As I see it, the clubs are exactly where they planned to be."

With the sides polarized, John Calhoun Wells, national director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said he recommended a recess after about two hours of talks Thursday morning.

He said he would stay in contact with both sides and hoped they could continue deliberations in smaller groups.

The union was willing to stay at it Thursday, but the owners jumped at the recess opportunity, Fehr said. Richard Ravitch, the owners' chief negotiator, said both sides agreed to it.

"The size of the room never determines the success of a negotiation," Ravitch said, meaning breakthroughs are more likely in a quieter and less congested situation. Owners and players first had to consult a seating chart before bargaining began on Wednesday and Thursday.

Although lawyers agreed that something positive could emerge from an ongoing dialogue in a fireside format, none were scheduled as of Thursday night, and Fehr said the recess could be a long one.

"We're not at a point where people walked out in a huff, but clearly we had nothing substantive to talk about," he said.

"Their response to everything we say is, 'So, are you ready to give us a salary cap?' I mean, we knew going in that these meetings would mostly produce a cheering section for Dick and the cap, and that's mostly what it was."

Ravitch continued to insist that there will be no sign-off on the impasse option because the owners believe they can't afford to play next season under the old rules, and that there will be no progress in these negotiations until the issue of cost is resolved.

"The owners are clearly unanimous on that," he said.

The unanimity is holding, but several high-revenue clubs remain frustrated by their colleagues' refusal to compromise on the cap and their inability to do anything about it.

A settlement must by approved by 21 of the 28 clubs, meaning the bigger markets are being held hostage by the smaller markets as time marches on.

Labor Day is dead, and the rest of the season may follow.

On Day 14 of the strike, Boston Red Sox CEO John Harrington said no deadline has been set for determining the fate of postseason play, but it's clearly being thought about.

"We still have several weeks before hitting the hard wall, but the pressure builds up the closer we get to mid-September," he said.

He added that it was unlikely that the postseason could be delayed, leading to a possible November World Series played at a neutral site because of weather or stadium commitment.

Reached in Milwaukee, acting commissioner Bud Selig said he wasn't discouraged by the recess. He credited the mediators with good judgment in suggesting an impromptu approach for a time, saying the two days of discussion underscored his contention that there is unanimity on both sides.

"I think that should be obvious now," he said. "We have to get past that debate and settle the real issues."

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

* NHL TALKS TOUGH

If there is no progress soon in stalled collective bargaining talks, commissioner says training camps might not open. C13

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