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Spirit of Baseball Talks Improves : Strike: Ravitch's role is apparently reduced, but no substantive change occurs.


Representatives of baseball owners and players noted an improved, civil atmosphere during a six-hour negotiating session with special mediator William J. Usery on Thursday, but there was no substantive progress and no indication either side is prepared to change its position on a salary cap.

The only discernible change--aside from the tone--was the appointment of Boston Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington as chairman of the owners' negotiating committee, diminishing the presence of chief negotiator Richard Ravitch.

Both Harrington and Ravitch, whose $750,000-a-year contract expires next month, insisted that Ravitch's role hasn't changed, but Philadelphia pitcher Curt Schilling, one of nine players to attend the session, said of Ravitch: "He didn't say a word the whole time. He just sat there."

A source familiar with the situation said that Usery has come down on both sides at times regarding the frequent sniping and asked the owners to appoint one of their own as spokesman and lead negotiator.

While Harrington's demeanor is far more conciliatory than the sometimes abrasive Ravitch, the move appears more cosmetic than substantive, the source said, since there is no hint of change in the owners' position on the cap or the plan to implement it unilaterally if there is no agreement by Dec. 20, the deadline to tender 1995 contracts.

Thursday's bargaining session at a resort in Rye Brook, N.Y., was only the sixth since the players went on strike Aug. 12.

Usery characterized it as constructive and said: "We have a long way to go to reach an agreement, but in some areas there is a lot of consensus."

Union leader Donald Fehr said he wasn't sure he would call it a consensus. "To the extent there was agreement, it was only to say we might have done better with our approach to this issue or that issue," he said.

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