Federal mediators will return to New York tomorrow to meet separately with representatives of the players and owners, but no formal negotiations have been scheduled and there appears to be little likelihood that the 19-day-old baseball strike will end any time soon.
John Calhoun Wells, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said yesterday that mediators will continue to work with each side in the hope of finding a way out of the bargaining deadlock, but will not push for formal negotiations until both sides express the desire to resume bargaining.
"If both sides desire a meeting, we'll schedule one," Wells said. "It's their call. I think, at this point, that's the most rational course."
The mediation team is finding out the width of the ideological divide that separates the players and owners. It is so wide that management negotiator Richard Ravitch again confirmed yesterday that the owners would continue to push for "cost certainty," even at the risk of canceling the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
"It's very important to do everything possible to end this dispute," Ravitch said during an afternoon conference call with reporters, "but not at the expense of carrying the present system over into next year."
That is where the dispute has stood for the past two months. The owners say they are rock solid on a salary cap. The players say they will not play baseball until that salary cap proposal is taken off the table. End of any productive conversation.
The strike is close to reaching the point where both sides will have to face the possibility of losing tens of millions of dollars in postseason revenue, but there has been no indication from either side that the short-term economic impact is severe enough to jump-start the talks.
Ravitch continues to crusade for "cost certainty," and yesterday he trotted out statistics to dispute the union contention that a similar NFL salary cap restricts player movement. The statistics, provided by the NFL Players Association, show that player mobility has improved with the salary cap, but the Major League Baseball Players Association has asserted that the caps in the NFL and NBA have been detrimental to the economic interests of the players in those sports.
Regardless of who's right, the baseball negotiations don't figure to turn on such information. The players recently presented their own economic report to dispute ownership predictions of financial instability, but it led to nothing more than a day or two of favorable publicity. Ownership's defense of the salary cap proposal yesterday figures to have even less impact.
The owners still hold out hope that the players suddenly will realize that a salary cap is better than a lengthy strike, but it appears that they again may be underestimating the resolve of the union.
"During the meetings last week, many of the owners came away feeling that the players still feel that the owners will eventually fold," Ravitch said. "The players need to know that the owners are not going to fold this time. If they realize that the owners are not going to fold, perhaps they will address the central issue."
In short, management is still banking on the players to fold, though they are better prepared to sit out the rest of the season than the players who sat for 50 days in 1981.
Of course, the players also may have been guilty of underestimating the owners, who have forced themselves to remain unified with a rule that requires a 75 percent vote to approve a settlement.
"The only awareness I have of owners that don't think the percentage of revenue approach is necessary is through the press," Ravitch said. "I haven't heard from one owner who thinks we should abandon the issue."
The owners will hold a conference call today to discuss the negotiations, but there is little reason to expect that it will lead to a modification of their proposal.
Ravitch is expected to be joined by a small group of owners for tomorrow's meeting. Union officials will meet with the mediation team later in the day.
BASEBALL STRIKE DAY 19
News of the day
With 10 percent of the regular season canceled, federal mediators said they will meet separately tomorrow with players and owners.
Players association executive director Donald Fehr acknowledged that the union has thought about having players return to the field for the remainder of the regular season, collect the rest of their salaries and then strike the postseason. Players are paid their entire salaries by the time the regular season ends.
"We've played with the notion but not seriously," he said.
Nine games were canceled yesterday. The total number missed is 232. Only 437 remain on the schedule.
"I like caps, but I prefer yarmulkes." -- Comedian Jackie Mason, asked by reporters at last week's strike talks what he thought about salary caps
Today in the minors
* Durham at Frederick, 7:05 p.m.
* Hickory at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
* Prince William at Wilmington, 7:05 p.m.