NEW YORK -- There they were again, ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch and players union chief Donald Fehr telling the world for the umpteenth time that there was little reason for hope that the baseball strike might end in the foreseeable future.
Federal mediators met with each side separately yesterday to talk about resuming negotiations, but there was -- again -- nothing to talk about. No formal talks were scheduled and any hope of resuming the 1994 season could be extinguished in the next few days.
"They are out of answers, too," Fehr said of the mediators. "They indicated after speaking with the clubs and to us that there was no movement and no reason to meet. There is no reason to think anything will happen soon."
There also is no reason to think that the frozen negotiations suddenly will thaw because of a rumored back-room effort by the union to take its case directly to some of the more moderate owners. Both sides dismissed reports that serious behind-the-scenes negotiations are going on, and backed it up with more polarizing rhetoric.
"Now is a period when you're going to hear a lot of rumors," Fehr said. "Some of them are rumors that people have planted to see what the reaction would be. There have been no secret negotiating meetings. There has been some contact between the offices and that has been going on all along."
Fehr did confirm that he had spoken privately with one owner last week -- apparently Colorado Rockies president Jerry McMorris -- but that there was no "substance" to the conversations. No doubt, union officials will continue to poke around for a softening of the ownership position.
"It is common for ideas to be floated in other than a formal bargaining proposal," Fehr said, "but there's not even any of that going on."
More rumors of ownership fragmentation were met with more tough talk from Ravitch, who denied speculation about changes in the management bargaining strategy and disputed a television report Monday that Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had discussed a "theoretical" salary cap tradeoff with the union.
"Rumors have been flying high and wide," Ravitch said. "I'd like to put those rumors to rest. There has been no change whatsoever in the owners' position. We held a conference call yesterday and not one owner dissented from that point of view."
Ravitch even stepped up the rhetoric, if that were possible. He warned that the growing economic losses resulting from the strike would have to be made up down the line, which could mean lower budgets in 1995. He also said that the decision on whether the owners eventually would make good on the $7.8 million All-Star payment they recently withheld from the players' pension fund might depend on the financial burden created by the strike.
"The strike -- caused by the players -- has another interesting consequence," Ravitch said. "That is that the losses [the owners] suffer this year are going to result in lower expenditures next year. It's not a loss of profitability, but to the total resources available to baseball. Things could be cut in a lot of ways to make up for what happens this year."
Though the owners may have the power to keep the pension money, it is unclear how they could do any further financial harm to the players. The salary cap proposal calls for a specific percentage of revenue and a guaranteed $1 billion for 1995 salaries. If they eventually declare an impasse and impose it unilaterally, they cannot legally change that formal proposal to the disadvantage of the players.
Perhaps all Ravitch was saying was that the players are doomed to end up with a 50-50 split if they carry the strike into the off-season, while they could get a higher percentage if they agree to talk about the cap now, but his tone was more punitive than that.
"I'm not much interested in listening to any more threats," Fehr said. "When Dick says things like that, it's obvious that he's a prisoner of his own rhetoric."
In related developments:
* The players held a conference call earlier in the day to update the executive board on the progress of the negotiations and finalize the date on which the union will begin dispensing money from the players' strike fund. The first checks will be mailed out on Sept. 15, but the amount of those payments has not been announced.
* Ravitch said that two teams have called him suggesting that the minimum payroll requirement be removed from the ownership salary cap proposal to make up for losses incurred from the strike, but that seems unlikely since the owners could hurt their case for a legal impasse if they take anything off the table.
* Though a declared impasse is looking more likely, Ravitch said yesterday that the owners have not yet discussed how they would go about implementing new working conditions this winter.
"If the union refuses to talk about cost at some level," Ravitch said, "at some point in October, we'll have to sit down and figure out what to do."
* Ravitch explained how rumors of a Reinsdorf compromise may have developed.
"What Jerry asked was, if you're willing to talk percentage with us, we are willing to give you everything else you wanted," Ravitch said. "The answer to that was no."