C Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr huddled with acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig in Washington yesterday, apparently searching for a reason to restart stalled negotiations.
The talks must resume soon if there is to be any hope of starting the 1995 season with major-league players, but both sides have spent the past two weeks steering clear of the bargaining table.
Whenever and wherever the talks resume, there has to be a dramatic bid to bridge the wide economic gap that stands between ownership's highly restrictive payroll tax system and a union proposal that would affect only one free-spending team.
Negotiations broke off March 5 after a week in Arizona in which both sides had reason to hope a breakthrough might be near. The union accepted ownership's Fort Lauderdale revenue-sharing proposal and sliced $5 million off its luxury tax threshold -- but left the table after accusing ownership of backtracking on an earlier bargaining position.
The players thought the owners would adopt a settlement recommendation by special mediator William J. Usery as their most recent position, and cried foul when an ownership proposal fell short of it.
Ownership also expressed disappointment at the union's last proposal, which set a $54 million payroll threshold for a luxury tax. The owners had expected the players to come in at $47 million, which might have provided the basis for a final push toward a settlement.
Instead, union officials headed back to New York and the owners headed for Palm Beach, Fla., where they approved expansion franchises for Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Talks were scheduled to resume early last week, but a bargaining session in Orlando, Fla., had to be postponed when National Labor Relations Board general counsel Fred Feinstein summoned both sides to Washington.
The NLRB issued a complaint and is expected to seek an injunction against the owners for unilaterally ending salary arbitration.
The owners continue to act as if victory is near. They have not strayed far from their original taxation proposal and they continue to act as if replacement baseball will be an acceptable substitute.
If the union is on the run, it isn't apparent by the actions of the players, who seem unfazed by the knowledge that strikebreakers soon will be taking their place on the field.
The only hope for a settlement that would save fans from replacement baseball is a last-ditch negotiating effort. Fehr and Selig apparently are trying to arrange something, but optimism remains in short supply.