Baseball's ruling executive council completed a two-day meeting yesterday with no decision on when the owners want to resume labor negotiations.
Bud Selig, the acting commissioner, said the eight-owner council also did not make a decision on Chuck O'Connor, management's chief labor lawyer, whose status has come into serious question.
But a person familiar with the situation said that when the owners return to the bargaining table, their chief legal strategist will be Robert Ballow, a Nashville, Tenn., lawyer known for his hard-line positions in negotiations.
"At this point there has been no change," Selig said. He added that he speaks daily with Rob Manfred, who has been the clubs' No. 2 labor lawyer and is O'Connor's colleague at the Washington firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Selig didn't say, but the person who told of the change said Selig and O'Connor do not talk much anymore because their relationship has deteriorated.
"There's a philosophical difference," said the person, who spoke on the condition he not be identified."
The owners are unhappy with the National Labor Relations Board action against them and the resulting injunction issued by a federal judge that forced the clubs to restore critical elements of the previous work rules.
They grew even more unhappy when a circuit court judge last week questioned management's decision to agree to the board's suggestion that the owners withdraw their implemented salary cap and reinstate salary arbitration and competitive bidding for free agents.
The owners have appealed the injunction, and Morgan, Lewis is handling the appeal. But that event may be the firm's last act of representation of the owners.
The person who told of the conflict said Selig and O'Connor basically lost confidence in each other and were not operating on the same wave length. The rift began, the person said, during the round of negotiations that were held in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the end of February and beginning of March.
O'Connor, the person said, apparently pushed for an agreement before the labor board authorized its general counsel to seek an injunction, sensing that Donald Fehr, the union leader, was prepared to make a deal. The talks, however, went nowhere.
The use of replacement players also became a point of conflict, the person said.
Ballow, who is viewed in labor circles as a union-busting lawyer, particularly in the newspaper industry, has been involved in the behind-the-scenes strategic planning for some months, along with lawyers who represent other clubs. Ballow represents the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Cubs.