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Vincent joins talks // Little progress reported in Monday's negotiations

NEW YORK - Commissioner Fay Vincent joined the baseball negotiations Monday in a final attempt to prevent the spring-training lockout that both owners and players say is "almost a virtual certainty." A 45-minute meeting produced little apparent progress, although the two sides agreed to talk again with Vincent this afternoon. Vincent held three secret meetings last week, but had not attended any formal bargaining sessions.

"He'll be part of the solution," Chuck O'Connor, general counsel of the owners' Player Relations Committee, said. "At this time, the commissioner is a part of the process. I guess he would characterize his role, as would I, as full-time."

Spring training is scheduled to start Thursday and both O'Connor and Donald Fehr, head of the players' union, believe there is little chance it will begin on time. The owners say camps will remain closed until an agreement is reached with players on a new contract.

"It is now an almost virtual certainty it will happen," Fehr said of the owners' planned lockout. "It's not my impression that the situation has changed at all."

"I don't have any reason to disagree with Don as far as logistics go," O'Connor said.

"I have no reason to believe this can be settled quickly, but I am always optimistic when we're talking."

The two sides had not met since last Wednesday and neither cared to characterize these talks, the 20th session.

"It's my impression we're where we were yesterday and the day before and the day before," Fehr said. "But I didn't expect any breakthroughs today."