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Issue of arbitration eligibility makes little progress in talks

Baseball owners backed off salary caps but made little progress on the key issue of arbitration Monday as the spring-training lockout finished its fifth day. "We're trying to find a middle ground where there may not be one," management bargainer Chuck O'Connor said after a two-hour meeting. "It's a toughie."

O'Connor said owners' desire for a 75 percent cap on salary increases through arbitration "is more off than on" the table.

"We have not talked about salary caps for a while," he said, "but they're still out there."

So is the problem of deciding who can go to arbitration. That was the main trouble when players called a two-day strike in 1985, and it again is the focal point.

Currently, players need three years in the major leagues to be eligible. The union wants to make the system available after two years, as it was before the 1985 agreement.

"I don't see how we could accept it the way it is now," Donald Fehr, the union head, said.

The two sides will meet again today, along with commissioner Fay Vincent.