Negotiation of a new labor contract between baseball's owners and players is expected to be a complicated process that will loom over much of the season.
Tonight would be a good night to look for dark clouds. The talks will open when owners negotiator Richard Ravitch, union chief Don Fehr and a few dozen players get together at a Tampa hotel.
No resolutions are expected. Fehr and Ravitch held two meetings in January 1993, shortly after the owners voted to reopen the labor agreement one year early. There were no substantive talks and the agreement expired at the end of the year. Tonight's session will be the first since then.
Owners finalized their strategy last week at their quarterly meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz. In January, in what was announced as a unanimous vote, the owners decided to adopt a plan of revenue-sharing among themselves and to seek a salary cap from the players.
Ravitch was tight-lipped about his agenda. "The players are entitled to hear it first," he said. "I'm hopeful we have a productive discussion. I'm not going to describe what I'm going to do, and I'm not going to negotiate in the press."
Fehr has been visiting spring camps on the east coast of Florida, telling players that recent rumblings from the owners are not encouraging, trying to give them an idea of what to expect as the talks unfold and letting them know that a strike (likely timed around Labor Day) is a possibility. He also said strike talk is speculative and that no strike votes have been taken.
Fehr is hoping to get some idea tonight of what the owners have in mind. "I expect, I guess, to see some sort of outline," he said. "I don't expect a lot of details. They've indicated it will be a very brief meeting. I'm not expecting the full-blown proposal, but I'm hoping for some expansion on what's been said previously."
The talks are of vital interest to Tampa Bay leaders because any talk of expansion likely will hinge on settling the labor contract.
By adopting the revenue-sharing and salary cap plans, owners say they will ensure baseball's financial stability because player compensation costs will be fixed. They point to the success of a similar plan in the NBA.
The players, enjoying record salaries, don't see any need for change. They would, however, like to have some say in major decisions, such as television contracts, realignment and expansion.