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Owners' generalities leave players cold

The chief negotiator for baseball's owners told about 70 players and top union officials Monday night why the owners want to change the game's economic structure.

But after listening to Richard Ravitch talk for two hours about the need for revenue sharing among the teams and a salary cap, the players came away less than impressed.

"A lot of them felt they drove a very long distance to hear the opening of long and difficult negotiations and they didn't get very much," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the players association.

"Sometimes that happens in bargaining."

The negotiating session was the first since the owners voted to adopt the revenue sharing/salary cap plan. The previous labor agreement expired Dec. 31.

Ravitch termed the meeting a "good opening session."

"I tried to explain to them, the best I could, our objective in this collective bargaining: to produce an economic system in baseball that will provide the owners with cost certainty; that we wanted the right to bargain for the aggregate costs of playing baseball, compensation of players; and to achieve a system of competitive balance among the clubs," he said.

Ravitch said his discussion was "intentionally not detailed," so as to avoid charges from the union that the owners were being too rigid. Fehr, though, said players were frustrated they did not get more information.

"They want a proposal from the owners," Fehr said. "After all this time, after a year and a half, they want the owners to say, "This is our proposal.' The owners have very clearly decided, at least through today, that they don't want to give us a proposal."

About the only thing the players did leave the Westshore Hyatt with _ besides, as Cincinnati pitcher Erik Hanson said, "a good meal at least" _ was a promise that the owners would share all the financial data they used to come to the conclusion that a revenue sharing/salary cap package is the answer.

But, Fehr said, the union faces an enormous and time-consuming task to replicate the work done over the past 18 months by the owners.

The players are in theory opposed to a salary cap. Baltimore Orioles player representative Mike Mussina said he heard little new Monday.

"We were really hoping they would come in with something we could work with," Mussina told a reporter. "Instead, they came in with generalities. It sounded like an economics class in college." Mussina should know _ he earned an economics degree from Stanford in just three years.

St. Louis Cardinals player rep Todd Zeile said, "The general reaction of the players was that they were kind of glad to get the ball rolling. But I think a lot of us were frustrated there was not more meat in the package."

Ravitch did not plan to present a specific proposal.

"Our intent here was to state our objectives and elicit their reaction in hopes of working out a process to share financial information with the players and explain how our revenue redistribution system came about," Ravitch said.

Fehr and Ravitch said their staffs will meet soon to establish a way to transfer the financial information. The next negotiating session is not scheduled until March 30, in Arizona.

There was nothing said Monday to indicate the talks will not be as long and difficult, or as caustic and semantical, as many expect.

The labor talks are of specific interest in the Tampa Bay area, because any plans for baseball to add teams through expansion likely hinge on the settlement of a new contract. Fehr said expansion did not come up during Monday's discussions.

The history of baseball's labor situation is not good. There have been seven work stoppages _ four strikes and three lockouts _ since 1972. The owners have promised not to lock out the players during the 1994 season. The players still have the right to strike, and if they elect to do so would likely target late August or early September.

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