With three days left before baseball players are scheduled to strike, both sides see little chance of avoiding the sport's eighth work stoppage in 22 years.
"This has the air of a dispute the owners are intent on forcing," union head Donald Fehr said after Monday's non-productive bargaining session. "The players are resigned to it and ready to go."The nature of the questions we're getting is things like, `Is it OK if I leave after the game Thursday to go home or should I wait for a flight Friday morning?' . . . The players assume the strike will take place. If it doesn't, that's great, but that's the operating assumption."
Management negotiator Richard Ravitch said he was "much less optimistic" about reaching a settlement without a stoppage.
"I don't want to spark any unrealistic optimism, but when you're in a situation like this, I wouldn't dare predict what's going to happen between now and Friday," Ravitch said. "That doesn't mean I think the fairy godmother will descend with a solution."
Monday's session covered non-economic issues and today's talks will be at the committee level. The sides didn't schedule any negotiations beyond that but said they expected to meet Wednesday.
"I assume there will be a meeting if someone thinks there's something to talk about," Fehr said. "There's nothing scheduled. There's an air of inevitability about all of this."
Fans sensed the inevitability, too. During the New York Yankees' 6-5, 11-inning victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night, some chanted "No strike! No strike!"
"Sadly, players will not address the issues that are of concern to us," Ravitch said earlier in the day. "They want to talk about the basic agreement in the context of how the players can get more money. We want to talk in terms of dealing with problems of the game and how to make sure baseball is economically viable in the 28 cities in which it's being played."
Fehr said he can't envision the union ever accepting a salary cap but he hasn't convinced Ravitch to make a proposal along the lines of the collective bargaining agreements that have been in place since 1976.
"I've done everything but hit him on the head with the kitchen sink on that issue," Fehr said.
Ravitch gave a hint that management may believe it can outlast players in a work stoppage.
"I certainly take Don at face value," he said. "Do I think 800 baseball players are rigid ideologically about this? I'm not so sure."
While owners asked for a salary cap in 1985 and 1990 but then withdrew their demand in the face of union opposition, Ravitch said management won't waver this time.
"As long as Don says `no,' the owners don't intend to put different kinds of proposals on the table," he said.
Both sides said they didn't think Labor Secretary Robert Reich would be useful as a mediator but thanked him for his offer to help.
"At this moment, I see no useful function that can be performed by the Secretary of Labor," Ravitch said.
Fehr, with a sarcastic tone, said the only sign of hope was that executive council chairman Bud Selig backed off the claim that 19 teams would lose money this year, saying the minimum number was 12-to-14.
"If we can keep up that kind of progress, maybe we'll be all right," Fehr said.