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Baseball Closer to Settlement

By Mark Maske
The Washington Post

Representatives for major league baseball's team owners and striking players, in a last-gasp effort to salvage the season, planned to meet Wednesday night in New York and have scheduled a formal negotiating session for Thursday amid indications that a settlement to their bitter labor dispute could be within reach.

"I definitely think there's reason for optimism," Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley said. "I think there are going to be several proposals and counterproposals exchanged."

Said Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, baseball's acting commissioner: "I certainly hope there's reason to be optimistic. The meaningful meeting is (Thursday). But whatever is discussed, there's got to be meaningful economic change for us to agree to a settlement."

The players' strike Thursday reaches four weeks, and both sides apparently are feeling the pressure of being remembered as the culprits who forced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904. Wednesday, for perhaps the first time since baseball's eighth work stoppage in 23 years began, there were reasons to be optimistic that the owners and the players' union soon could find a middle ground and agree on a new labor contract.

Extensive behind-the-scenes maneuvering apparently has left the owners willing to take their salary-cap proposal off the table - if the union is willing to give the owners some kind of cost-containment device to put in its place. Both sides seem willing to compromise.

However, a management source close to the negotiations said Wednesday night that the meetings were prompted by the union and could be merely for public relations purposes.

"I have no idea if this is the beginning of serious negotiations," the source said. "What I think is going on is, their proposal will contain no restraint on costs. We have not backed off the cap proposal. What we have done is indicated privately that, of course, we'd be willing to substitute another cost containment device for a salary cap. Hopefully they're serious. If they are, we'll work around the clock until we get something done."

The owners gave the Players Association a chunk of financial data on Saturday, and union chief Donald Fehr said the union was working Wednesday night to prepare a possible counterproposal. Asked whether the union would offer its counterproposal at today's meeting, Fehr said: "I don't know yet. We're still trying to crunch the numbers we received over the weekend. We're working on some stuff."

Selig said that Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, Colorado Rockies Chairman Jerry McMorris, Boston Red Sox General Partner John Harrington, Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten, Milwaukee Brewers Vice President Wendy Selig-Prieb (Selig's daughter) and Stuart Meyer (who just stepped down as president of the St. Louis Cardinals) were in New York or were on their way there yesterday to participate in the meetings.

Several of those ownership representatives were to meet last night with Donald Fehr and Players Association attorneys Steve Fehr, Gene Orza and Lauren Rich.

A bargaining session - the first since Aug. 25 - is scheduled for Thursday. The union has asked its negotiating committee of players to go to New York, and Donald Fehr said Wednesday afternoon: "It looks like we're going to meet (Thursday). This whole thing has sort of come together by osmosis."

Richard Ravitch, the owners' chief labor negotiator, canceled a planned trip to Washington Wednesday and said early in the afternoon that a meeting Thursday seemed likely. A spokesperson for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the mediators who have been involved in the dispute do not intend to attend Thursday's meeting. A management source said Wednesday night that the mediators have been excluded from the negotiations for good. Bud Selig will not be directly involved either, but has said in recent days he's seriously considering being at the bargaining table in the near future.