The Associated Press

NEW YORK They talked for four hours and it didn't change a thing.

In the first bargaining session since the baseball strike began Aug. 12, owners and players faced each other across a bargaining table. But a pair of two-hour sessions consisted of speeches, not give and take.

"Maybe one of these days, we'll be able to report some progress. That day is not today," union head Donald Fehr said.

Talks are to resume Thursday, and management negotiator Richard Ravitch said owners haven't altered their salary-cap proposal. That leaves little hope for a quick end to a strike that already has canceled 169 games in its first 13 days.

"We did not really get to the issue of cost certainty," Ravitch said, adding: "I don't think you can expect any instant change in this."

Players, meanwhile, released a report by Stanford economics professor Roger Noll, who examined baseball finances and concluded "the claim of widespread disaster in the sport is pure fiction."

According to the report, first revealed in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Post, Noll said teams underestimated revenue by as much as $140 million in 1994. However, his statement that revenue is increasing faster than salaries is true only for 1992-93. From 1989-93, player salaries doubled while revenue increased 50 percent.

John Harrington, chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox, called it a "very biased report" that was a "sideshow and a distraction."

There was plenty of that at Wednesday's session. Inside the room, 21 players and 12 management representatives joined their lawyers around a large, U-shaped table that had four officials from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service at one end.

Outside the room unfolded a bizarre spectacle that included 14 camera crews, about 100 reporters, fans, two player agents, comic Jackie Mason and divorce lawyer Raoul Felder.

"This is my specialty," Felder said. "Greed. Avarice. Self-interest."

"I think these people have no place else to go in the morning," Mason said. "It keeps them busy."

Players had been insisting for months that owners come to the table. Owners refused until federal mediators entered the talks the day after the strike began.

In the morning session, three owners and nine team representatives gave speeches from two to 12 minutes in length, all insisting a salary cap is necessary to save the game from financial ruin. In the afternoon, players and their lawyers gave speeches insisting that baseball is a booming business.

Owners then caucused among themselves, and about two hours later mediators said the talks will resume Thursday.

"It reminded me of what you might expect in a preliminary bargaining meeting prior to a strike deadline," said Fehr, adding the meeting should have occurred shortly after owners reopened the collective bargaining agreement on Dec. 7, 1992.

Ravitch and Harrington agreed the atmosphere improved with owners at the table. Harrington said it could not have happened earlier.

"The receptiveness prior to this would not have been there," he said. "It's like any other touchy-feely situation."

Ravitch said the presence of a third party changed the tone of the meetings, which before to the strike were interrupted by yelling.

"The inclusion of the federal mediators added considerably to the quality and tone of the meeting," he said.

Fehr, as usual, was more gloomy in his assessment.

"I don't think that anybody is optimistic about progress," he said. "But the dynamic changes a little bit when you talk to the people who matter."

Baseball's eighth work stoppage since 1972 was caused when owners threatened to unilaterally impose a salary cap after this season. Players struck to force an agreement with free agency and salary arbitration, which have helped the average salary escalate from more than $51,000 in 1976 to almost $1.2 million on opening day this year.

"We made it pretty clear, our feelings about the cap," Paul Molitor of the Toronto Blue Jays said. "As long as it's there, we feel it will be a stumbling block to baseball being played the rest of this year, and who knows how long after that."

Both sides said it was healthy for all the opinions to be expressed.

"There was some venting," Harrington said, adding it was good for the sides to say things "eyeball to eyeball to each other."

Players and owners bitterly dispute the financial figures. Owners claim 12 to 14 teams will lose money this year, down from an original estimate of 19. The union says only a few teams, at most, will lose money.

"We could argue until we're blue in the face about the meaning of internal numbers," Ravitch said. Read Next Article