Free-agent eligibility latest sticking point in strike

The Associated Press

NEW YORK Players and owners bickered over free-agent eligibility even as mediator W.J. Usery called for negotiations to resume Wednesday in Washington, nearly six weeks after talks broke off.

Seventeen more players attempted to file for free agency Monday and four were rejected by management's player relations committee, which claims they don't have enough service time.

The four Kansas City pitcher Tom Gordon, Atlanta pitcher Gregg Olson, Colorado pitcher Greg Harris and Los Angeles outfielder Chris Gwynn need the 52 days of service time from the strike to reach the required six years.

"It's obvious we're going to have to challenge their position," said Eugene Orza, the No. 2 official of the union. "In exactly what forum we will do that, I haven't decided that. I'll probably wait until mid-week to file something."

Four others were rejected Saturday, the first day of filing: pitchers Jack McDowell of the Chicago White Sox, Jim Abbott of the New York Yankees, Kenny Rogers of Texas and Erik Hanson of Cincinnati. Twelve players eligible for free agency are affected by the dispute.

The 13 players who were allowed to file included Los Angeles pitcher Orel Hershiser and Cleveland outfielder Dave Winfield. They raised the free agent total to 22.

Usery, appointed Friday by the Clinton Administration, will attend Wednesday's meeting, Usery aide Doug Henne said in Washington. Officials of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which entered the dispute a day after the strike began Aug. 12, have failed to alter management's demand for a salary cap, a move players say they'll never accept.

"We'll have to wait and see," union head Donald Fehr said when asked what difference Usery could make. "He's supposed to be very skilled and very persistent. I certainly hopes he makes a difference."

Players and owners have met formally just three times since the strike began and not at all since Sept. 9, five days before owners canceled the World Series for the first time since 1904.

Players probably will be unable to bargain Thursday because agents are scheduled to meet with union officials in New York. Fehr said he had hoped the bargaining session could take place Tuesday but said owners couldn't get their people in place.

"Usery is controlling the scheduling," management lawyer Chuck O'Conner said.

Other players filing Monday were New York's Scott Bankhead and Terry Mulholland, Florida's Luis Aquino, Cincinnati pitcher Jeff Brantley, Pittsburgh's Tom Foley, Atlanta's Dave Gallagher, Philadelphia's Danny Jackson and Ricky Jordan, San Francisco's Mike Jackson, Kansas City's Mike Macfarlane and St. Louis' Bob Tewksbury.

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