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Ravitch Derided by Fehr : Baseball: Head of players union calls negotiator for owners a ‘hatchet man.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If federal mediators had hoped to defuse the rhetoric in baseball’s collective bargaining dispute, the message was not received.

There were more insults than insights Monday, most coming from Donald Fehr, executive director of the striking players union, who said the owners’ negotiator, Richard Ravitch, lacked independence and was strictly a “hatchet man” for the owners.

He accused Ravitch of shedding “crocodile tears” for those left unemployed by the strike while continuing to draw his $750,000-a-year salary. Fehr added that he has seen no evidence that Wednesday’s resumption of negotiations with owners and club executives present for the first time will produce anything more than a “Hallelujah chorus to the salary cap and the great job Dick is doing.”

Fehr, who stopped receiving his $1-million annual salary when the strike began on Aug. 12, also compared the owners’ plan to establish a daily rotation of representatives--if, in fact, they go past Wednesday--to that of a hockey game in which players shuttle on and off the ice.

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“If they really do that, there would be no continuity and an indication they were not treating it seriously,” Fehr said. “They would have nobody there on Thursday who knew what had been said on Wednesday. It would defeat the purpose of having a core group present on an ongoing basis. I’d be quite surprised if they treated this in such a cavalier fashion.”

Declining to exchange insults, Ravitch said: “The last time I found name calling to be meaningful I was in grade school.”

He added: “I don’t tell Don who to bring to the table. The owners have busy schedules. I can’t tell you who will be here every day, but I can tell you that our response and our proposal will not change, no matter who’s at the table.”

Acting commissioner Bud Selig said Monday that the Executive Council had chosen 12 owners and club officials to assist Ravitch and added that Fehr has never hesitated to bring different players to different meetings.

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“This is not to say we won’t have constants at every meeting, but we’re just trying to be efficient,” Selig said, adding that the 12 have a wide range of backgrounds and expertise and cover the big-, middle- and small-market spectrum.

Neither Selig, speaking from Milwaukee, nor Ravitch would say who or how many would be on the first team Wednesday--it might be five or six chosen on the basis of the issues to be discussed, Selig said--but it is expected to include Selig’s daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, the Milwaukee Brewers’ vice president-general counsel; Minnesota Twin General Manager Andy MacPhail, Philadelphia Phillie Executive Vice President David Montgomery, and the Chicago White Sox’s influential owner, Jerry Reinsdorf.

Fehr had no comment on the composition of the ownership group, but a union source said the one certainty was Reinsdorf would be present “to make sure he was in position to rein in the horses if he has to.”

The pool also includes Atlanta Brave Board Chairman Bill Bartholomay and President Stan Kasten; Kansas City Royal President David Glass, Boston Red Sox CEO John Harrington; Houston Astro owner Drayton McLane; Colorado Rockie owner Jerry McMorris; the St. Louis Cardinals’ retiring president, Stuart Meyer, and Toronto Blue Jay President Paul Beeston.

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The pool does not include George Steinbrenner, Peter Angelos or Marge Schott, who were critical of Ravitch and his strategy last week. There are no representatives from either of the New York teams or any of the five California teams, and only three own controlling interest of their respective teams--McLane, McMorris and Reinsdorf. However, Dodger President Peter O’Malley, reached in Los Angeles, said, “the term owner is difficult to define” in many cases and he had no problem with the committee makeup.

“I’m expecting progress and wish them well,” he said.

The sides remain polarized, however, the union opposing the salary cap and the owners still attempting to sell it.

Harrington, the Red Sox CEO, appeared at a news conference with Ravitch and insisted there is unanimity regarding the need for a new system, despite the economic and geographic diversity among ownership and occasional comments questioning certain aspects of the process, the proposal or both.

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“We’re here to support Dick Ravitch,” Harrington said. “Every owner is on the train.”

Fehr, however, continues to suspect it’s all window dressing and that the owners agreed to mediation “to avoid a black eye publicly.”

Fehr and Ravitch addressed procedural issues in a 20-minute meeting with mediators Monday, then Ravitch briefed the ownership group. The sides will meet separately with mediatorstoday, with between 25 and 40 players expected to attend, Fehr said.

How many of those players attend Wednesday’s negotiations, Fehr said, is primarily up to the mediators, “but I hope the owners are past the thin-skin stage, because I don’t expect the negotiations to be pleasant.”

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Today is Day 12 of the strike, and there have been no negotiations since it began. Fehr said again that the owners have set the clock ticking with the goal of breaking the union and unilaterally implementing their system. He again criticized Ravitch for delaying resumption of the talks--"all of this is to give the appearance of activity where there is none"--and said:

“Dick is not an independent figure here. He’s the hatchet man for the owners. The owners want to drastically lower salaries, and he’s the guy who has to get it done.”

Ravitch merely shrugged and said the calendar through Wednesday was set by the mediators, and that--independence having nothing to do with it--he has always worked for the owners, “who are here to dispel the myth that they’re not of a common view.”


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