O'Malley: Build a Bridge to Players : Baseball: Dodger owner tells Bud Selig management needs to reach out to union to make it a legitimate partner.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Owner Peter O'Malley was back at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, saying he went to Milwaukee this week to urge acting Commissioner Bud Selig to reach out to the players union and begin a process that will make the union a legitimate partner of the owners.

While the trip could be perceived as the first indication of a big-market crack in the owners' solidarity, O'Malley said that would be wrong. He said he was acting on his own and still supports the salary-cap proposal.

He added, however, he thinks that both sides in the labor impasse need to be more creative and there is nothing contradictory about striving for the cap--which the union steadfastly opposes--while trying to build a bridge to the players.

"Even if we can't agree on the formula, there's no reason we can't let them in on the ground floor now," O'Malley said of the players.

"There's so much going on in the area of TV, licensing properties and the commissioner's office that now is the time to give the union a meaningful presence and not just that of a potted palm.

"There's no downside to it."

O'Malley said there are many areas in which the union could be involved in the discussion and decision-making process. He said the 1994 negotiations were based at one point on the concept of a partnership, but the long history of mistrust on both sides--as well as the ideological differences over the cap--have seemed to foreclose on that objective.

At a time when the players believe the owners plan to unilaterally implement the cap and try to break the union, O'Malley seemed to offer a different perspective, saying even if the union is unwilling to accept the current terms, there is no reason the environment and relationship can't begin to change, the mistrust confronted.

"It's a difficult problem, but all problems are solvable," he said. "The challenge is to show creativity and imagination, and to solve it soon. I've been concerned for a long time about our inability to work together, and I'm concerned about the threat of the current situation on next season and the preparations we have to make over the winter. We have to resolve this in the next week or two, not the next month or two."

As owner of one of baseball's richest and proudest franchises, O'Malley has been something of a silent partner in the current dispute, on the outside looking in. His tenuous relationship with Selig has been chronicled, but he said that he did not go to Milwaukee to impose himself on the process or any committee.

"We had a falling out over the need to have a full-time, outside commissioner," O'Malley said.

He favored the hiring of a commissioner after joining Selig and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf in pushing Fay Vincent out of office, but Selig and Reinsdorf preferred waiting until the labor negotiations were resolved, avoiding the possibility of a commissioner interfering.

Although O'Malley has questioned Selig's conflicting role as small-market owner and acting commissioner and recently apologized to Vincent for participating in his overthrow, saying he wouldn't have done it had he known the consequences, he insisted Wednesday that "there was no need for fence mending" in his meeting with Selig.

O'Malley said they have been friends for more than 20 years, worked together on many projects and that he understood Selig's desire to surround himself with the people he is most comfortable with. O'Malley named Jackie Autry of the Angels, Carl Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Werner of the San Diego Padres, Fred Kuhlmann of the St. Louis Cardinals and Doug Danforth of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

O'Malley said Tuesday's hour meeting was clear, direct and devoid of "any beating around the bush."

"I told Bud that I continue to support Richard Ravitch's proposal and pointed out to him that he has an extraordinary opportunity as leader of the small-market clubs, acting commissioner and chairman of the executive council to accomplish something significant in terms of the future of the game and the relationship with the players," O'Malley said.

"I impressed on him that both sides need to be more imaginative and creative and that we need to reach out to the players and resolve this now because I fear our longtime fans have reached the absolute limit of their patience, and that's the most important issue of all."

Selig said the meeting was cordial and constructive and that he agreed with O'Malley on everything, particularly the need to establish a partnership with the union. He acknowledged, however, that 30 years of mistrust on both sides has made it impossible to find agreement on the most basic issues and that "there are probably people on both sides who are so resentful of the other that they'd say 'to hell with it.' I don't accept that and don't agree with it. Any reasonable and rational future would have to be based on a partnership."

Perhaps, but there is no sign of the quick resolution O'Malley favors, and Selig will be in New York today, meeting with his newly formed operations committee, charting the next steps for the owners and the ground rules under which they will operate.

The union was not invited.

* UNDER REVIEW: A House of Representatives subcommittee takes the first step toward repealing baseball's antitrust exemption. C3

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