Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn is approaching the current negotiations between players and owners for a new Basic Agreement with cautious optimism. He knows there are substantial differences right now, but he says he feels neither side wants a strike, that a solution can be worked out, and that spring training will probably open as scheduled on March 1.
For those who have been napping in the bullpen, the Basic Agreement is a contract (generally for three years) that covers all aspect of player-management relationships. It is possible for baseball to start a season without it, but not likely.
When Kuhn spoke to writers here recently about the situation, it was before the negotiations had really begun to heat up. Under those circumstances, the commissioner naturally didn't dwell on the situation, but he and others will undoubtedly have much to say as the talks continue throughout the next few weeks.
Basically there are two problems.
First, the owners want to put salary ceilings on players with six years of experience or less. The players don't want this. Second, any team signing a free agent would have to give up a player off its major lague roster as compensation.The players don't want this, either.
Kuhn also covered such topics as attendance, expansion, the designated hitter , wild-card playoffs, and the proposed move of the Oakland franchise to Denver.
Bowie said one reason baseball has continued to set attendance recores is that most owners have become much more knowledgeable about marketing.
"They don't just open the gates anymore and hope the public walks in," Kuhn explained. "They work at it. They have a lot of promotions. ther is also much greater interaction between the player and the fan than there used to be.
"For example, today when a player has an exceptional game, the fans often [by continual applause] get him to come back on the field and take a bow," he said."
Kuhn said he didn't see much enthusiasm for expansion right now, and that when it does come it seems logical to expect it in the National League, which has 12 teams, to the American League's 14.
On the designated hitter: "I like it and I think the fans like it. The American League has had a lot of success with it and I wish the National League would adopt it. But that's a decision that can only come from the owners."
On wild-card playoffs: "There is always a possibility. . . . But you couldn't have it without dividing big league baseball into three divisions, and I have no idea how many owners would want that."
On moving the A's to Denver: "I think it would be good for baseball and I think we have the means now to make it work. But a decision has to be made reasonably soon, because it's not the kind of offer we could hold open to Charlie Finley and the Oakland Coliseum Commission indefinitely."