Ravitch will swing away for owners in labor talksThe storm...

BASEBALL

September 20, 1992|By PETER SCHMUCK

Ravitch will swing away for owners in labor talks

The storm clouds are gathering again, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has observed the tumultuous collective bargaining relationship between Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association.

The owners recently fired (call it anything you want, he was fired) Fay Vincent and -- in effect -- consolidated their bargaining power in the person of Richard Ravitch, leaving players union chief Donald Fehr to brace for the next indication that management is circling the wagons for the mother of all labor showdowns next year.

That will come Dec. 11, when the owners exercise their right to reopen the collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations probably will start soon after, but history has shown that nothing happens until one side or the other forces a work stoppage.

Work stoppage is a generic way of saying strike or lockout without taking sides. We're actually talking about a spring-training lockout, much like the one that condensed spring training into about three weeks in 1990. Only this time, it will be longer.

There will be no strike because the players don't want anything. The union has been so successful that it wouldn't surprise anyone if it developed its own monetary system. The owners, on the other hand, are pleading poverty and are set to push for revenue sharing and salary control. They aren't going to get it without a fight.

So, prepare for spring camps to be closed come February.

The owners seem intent on ending a 15-year losing streak in head-to-head competition with the players union, and the only way they can exact concessions is by playing their only trump card -- a lockout.

"I don't think it's a certainty," Fehr said, "but the likelihood is such that you have to plan for it."

Fehr has been a most interested observer during the power struggle that ended with Vincent's forced resignation. He knows that the owners privately blame Vincent for supposedly forcing an unpalatable settlement on them in 1990. He has heard the newest round of war cries, but sees an old strategy developing.

Remember 1981? The owners brought in hardened management negotiator Ray Grebey to face off with MLPA director Marvin Miller. The result was a two-month strike and the most significant disruption of the game since World War II.

This time, they have brought in another hired gun. Ravitch is another experienced management negotiator without a personal interest in the sport or its fans.

"There are some similarities," Fehr said. "They are bringing in a guy from outside and they are holding pep rallies to say how they are going to beat up on the players."

The owners have not said that they will reopen the collective bargaining agreement, but the dismissal of Vincent is an indication that they are bracing for a confrontation.

It is generally believed that Vincent was removed because he unilaterally realigned the two National League divisions and angered several powerful owners. That is only partly true. The owners also were upset that he rebuffed an earlier attempt to limit his power in the collective bargaining arena.

If the owners are planning a lengthy lockout, Vincent was their only obstacle. He would have been in a position to use his sweeping "best interests of baseball" powers to order spring training camps opened, leaving the owners to comply or go to war on a second front. Perhaps that scenario seems far-fetched, but the owners definitely wanted him out.

The perception that Vincent's intercession in 1990 led the owners to settle for less rankles Fehr.

"Two years after every negotiation, they blame someone," he said. "The notion that he sold them out in 1990 would come as a complete mystery to anyone who was there."

Fehr concedes that the players have no desire for a labor confrontation. He finally seems willing to concede that the owners have some legitimate financial concerns. But he does not feel that they are going about addressing them in the most

prudent manner.

"It's one thing to go into a labor negotiation because you need something," Fehr said. "It's another to go in with trumpets blaring for the glory of the fight. The theory is that a lockout or strike is a last resort -- an indication of the failure of negotiations. We have people throwing the word around before there has even been a re-opener."

Who's complaining now?

The departure of Jose Canseco left Bay Area baseball fans in shock three weeks ago, but the trade of the decade is playing out just the way Oakland Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson had planned.

The A's lost five straight games after the trade that sent Canseco to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell, but they ran away with the division race as soon as Sierra came back from a case of the chicken pox.

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