Lockout or not, season in doubt

BASEBALL

January 17, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

Richard Ravitch has said he will advise club owners not to lock out the players this season, but those who care about such things shouldn't interpret that as a guarantee there won't be a work stoppage in baseball this year.

Every indication now points to spring training opening on time, but without any written guarantees the owners will be taking a huge risk. Once the collective bargaining agreement was re-opened, an option granted to both sides when the deal was struck three years ago, it gave either side the right to take action.

That means the players, facing proposals calling for radical changes, could wait until late in the season and then decide to strike. By that time they would have collected a heavy portion of their salaries - and most of baseball's last big payoff from the current television contract would be jeopardized.

As baseball's newest negotiator, Ravitch joins a long list of sparring partners for Don Fehr, the head of the Players Association. In their first face-to-face negotiating session last week, Ravitch stopped short of asking the players for a written guarantee that they won't strike during the 1993 season.

And Fehr definitely stopped short of saying he would be $H receptive to such an agreement if he was asked. "If they want a pledge from us, they'll have to ask for it," said Fehr, who quickly added: "If they hadn't re-opened the contract, they would've had that in writing."

If the owners have no plans for a lockout, the only advantage to using the re-opener clause is to get a jump-start on negotiations in order to avoid a work stoppage in 1994. The owners had only a 15-13 majority vote in favor of re-opening, and at the same time passed a rule requiring 21 of 28 votes to call a lockout.

Those numbers suggest a lockout is improbable, but it shouldn't be forgotten that a majority vote is all that is necessary to change the new 75-percent lockout language. The owners also understand that a lockout is the only leverage they have in negotiations - and, unless they get some assurance from Fehr they will hand the hammer back to the players.

History tells us that the players are much more adept with the hammer than the owners. Without some guarantees, the owners will play right into the hands of the players unless they take advantage of their lockout privileges.

Spring training most likely will start on time, but the early stages of negotiations will probably determine the length of the coming season.

Salary cap talk

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, the most powerful of the owners according to Fehr, is among those pushing for a salary cap similar to the one in force in the NBA.

But you have to wonder about the overall effectiveness of a salary cap (a percentage of income allotted for salaries). It practically requires all teams, even the least successful, to spend their full salary allotment.

This is the same system that left the treadmill Washington Bullets in a position last fall where they had to play with the numbers in order to fit No. 1 draft choice Tom Gugliotta under their salary cap. That doesn't sound like a solution.

Lame ducks all around

You think maybe baseball has a leadership problem?

Bill White is the lame duck president of the National League. Dr. Bobby Brown is the lame duck president of the American League. There is no commissioner and deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg became so frustrated he resigned.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has suggested White should be the next commissioner and given the power the position suggests. But White, who probably wishes he was still in the Yankees' broadcast booth (his previous job), was so frustrated by his limitations as NL president that he wants no part of it.

White is supposed to step down March 31, but will probably be enticed to hang on a little longer while they find someone to take his place. Brown is scheduled to leave after this season, and would've left sooner if he'd had his choice.

Meanwhile, the most competent baseball person out there, Lee MacPhail, is enjoying his retirement. MacPhail, who should be a candidate for the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, has two vital qualities - a thorough knowledge of every aspect of the game, and common sense.

He would rather not, but if baseball approached MacPhail and asked him to groom the next commissioner and the new league presidents, his love for the game wouldn't let him say no.

An interesting comparison

While he was in Baltimore last week to receive an "Executive of the Year" award at the Tops In Sports banquet, Toronto general manager Pat Gillick drew one interesting comparison between the Blue Jays and Orioles.

"I think the same thing happened with the Orioles and Joe Orsulak as happened with us and Candy Maldonado," said Gillick. "We want to give Derek Bell a chance to play and as long as Maldonado was around we figured that might not happen.

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