With antitrust hearings on deck, don't expect things to improve

BASEBALL

February 27, 1994|By PETER SCHMUCK

SARASOTA, Fla. -- This week in baseball. Hopefully, it will be better than last.

The first full week of spring training turned into a sorry showcase of the game's troubled state, from the nightclub scuffle that landed two Toronto Blue Jays players in jail to the announcement that a bunch of opportunistic U.S. senators would convene antitrust hearings in Tampa in mid-March.

Things were bad enough when all we had to worry about was the coming labor confrontation, the new definition of "commissioner," and whether Jerry Reinsdorf's lips actually move whenever Bud Selig speaks.

Maybe it will take an act of Congress to get the sport back on track, but the news that the Senate will soon revisit Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption only deepens concern about the future of the game.

Remember the last time a group of politicians got together and made something better? Me neither.

It's hard not to be cynical about the hearings, which are scheduled to begin on March 21. The Senate bill to end baseball's antitrust exemption was introduced last year by Florida Democrat Bob Graham, but the issue has been a political football for years.

It is a no-lose issue for politicians from the states that were passed over in the last expansion, as well as the two senators (Graham and Republican Connie Mack) from a state that is still trying to explain to its citizens why it built a domed stadium in St. Petersburg on the mere assumption that a major-league team would move there.

Perhaps Major League Baseball isn't entitled to the protection of its antitrust exemption. That is a legitimate issue for debate, but Mack made no secret of his agenda in a statement released last week.

"There is no better time than spring training to focus attention on the need for restoring direction to Major League Baseball and to highlight Tampa Bay as a future baseball market," he said. "For the good of the game, baseball's antitrust exemption must be lifted."

Make no mistake. This thing is not about fairness. It's not about the good of the game. It's about self-interest. It's about votes. It's about a free warm-weather vacation outside the beltway.

It's an ironic twist. The past few years, baseball has been riddled with scandal, devoid of leadership and teetering on the brink of financial insolvency. Maybe Congress is just tired of the competition.

Eastern philosophy

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been impressed -- and somewhat distressed -- with the tremendous work ethic of newly signed Korean pitching prospect Park Chan Ho. The young pitcher, who received a $1.1 million bonus to play American baseball, just won't quit.

"His whole background is based on the work ethic that more is better," said general manager Fred Claire. "We've practically had to hold him down to get him to stop."

The Dodgers do not want him to overdo anything. He is one of the brightest young pitching prospects in the organization, with a fastball that has been clocked in the high 90s and enough stature to increase the organization's international sphere of influence.

The training staff had to restrain him when he refused to end a weightlifting session last week. When they tried to explain to him that enough was enough, he pointed to fellow prospect Nelson Castro and said, "then make him stop, too."

Promising situation

Park is not the only bonus baby in camp with the Dodgers. The club also is very high on top draft choice Darren Dreifort, who threw batting practice for the first time Wednesday and looked very impressive.

Dreifort, who got a $1.3 million signing bonus, is expected to move quickly through the organization. He and Park give the struggling Dodgers reason for optimism.

Canseco: Down but not out

Texas Rangers outfielder Jose Canseco arrived at the club's Port Charlotte, Fla., spring training facility with a story to tell. He told reporters on the first day of workouts that he had to win a battle with depression before he was ready to become a winning ballplayer again.

Canseco, who has gone through a divorce and undergone radical elbow surgery during the past 15 months, is hoping to re-establish himself as baseball's most dominating player, but he still has some obstacles to overcome.

"It's really hard to explain what I've gone through," he said.

"Hopefully, no one gets to experience that. Once you get into that area where you're so depressed, when sometimes life means nothing to you, that's pretty tough.

"There were probably a lot of things that people never realized. Personal problems, physical and psychological. There were a whole lot of problems in my life that I had to clean up. Not that they are 100 percent cleaned up, but I'm working at it."

Dempsey response

Former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey admits he was not always the easiest manager to play for in the Puerto Rican Winter League, but he was surprised to find himself the target of criticism from Orioles reliever Brad Pennington.

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