Mussina, man in middle, sees both sides of a strike


May 29, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Orioles ace Mike Mussina, in the midst of a season that looks as if it could have him contending for a Cy Young Award and playing for a team that looks as if it will vie for a playoff spot, is the last man who wants to see a work stoppage in baseball.

At the same time, the Orioles' player representative is a realist, and his gut is sending him much the same message a lot of people's guts are delivering.

"My gut feeling is yes," Mussina said on the possibility of a strike. "I'm certainly hoping there isn't going to be one. A strike this year could interfere with so many things from pennant races to chasing records to all types of things. If we had a strike last year, does Atlanta come back, pass the Giants and win the West? That was great for baseball."

So why strike?

"To me, when you feel like you have an injustice being done or you want to better your life, don't you try?" said Mussina, acting as the spokesman for his teammates.

"The owners made a ton of money for a long time, and they want the players to give back what they've worked hard for for 20 years. If you believe in the free-market system, you believe in always trying to better your lot."

Or at least maintain the status quo.

"This is the first agreement where the players aren't looking to gain anything major," Mussina said.

"We basically just want to keep what we have. We're not looking for free agency in five years and arbitration in two, or anything major like that."

Owners meet a week from Tuesday in Cincinnati to discuss labor negotiating strategy.

Representatives of the players union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, meet June 16 in Chicago to discuss their options in the wake of the owners' meeting. Mussina, unless he is pitching that day, plans to attend.

Players are reluctant to consider the salary cap owners are pushing.

"The players don't feel like you should artificially control being paid what the market is willing to bear," Mussina said.

The baseball players union traditionally has been the strongest in professional sports. Is it as strong now as in past years, including 1981, when the strike lasted two months? Mussina was 12 years old then, so he deferred to teammate Lonnie Smith, who was in the second year of his career and playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I think it's still as strong," Smith said. "In fact, more guys are informed about what's going on now than ever before. More players are involved. More guys are visiting the Players Association office when their teams go into New York. We get memos, one, two, three times a month."

Smith has advice for young players who fear a strike.

"They'll lose money as far as their contracts for this year, but for their careers, they have so much more to gain once this mess is settled," Smith said. "The younger players are going to have to be strong and realize they are going to reap the benefits down the line, not instantly."

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