Hardball: players' game or owners'?

July 05, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Get the commercial ready:

Hey, Ken Griffey, what are you doing during the baseball strike?

"I'm going to Disney World!"

Hour-long lines, picket lines, it's all the same to Junior.

Samuel Gompers' place in U.S. labor history is secure.

Griffey didn't exactly pound the union war drums at a Camden Yards news conference yesterday.

In fact, he didn't even seem disturbed that a strike would disrupt his pursuit of Roger Maris' home run record.

"I'll pursue my other career -- vacationing," Griffey said, smiling.

"I've already planned it. Jay Buhner and I are going to take our kids to Disney World. I want to take my son to 'It's A Small World.' "

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hope, and a world of fears . . .

. . . so much revenue that we share, it's the time we're aware, there's a salary cap after all.

Over Marvin Miller's dead body.

The strike is coming, and it's going to ruin the best season in

years.

That is, if Griffey can't convince Mickey Mouse to mediate.

"If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't," Griffey said. "I don't get involved. I just let the union do all the talking and go day by day."

As if we all don't know what's coming.

Forget Griffey and Maris, Albert Belle and Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Matt Williams.

Forget the Orioles and Yankees, the Indians and White Sox, the close divisional races, the wacky wild-card battles.

The only way to save the season is if the owners and players reach a new collective bargaining agreement in the next four to six weeks, or if one side blinks.

Griffey has a better shot of catching Maris.

Going, going . . .

Those seven work stoppages since 1972 provide all the historical perspective you need. As usual, the owners and players are talking two different languages.

It took the owners 20 months to prepare a proposal the players were certain to reject, a proposal built around the idea of a salary cap, which the players find preposterous.

Two negotiating sessions are scheduled for this week, but what's there to discuss?

Oh, just Griffey's chase, trivial pursuits such as that.

Given the choice between seeing a record broken or the union broken, the owners, in a rare show of unity, would vote against Griffey, 28-0.

Such promoters they are, such visionaries, such guardians of their sport. Love that new network deal. Did anyone catch the All-Star selection show on Sunday? Did anyone even know it was on?

For those unfamiliar with the labor history, read "Lords of the Realm" by John Helyar. The owners come off as so rigid, so stupid, so pathetic, it's downright comical.

So, don't blame the players -- even if superstars such as Griffey joke about vacationing during a strike, while many Americans can't even afford a vacation when employed.

This is all about leverage: If the players don't strike -- in early August, mid-August, whenever -- the owners can declare an impasse and unilaterally impose a salary cap.

Forget that the average player salary is more than $1 million. If your company wanted to limit your earning power without proving the need, you'd be ticked off, too.

The owners claim as many as 19 teams are losing money. "I find that extremely hard to believe," said Jim Poole, the Orioles assistant player representative. "As a matter of fact, I don't."

Why should Poole trust owners?

Why should anyone?

The owners lied about collusion -- and, seeing that they won't release club-by-club financial records, they might be lying again.

The Orioles' Peter Angelos opened his books, and his team showed a $25.5 million profit for 1993. Still, Angelos wants other owners to follow his lead, believing most clubs aren't that profitable.

Problem is, when the owners went public in 1984, the players hired an economist to expose their bookkeeping tricks and other items of interest, such as Los Angeles owner Peter O'Malley's $1 million salary.

Times have changed; that's what acting commissioner Bud Selig keeps telling us. But the clubs in most serious trouble are those in small markets -- small markets, and outdated ballparks.

The Orioles are Exhibit A when examining the ways a new park can transform a franchise. Think Cleveland isn't making money this year? Think Pittsburgh wouldn't benefit from the same jolt?

Let the small-market teams blackmail their way into new homes -- or let them move to cities starving for baseball, such as Phoenix and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Heaven forbid the owners lose their precious expansion fees, but it would be only fitting if Selig one day wound up wearing a sombrero to promote the Mexico City Brewers.

Selig might never have gotten into this mess if he hadn't mismanaged his payroll, re-signing once-dominant but sore-armed Teddy Higuera.

Oh, and let's not forget his plunge into the free-agent market for the immortal Franklin Stubbs.

Now Selig and Co. want the players to pay for their mistakes.

Get the commercial ready.

Ken Griffey is going to Disney World.

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