Baseball: Strike 8

August 09, 1994

As a lawyer with union clients as well as the multi-millionaire owner of the Orioles, Peter G. Angelos has a unique perspective on the impending baseball strike. Unsurprisingly, he believes both sides are making serious mistakes. Not that he is about to join any picket lines -- Mr. Angelos thinks the owners' protestations of hard times are essentially accurate -- but he blames both labor and management for exacerbating the bitter face-off Thursday.

Most fans will join Mr. Angelos in laying blame in both directions. Being deprived of the only major-league sports competition in the dead of summer, fans will not waste sympathy either on the millionaire ballplayers or their multi-millionaire owners. They've been through this sort of confrontation seven times before. Each time they have returned to their seats in the ball parks in greater numbers. Sooner or later, they will turn elsewhere for sports entertainment in the summer.

It's hard for outsiders to determine whether the owners are correct in claiming that 19 of the 28 clubs are losing money. They have given the players union confidential financial statements to support their arguments, but for some reason -- maybe valid, maybe not -- they haven't convinced the union. Alone of the owners, Mr. Angelos has opened his books, which paint a rosy picture in Baltimore with its new stadium selling out for virtually every game. The others remain a mystery to the public.

Mr. Angelos, who has heard more than his share of labor-management rhetoric in his time, believes both sides are living in the past. Neither the owners nor the players have shaken off the sort of ugly relationship which dominated the U.S. labor scene for decades but has gone out of style in most DTC industries, especially those with companies as financially strapped as the owners claim to be. So why not emulate businesses like the airlines and auto manufacturers, for example, who have discarded the picket-line rhetoric of the '30s?

Tactics like holding up the $7.5 million contribution due the players' pension fund last week just make the other side more bitter and determined. Rather than soften the players position, the owners predictably make it harder. They may not cave in to the players as they have in past confrontations, but they may win the contest for principal villain in the public's eyes. If they're not bluffing about their losses, cards face up on the table would immeasurably strengthen their hands.

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