Can anyone be reasonable in baseball's labor dispute?

August 10, 1994|By Bill Conlin | Bill Conlin,Knight-Ridder News Service

The concept of the "players' owner" has been trampled by the confrontational nature of the management vs. labor impasse that will shut down major-league baseball on Friday.

Back when big-league baseball players were little more than glorified sharecroppers, "good" owners took care of paternity suits and alcoholic infielders, wife-beaters and serial cheaters.

Now, a player can't even toss a firecracker into a crowd of fans without it getting blown out of proportion, so to speak.

Contrast that with ex-Houston Astros star Cesar Cedeno finding himself in a big-time off-season jam after a gun he owned discharged and killed a young woman in a Dominican Republic hotel room. This created the ultimate "visa problem," but Cedeno never missed a season. It was widely believed the Astros bought Cesar out of his trouble.

There were many reasons the Carpenter family put the Phillies up for sale in the spring of 1981. Escalating salaries created by free agency and arbitration. The specter of a season-disrupting strike. Estate considerations. Lousy advice from conservative lawyers who failed to anticipate the explosion of TV revenue.

Even with the Hurricane Andrew of labor storms on the horizon, Philadelphia Phillies president Ruly Carpenter gave catcher Bob Boone an interest-free $700,000 loan to build a racquetball club. Boone, the club's erudite player representative, became one of the hawks who fueled clubhouse strike sentiment. Ruly learned Greed Street was one-way. All he ever wanted out of ownership was enough income to cover operating expenses and have the guys come down to the family plantation near Beaufort, S.C., for some off-season hunting and fishing.

Dallas Green was Ruly Carpenter's manager when all that was going down. Bob Carpenter, his dad, had recruited Dallas to pitch for the University of Delaware, then signed him to a Phillies contract. When his pitching days were over, Big D managed in the low minors, scouted, became the farm director and eventually managed the Phillies to their lonely World Series championship.

During his career, Green has done almost all there is to do in baseball, serving under the yoke of the reserve system and the me-first egocentricity of free agency.

As president of the Chicago Cubs, he dwelled in the Tower of Babel that is an owners meeting. And as manager for George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees, Green had the closest possible view of megalomania in action.

And last year, Dallas was back in the belly of the beast, brought in from cameo scouting with his We-Not-I Team to hook the comatose Mets to life support.

In 40 years of pro baseball, Green has been a serf. He has sat at the round table with the other knights. He has been field marshal for three big-league clubs, president and general manager of another, and has taken two teams to postseason play. There should be statues of him in front of Veterans Stadium and Wrigley Field to celebrate the long droughts he ended in both venues.

Now, with baseball poised to take another called strike, Green is long past trying to sort out which side is responsible for the economic crisis. Who but baseball would shut down a business enjoying record attendance and revenues against a backdrop of towering individual accomplishments?

Green sees one obvious problem. While the players seem to speak with one voice and have not wavered a centimeter since Marvin Miller taught them the stonewalling art a quarter of a century ago, the owners appear to be coming from 28 directions.

"So many people have so many diverse agendas and are spread out so thin, they have to be somewhere else," Green said. "Their total attention is not on baseball. As a result of that, sometimes very little is accomplished in the meetings, because they're running to their other business when their business should be baseball."

These are some of the people who fly into the O'Hare Hyatt every three months to complain about their baseball bottom lines.

"That's because they're big guys," Green said. "They love baseball, but their main financial empire is somewhere else."

At least when the owners colluded to stop free-agent movement, they worked from a blueprint. Now, with the clock ticking, players are consternated that not one owner has sat in on meetings attended by many of them.

That bothers Green, as well.

"On ownership's side, I see no game plan and the confrontation continually building up," he said. "On the other side, when we said years and years ago, when I played under this system where the pendulum was all the way on ownership's side, we all said that wasn't right. . . . Well, the pendulum has swung all the way onto the players' side. We've got to somehow figure out how to get it to a reasonable deal for both sides."

Players, owners and reasonable. . . . Put them in a sentence and you have an oxymoronic trifecta.

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