Strike could set up battle over service time

INSIDE PITCH

August 12, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Now, let the real games begin.

Temporarily, but possibly for the rest of the year, the playing part of baseball is on hold. Something about a labor situation.

And the chances are it will get ugly before it gets presentable. If the players think the owners are playing dirty pool now, wait until the two sides start trying to split the difference.

After the salary cap comes service time. A minor point now and perhaps a giveaway item at the negotiating table later. But a potential sticking point nevertheless.

At stake? The effective dates for arbitration and free agency. You know how that works -- an independent party picks one figure or another to determine a player's salary in the first instance and the open market sets the price in the other.

It now takes three years of major-league service to be guaranteed eligibility for arbitration, six years for free agency. Both are subject to change pending the outcome of the current non-negotiations, but there will still be a set of guidelines to determine eligibility.

There were 52 days remaining in the season when the baseball strike became official at the conclusion of last night's games. A total of 172 days is required for a player to be credited with a full year of service, and for purposes of arbitration and free agency they are accumulated throughout his career.

By strict interpretation, unless there is a quick settlement, no player will log enough time to be credited for a full year of service in 1994. In many instances that would be enough to keep players out of the free-agent market for an additional year.

Crediting players with service time, even though there was a 50-day interruption, was a conciliatory move that helped settle the 1981 strike. It was one of those "we'll give you this if you give us that" deals that marked the end of bitter negotiations.

At the time it was considered an easy giveaway for the owners in order to salvage the season. But many later wondered why they hadn't taken more of a hard-line stance since arbitration and free agency weren't even the prime issues (free-agent compensation and economic matters were the root of that work stoppage).

This time it's a salary cap that the owners are pushing for and players are resisting. Service time is a non-issue at the moment, primarily because there is a precedent for giving players credit for time lost because of a strike.

But that may not be a given. When the time comes to savor as many crumbs as possible (especially if they crumble on the salary cap) the owners are going to be looking for ways to salvage a measure of revenge.

And anything they can do to delay arbitration and free agency will be attractive.

ORIOLES TONIGHT?

(Contingent on strike)

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Red Sox's Danny Darwin (7-5, 6.30) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (16-5, 3.06)

Tickets: Several hundred remain, not including 183 bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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