Let's Play Baseball, Not Hardball

August 13, 1994

Generals, they say, always fight the previous war over again. Major league baseball owners and players seem to conduct their relations the same way. When Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Orioles, suggests that the owners' case in the current labor showdown is not unassailable, one of his veteran colleagues says he's too new an owner to understand. Maybe he just hasn't been around long enough to have his mind set in concrete.

Mr. Angelos has some innovative ideas that could provide a basis for getting serious negotiations going again between the players union and the owners now that a strike is under way and nearly everyone connected with the game is suffering. He is less interested in fighting old battles left over from major league baseball's seven previous work stoppages than he is in dealing with the hard facts confronting the sport today. One proposal is for the owners to follow his lead in offering to let the players and the public see the Orioles' books. Not financial statements which can be cooked to prove any point an accountant is told to make, but the books themselves.

We're not aware of any other owner who has taken up Mr. Angelos' suggestion. More to the point, however, is the silence from the players' side. If the players union doubts that few, if any, teams are really losing money, as the owners claim, we would expect them to clamor for acceptance of Mr. Angelos' proposal. The fact they have not done so makes their argument that the owners' claims are totally phoney ring hollow.

Which doesn't prove the owners' case, either. Operating at a loss can be an elastic concept, depending on how income is spent and costs allocated. Open books, examined by neutral auditors, would at least give the players and the public the facts needed to make informed judgments. Baseball clubs are privately owned businesses, but most of them function with some special privileges and all benefit from an exemption from anti-trust laws. They can't claim privacy while accepting special treatment from governments.

The pressure is on both players and responsible owners to settle the strike as quickly as possible. Some owners with faltering attendance have less to lose if the strike goes on. They can't be permitted to strangle the national pastime.

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