Selig sees no break in owners

August 16, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

Baseball's labor war is being fought hundreds of miles away from his office in Milwaukee, but acting baseball commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig is never far from the action.

He confers almost daily with dozens of his fellow baseball owners, working to hold together a coalition that has committed itself to the financial restructuring of the sport. If this has become an economic Armageddon, he says that it is by popular demand, not the work of a small cabal of self-interested hard-liners.

"I've talked to almost everybody in the last couple of days," Selig said yesterday. "I know where every one of the owners stands, and I can tell you that I haven't had one tell me to change our position. I'm hearing just the opposite."

Of course, that wasn't the impression a small group of owners gave last week when they publicly criticized the way ownership point man Richard Ravitch was handling the negotiations. New York's George Steinbrenner, Baltimore's Peter Angelos, Colorado's Jerry McMorris and Cincinnati's Marge Schott all offered opinions that did not mesh with management's official line, leaving room to wonder if the hard-line position already was crumbling.

Selig moved quickly and quietly to control the situation, sending out a fax to his 27 fellow owners asking them to clear future comments with himself or the Player Relations Committee. He stopped short of calling it a gag rule, choosing instead to characterize it as an attempt to make sure the other owners are well-informed on the issues they address.

The fax was viewed as an attempt to quell dissent among the large-market owners who are losing the most during the strike. But Selig said yesterday that even those large-market owners -- including the vocal Angelos -- still support the management bargaining strategy.

"This is something we have been talking about for nearly two years," Selig said. "I've been around this group a long time. People should not spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not the owners are united.

"The owners are united. We know that the players are united. We have to figure a way to make a deal."

That has proved to be no simple task. The owners are willing to compromise on a variety of issues, but only if the players are willing to accept a salary cap. The players will resist a cap "until," as one union official put it, "hell freezes over."

There has been much speculation about the way ownership will respond to the loss of revenue that will accompany a long strike, but the effect of those losses may be overrated. The owners will lose $140 million in revenues if the playoffs and World Series are wiped out, but that works out to $5 million per team -- a small price to pay for a salary cap that the union claims would reduce player compensation by as much as $1 billion over the seven-year term of the ownership proposal.

The large-market teams will take a hit during the final two months of regular-season play, but even they would see long-term benefits.

"We have a significant problem," Selig said. "Nobody [on the ownership side] disagrees with that. Nobody is quarreling with the idea that we have to make significant changes. We are in economic distress and I'm telling you, the long-term consequences are worse than the short-term consequences."

Selig's Brewers franchise stands to be one of the main beneficiaries of the revenue-based salary cap and the revenue-sharing plan that goes with it, so he could not have been surprised when some of the large-market owners began to put their short-term worries into words.

"The one thing I have encouraged people to do is speak their minds," he said. "But the course we are on now has been planned and thought out for a long time."

It would take a tremendous mutiny to alter the course of the talks now, because the owners have instituted an internal rule that requires 21 teams to ratify any settlement. The 75 percent rule almost assures that they will play out their hand.

Who would be the type to try and lead such a revolt? Perhaps Angelos, who has as much to lose as anyone if the strike wipes out the rest of the season and the postseason. He is new to the game, so it is hard to imagine him garnering the kind of backing to overthrow the game's internal power structure, but he is not the type to stand around watching his franchise bleed millions of dollars during the next few months.

Union leaders also say that any member has the right to question his bargaining strategy, but dissent is uncommon within the players association. The older players remember what they went through to achieve the rights they are trying to defend, and the younger players are under tremendous peer pressure to stay in line.

BASEBALL STRIKE DAY 5

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News of the day

Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr traveled to Washington, presumably to seek support for another challenge to Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption.

Fehr is expected back in New York today, but no collective bargaining sessions have been scheduled. Federal mediators are expected to confer with both sides in the next few days, which could lead to a resumption of negotiations.

Games lost

Four games were canceled yesterday. The total number missed is 46.

Quote

"We've still got a few out here who want to play." -- Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman, watching youngsters learning to throw at a baseball clinic Saturday in Alexandria, Va.

Today in the minors

* Frederick at Wilmington, 7:05 p.m.

7+ * Fayetteville at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.

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