Major League Blooper-ball

September 14, 1994

Major league baseball's sort-of commissioner spent part of last weekend watching a football game. Its hot-shot labor negotiator watched a tennis match. So much for High Noon in the baseball strike. Last Friday's "final deadline" for a settlement that would salvage the once promising 1994 season passed. Neither the owners nor the players blinked, but neither did they acknowledge there's hardly anything left to salvage.

What seemed impossible even when the strike started Aug. 12 now seems likely. No more baseball this season, no World Series for the first time in 90 years. Quite possibly no baseball on opening day next year, either. And to what end?

The owners' case looks increasingly thin with the passage of time. Their ostensible major objective, a salary cap that would restrain escalating costs and bring baseball back from what they describe as the brink of bankruptcy, is a dead issue for all practical purposes. Actually, the owners could impose what would amount to a salary cap legally and without the consent of the players. It is called self-restraint. Not collusion, which the owners tried surreptitiously and which cost them tens of millions in penalties. Just self-control. After all, the owners bid up those salaries they complain about so bitterly. If they just said NO once in a while and made it stick, their salary costs would stabilize.

But that's not what the strike is about. It's about the imbalance in revenues among the baseball clubs. That's a management problem, but the owners flaunt their collective incompetence by insisting that their employees solve it for them. Somehow the "large market" teams must ease the burden of the "small market" teams. The Orioles' Peter Angelos, one of the well-heeled owners, has made some intelligent suggestions. So have a few others, perhaps including the players' representatives. Fans can only hope that sensible people on both sides are meeting quietly while baseball's leaders frolic in the stands of other sports.

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