While owners rejoice, Fehr has to wonder about spring AN EMPTY FEELING BASEBALL 1994: THE END The outcome

September 15, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Sept. 14, 1994. A day that will live in sports infamy. A day that will change baseball forever.

Where's Harry Caray when you need him?

"Owners win! Owners win! Owners win!"

Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the rest of the "Bust the Union" gang could be seen dancing around a massive bonfire outside poor, starving, small-market Milwaukee last night, tossing in 1994 schedules, contracts and postseason manuals.

The celebration will be even greater on Impasse Day, when the rTC owners unilaterally impose their beloved salary cap. They'll gleefully mail out contracts and open spring training camps. And then we'll find out just how smart Don Fehr really was.

By next March, the Jack Voigts of the world are going to panic.

By next March, the lifestyles of the rich and famous will be in jeopardy.

By next March, Barry "Alimony" Bonds will practically be ready for welfare.

The union is the strongest in sports, maybe the strongest in creation, but it has never been tested like this.

The players thought this would be a two-week strike, a nice little vacation. They chose an Aug. 12 strike date, figuring they'd return in September after staring the owners down.

Didn't happen then.

Won't happen now.

By next March, Fehr's scowl will be permanently affixed to his face, like Jack Nicholson's smile in "Batman."

By next March, the Orioles will be trumpeting Edgar Alfonzo at shortstop, and Cal "Stuck on 2,009" Ripken will be rushing through that picket line like Emmitt Smith.

All right, maybe Ripken and the rest of the $30 million club will stay out, but all it takes is one self-centered superstar to break ranks, and Fehr's world will start to crumble.

One self-centered superstar, out of about 50 candidates, starting with "Alimony" Bonds.

For the owners, the rest is downhill. They voted 26-2 to cancel the season yesterday. The only holdouts were Marge Schott and Peter Angelos, the oddest couple this side of Lisa-Marie Presley and Michael Jackson.

Think the pope will get the red carpet at Camden Yards?

Wait until you see what Angelos plans for his new best friend, Schottzie.

Angelos wanted to write his own resolution; next, he'll take a red pen to "Moby Dick." Actually, it's a badge of honor that he refuses to associate with these imbeciles. The best part is, he'll be just as big a nuisance in the NFL.

But enough reverie, and back to reality.

The owners will impose the cap -- don't let Selig fool you, if they negotiate, it will be for show only. The union will then appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, charging unfair labor practices.

Fehr can present a strong case -- the owners took 18 months to formulate a proposal, left only three or four months for negotiations, then refused to discuss any proposal other than their own.

Heck, Fehr might even persuade a maverick owner like Angelos to testify on the union's behalf. But, even if the players won, it wouldn't matter. The owners would keep fighting, and the appeals process could take years.

The players can't wait that long.

Their other great hope is that Congress will modify baseball's antitrust exemption, but that, too, will be an uphill fight. The Senate Judiciary Committee defeated such a bill on June 23, and Sen. James. J. Exon (D-Neb.) killed the prospect of a full Senate vote Tuesday.

Public opinion ultimately might move Congress to act, but to what gain? The players could file an antitrust lawsuit if the exemption is modified, nothing more.

Again, the process could take years.

Again, the players can't wait that long.

A new league? Don't hold your breath. Maybe the players can find a dozen Angelos types to back them, but good luck getting on the field by 1995 -- and good luck trying to get the old salaries.

The owners aren't without their own problems -- let's see them market teams of replacement players who aren't on their 40-man rosters. But no one ever thought the owners would last this long. And now, the tough part is over.

Fehr is banking on the union maintaining its solidarity, and the threat that several clubs might go bankrupt if play doesn't resume early in '95. He already underestimated the owners. Now, we'll see if he overestimated his own side.

He could have avoided all this. He could have offered to end the strike, offered to accept a cap if the players got an obscenely high percentage of the revenue -- say, 70 percent, instead of the owners' proposed 50 percent.

What would the owners have done then?

Fehr could have backed them into a corner; instead, he yielded the upper hand.

The cap was coming either way.

;/ By next March, the players will understand.

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