Lee Smith goes. Bret Barberie comes. Danny Jackson gets away. Mark McLemore goes. Jay Buhner considers coming.
Ordinarily, it would matter. Ordinarily, the Orioles' off-season shuffles are Topic A around town.
This year, who cares?
This year, getting excited about it is a lot like planning to spend a $20 million lottery jackpot before the drawing is held. You're wasting your time, planning for something that's not likely to occur.
More and more, it appears that the (please insert your own invective) baseball strike will steamroll right into the '95 season, rendering irrelevant all personnel moves.
Would the Orioles regret losing Smith because they offered him a one-year contract and the Angels offered two years? Probably, although it's hardly prudent to give Smith, 37, a two-year deal after the way he finished in '94. But there is no indication that major-league baseball as we know it will exist next year, so where Smith is supposed to pitch doesn't really matter.
There's no telling when real baseball will return. Even though the National Labor Relations Board said yesterday that it would issue two unfair labor practice complaints against the owners, the owners still apparently are going to declare an impasse in the negotiations and impose their own set of work rules. After breaking off talks yesterday, the two sides are not significantly closer to an agreement than they were when the strike began in August.
What it means is that the strike probably will move off the bargaining table and into the labor courts and possibly Congress, signaling the beginning of years of litigation and numbing mumbo jumbo from suits. What fun!
But at this point, what alternative is there to letting the courts and Congress intervene? Collective bargaining is failing, primarily because the owners simply refuse to come off their demand for a limit on salaries even though they offer no proof that it is necessary. (And continue to sign hopelessly inflated contracts such as the one that made Gregg Jefferies a $5 million-a-year Phillie yesterday.)
As much as the players are arrogant and completely detached from the problems of the real world, the owners are the ones driving this madness.
But it is possible that the owners have gone too far now in their attempt to get back at the players for years of bargaining defeats.
Unless the union capitulates and the players flood back to training camps next spring -- don't bet on that -- the owners will find themselves in a corner. Either they begin the '95 season with replacement players or shut down again, and neither
alternative figures to please many customers.
Playing a scab season is going to be next to impossible, for no reason more than the Canadian labor law prohibiting the Blue Jays and Expos from using replacements for striking players. "We're not about to break the law; we're going to adhere to it," Blue Jays president Paul Beeston said recently. How can baseball have a season if two teams can't play home games?
But even if it did find a way around that one (moving the Jays to Buffalo, or challenging the use of the labor law because the players' union isn't a Canadian union), replacement ball would -- fail miserably as an attraction. I firmly believe that. Yes, half of the respondents to a recent national poll said they would watch it as often as real major-leaguer ball, but I don't buy it. Let's ask them again in June. I don't think they'd be so enthusiastic.
The killing of Cal Ripken's streak by itself might cause enough damage with the public to cave in the whole thing.
In any case, no matter if the owners shut down the game or try to fool the public with minor-leaguers playing at major-league prices, the game figures to be in disarray next spring. That would be the time for Congress to get involved.
Yes, there are many, many more important matters for Congress to deliberate, and, yes, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, recently said that Congress shouldn't intervene. But if the game is going down the toilet, the growing swell of anger just might move Congress to act. Goodness knows they could use a little good p.r. over there.
Remember, the players have said they would return to work without a contract if the owners' antitrust exemption were pTC revoked. Perhaps the threat of that would move the owners to bargain more reasonably.
It is a scenario that, however far-fetched, makes as much sense as any for a possible end to this ridiculous stalemate. The owners certainly are owed an evil turn for foisting this mess on us.
Either way, we're going to be hearing a lot of legalese before we get to see real baseball again. That's a shame. It would be a lot more fun to speculate about whether the Orioles let the pennant fly away to St. Louis with Danny Jackson. But that stuff just doesn't seem so important this year, does it?