Baseball owners are getting more and more serious about their plan to start the 1995 season with replacement players if members of the Major League Baseball Players Association remain on strike, but there still are questions about the workability of their hard-line strategy.
The Orioles are resisting the call to begin assembling a team of strikebreakers, and they may not be the only team that is less than enthusiastic about the prospect of recruiting former professionals and fringe minor-leaguers to play in major-league uniforms.
Nevertheless, the process has begun in earnest. Members of Major League Baseball's operations committee sent out a list of guidelines for recruiting and signing replacement players late yesterday.
"We are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play," acting commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
The directive, which was sent to each club, sets roster size and a standard salary for strikebreakers. Each team apparently will have 32 players under contract and go with the traditional 25-man roster. There will be no disabled list, but each team will have a taxi squad of seven extra players in case of injury. The replacement players are expected to receive the new major-league minimum salary for first year players, $115,000.
It seems likely that the union will challenge ownership's attempt to implement a separate set of work rules for replacement players, but in the three weeks since the owners implemented their new economic system, they have been operating as if the union no longer exists.
Several teams will open tryout camps during the next two weeks. The California Angels and Toronto Blue Jays were the first to announce their plans to audition potential replacement players, and they have since been joined by the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.
The traditional reporting dates for pitchers and catchers are four weeks away, and 24 of the 28 major-league franchises have no plans -- so far -- to hold special tryouts.
Orioles management isn't even considering it, though Selig continues to say that all 28 teams will be expected to participate in replacement games.
The Orioles' front office has taken the position that the club cannot be coerced into putting an inferior product on the field, but there is room to wonder if owner Peter Angelos would be putting the future of the franchise in jeopardy by failing to bow to the authority of Major League Baseball's Executive Council.
Could Selig and the reigning members of the game's power structure move to lift the franchise from Angelos' ownership group if it breaches the Major League Agreement?
Sources inside the Orioles' organization claim that is the only HTC possibility that might cause Angelos to back down on the replacement issue, though he has not ruled out a legal fight if the other owners try to force him to do something he believes would be detrimental to the franchise.
The stage could be set for another big legal showdown, but it seems unlikely that Major League Baseball would welcome an expensive fight with one of its own at a time when it is embroiled in the most destructive labor dispute in baseball history.
Management leaders are expected to meet with Angelos next week to try to work something out, but previous attempts to co-opt the Orioles' owner have met with little success. He has been the biggest critic of ownership's bargaining strategy that helped bring about the first World Series cancellation in 90 years.
It appears that the Orioles would sooner forfeit every replacement game and put themselves at an early disadvantage in the American League East race. That way, Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak likely would not be affected, reducing the possibility of a backlash from disgruntled fans.
The rest of the owners apparently are willing to go through with the replacement scenario, despite concern that it will cause further damage to the image of the game.
"All of the 28 clubs would like to avoid the scenario of using replacement players," said Boston Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington, head of the committee that formulated the rules. "But the clubs at this point cannot assume that 40-man roster players will report or remain in camp after they report."