Schedule may be fake, but the disdain is real

January 17, 1995|By BILL TANTON

There hasn't been much to like about the goings-on in baseball lately, but there is one good thing:

Everyone in authority with the Orioles is dead against playing replacement players if the work stoppage continues on into the regular season.

"We'd rather forfeit the games than play replacement players," says Joe Foss.

Foss, a banker who joined Orioles owner Pete Angelos' acquisition team a year and a half ago, is the club's vice chairman of business and finance. In other words, he's the money man -- and we all know what drives sports today.

Foss was one of three Orioles officials who spoke the other day at the January sports luncheon at J. Patrick's. The others were the new manager, Phil Regan, and Syd Thrift, who came aboard this winter to run the scouting and minor leagues.

If there's one thing Orioles fans seem to agree on, it's that they don't want to go to Camden Yards in April to see kids who should be playing at Bowie.

I've heard some people say they would rather see the kids in the farm system than see no baseball at all.

A few are so fed up in general that they claim to prefer hungry farmhands to spoiled major-league millionaires.

Those people, it seems to me, are speaking in the abstract. The idea appeals to them, but they're not ready to plunk down major-league money to see minor-league players.

A more typical fan response is that of Joe "Tickets" Wyatt. He has been paying his way into sports events for 50 years and is happy to do it.

Tickets got his nickname in the days when Baltimore was rich with professional teams and he had ducats for all of them.

"Hey, Joe, you got anything good for the Colt game Sunday?" he would be asked.

"I got a pair in the upper deck, they're not too good," he would say, "but I got two good ones for the Bullets Friday night and four real nice ones for the Clippers Saturday."

Tickets was a regular at Orioles games right up to the start of the players strike last Aug. 12. Events of the last five months have cooled his ardor.

At J. Patrick's I asked him if he intends to buy tickets to see the replacement players, if they should be used by the Orioles.

"What do you think I am, nuts?" he snapped. "Of course I won't buy tickets for that. I'm not even sure I'll buy tickets again when Cal Ripken and all the regulars come back. That's how turned off I am."

So it was music to Tickets' ears when Foss said the Orioles would rather forfeit than fake it.

Thrift, who has been in baseball for more than 30 years, is just as rigidly opposed to using replacement players. He feels, correctly, it's not fair to the fans.

"When I was growing up in a little town in Virginia," said Thrift, "my dad ran a general store. He taught me that the customer is always right.

"I think replacement players would be defrauding the public. When people come to Camden Yards, they expect to see the best ballplayers in the world -- and that's what they're entitled to see."

Those who know the background of Angelos expected him to be opposed to using replacement players, sometimes called scabs. Angelos has spent a good bit of his life as a lawyer representing labor unions.

The Orioles' manager, Regan, who was billed as the featured speaker at J. Patrick's, made a highly favorable impression on an audience of 135.

Regan is a classy guy who is going to make a lot of friends in Baltimore. But nobody is going to care about that if he doesn't win here.

Can his Orioles win in '95 -- assuming there is a '95 season?

"I turned down a chance to manage the Florida Marlins," Regan said, "because I wanted to have a chance to win. You're not going to win right away with an expansion team.

"Do I think we can win this year? Yes, I think we can win. In fact, I know we can win. We may need another hitter. We may need one more pitcher. But we can win."

Having waited all these years to get his first big-league managing job, Regan -- he'll be 58 on April 6 -- is especially eager to see the labor impasse ended and the season started.

"I think the players and the owners need to keep talking," Regan said. "Maybe we should be like hockey. When hockey was on strike, both sides were more interested in who would win in a settlement. When you're not playing, neither side is winning. Maybe both sides in our game should give a little and stop worrying about who's going to win."

Regan would seem to have a good idea there.

If it should work, Joe Foss would be happy.

"What we're doing now is insanity," said an exasperated Foss. "I've never seen anything like this."

Amen, Joe.


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