Pick-up games are no pick-me-up

January 23, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

The suspicion here is that Dennis Rodman is running baseball . . . and he's not even working full time at it, sort of taking it up as a diversion during color rinses as he sits out another NBA suspension.

What other possible explanation could there be for the rampant foolishness that has beset the game for months. . . heck, years?

Consider, there hasn't been a bargaining session in a month (as of yesterday).

Unfair labor practices have been filed by both labor and management with the National Labor Relations Board, an outfit that already sees the owners as creeps for improperly withholding a $7.8 million payment to the players' pension fund last summer.

Union spokesman Donald Fehr is going around saying acting commissioner Bud Selig has been feeding falsehoods (lies) to everyone and Congress about how the players have refused to return to the bargaining table.

There is so much legislation in the hopper and planned hearings to re-re-re-examine the game's exemption from federal antitrust laws that a committee had to go all the way to a Holiday Inn in Garrett County to find an available meeting room.

All these things have become so much a part of baseball over the last 20-plus years, however, that we no longer even consider them distractions. They're simply an extension of something that used to be known as "The Hot Stove League."

What's new, of course, is the scheduling of pick-up games into the parks come the first week of April.

Ah, yes, this collection of whatevers is being referred to as "replacement players" and, not surprisingly, just one owner has expressed shock that this most traditional of games would even suggest such a scheme. Even in its most private meetings.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has said nay, nay, a thousand times nay, to this folly. Shockingly, not one of his 27 colleagues has grasped the truth and logic in his statements. This is assuming they are aware of Angelos' stand to begin with, since he is an outsider and thus is to be ignored.

Cincinnati owner Marge Schott, for instance, says, "The fans want to see baseball; they don't care who plays." Which suggests Marge should run the college teams from Dayton and Xavier into Riverfront Stadium and see how they draw.

When the 1994 season slipped down the tube last Aug. 12, recall all the breast-beating and cries of anguish heard regarding the sins perpetrated against the Grand Old Game. This replacement business, if carried out, would make a work stoppage appear as little more than the least venial of sins. Why, it might not even draw a penance from the most unyielding of confessors.

Oh, by the way, once replacement players are in place, perish forbid, how long will it be before replacement ticket prices are announced?

Thing is, the itinerants who could possibly end up qualifying as "major-leaguers" would be far from the creme de la creme of the minor leagues. Even baseball isn't so stupid as to enlist its top-echelon minor-leaguers or solid young prospects in this fiasco for fear of eventual recriminations against these players.

Maybe what the owners are thinking is that in 1987, the NFL went to replacement players and although the idea was scoffed at and ridicule was heaped upon the product, it undoubtedly helped to speed up the process whereby the strike was ended. Also an important part of this maneuver was that the game was kept alive on TV, the revenue kept coming in and this did pressure the players to "heel."

Even if you don't subscribe to the theory that replacement players would do permanent damage to a franchise with regard to goodwill, credibility, etc., you have to wonder why it took the owners a full 18 months to come up with their first proposal after opening talks on the basic agreement with the players at the end of 1992.

If they weren't looking to create an impasse so that they could institute their ideas with regard to a salary cap and arbitration from the very start, it was yet another not-too-subtle attempt to not only weaken the players union but to break it.

Meanwhile, if a bill isn't introduced declaring management incompetent and granting power of attorney to the government, any government . . . uh, now you see how serious things are. And, don't forget, further expansion appears to be right around the corner.

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