No cheers until they seal a deal

April 03, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Sun Columnist

Please, no dancing in the streets. Not until a labor agreement is reached by two sides that would argue over whether to feed an infant. Not until the 1995 season is delivered the old-fashioned way, World Series and everything.

Right now, nothing is guaranteed. Cal Ripken would tie Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record in early September under the revised 144-game schedule. But as things stand, the players might be back on strike by then.

Get an agreement, then talk to us. Get an agreement, then celebrate the return of real baseball. Get an agreement -- a long, sensible, fair agreement -- then talk about reviving the national pastime.

It's not going to happen right away, not after 25 years of acrimony and nearly eight months of self-destruction. But start with a no-strike pledge from the players and a no-lockout, no-impasse pledge from the owners. At least then it will be safe to buy a ticket again.

Ron Shapiro, the Baltimore attorney who represents Ripken, believes such an agreement is likely. "While there is a lot of insanity in the game," Shapiro said last night, "all the parties realize that the worst thing that can happen is that there will be a strike during the season."

Presumably, the owners agree, but with these people, you never know. They're like wounded animals now. It must have driven them crazy yesterday, knowing that it was probably illegal to lock out the players, and a total embarrassment not to.

Double jeopardy, baseball style.

Does anyone still think the owners were right? They're zillionaires, but they act like 8-year-olds. They trample laws. They mock authority figures. They can't be trusted.

Twice last night, acting Commissioner Bud Selig was asked if the owners' position would change if a court injunction against them was delayed or overturned. Twice, Selig refused to answer.

Selig had better watch it -- come October, he'll be presenting the World Series trophy to his nemesis, Orioles owner Peter Angelos. With luck, that will be Selig's only function by then.

Is Angelos loving this or what? He questioned the owners' hard-line negotiating strategy. He humiliated Selig with his refusal to use replacement players. And now, he's going to sign every free agent in sight. If the owners don't like it, let them eat cake -- or let them build their own Camden Yards.

That, remember, is what Angelos suggested in the first place. Now, the small-market clubs are in an even more perilous position than before. Their problems are legitimate, but the outcome serves them right -- they held the game hostage to serve their own interests.

Few owners will spend money in the post-strike era, but Angelos, of course, is raring to go. Larry Walker, Kevin Brown, John Franco -- you name him, Angelos wants him. General manager Roland Hemond had better start contacting all those free agents who pledged allegiance to Angelos -- or else.

The free agents are expected to gather at a union-sponsored training camp in Homestead, Fla. The best ones will sign quickly, but what about the others? They might never leave. Homestead will become a strike memorial, a baseball refugee camp, a field of broken dreams.

Bankrupt players, bankrupt owners -- they deserve each other, don't you think? It was downright pathetic last night, hearing Selig thank the replacement players. He nearly got choked up talking about the pawns that the game stiffed out of $22.4 million in bonuses at the 11th hour.

Shed no tears for the replacements -- they knew what was coming and got what they deserved. But if Selig wanted to show some gratitude, he should have started with U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the MVP of the 1995 season before a single pitch is thrown.

Of course, Selig is furious with Sotomayor, the judge who dared take exception to the owners' union-busting. She accomplished what the president couldn't, and Congress wouldn't. She shamed the owners into welcoming back the players.

The literary giants who weep over the sport will view Sotomayor's decision as an act of sheer poetry, a re- awakening for the green fields of the mind. The get-a-life Rotisserie League geeks will no doubt produce their own interpretation -- "Soto, rhymes with Roto, right?"

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the game is back in business. Barry Bonds can resume his alimony payments in full. Lenny Dykstra can resume spitting tobacco juice at will. And the players' wives can resume their credit lines at Neiman-Marcus, praise Donald Fehr.

Oh yes, and Cal Ripken can resume his chase of Lou Gehrig. Indeed, there's a silver lining to everything. Let's hope there is a settlement when Ripken approaches the record in early September. Let's hope this obscene display of greed is over.

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