Hard to fathom paranoia over replacements


September 03, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

The members of the Major League Baseball Players Association laughed at the replacement games last March. No way the caliber of those games, the big-leaguers insisted, is anything close to the product produced by real big-leaguers.

And they were absolutely correct. Replacement games were dominated by pitchers with 80-mph fastballs, hitters who couldn't drive the ball out of most parks. The fans ignored the games during the exhibition season. In the end, the replacement games were a moot issue, having zero effect on the ultimate truce arranged by owners and players.

All this begs the question: Why have major-leaguers become so hung up about the handful of replacement players who have trickled into the big leagues this year?

It defies logic. After treating the replacement players as a punch line in spring training, some members of the MLBPA now treat them as if they were an incurable virus.

The latest flash point was the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Dodgers, after former replacement player Mike Busch was promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque. Busch dressed and took batting practice without being acknowledged by his new teammates, standard stuff for those who cross the line.

But then the Dodgers overreacted. They kicked him out of the clubhouse, held a 40-minute team meeting and tried to force executive vice president Fred Claire to send Busch back to the minors. They voted unanimously that they didn't want him around, and refused to let him speak.

The Dodgers, however, had plenty to say.

"He's a scab, pure and simple, and there will be individuals who will treat him as such," said center fielder Brett Butler, one of the union's militant members.

"Obviously, the players aren't happy with the decision that was made. There's a lot of pressure on everybody right now. Our focus is trying to win a world championship and distractions are not what we need right now."

The question is, who's creating the distraction? Is it the Dodgers' front office, which is trying to put together the best possible roster? Or is it the Dodgers' veterans, who choose to make an issue of what they and everyone else recognized to be a complete farce?

There have been similar responses to replacement players in San Francisco, Cincinnati, San Diego and Houston, the players reacting angrily to the promotion -- in the case of San Diego minor-league outfielder Ira Smith (Maryland), the near-promotion -- of a former strike-breaker. The Orioles immediately released Jimmy Hurst after they discovered he had been a replacement player, maintaining a policy established by owner Peter Angelos in spring training.

Much ado about nothing. This was not like strike-breaking truckers filling in for other striking truckers. The replacement players were more like strike-breaking truckers attempting to fill in for jet-fighter pilots.

It would be disingenuous for Butler to say that replacement players like Busch ever posed a threat to his well-being, or for Roger Clemens, another outspoken member of the union, to say that someone like Hurst contributed to the erosion of the players association.

Interestingly, the Milwaukee Brewers have relied on two former replacement players, pitchers Brian Givens and Jamie McAndrew, in recent weeks. The two strike-breakers will never be voted most popular by their teammates, but the Brewers chose to look past old wounds and recognized that Givens and McAndrew are helping them win.

What players may need to consider, too, is that the bottom line for everybody -- the union members, the owners, the replacement players -- was money. The players were striking to maintain their own financial well-being, the owners were trying to improve their share of revenue, and the replacement players were looking to pick up the very little that trickled down from the labor war.

Mets outfielder Chris Jones, a fringe major-leaguer the past six years, turned down the chance to become a replacement player in spring training. A decision motivated by morals or principle? Hardly.

"I wasn't going to jeopardize anything," Jones said. "I've had a taste of the big leagues for four years. I thought about when I saw Eric Davis' check of $179,000 for 15 days in Cincinnati in 1991, and figured what's $5,000 for me [$5,000 being the signing bonus received by replacement players]. They could keep that.

"Now if they would have offered me a college scholarship, bought me a house and paid for two cars, then we're talking business."

The major-league players were right: They could not be replaced, they cannot be replaced.

& Why so paranoid, then?

Murray could be available

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