What makes for peace now could spark labor war later


August 18, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It should be over any minute now. The baseball labor negotiations apparently have reached the point where both sides are ready to put a new collective bargaining agreement in front of membership for ratification. Labor peace is at hand, though it would be wise to believe it only when you see it.

The owners will get a tax plan that contains the growth of #F payrolls. The players can celebrate four more years without a salary cap. Commissioner Bud Selig will announce the settlement early this week and call it an historic partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Don't be fooled.

The pending agreement was the result of economic pressure brought to bear on both sides by the growing disinterest of the public, which finally flexed its considerable monetary muscle and sent a strong message to both sides in the bitter 3 1/2 -year labor dispute.

The owners won't get what they wanted. The luxury tax plan may subtlely narrow the gap between the largest and smallest payrolls, but the thresholds are too high to make a significant difference in the percentage of revenue spent on salaries. Certainly, nothing was achieved that was worth the price both sides -- and the fans -- paid during a lengthy strike that damaged both the 1994 and '95 seasons and canceled the 1994 World Series.

It will take another four or five years to rebuild public confidence in the sport, then the whole process will begin anew. The owners, still burning because they had to back down from their heavy-handed attempt to wrest control of the game away from the powerful players union, will be tempted again to push for give-backs. The union, already convinced that it gave too much in 1996, will push back. The stage already is set.

Throwing out the net

The California Angels are said to have more than 100 candidates on their preliminary list of possible managers for the 1997 season, including Orioles hitting coach Rick Down, former Cubs and Mariners manager Jim Lefebrve, manager-turned-broadcaster Jeff Torborg (a former Angel), Jim Fregosi, Sparky Anderson and Rene Lachemann, who would probably bring back brother Marcel as pitching coach if he were hired.

General manager Bill Bavasi has his work cut out for him, because the club is looking for experience and stability, while making it clear that it doesn't want to recycle a member of the usual managerial talent pool.

The club probably will give its new manager a long-term contract to create the kind of stable environment the Angels have not had since Bill Rigney mothered the fledgling club for eight years in the 1960s. That will make it difficult to hire anyone without major-league experience. If there was any doubt that Marcel Lachemann gave up the job voluntarily, there won't be when he returns next year as the Angels' organizational pitching coordinator or major-league pitching coach. The parting was amicable, and Angels sources claim they are anxious to have him back with the club in one of those two capacities next year. Accepting Lachemann as pitching coach may even be a prerequisite to become the club's next manager.

Yanks block Knoblauch

The Cleveland Indians covet the services of Minnesota Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, and appear to be the most likely candidate to sign him if he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Perhaps that's why there are reports that the Twins tried to sneak him through waivers last week for the purpose of a 'blauch-buster, stretch-drive deal.

Word is that the New York Yankees, who figure to run into the Indians in the postseason, placed a waiver claim and forced the Twins to withdraw Knoblauch. Waiver transactions are confidential -- so there's no way to confirm that happened -- but it was a smart move by Yankees GM Bob Watson if it did.

Cleveland pitcher Orel Hershiser is troubled by his club's suddenly soft performance at Jacobs Field, where the Indians had been dominant their first two seasons. "Our stretch drive is going to be at home," Hershiser said, "so we're going to have to step it up a notch."

Not that the Indians are in any real danger of coming up short of the playoffs, but the second-place White Sox have a soft schedules over the next few weeks. They do not play a team with a .500-or-better record between now and Sept. 10.

Twins designated hitter Paul Molitor is the only Minnesota player to start every game this year, which is slightly amazing considering that he turns 40 on Thursday and he used to be one of the most injury-prone players in professional sports. And he continues to play like he's 30, ranking among the league leaders in hits and batting average.

The last Twins player to play all 162 games was third baseman Gary Gaetti in 1984. It's a tall order on artificial turf, but Molitor doesn't have to contend with that as much because he is the full-time DH.

Still going strong

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