It's every owner for himself after $55 million curveball

November 27, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

And so, at last, baseball has labor peace.

What are we supposed to do, applaud?

Pat the players and owners on the back and say "good job"?

They killed the 1994 World Series with their greedy squabble, turned the national pastime into a national joke, robbed the game of its joy and reached a deal four years too late.

May they all suffer from heartburn and bad pitching.

The owners were knuckleheads to the end, ratifying a deal yesterday only after they figured out that their beloved pit bull, Jerry Reinsdorf, was in it for himself and not for the love of crushing the players.

Albert Belle saved baseball!

Everyone denied it yesterday, but that's not the first time the owners have taken us all for fools.

How else do you explain 14 owners shifting from nay to yea since the last vote 21 days ago? Holiday largess? Was this a Thanksgiving present from a bunch of turkeys?

No, this was the owners realizing that it was every man for himself now that Reinsdorf has thrown $55 million at Belle.

It's not a day for applause. Yes, five years of labor peace is good news, but the game is still a cesspool of self-interest run by 30 owners with 30 agendas.

And it's still far too soon to celebrate the end of baseball's days as a laughingstock among sports.

Yesterday's labor deal, as welcome as it is, doesn't solve all the problems.

Baseball can't begin to recover in earnest until the owners hire a real commissioner to replace Selig.

"The long and winding road is over," Selig said yesterday.

Another Beatles lyric serves as an appropriate reply: Get back, Bud.

Get back to where you once belonged.

Get out of the commissioner's chair and get back to owning the Brewers.

His tenure as acting commissioner is an embarrassment that can't end soon enough.

A real sport doesn't have a walking conflict of interest as a commissioner.

A real sport doesn't have a "leader" who takes sides in a labor dispute that shuts down the World Series.

A real sport doesn't have a commissioner who puts his fellow owners ahead of the good of the game.

If Selig wanted to quote the Beatles yesterday, he should have said, "I am the walrus."

The walrus who ate the '94 World Series.


You would think the owners would want him out. It was his and Reinsdorf's idea to play hardball with the players, and look what they got for their trouble:

Attendance is down some 5,000 fans a game.

World Series TV ratings are down 18 percent.

The owners have run up some $800 million in debt.

And all they got in return was a slight drag on player salaries, a luxury tax that won't keep anyone from doing anything.

Good strategy, Bud!

Talk about a palace coup waiting to happen.

But the owners would rather have Selig than a real commissioner. As you might expect, they like having to answer to no one.

As long as Selig is commissioner, the good of the game will take a back seat to the good of the owners.

A dictatorship, not a democracy, will run baseball.

The owners implemented wild-card teams and interleague play because they wanted more revenue. The impact on the game was secondary.

Regardless of your stance on wild cards and Orioles-Mets in July, it isn't good to have such fundamental changes made with the owners' revenue projections primarily in mind.

Someone needs to think about the game.

A real commissioner would.

There was no chance of the owners' hiring one until a labor deal was signed. No self-respecting person would willingly jump into the middle of such a horrible mess.

Remember what happened when the president tried to intervene? He got chewed up like a piece of gum.

There's still no guarantee that the owners will want a commissioner now that there is labor peace.

To their credit, they seemed to recognize that their interests came second to the health of the game when the players drew the line on this proposal and turned it into a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

The owners took the deal rather than embark on another fight with the players, who had already made a concession when they agreed to the luxury tax.

It was time for the owners to give in, and they did. If you want to take that as a sign that they're beginning to put the game first, go ahead.

But who trusts them?

No one should, especially not after Reinsdorf's deal with Belle. Now, the owners are not only against the players, but also against each other. It's total anarchy.

Oh, well, at least they can't kill the World Series for five years.

Having a labor deal is better than not having a labor deal. But please, let's not applaud the parties for finally bridging their differences. Let's just close our eyes and try to make them all go away.

Baseball's deal

Length: Runs through 2000 season, with players' option to extend through 2001.

Luxury tax: A 35 percent tax on excess payroll over $51 million in 1997, 35 percent on excess payroll over $55 million in 1998 and 33 percent on excess payroll over $58.9 million in 1999. No tax in 2000 and 2001.

Payroll tax: Players agree to contribute the equivalent of 2.5 percent of total 25-man payrolls for the first two years of the agreement to an "industry growth" fund, with a minimum two-year contribution of $40 million.

Minimum salary: A rise from $109,000 to $150,000 next year, $170,000 in 1998 and $200,000 in 1999 and 2000.

Interleague play: Experimental interleague play in 1997, but a permanent interleague arrangement would be subject to a separate negotiation between the union and management.

Service time: 75 days of service time lost by major-league players during the 1994-95 strike are restored.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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