Baseball's ruling Executive Council voted last week to expel New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner from that governing body and relieve him of all his committee assignments.
It was a predictable response to Steinbrenner's recent decision to file a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, which recently ordered him to clear future marketing deals -- like his $95 million contract with Adidas -- with his fellow owners.
And it was just what baseball needs right now, another internecine war that is sure to divide baseball ownership, heighten the cynicism of the fans and increase the power of the players union.
The Major League Agreement prohibits owners from suing the commissioner, but Steinbrenner contends that the lawsuit is permissible because there is no commissioner. He would appear to have a point.
The other owners may succeed in making the case that the Executive Council legally is empowered to act in place of a commissioner, but Steinbrenner already has succeeded in showing that the emperor has no clothes. The other owners have grown more and more envious of Steinbrenner's giant revenue stream, and want to assure that they get a piece of the action in the future. Steinbrenner, who already is the largest contributor to baseball's newly enhanced revenue-sharing plan, wants the ,X freedom to exploit the marketing value of his franchise without interference from an Executive Council that has been all but taken over by small-market and medium-market ownership.
The Major League Baseball Players Association has to be loving this. The players spent years trying to get Congress to rescind Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption. Now, Steinbrenner is getting ready to carry their water by challenging the sport's antitrust status from within.
Everybody wants to have a starting rotation like the one that has carried the Atlanta Braves into every postseason since 1991, and the Orioles apparently have come close this year.
Through the first 39 games of 1997, the top three pitchers in the Orioles' rotation -- Jimmy Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson -- had a combined 19-2 record, and Davey Johnson's five-man rotation had a combined record of 22-6.
The Braves don't have to bow to anyone when it comes to great starting pitching, but their top four starters were a combined 18-7 through 39 games and the overall rotation record was 19-9.
New York Yankees pitcher David Wells is growing tired of the ubiquitous comparisons with Key. Wells is pitching well, but Key has gotten off to a 7-0 start with the Orioles, which is making the Yankees' decision to let him go -- and sign Wells -- look less than brilliant.
"One of these days, someone's going to ask one too many times about Jimmy and then I'm going to snap," Wells told a reporter recently. "I respect Jimmy, but he's also getting a lot of runs to work with. What does he get, nine runs? Jimmy's playing for a great team. I know that team; I played with them last year. But hopefully down the stretch, I'll get to face him. Then we'll get some questions answered."
Key has gotten great support. The Orioles have averaged 7.6 runs in the games he has pitched, and the Yankees have averaged 5.25 runs in Wells' starts. But Key's success should not be discounted, since his 1.82 ERA is more than 1 1/2 runs per game lower than Wells' (3.45).
Get this. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Al Martin was the driving force behind a promotional event last week in Pittsburgh in which the Pirates and their front-office staff greeted the team's fans at the turnstiles at Three Rivers Stadium.
"It's a night I'll remember for a long time," Martin said. "It was probably the best night this franchise has had since we were winning our last [NL East] title in 1992. It was great to get the chance to meet the fans."
The promotion was similar to the one the Orioles ran on Mother's Day, but the Pirates managed to get through it without controversy and despite interrupting their pre-game routine, the Bucs went out and thrashed the Braves, 9-0.
"But what really made the night was us going out and playing as well as we did against the best team in the National League," Martin said. "It was nice to meet with the fans and let them see the kind of good guys we have on our club, but it could have kind of ruined things if we didn't win the game. You didn't want people to go home thinking good guys, bad players."
Playing it safe
The Braves appear to be giving four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux the kid-glove treatment this year, though he claims there is nothing physically wrong with him.
Maddux is averaging just 79 pitches per start, and the other three core members of the Braves' rotation are up around 100. Tom Glavine is the workhorse at 107 pitches per start. Denny Neagle is averaging 105 and John Smoltz is averaging 97.