Owners, players must labor to find peace

ON BASEBALL

March 10, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Maybe the possibility of an All-Star boycott seemed like a good idea to a few militant union reps - or whoever leaked the idea to the media last week - but the players and owners need to keep their passions in check during the early stages of this new round of collective bargaining.

This is no time for any stupid labor tricks.

The last labor war was not so long ago that anyone can be excused for forgetting how much damage was done when the players went on strike for the final two months of the 1994 season and forced the first cancellation of the World Series in nearly a century.

Millions of fans pulled a boycott of their own after the owners finally gave up their fight for a hard salary cap under a deluge of union litigation. Baseball's huge fan following was so disenchanted that attendance fell off sharply in 1995 and might have dropped to disastrous levels if not for Cal Ripken's feel-good pursuit of Lou Gehrig's long-standing consecutive-games record.

The sport marched back over the next few years, recapturing much of its former glow when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their magical assault on Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998.

Earth to everyone involved on both sides: There is nothing on the horizon that will save you from yourselves this time.

Three of the game's legendary stars - Ripken, Mark McGwire and Tony Gwynn - retired at the end of last year, creating a personality gap that will take some time to fill, and the fans are beginning to figure out that a 60-homer season isn't that special anymore.

The threat of an All-Star boycott might sound good because this year's All-Star Game is in Bud Selig's back yard (Miller Park in Milwaukee). It would be a dynamic, in-your-face response to ownership's attempt to contract two teams and impose a new economic system aimed at reducing salaries, but it wouldn't play that way on Main Street.

The All-Star Game is baseball's most fan-friendly event, so a boycott likely would be viewed as baseball's most fan-unfriendly act since Selig announced there would be no 1994 World Series.

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Donald Fehr was quick to disavow any knowledge of a plot to submarine the midseason classic, but even the rumor of such an aggressive act should be a signal of the gathering labor storm that threatens to shut down the sport again.

More proof

The resignation of Major League Baseball president Paul Beeston - and his replacement at the head of the bargaining committee by Bob Dupay - is viewed by the players as a sign that the short-lived era of good feelings between the union and ownership is coming to an end.

Beeston's conciliatory approach toward the union did create a new atmosphere after the labor disaster of the mid-1990s, but his departure puts ownership's bargaining strategy back in the hands of some of the same people who engineered the last attempt to overhaul the game's salary structure.

That effort failed, in part, because the owners backed off implementation after a string of successful legal challenges by the union, but there was evidence in the wake of the dispute that the owners might have achieved their goals if they had let the situation play all the way out.

Don't be surprised if management again attempts to force the issue with an impasse declaration later this year.

Bonds vs. Sosa

Now, here's a grudge match that might actually be good for baseball. Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have been sniping at each other over the past week, perhaps setting the stage for an exciting head-to-head battle for the 2002 National League home run title.

Here's the war of words in a nutshell: Sosa said recently that Bonds challenged him to break his new single-season home run record. Bonds responded that Sosa had been "running his mouth too much." To which Sosa fired back: "Now, I have to believe all the negative things said about him by his teammates are true."

Chances are, they'll kiss and make up before the end of spring training, but here's hoping that they don't. It would be great fun to see the two trading home runs and personal barbs all season - sort of the opposite of the friendly competition that developed between Sosa and McGwire in 1998.

Glass house

Well-traveled superstar Roberto Alomar continues to whine about the poor treatment he supposedly got from the Cleveland Indians, whom he feels did not play straight with him before they traded him to the New York Mets.

Alomar has been telling anyone who will listen that Indians general manager Mark Shapiro lied to him and led him to believe that he would be back this year.

"When you're a man, you should tell a man to his face," Alomar said. "That's what I was disappointed about. He didn't tell the truth."

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