On deck: Owners, players prepare for disaster again

ON BASEBALL

March 31, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

When baseball commissioner Bud Selig publicly pledged that baseball owners would not do anything to interrupt the 2002 season, it was a move intended to put fans at ease and the Major League Baseball Players Association on the defensive.

It certainly accomplished the latter.

Union leader Donald Fehr fired back that the announcement was a veiled threat to implement new work rules after the season, when the players would no longer be able to derive bargaining leverage from the threat of a strike.

Management responded that the union was misinterpreting its intentions, but it didn't matter by then. The game was on.

The players and owners spent much of the past six years playing nice, trying to give the impression to fans that they had learned the lessons that were so painfully taught during the disastrous labor war of 1994-95.

Now, in the wake of ownership's off-season attempt to disband two franchises, there is no longer any pretense. Baseball is hurtling toward another self-destructive labor showdown that will damage the 2003 season if it doesn't get a piece of 2002.

Conspicuous in the union response was the absense of any reciprocal pledge to play out this season without interruption, which clearly is what Selig was trolling for when he made his no-lockout announcement.

Quite to the contrary, Fehr seemed to hint that the players might have to take pre-emptive action to prevent the owners from changing baseball's economic system soon after the World Series.

Here's a quick history lesson for anyone too young to remember 1994:

The players, rightfully convinced that the owners were planning to implement new work rules, went on strike in August and forced the first World Series cancellation since 1904. The work stoppage so disenchanted baseball fans that it took several years to get attendance and television ratings back to pre-strike levels.

Selig is banking that the memory of that awful period will dissuade the players from going on strike this year. If he's right, the owners would be in position to shut off individual contract negotiations next winter and gain significant leverage in collective bargaining.

In other words, they're playing chicken again, and we all know how that game usually turns out.

One more time?

There's no way that Barry Bonds can match the season he had in 2002 ... right?

Bonds set the single-season home run record (73), the single-season walk record (177) and the single-season slugging percentage record (.863), which should be an impossible act to follow.

"I had the equivalent of two seasons for me," he said recently. "To think I can do something like that again is not realistic."

Of course, Bonds spent most of the 2002 season denying that he had a realistic chance of breaking Mark McGwire's three-year-old home run mark, and look what happened.

"People want him to come back and hit 73, 74 - or whatever," said fellow home run machine Sammy Sosa. "It's a situation, they have to understand, to have a monster year the way he had was unbelievable. It was an unbelievable year. They want you to go out and do it again, over and over. But we don't know what's going to happen this year. Hopefully he can come back and do it again. That would be good for baseball."

Phillie flameout

The Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed an exciting 2001 season under manager Larry Bowa, but the prospects for 2002 are not so promising.

Opening Day starter Robert Person had an unimpressive spring, and No. 2 starter Randy Wolf will start the season on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis.

The Phillies will go to unproven Vicente Padilla in the No. 2 spot and use young Dave Coggin as the fifth starter, which doesn't exactly leave the club with a rotation capable of competing with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

Disarming Rangers

New Rangers GM John Hart stocked the club with new arms last winter, but you probably won't know it by the Opening Day roster. The club will enter the season with about half a healthy pitching staff.

Closer Jeff Zimmerman had to be put on the disabled list with a sore elbow and could be lost for six weeks. Big-money free agent Chan Ho Park and fellow newcomer Dave Burba are battling hamstring strains. Starter Ismael Valdes was scratched from his last Florida start with elbow stiffness. And reliever Jay Powell could open the season on the DL with tendinitis in his right middle finger.

Manager Jerry Narron on the state of his pitching staff:

"It's not good," he said.

One-two punch

The White Sox's offense has been humming all spring, thanks in part to the presence of two of baseball's best leadoff hitters working together at the top of the order.

Newcomer Kenny Lofton and veteran second baseman Ray Durham - batting 1-2 in the lineup - both have averaged more than 100 runs a season throughout their careers.

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