Player reps miss ball with timing of meeting

ON BASEBALL

July 07, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

Maybe that's what will happen in Milwaukee during the next few days, but a gathering of baseball's player representatives in Chicago tomorrow could provide a little rain for Bud Selig's hometown parade.

The Major League Baseball Players Association will convene an important executive council meeting the day before the midsummer classic, the expressed purpose of which is to give player reps an update on the current collective-bargaining negotiations with ownership.

There also are rumblings of a darker agenda - speculation that union officials will discuss possible strike scenarios and may even set a strike date.

Why tomorrow?

The timing of the meeting is more a function of convenience than spite.

The All-Star break is a rare opportunity for player reps to meet in person, since there is no other break in the schedule that is common to all teams.

The proximity of the meeting to Milwaukee also is logical, since Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is a centrally located hub that can be reached non-stop from almost anywhere in the nation.

Nevertheless, the timing and location still create the impression that the union is using the popular All-Star Game as a backdrop for its first major strategy summit.

The players clearly are frustrated with the course of the collective-bargaining talks, which they suspect are headed for a November impasse declaration by the owners. If they hope to pre-empt a management bargaining ploy that could shut down the free-agent market this winter, they'll have to exert some leverage before the end of the season.

The only way to do that is with a strike date. It's just a question of what that date should be ... and when to make the announcement.

If history is any indication, the union probably will set a strike date for mid-August, which would leave a couple of weeks to get a deal done without endangering the postseason. But everyone knows how that strategy worked in 1994.

Union officials also could suggest an Oct. 1 strike date, which would allow players to collect their entire 2002 salaries while forcing the owners to bargain under the threat of an expensive postseason cancellation.

Either way, it would be a horribly bad idea to announce the date tomorrow, even though some players have expressed the desire to throw a little dirt on Selig's All-Star party.

The All-Star Game is the one baseball event that is devoted almost entirely to the fans, so any attempt to dampen the excitement associated with it could backfire badly on the players.

There is one other option for the union. The players could take the high road and set no strike date at all, leaving it to the owners to make the first move. Though an off-season lockout would create uncertainty and hardship for some players, it might be preferable to the long-term fan backlash that would certainly come from an in-season strike.

If no agreement can be reached this winter, the players can always choose to strike the opening of the 2003 season, which would create far less public outcry.

Don't bet on that scenario, however. Union executive director Donald Fehr has had great success in the past with a more proactive approach to baseball's troublesome labor relationship. There's no reason to think this year will be any different.

All-Star laments

If it's early July, then somebody is complaining about the All-Star selection process - in particular the way the All-Star managers stack their teams with their own players.

Get over it. The All-Star managerial assignment is one of the perks that comes with winning the pennant. Joe Torre and Bob Brenly should give a little extra consideration to their own players. That's part of the payoff.

Of course, you can't blame a few deserving players for feeling slighted, but that's just the rub of the green.

OK, just one complaint

If I were king, I'd throw out the requirement that at least one player be selected from every team. That would make it a lot easier to include the highest possible number of truly deserving players.

Perhaps the same thing could be said about limiting the number of players a manager can pick from his own team, but one of the good things about being king is, you don't have to be consistent.

The 30th man

The 30th man runoff is a great idea. It gives the fans a chance to correct an oversight on each team. I only wish that it were done to pick the 26th man. Thirty players on each team is just unwieldy.

If I were still king, by the way, I would also prohibit the use of the word unwieldy. It's unwieldy.

Batista gets thumbs up

Torre made the right choice in picking third baseman Tony Batista as the only Orioles player on the American League team. Batista has been the best player on the team all season, even though he drew the thankless task of replacing Cal Ripken at third.

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