Sport's troubles strike up debate

Labor woes help fuel sense of uncertainty, frustration

July 12, 2002|By Roch Kubatko and Mary Beth Kozak | Roch Kubatko and Mary Beth Kozak,SUN STAFF

The Orioles began the second half of their season last night with cooler temperatures at Camden Yards. Perhaps the drop in degrees came from the large cloud of uncertainty that hangs over every ballpark.

Not much light seems to be breaking through these days with so many controversies overshadowing just about everything that takes place on the field. Fans have become increasingly turned off by issues ranging from alleged steroid abuse to another work stoppage to Tuesday's premature ending of the All-Star Game.

Even the craftiest pitcher would have trouble putting a positive spin on these topics.

The union and owners are to resume negotiations today in New York, their first meeting since June 27, as the two sides attempt to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement and avoid a strike. Discussions are expected to center on a salary cap, the luxury tax, revenue sharing, an expanded worldwide draft, drug testing, arbitration and contraction. A youthful Ozzie Smith never covered that much ground.

Major League Baseball could be facing its ninth work stoppage since 1972. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove is uncertain what will happen, but must proceed as if the schedule will hold 162 games.

"The people I've asked have said they don't have any idea," he said. "We'll just concentrate on doing our jobs and we'll plan for the entire season to be played and next season to be played. Things I've heard lead me to believe we might get something done. Hopefully we will, but I don't have any concrete information to base that on.

"It's a distraction for anybody. It's a distraction for the fans, the players, everybody. But it's something that's in front of you and you just have to be mentally disciplined enough to ignore that and take care of business."

In the meantime, fans are expected to continue spinning the turnstiles and paying exorbitant prices during a season that could be cut short.

"If they go on strike, they're absolutely crazy," said St. Louis resident Jeremiah Weaver, who was visiting family in the Baltimore area and attended last night's game. "Somewhere it's got to stop. One thing they have to remember is that the fans are their employers. The fans are the ultimate bosses. It's all about making them happy. I think the commissioner [Bud Selig] is a used car salesman idiot."

"There is just too much greed," said Larry Conway of Dundalk. "You'd think after 9/11 they'd learn."

"I understand that baseball is a game and a business," said Mary Beth Ransom of Abingdon, "but they've got to stop and think of what they're doing to their business. They won't have a business without the fans' support."

They didn't have a winner in the All-Star Game. Selig called it off after the 11th inning with the score tied 7-7. Neither manager wanted to push his last pitcher any further and risk injury, a decision that sent debris and jeers flying from the stands at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

"[Selig] would like to do good, but I don't think he really knows what the fans want," Ransom said. "He should have taken time out and talked about all the alternatives. The decision was forced and hasty."

"Everyone's blaming Bud Selig," said Mark Zoelcki of Washington, "but it was the two managers who said they didn't want to finish. It's a no-win situation. Anything he does is misconstrued as wrong."

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