Date set, O's veterans still see no strike

Less hostile negotiations give them hope that '94 will not be repeated

August 17, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce still was wiping the sleep from his eyes yesterday morning, his body fatigued after a late return flight from Minnesota, when the news hit him like the piercing ring of an alarm clock.

It's 10 a.m. Do you know where your next paycheck is?

Like every other team, the Orioles learned that the executive board of the players association had set the strike date for Aug. 30. Major League Baseball was moving toward its ninth work stoppage in the last 30 years. Now there's an alarming development.

Despite recurring visions of the last strike in 1994, Fordyce took an optimistic view by noting that emotions on both sides "aren't as high." It's the most comfortable stance he can find.

"There doesn't seem to be that much anger," he said before last night's game against the Detroit Tigers. "I have a feeling that something will get done."

That still leaves room for worrying. The Orioles have hung around .500 most of the season, exceeding expectations outside the organization. They're concerned about losing games to a strike, and losing fans who may never return.

"You start remembering what happened the last time, and of course you don't want that," Fordyce said. "But at the same time, the negotiations have been a little bit better. They're meeting a lot, they're talking, they have some positive outlooks. As long as you can continue that momentum, things can get done."

But how quickly? The clock is ticking, and it became much louder yesterday.

"It seems like things are getting closer," Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick said. "The fact that it's a couple weeks away, hopefully we can really close the gap and get it done."

Bordick was with the Oakland Athletics in 1994 when baseball experienced its last work stoppage. He sees similarities between those negotiations and the current ones, and is pulled back to a place he wants to avoid.

"You still get those feelings," he said. "And I think the history isn't that good. It seems like there have been work stoppages all the way through. But hopefully this is the one that we get resolved and everybody's happy."

"Nobody wants to strike," said Buddy Groom, who pitched for the Tigers in 1994, "but if we have to, we have to. We feel like if we don't, we won't have any rights at the end of this. They can implement whatever they want and we have no rights as players. We have to do what we feel is right for the future of the game."

First baseman Jeff Conine, who played for the Florida Marlins in '94, compares the two years and finds encouragement.

"There's been a tremendous exchange of information which didn't happen last time," he said. "They're meeting and progress has been made on a lot of issues, which wasn't made last time. There's talk going on, there are conversations that aren't evil in nature. It's got a totally different feel."

Players insisted that choosing a strike date doesn't assure a work stoppage. They viewed it as a necessary part of the negotiating process -- one that could speed up an agreement.

"I know `strike' sounds pretty serious," said Jason Johnson, the Orioles' player rep, "but a strike date had to be laid out to get something done. We never want to go on strike, but it's gotten to the point where we had to set a date. There's no doubt we hope a deal gets done by the 30th."

Or brace for the repercussions.

If there's a strike, "I think there will be damage for a long, long time," manager Mike Hargrove said. "You hit something hard enough, it's going to be down for a while. But the game still is what sells. It's a great game that's played by great players. You don't want to see the `what-ifs' come true. If you love the game, you don't want to see that."

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