Baseball owners are expected to announce this week that they will lock players out of spring training starting on Feb. 15, the day camps are scheduled to open, unless the owners and the players have come to terms on a new collective-bargaining agreement by then. SI's Tim Kurkjian reports on the discouraging state of the negotiations.
The chances of an agreement's being reached anytime soon are about as great as those of seeing Players Association executive director Don Fehr and chief management negotiator Chuck O'Connor form the Yankees' double-play combination on Opening Day. The two sides are separated by a philosophical chasm.
The negotiators meet several times a week. The discussion is always the same. O'Connor says that unless salaries are brought under control, teams in the smaller, less lucrative markets won't be able to afford to compete. He argues for revenue sharing, with a salary cap for each team linked to overall major league income. He brings up the owners' pay-for-performance (PFP) plan, which would base player salaries solely on individual statistics and would eliminate multiyear contracts, the 20% limit on annual pay cuts, and salary arbitration for players with fewer than six years in the majors.
Fehr's response is always the same. He points out that the sport is healthier and wealthier than ever. He says that the current system of liberal free agency and salary arbitration works. It has encouraged competitive balance, allowed owners to take home hefty profits and boosted the average player salary to nearly $500,000 a year. "Why reinvent the wheel?" he asks.
Fehr and his union don't merely want to maintain the status quo, however. They want players to become eligible for arbitration after two years, not three, and the minimum salary to be increased from $68,000 to $100,000 or more. They want 25-man, not 24-man, rosters and guarantees that the owners will not collude in the free-agent market to hold down salaries, as they have in at least two of the last five years. But the owners don't want to listen to any union proposals until the players have accepted revenue sharing. "There's no middle ground," says Baltimore Oriole pitcher Jeff Ballard, a player representative.
The collusion cases and the 1981 and '85 player strikes have taken their toll. "This relationship has been permeated by distrust," says O'Connor. The negotiations have at least been civil. O'Connor, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and labor negotiator brought in by the owners in November, speaks highly of Fehr and the union. But as Fehr puts it, "Just because I am your friend doesn't mean I'm going to sell you my $400,000 house for $200,000."
Because so much of their TV revenue is tied to postseason play, owners would rather lock out the players now than have them go on strike in, say, August after having collected most of their salaries. In any case, it's getting late. Businesses in Florida and Arizona are panicking over the huge losses they will sustain if Grapefruit and Cactus league play is delayed or canceled. Spring training plans for teams, players and fans are in limbo. This isn't your typical labor dispute. If General Motors goes on strike, Pontiacs can still be found all over dealers' lots. But without players, there is no baseball.
GRIN AND BEAR IT
The latest joke from the SEC asks how many Alabama football fans it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is three—one to change the bulb and two to talk about how good the old bulb was.
IN A FOG
At a hearing on Feb. 21, jockey Sylvester Car-mouche will try to persuade the Louisiana State Racing Commission that he and his 5-year-old colt, Landing Officer, didn't pull off a Rosie Ruiz-style deception one foggy night last month in a race at Delta Downs, in Vinton. Landing Officer seemed to win the one-mile event by 24 lengths, but jockeys Joe Calais and Gerard Melancon then told stewards that Carmouche's colt hadn't gone the full distance. "We saw him for the first time when we hit the turn for home," says Calais. "We thought it was a loose horse."
Indeed, Landing Officer did not show up on a videotape shot from the grandstand. This led stewards to conclude that Carmouche had let the eight other horses pass Landing Officer at the start and then kept him standing around the homestretch, obscured from view by the fog, while the rest of the field circled the track. As the other horses came off the last turn, Landing Officer galloped across the finish line.
The stewards disqualified Landing Officer, and the racing commission suspended Carmouche until April, pending his appeal. The incident recalls a story about jockey Pat Remillard, who was warming up his horse on the backstretch before a race in Toronto in 1931 when the starter prematurely sent the field off. Realizing that, in effect, he had been given a huge head start, Remillard took his horse around the track for an easy win. It was raining so heavily that officials never saw what happened. "Damn you! You were halfway home!" complained a rival jockey, but Remillard, now 84, admitted nothing, and there was no videotape. The result stood.
MONIKER OF THE WEEK
University of Connecticut basketball standout Nadav Henefeld, a native of Israel, is averaging more than four steals a game this season. Hence his new nickname: the Gaza Strip.
A SHOT AND A MISS
NBA commissioner David Stern copped out last week in denying the Chicago Bulls' appeal of a 109-106 loss to the New York Knicks on Jan. 15. Stern admitted that New York's Trent Tucker got off the winning three-pointer well after time had expired (SCORECARD, Jan. 29) but said that under league rules the commissioner can uphold a protest only in cases in which a playing rule has been violated or misapplied. At the Bulls-Knicks game. Stern pointed out with legalistic exactitude, no rules were violated; the officials were merely too slow in starting the clock before Tucker's shot.
Stern, who's a lawyer, should not have felt so bound by the letter of NBA law. He's the boss. When faced with an obvious injustice, he should correct it, not throw up his hands and say, "Sorry, guys, I'm powerless."
He did take one laudable step: He announced that from now on, if the ball is put into play with less than .3 of a second showing on the clock, "any shot other than a tip-in or an alley-oop must be disallowed." In the Bulls-Knicks game Tucker took an inbounds pass with .1 left, turned and fired the winning jumper. From now on such a shot won't count. Tucker's shot shouldn't have counted, either.
A RALLY FOR ROLE MODELS
As the leadoff hitter for the seattle mariners, second baseman harold Reynolds is expected to be a catalyst. Off the field, he has begun playing that same role for a group called Role Models Unlimited.
The organization was founded last May by Wayne Perryman, a Mercer Island, Wash., businessman and former street gang member. It is composed almost entirely of black men and focuses on keeping disadvantaged black teens from the Seattle area out of gangs. In December, Role Models Unlimited was about to fold from lack of interest; Perryman turned for help to Reynolds, who is heavily involved with local charities and social programs.
Reynolds took up the cause as his own. To attract members, he and Perryman organized a banquet for Jan. 14. The two called friends and stuffed hundreds of envelopes. Virtually all the invitees were black men. "I was called a racist and a sexist," says Reynolds, "but I wanted the men to look at the facts. When you see that so much of the prison population is black and so many teenage pregnancies involve blacks, it makes you feel responsible. Nobody likes to have his pride hurt, but there is no time left for excuses."
The banquet drew 1,200, including mayor Norm Rice and Seahawk running back Curt Warner; another 2,000 had to be turned away for lack of space. As they watched a videotape of black gang members asking for adults they could turn to and trust, many of the guests broke into tears.
Reynolds picked up the entire $25,000 tab. "Too many times you go to events and are asked to give money," he says. "I wanted to let these people know that it wasn't their dollars I wanted. I wanted their time and their attention."
Indeed, later that week, Reynolds and 500 other Role Models Unlimited members put on suits and ties and visited four Seattle high schools. "The kids from the gangs stood with their mouths open," says Perryman. The Role Models assured the students that if they ever needed advice or help, a Role Models Unlimited member would be there for them.
"When Harold came aboard, people came running," says Perryman. "No one else could have pulled this thing together." All of which helps explain why, three weeks ago. Reynolds was presented the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, the most prestigious honor given by Seattle's black community.
THEY SAID IT
•Carlton Fisk, 42-year-old White Sox catcher, on his new multiyear contract: "I forgot to put in one clause: I don't have to play when the temperature is lower than my age."