‘Real’ Baseball Still Has Real Big Problems

She was commissioner for a day and, in the “best interests of the game” tradition of Fay Vincent, Peter Ueberroth and Bowie Kuhn, the honorable Sonia Sotomayor has apparently delivered the major-league baseball players back to the field.

Should we stand up and cheer now? Or should we just wait until opening day (whenever that is) to express our undying gratitude for the return of what Donald Fehr has termed “real baseball”?

Real baseball, indeed. This is what Judge Sotomayor has wrought with her injunction that compels the Lords of Baseball to restore the 1994 work rules: For starters, there is still no agreement between the owners and the players, and once the players are back on the field and the games begin, there likely won’t be one.

Real baseball as we have known it has a thick, dark cloud of labor unrest hanging over it.

It was interesting to hear Fehr declare after Sotomayor’s decision Friday that the owners and players “can now put together a quick spring training, and opening day can be delayed just a little bit.”

Oh, really. And what does he propose to do about those 191 free agents out there with no teams? Or the 200 or so others who have suddenly had their salary arbitration rights restored? In the past, with the arbitration process, it has taken about a month and a half to line up arbitrators, schedule hearings and prepare cases.

There also is the matter of hundreds of players who the union contends became free agents when management illegally renewed their contracts a few months ago. What you have is about 500 players who have no contracts and no idea to what team they belong. The battle lines are only now being drawn for what figures to be one rancorous grievance after another.

This is Real Baseball and don’t you just love it? Can’t you just wait to see how the union and the owners supposedly sort all this chaos out in a matter of two or three weeks so that “opening day will be delayed just a little bit”?

Oh, and by the way, did someone say something about a no-strike pledge from Fehr? They did, but none appears to be forthcoming. Not as long as the owners could again declare an impasse in the negotiations and impose new work rules.

For more than a year, the owners have been shouting to the world, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!” To prove it, they demonstrated uncharacteristic solidarity with a calculated plan to take their industry back from the players.

The key element in that plan was the removal of the commissioner, ensuring that the so-called “best interests of baseball” clause would not be invoked to end a lockout or a strike. It almost worked, too. If only the owners hadn’t once again tripped up legally and alerted the National Labor Relations Board to their case.

Because they declared an impasse in the negotiations when one clearly didn’t exist, and because they then implemented their own work rules, the NLRB took them into court before a “commissioner” they hadn’t counted on: Judge Sotomayor.

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