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To Revive Itself, Baseball Needs To Find New Blood

Mon., April 3, 1995

People, people who hate people, are the unluckiest people in the world.

That’s why major-league baseball - even as it prepares to return to the field after a 232-day strike - is still the most unlucky game in America.

At the moment, baseball has virtually cornered the market on vitriol. As long as men who are motivated by personal vendettas and past insults - like Jerry Reinsdorf and Bud Selig - are in control of baseball, the game will continue to be a disintegrating disaster.

The sooner these men, and a handful of their lessfamous cohorts, are fired or at least marginalized, the sooner baseball can stop being a joke.

Oh, sure, baseball is back. Big deal. The game is back all right - awash in public disgrace. Baseball is back with a dozen hard-line owners, led by Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, looking like the biggest idiots in the history of the sport. It’s back with a defaced, truncated 144-game season and a discredited commissioner. And it’s back with franchises that - thanks to the game’s leadership - have gone from financial difficulty in August 1994 to imminent meltdown in April 1995.

For the game to heal, it needs a new deal. To get that new deal between players and owners, baseball needs new faces in central roles.

Selig is the biggest problem. Every day he remains as “acting” commissioner is another day too long. He should never have held the job for a minute. An owner as commissioner? When the best interests of baseball and the best interests of the Brewers are in direct conflict, which do you think will come first?

At this moment, Selig is as frozen as a statue. He appears calm. He appears rational. He appears in control. In fact, he is in complete denial. He repeats his pat answers - “this dispute will ultimately be resolved at the negotiating table” - as robotically as a child’s Christmas toy.

Wake up, Bud, and smell the tear gas. The National Labor Relations Board has filled unfair labor practice charges against the owners two times. A judge has issued an injunction against the owners. Not one major-league player has broken ranks and crossed the line. Replacement ball died Sunday, hours before it was supposed to be born. Who do the owners get their legal advice from, anyway, Oil Can Boyd?

In toto, the owners themselves admit that they have lost $700 million in revenue. God knows how much goodwill the sport has lost with the American public. And the game is back exactly where it was August 11, the day before the players called for the strike.

This is Bud Selig’s legacy: He took control of the game when it had small, manageable financial problems. At most, a few teams, like his own, might have needed to be sold, moved or aided by revenue sharing. Now, in less than eight months, the game is at the brink of total financial comedy.

Yet some owners want Selig to become the game’s full-time commissioner!

At least Sunday brought hope that Reinsdorf’s hour in the sun is passing when the owners voted 28-0 not to lock out the players. What an eloquent “0.” That expresses the number of owners who now align themselves with Reinsdorf.

For three years, the Chisox owner - galled by defeats in previous negotiations and collusions settlements - helped dream up ownership’s strategy of super-majority voting rules and replacement teams with the ultimate fantasy of breaking or emasculating the players union. As ex-commissioner Fay Vincent has said in the New York Times, “That’s Jerry - let’s crush them and turn back the clock 25 years.”

Presumably, Reinsdorf’s fangs have now been withdrawn from the throat of the game. We can’t be sure, of course. But we can hope.

In coming days, owners must decide among themselves whether they want to cut their losses, repudiate Selig and Reinsdorf, strike a sane, modest deal with the union and allow baseball to begin to heal itself. Or they can pretend that the last eight months never happened and decide to try the whole nutty fiasco over again, beginning on Aug. 12, 1995. Quite a game of chicken!

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