Gazing into my crystal ball, I see some lights at the end of the tunnel. They are blinking a message to the nation’s baseball fans:
Do not despair … there will not be another baseball strike until the year 2020.
I’m inclined to agree. This has been the mother of all sports strikes, a stoppage of unprecedented proportion. Both parties have lost much money.
To this point, the educated guess is that each club, on average, has lost $10 million to $12 million - a total of $330 million. The players’ loss, in 1994 salaries, has been pegged at $280 million.
So to some extent, it has been a standoff. But there is a difference. The biological clock is ticking for the players. Their skills wither with age.
Whatever, the strike has been a harrowing experience. As they stagger into the stretch, the negotiating teams for both sides are showing signs of exhaustion.
During Sunday brunch at the Mayflower hotel, $28 plus tax, I observed John Harrington of the Boston Red Sox, captain of the management negotiating committee. He was fumbling, trying to put the yolk back in his egg. At an adjacent table, Gene Orza, counsel for the players, splashed a cup of tea.
This has led me to believe the strike will end when both parties drop to the canvas, a double knockout.
I am convinced it will be a quarter of a century before the players will vote for another strike. Certainly most, perhaps more than half the 750 members of the Players Association, will think twice before they authorize another stoppage.
I can hear union head Don Fehr, or his successor, tell the players, “Boys, we’ve got to walk. We’ll only be out two or three weeks.”
But some players, especially those who read history books or are the progeny of former players, are likely to say, “Wait a minute! What happened back in 1994?”
What happened was unfortunate. Instead of trying for an early settlement and taking a small loss, the players fought the good fight. As a Chicago sports writer, I find the political dialogue fascinating. For example, Labor Secretary Robert Reich went into a lengthy preamble Monday about what a great guy, and hard worker, mediator W.J. Usery is. And of course, Usery responded in kind: What a great guy, and hard worker, Reich is. This has now happened two days in a row. Obviously, we are very fortunate to have such great guys and hard workers in the federal stable.
The assumption by the press is that Usery will come down on the side of the players. If he does, the owners will refuse to abide by his decision, which will disappoint President Clinton, who has orded the sides to settle.
It’s also possible the players, even if given an edge, may reject Usery’s proposal. The prediction here is that both sides will tell Usery thanks, but no thanks.
Various potential scenarios could ensue. A settlement could be forced through legislation, or both parties may have to submit to binding arbitration.
More than likely, Clinton will bow out and let the players and owners clean up their mess. A strike of million-dollar ballplayers is not exactly a national emergency.
Dick Conn, who serves as Usery’s spokesman, told reporters in midafternoon:
“Mr. Usery is working on his list. He always hopes lightning will strike and there will be a voluntary agreement. Settlement at the bargaining table is the ultimate expression of democracy in the workplace.”
Saying no is also the ultimate bargaining privilege. And as soon as Usery’s recommendations are rejected, it’s back to the woodshed. It doesn’t look good for a - how to put this - quick solution in any case.
Whatever, circle the year 2020. That’s the year of the next baseball strike.