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It’s Frightening To Understand Baseball Strike

We stand in clumps outside a hotel ballroom, shifting from foot to foot, waiting for something, someone, to emerge. If Donald Fehr shows up, or Princess Di, we are ready.

We sit in a room with a lectern and a microphone at one end, waiting for someone, anyone, to come in and say something. If Jerry McMorris appears, or President Clinton, we are ready to record their words.

We are here from Dallas and Baltimore, from Boston and Washington, from Denver and Milwaukee, from New York and San Francisco. We sit and look at each other with blank stares. We wait.

We speak in shorthand, although it sometimes sounds as if we are speaking in tongues.

Fort Lauderdale, someone says, referring not to the city in Florida but to the revenuesharing proposal that was formulated there. The Usery Plan, someone else says, meaning the idea for solving the baseball strike submitted by a federal arbitrator. In the past, people must have spoken of Yalta and The Marshall Plan in this manner.

A frightening thought begins to seep into my consciousness. Then another. And finally, one more.

The first terrifying realization is that I am beginning to understand some of the obscure, arcane, mind-numbing matters that must be settled before a significant number of players anybody has ever heard of will play baseball again. Luxury-tax threshold, sunset clause, NLRB decision. What have I done to deserve this?

The second is that there is no way to explain any of it to another human being. There is too much shifting ground, too much impenetrable terminology, too many people with too many conflicting views about the huge number of issues and how they all come together to be able to clarify it in any meaningful way.

And then there is the fact that no one other than the parties involved really cares about any of these intricacies anyway. All anybody cares about is this: The major-league baseball players will not be on the field on Opening Day.

“The talks could go to Milwaukee or Florida or nowhere,” Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, said Sunday as talks that could have saved enough of spring training to prepare striking players for the beginning of the season broke down and the lead negotiators left town. “It will have to get to the point where the owners will want to play baseball.”

“This is not an act necessarily of the intellect,” said management attorney Chuck O’Connor. “It’s an act of the will.”

It is also an act that at times approaches madness.

O’Connor said the owners had conditioned a response to a players proposal on a report of what that proposal might contain that was broadcast on ESPN. The report was wildly inaccurate, the owners were disappointed and talks stalled for a time.

And while it has long been true that the two sides often don’t seem to be speaking the same language, it now develops there is also a failure to communicate between parties on the same side.

McMorris complained Sunday that the players want to pick and choose cafeteria style from Usery’s proposal to end the strike while the owners insist it must be accepted as a whole. Five minutes later, O’Connor said Usery’s plan can be considered a “basis for negotiating” and that the two sides are going over it “bit by bit.”

And finally, there is this.

“Never would I have guessed the animosity, hatred and mistrust would be as deep as it is,” McMorris said, putting his finger on what has become the final impediment that must be overcome if another baseball season is not to be lost.

Thus do meaningful talks end in Arizona. The two sides will next meet in Florida, although perhaps not until the end of the week because of a long-scheduled meeting of owners.

“We have a pretty full agenda of things we have to deal with down there,” said McMorris. “I don’t see any appetite for negotiating in Florida.”

This includes an expansion of baseball that will bring Phoenix and St. Petersburg into the major leagues in 1998. This would make up for the fact that spring training in those cities has been so severely disrupted this year. It would also add the perfect Alice In Wonderland quality to this whole exercise in madness.

Tags: Commentary