Owners To Drop Curtain On Season

Posted: September 14, 1994

Major league baseball owners will finally get around to dropping the other shoe today, even if it crushes their own feet in the process.

At approximately 3 p.m., barring a new and unexpected proposal from the players' union or the owners, the remainder of the 1994 season and the World Series, will be - officially - toast.

Then, the exhaustive march of sordid events that began with the firing of commissioner Fay Vincent nearly two years ago will have reached its most feared conclusion. Namely, cancellation of the World Series, after 89 years of continuity.

After its inception in 1903, the Series was not played in 1904 out of spite.

The famed manager of the New York Giants, John McGraw, would not meet the champions of the upstart American League, the Boston Pilgrims, because of a grudge. Money was lost, but it was a subway token compared with estimated losses of $580 million, including about $140 million in advertising revenue

from the postseason, owners will incur from this season's strike.

And with the threat of a continued strike or lockout in 1995, repercussions in the form of diminished merchandise sales and season ticket sales over the winter are likely.

The players stand to lose an estimated $230 million in salary, and like the owners, also face an offseason of unnerving uncertainty.

"It's uncharted territory," union chief Donald Fehr said from his Manhattan office yesterday. "I don't think anyone knows what happens next. A lot of litigation I would guess. And a lot of posturing."

Bud Selig, the Milwaukee Brewers owner who replaced Vincent "temporarily" about 18 months ago, has acted as both peacemaker among owners in getting a revenue sharing/ salary cap plan unanimously approved, and as their point man during current negotiations.

He is also the man who will announce the season's end today. Fehr said he received a drafted release from Selig yesterday that pinpointed the declaration of the season's death to be between 2:30 and 3 p.m.

"He wanted me to sanction and agree with him that it was OK to pull down the season," Fehr said. "I told him if he wanted to pull down the World Series, that was Bud Selig's responsibility, not mine."

Owners in both leagues held press briefings yesterday to discuss the future, a concerted effort Fehr termed, "an elaborate spin campaign."

In Boston, Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington said owners would even consider using replacement players as a last resort if the strike continues into next season.

"You wouldn't call it major league baseball," he said. "But you'd call it professional baseball."

Selig, who predicted Monday that owners would become more vocal by week's end, was asked if he feared how history will treat him.

"I'm a history major and I love history," he said. "So I view things in that context. So, yes, of course. I'm not happy about it . . .

"Having said that, I would feel worse if we continued to ignore our problems and the industry had really awesome problems in the next year or two

because of the failure to address them now. I wouldn't want to be remembered for playing a role in that process, either."

It has been Selig's contention, and that of a majority of owners, that without a revenue-sharing plan that includes a cap on players salaries, a dozen or more teams will face severe financial difficulties in the immediate future, and the league will suffer greatly as a result.

In contrast, executives of the players association have continually accused ownership of crocodile tears, claiming the owners' proposal is simply about gaining more profit at the players' expense.

Fehr has charged ownership with "plain old-fashioned, garden variety union busting," saying often they had no intention of making a deal, but instead wanted to force a cap on them by declaring an impasse in the offseason and test the players' resolve next spring.

"They want to see if they can starve the players out," Fehr said.

Selig ridiculed this, saying that the charge of union busting, "terrifies me," and that the union was needed in a future partnership. He said busting what he called, "the most powerful union in history" would be futile and counterproductive.

Yesterday on NBC's "Today" show, the owners' chief negotiator, Richard Ravitch, again repeated his position that ownership welcomed alternatives to the salary-cap plan. But Fehr and players say they are still smarting from how quickly one such plan, a luxury tax of 1.5 percent on the revenue of the teams with the 16 highest payrolls, to be distributed to the 12 poorest clubs, was rejected last week.

Ownership dismissed it out of hand as providing too little relief to small- market clubs, and because it did not address their concerns for "cost containment."

Asked Monday if the players would increase the percentage of tax in their proposal, Fehr said, "I'll answer that if someone from ownership asks it."

The two sides did not talk to each other Monday.

Or yesterday.

"There are no plans to talk (today)," Fehr said glumly.

Said Selig: "This is a terribly difficult position that I find myself in, and I am not totally surprised that it is a painful position. But the fact is the economics of the game are of such a nature that they can't be ignored anymore.

"And yet, we haven't even established a common ground on that. There can't be anybody happy at this time."

Sure there can.

The NFL and the Fox television network can be happy.

After big crowds all through the U.S. Open, the United States Tennis Association might be happy, too.

And then there are all those Phillies fans who plunked down a lot of dough in Vegas last April for a World Series repeat.

Without a World Series, said Vince Magliulo, the oddsmaker at Caesars Palace, all bets are off.

Like the owners and players who gambled and lost this season, he did not sound too happy.

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