Strike looms large over All-Star GamePosted: Sunday July 07, 2002 8:20 PM
Updated: Sunday July 07, 2002 8:43 PM
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Paul Molitor has a pretty good idea what baseball is about to go through, and it isn't pretty.
"I'm not really confident because I've seen it in the past," he said Sunday as the sport entered the All-Star break, possibly its last big event before work stoppage No. 9.
The union's executive board meets Monday in a Chicago suburb and is likely to discuss a walkout. Players fear owners will change baseball's economic rules after the postseason, and the union's most likely defense is an August strike -- replicating what happened in 1994.
"From everything I've heard, we're not going to set a strike date tomorrow," Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling said Sunday. "We're just going to give authority to perhaps do something in the future."
In 1994, players met in Pittsburgh on the day before the All-Star break and didn't set a strike date. Seventeen days later, on July 28, they called for an Aug. 12 walkout. The strike lasted 232 days and wiped out the World Series for the first time since 1904.
Attendance never fully recovered, dropping from 31,612 in 1994 to 25,260 the following year. This year's average is about 27,800, down about 5 1/2 percent from last season.
"If something were to happen and there would be a work stoppage, in our careers the game would never be the same," Schilling said. "I'm 35 years old. I want to play five or six more years. I don't want to play five or six more years in front of 7,000 people."
Commissioner Bud Selig, who has led the owners in negotiations for nearly two decades, says the 30 major league teams combined for a $232 million operating loss last year. Concerned that large-market clubs can vastly outspend their rivals -- such as the Selig family's Milwaukee Brewers -- he has proposed that teams increase the percentage of locally generated revenue they share from 20 percent to 50 percent.
He also wants to slow the rise in player salaries, which have climbed from an average of $51,500 in 1976 -- the last season before free agency -- to an average of $2.38 million on opening day this year. To put a drag on salaries, Selig proposed a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million,
"I'm always of the opinion that you can look up quotes from old labor negotiations from the current ones back into the days of commissioner Landis, and you might as well just use the same quotes because the issues are usually the same," said Molitor, manager of the U.S. team in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game.
The All-Star Game usually is a midsummer celebration, but this year the pastime is overshadowed by talk of a possible strike, steroid use, the death last month of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile and Friday's death of Hall of Famer Ted Williams.
While the All-Stars work out Monday in Milwaukee, their teammates in Rosemont, Ill., will discuss when to put away the bats and balls.
Admissions of steroid use by former MVPs Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti will be another hot topic.
"Obviously, steroids have become a major public issue, and the public is going to want to answers on that, so we're going to have to discuss the whole idea of drug testing," Tampa Bay catcher John Flaherty said.
"We're also going to be talking about whether a strike would be beneficial and find out what the feeling of the group is going to be on that. And if a strike is going to be beneficial, then we're going to have to throw around some dates that you would think would be the most opportune time to do it."
Thus far, the sides haven't questioned each other's solidarity, a marked change from past negotiations. Selig and union head Donald Fehr at this point appear to have near-total backing from their constituents.
But the sides question each other's proposals and motives. The history of 36 years of legal fights frame the talks.
"The fact that we've never had an agreement without a work stoppage speaks for itself," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the NL player representative. "For whatever reason, there's obvious distrust on our side towards them. I think there's equal distrust from them towards us."
Selig and Fehr have had a relationship that has ranged from acrimony to cool contempt. Molitor, who knows both of them well, doesn't foresee easy solutions.
"There's an element of mistrust there," he said. "There's definitely something there from the history and the conflicts that has taken a toll on the relationship."