Even if Synar's bill fails to gain congressional approval, major league baseball might still be around next season. It just won't be "big league." Owners are talking about using replacement players, and—sadly but predictably—they've already responded to the fiscal crisis resulting from the season's cancellation by slashing their front-office staffs.
One of the biggest cut men has been acting commissioner Bud Selig. Selig's Milwaukee Brewers have dumped 30 of their 73 front-office people, including public relations director Tom Skibosh, who had been with the Brewers for 19 years. Skibosh took the firing with equanimity but thinks the staff reductions do not bode well for the game.
" 'Minor league' is the perfect way to describe them," says Skibosh. "We were understaffed before the layoffs. Owners in baseball have no clue what we do."
The Cincinnati Reds had 53 full-time employees before the strike; they now have 20. The San Diego Padres cut 25 workers, 40% of their payroll. The New York Mets axed 28 of 79. The Montreal Expos eliminated 30 full-timers, about half their staff, and the San Francisco Giants sent 43 of 94 packing. The Houston Astros sacked 19 of 62 full-time employees, the Oakland A's 17 of 71, the Pittsburgh Pirates 16 of 80. On and on it goes.
No doubt some of the layoffs are temporary, and some teams may have been carrying front-office fat. But many owners are bound to use the strike as a pretext for downsizing. "Will teams use this as a vehicle to streamline the operation?" says Selig. "With all the money they've lost, yes."
The talk of replacement players makes most owners a little more skittish. Even so, at least four owners, David Glass of the Kansas City Royals, John Harrington of the Boston Red Sox, Jerry McMorris of the Colorado Rockies and, naturally, Marge Schott of the Reds, have spoken openly about replacements, and others are whispering. "I know Mr. Robinson [K.C. general manager Herk] will take the best 25 players available to him from whatever source," said Glass. From what-ever source? At least Harrington was honest. "You wouldn't call it major league baseball," he said referring to the use of replacement players, "but you would call it professional baseball." Barely. If the Synar bill passes, replacement players won't be needed. However, baseball's pooh-bahs may already have their minds made up about radical staff reductions, and not even Congress can do anything about that. Teams need a strong lineup behind the scenes almost as much as they need one on the field, and it will be a pity if the owners' obsession with the bottom line downsizes their franchises right into the minors.
Jerome Hauer was recently appointed commissioner of the Indy Racing League, a new series organized to compete with the one sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams. Should we read anything into the fact that Hauer, in a previous position as deputy director of New York City's emergency medical services, headed that city's ambulance drivers?
He Made the Grade
When the most electrifying basketball player of all time took up baseball last spring, many voices in the press, this magazine included, urged him to give it up as a futile endeavor. But Michael Jordan loves challenges, and in meeting this one he has proved his critics wrong. Playing his first season of baseball since he was a high school junior 14 years ago, Jordan hit .202 with three homers, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 436 at bats for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. If those numbers seem anemic, consider that in all of Double A ball this season only six players knocked in as many as 50 runs and stole as many as 30 bases. What's more, such big leaguers as Carlos Baerga, Lenny Dykstra, Travis Fryman, Howard Johnson, Roberto Kelly, Dale Murphy, Ryne Sandberg and Alan Trammell didn't drive in as many runs in their first 400-at-bat seasons in the minors—and most of them didn't begin in Double A.
Even more impressive is what Jordan is up to now. He's putting in long and inglorious days in the Florida Instructional League. For deconstructing the breaking ball with White Sox hitting guru Walt Hriniak, for playing intrasquad games in which no stats are kept and at which the stands are largely empty, for plunging his famous face in the dirt again and again while practicing dives back to first base, Jordan is getting nothing more than a $38 per diem.