"Everything we do seems to tarnish the game," says Montreal Expo general manager Kevin Malone. "We keep doing everything we say we can't afford to do." The Buhner signing by the Mariners, whose small-market ownership has cried poverty for years, was "ludicrous," according to one National League general manager, who, like most baseball executives these days, prefers anonymity when speaking frankly on the troubled state of the game. An American League executive agreed, saying, "Who ever bought a ticket to see Jay Buhner play? Nobody." The Astro-Padre trade, which sent infielders Ricky Gutierrez and Craig Shipley, outfielders Derek Bell and Phil Plantier, and pitchers Doug Brocail and Pedro Martinez to Houston for infielders Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno and Roberto Petagine, outfielder Steve Finley, pitcher Brian Williams and a minor leaguer to be named or $50,000, was greeted this way by one agent: "Who cares'? None of them is going to play until '96 anyway."
It is the most chaotic period in major league history. "I don't believe anyone thought this could deteriorate to the point that it has," says the Baltimore Orioles' Peter Angelos, the one owner who has been bold enough to take a public stand against his colleagues' veiled attempt to break the union. One general manager says he is so disgusted by the events of the last five months that he's thinking of getting out of baseball and becoming a basketball scout. The owners and players have reached a state of gridlock that perhaps can be broken only by Congress, a body that creates more than its own share of gridlock. There are so many questions crying out for answers, but representatives of both the owners and the players have so few to offer. "I'm out of predictions," says Atlanta Brave president Stan Kasten. "When you're 0-fer on predictions, you stop."
Here are some of those questions:
Are the owners serious about using replacement players?
Absolutely. Yet most general managers don't like the idea and have done little planning for it. "A few minutes at lunch" is how much thought Randy Smith has given it. Can you blame him? Most replacement players would be nonunion, low-level minor leaguers, journeymen Triple A players who have no future as major leaguers, or former big leaguers whose careers seemed to be over. Former pitcher Doug Sisk, 37, who had major surgery on both knees in 1989 and hasn't pitched in the majors since '91, says he wants to play. "It will be a travesty, it stinks, I hate it," says one National League G.M. of the replacement-player scenario. "I'm not sure if we'll have enough bodies for a team."
Teams won't subject their best prospects to the pressures and repercussions that crossing a picket line would invite. Yet some young players who think they have a major league future might be asked to cross the line. "If I was in that position, I'd shoot myself," says one agent. "I'll advise my guys that it's better to never play in the big leagues than to play a little under these conditions."
What will the quality of play be like with replacement players?
Awful. Baseball is arguably the hardest game to play, and to play it well usually requires years of tutoring in the minor leagues. "Hey, I could have played in the big leagues when I was in Double A," says free-agent outfielder Andy Van Slyke, who was not re-signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. "But I would have looked like a Double A player in the major leagues."
Replacement-player games could also feature replacement umpires, the owners having decided to lock out umps until negotiations for their new contract are completed. "Maybe we'll have replacement concessionaires and replacement bases—just draw them in the infield dirt—and replacement paychecks," says Van Slyke. One American League executive even believes a couple of managers who are former players will choose-not to cross a picket line. If so, then some teams will have to find replacement managers.
What will happen if the Toronto Blue Jays and Orioles don't field teams?