Good thing Seattle didn't have Matt Stark in camp. The 275-pounder, who was replacing Don Mattingly at first base for the New York Yankees, accidentally crushed a metal folding chair in the clubhouse simply by sitting on it. He also retaliated against a heckling fan by loudly calling him "meat." Actually, it was not clear whether Stark was trading barbs with the paying customer or trying to order lunch between innings.
Why are the owners and players fostering this travesty? What could be worth sabotaging a second straight season, turning off a generation of fans and sinking the game's popularity below that of lawn bowling? According to a source familiar with the bargaining, what's keeping the two sides apart has been reduced to this: one year of free agency eligibility (and compensation to teams that lose such players) and how to tweak the numbers on a luxury tax.
Fehr and Bud Selig, the replacement commissioner, can go on forever over-emoting their pain and their resolve if they wish, but the time to compromise is now. Both sides need to accept a lose-lose solution, and here is one solution that will allow neither side to claim victory.
•Arbitration: gone. Both sides have agreed that this often unpredictable—and always expensive—process can go, and it should.
•Free agency: unrestricted for players with at least three years of major league service time (516 days). The owners' wish for at least four years is too much, given that the players will have agreed to eliminate arbitration. Still, the owners would have control over a player's salary during his first three years in the majors (beyond an established minimum), a long enough time to decide whether to lock up stars to multiyear contracts in the successful manner of the Cleveland Indians.
•Luxury tax: 40% on team payrolls above $45 million. It should be aimed at the rich rather than at the middle class, as the owners have done by asking that the threshold be set at the average payroll ($40.7 million). Rich people don't blink when told to cough up a luxury tax on an automobile or a yacht. However, it has been learned that the owners are divided on the issue of the percentage. One club executive said last Friday, "We would never go for anything less than 50 percent." Another owner said on the same day that he was going to recommend to ownership that it "go below 50 percent" in its offer to the players this week.
•A five-year collective bargaining agreement: Give the luxury tax a minimum three-year trial. If the players' portion of the gross revenue falls below 55% after three years, dump the tax. If it rises above that level, the tax remains in effect for two more years. As much as we would love to see a long-term agreement, no one knows for certain if the tax is going to work. After five years, everyone should know.
The SI plan could take effect on Opening Day of the 1995 season. But where is the dealmaker to make something like this happen? That's the problem. We have seen no sign of such a person.
It's not William Usery, the overwhelmed federal mediator who last week called the dispute "almost embarrassing, and it's ridiculous." He doesn't have the juice in this fight, especially since the union has little use for him.
It's not Fehr, who has been driven by a loathing of the owners ever since he made a concession to them on arbitration in 1985, only to have them enter into collusion the following three years. As terrible as collusion was, Fehr must get beyond it, as well as the burden of trying to retain the undefeated record of his mentor, Marvin Miller.