The dealmaker is not among the rank-and-file. Fehr's obedient sheep who may not fully understand why they are losing time off their careers and gaining a reputation for insolence. (It would help the union's image if a minimum-salaried player or two joined Fehr in front of the TV cameras instead of his team of hardly-in-peril, $4 million-per-year all-stars, none of whom have applied for food stamps.) The line going around training camps is, there's one sure way to tell a replacement player: He's nice to the fans. The players' association is not your basic labor union, nor does it act as such. The players refused to support other striking unions (those of umpires, newspapermen, stadium ushers, for example) and would not deign to walk a picket line themselves. This is a rare strike by the wealthy, so why should fans care?
It's not Selig, who is acting commissioner even though he is the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. His team's survival may depend on the outcome of these negotiations (and. more important, on better management). Selig is tireless and, for an owner, has a rare respect for the game, but he is too involved with pushing his own agenda.
"I don't think there'd be a strike right now if there was a commissioner, assuming he or she was independent," says former commish Peter Ueberroth. "It would be over within 24 hours."
It is not Colorado Rock) owner Jerry McMorris, the mostly well-intentioned moderate who speaks for a fractured group that is unified only on the matter of greed. That avarice was never more evident than on March 8, when the owners angered Jerry Colangelo, general partner of the Diamondbacks, and Vince Naimoli, general partner ol the Devil Rays, by hinting they wanted to increase the fee charged to both teams from $130 million to $175 million. "He was on the verge of walking out," Diamondback president Richard Dozer said of Colangelo.
The owners backed down and settled for the $130 million, as well as $5 million from each expansion team's take of the central fund (much of it national broadcast fees) in each of their first five years of operation, beginning in 1998.
Much about the expansion process underscored what's wrong with ownership. While Arizona and Tampa Bay will immediately become high-revenue clubs with a lot going for them (though certainly not that hideous monolith of a dome in St. Petersburg where the Rays will play their home games). Phoenix and Tampa-St. Petersburg would have served a better purpose by swallowing the weakest of existing franchises, thus reducing by two clubs the need for all this labor upheaval. Of course, relocation would not bring owners their windfall expansion fees.
Moreover, there were the tired team colors—both new clubs' logos incorporate some of the "hot" hues of black, purple and something approximate to turquoise—and the awkward nicknames that arc typical of a sport with awful marketing strategies. In fact, the name Devil Rays was greeted with such resounding displeasure that the team immediately announced a phone-in poll, allowing Tampa Bay area fans to vote on changing the name to the equally horrendous Manta Rays. That possibility prompted the team to shamelessly advise the public in a newspaper ad to "grab" shirts and caps with the Devil Ray logo "because if the vote goes to Manta, you'll own the collector's item of the century." Great. Alas, early returns on more than 10,000 calls left Devil Rays "the overwhelming favorite," according to Naimoli.
At least the owners didn't select an expansion group from northern Virginia that appeared to find inspiration for its prospective team's name from the marquee of a low-rent strip joint: Virginia Fury. That group has two or three years to come to its senses before another round of expansion, with its further lowering of the pitching common denominator, is inflicted upon us.
In the meantime the aforementioned Virginia group and another from the same state are interested in buying the Pittsburgh Pirates, as is Pittsburgh investor John J. Rigas. And Ueberroth wants to return to baseball by purchasing the California Angels. Baseball, despite the cluckings of its own stewards, remains a sound investment in the right market with the right management.
"If someone handed me one third of the teams in baseball, I wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole," says Colangelo, who jumped at the chance to own the Phoenix market, as he does with the NBA's Suns. He's getting in at the game's worst time, hopeful that it can replicate the NBA's turnaround. "I'm naive enough to think it can happen," he says.