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Brushback
Tom Verducci
April 10, 1995
A high, hard one from a federal judge ended the strike, but the basic dispute remained unsettled
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April 10, 1995

Brushback

A high, hard one from a federal judge ended the strike, but the basic dispute remained unsettled

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When shortstop Scott Southard, 23, who played Class A ball last year, saw his expansive major league locker, he said, "I'm going to carve my name and leave a little message. It's going to say, 'How could you guys leave this place?' "

Replacement players may not have provided very good baseball. And they generally attracted sparse crowds everywhere but in baseball-mad Denver, where 94,378 fans turned out for the first two games ever played at Coors Field, exhibitions between the substitute Colorado Rockies and Yankees. But they did bring a sense of wonder and respect for the game that had otherwise been missing all too frequently from their millionaire predecessors. After the final replacement game last Saturday night in Los Angeles, players in the uniforms of the Dodgers and California Angels tipped their caps to what remained of a crowd of 25,577.

"I'd like to videotape one of these games," said Oakland A's manager Tony LaRussa, "to show our regular players what it was like when they used to want to play."

Said Piazza, "I know our image has taken a beating. Hopefully, we'll come out of this with a new appreciation for the support of the fans."

The replacement Marlins had ordered T-shirts that said WE HAVE NO FEHR, a slogan that perhaps was more true than they realized. Without representation—by players' union head Donald Fehr or anyone else—replacement players were disposable pawns to the owners, who owed them nothing upon their release other than their original $5,000 signing bonuses and spring training expense money. Had they played even one regular-season game, the scabs were guaranteed at least another $25,000 in bonuses, the major league minimum salary of $668.61 a day and severance money.

In a gracious display of appreciation the Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals paid their replacements the extra $25,000 anyway, and several other teams proffered payments of between $2,000 and $5,000 a man. Some teams were not so accommodating. The Expos gave each of their replacements a travel bag and a game jersey as parting gifts. However, about 15 of them, Malone said, will stay on in Montreal's minor league system. The Cincinnati Reds gave their players garbage bags to haul away their gear, though they did assign 30 of their 32 players to the minor leagues.

"We knew this day was coming," said Matt Winters, a 35-year-old Marlin replacement outfielder. "But we got so close that I'm not going to say it doesn't hurt. There's anger and relief all in one. The relief is finally just knowing one way or another what your status is."

The cloud of uncertainty now has drifted over the major leaguers, at least as long as there is no labor agreement. True, the owners and players are much closer to a settlement than they were when the strike began. Their significant differences have narrowed virtually to one—the luxury-tax percentage that clubs would have to pay into a revenue-sharing pool on excessive payrolls—but the gap on that issue is huge.

The owners want a 50% tax on payrolls above $44 million. The players made the last move, dropping their asking threshold from $54 million to $50 million but, to the considerable anger of the owners, left their proposed tax rate at 25%. Based on 1994 payrolls, the players' plan would cause six teams to pay a total of $4.7 million in taxes; the owners' plan would cause 11 teams to pay a total of $33 million. "We had been making progress," Fehr says. "I hope we don't allow too much time to go by."

Not overjoyed by their shotgun marriage with the players, however, the owners made ominous noises. Selig, who has been a replacement commissioner for more than two years, reacted to the injunction by saying it "may represent a step backward in our negotiations for a meaningful agreement with the players' union." And in its appeal of the injunction the owners' crack legal team direly warned, "Major League Baseball will likely suffer its second consecutive year of no playoffs, no World Series and, therefore, irreparable damage to the credibility of the institution in the eyes of its fans, advertisers, rights holders and other sources of economic lifeblood. The damage caused by another disrupted season will likely drive some clubs out of business.... Their teams would be lost for good."

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