"There are clubs that have lost confidence in Bud," Harrington says. "Maybe it's only two or three. They'll never have a majority." Likewise, no other group can muster the three-quarters majority (21 votes) needed to back a deal.
Says Toronto Blue Jay pitcher David Cone, the union's alternate American League player rep, "How do you negotiate with three different factions?"
"It's up to Bud and the negotiating committee to figure out a position and sell it," Harrington says. "Bring it to the membership and try to collect the votes."
"And then," says Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the union, "they'll say, 'Here, we worked so hard on this, you have to accept it.' We should have gone back to bargaining the minute Judge Sotomayor's decision came down. Is it harder now to get a deal? Not from our standpoint."
The owners, though, think otherwise because the revenue pie to be cut up is smaller: down to about $1.4 billion this year from $1.9 billion in 1993, the last full season. "Our first offer [in June 1994] guaranteed the players $1 billion," Kasten says. "They'd take that in a minute now. There's no way we could offer it."
Moreover, the small-revenue teams, who are at the heart of this disagreement, appear to need welfare reform more than ever. At week's end the Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Diego Padres combined had drawn fewer fans than the Colorado Rockies. The Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins were attracting fewer than 15,000 fans a game, with worse crowds ahead as the two teams drift further out of the pennant race.
"It's very important," Giles says, "to have an agreement where the San Diego fans, the Minnesota fans, the Pittsburgh fans can look ahead to 1996 and think their teams can have some sort of hope of contending. Right now they don't have any."
Fact is, the Padres, who are contending this year—they were just 1� games out of first in the National League West as of Sunday—and the Pirates and the Twins each have had more winning seasons in the 1990s than Giles's own well-heeled Phillies or the prosperous Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. And the Montreal Expos, while hanging on the brink of contention, were the only National League team that had not suffered poststrike fallout at the gate. Their attendance was running 2% higher than it was for the same number of home dates in 1994. That raises the question of whether money or talent is the real currency of competition. "Having money doesn't assure you winning," says Cub president Andy MacPhail. "But not having money assures you problems. What I see is that the chasm between the haves and have-nots has magnified."
It seems a lesson in ancient history now to recall that in March the owners and players actually agreed on the framework of a deal (a luxury tax) while showing slight momentum in the number crunching: When last the two sides bargained, the owners were demanding a 50% tax on that portion of a team's payroll that exceeded $44 million, and the players were willing to accept a 25% tax on any amount over $50 million. The owners now repudiate that. "You could take the exact midpoint between those numbers, and we wouldn't be interested anymore," says the chief executive of a large-revenue team. "The fact is, the market has changed."
"And next year," Magowan says, "will be worse." The owners foresee less money available to players in 1996, when it's likely even more free agents than last off-season will be trying to get pieces of it.