Ownership's One-Two Punch
The two men most responsible for the absence of labor peace in baseball are Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, the acting commissioner, and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. For a deal between owners and players to be made, both of those back-channel Machiavellians must emerge from the shadows and take a leading—and open—role in forging management's position. Last week, at an owners' meeting in Rosemont, Ill., an owner and another high-ranking baseball executive urged Selig and Reinsdorf to do that. Only Selig agreed, and he had no choice: His public credibility had all but vanished, his support from fellow owners was showing cracks, and he had just embarrassed himself by repudiating his own negotiator, Randy Levine, even though Levine had hammered out what seemed to be a workable agreement. To the astonishment of Levine, the exasperation of the players' union and the dismay of fans, Selig and 17 other owners, including Reinsdorf, voted to reject the deal.
At least Selig finally stepped into the batter's box, unlike Reinsdorf, who the union has long suspected would undermine this deal. As one of the game's senior owners and most unyielding hawks, Reinsdorf has an obligation to be at the bargaining table. But, as one well-placed management source says of Reinsdorf, "he doesn't want to be out front and in the position of being second-guessed. He doesn't want his ass on the line." Predictably, Reinsdorf was not present on Monday afternoon in New York City when Selig and four other owners met with union chief Don Fehr in what turned out to be a failed last-ditch negotiating session.
On several occasions over the past year, Selig told Fehr, "When you're talking to Randy, it's the same as talking to me." That was blather, which is mostly what Selig has churned out during his four years in office. Judging from the grumbling of some owners, they're realizing that Selig's quasi-commissionership, like a moldy loaf of bread, has passed its expiration date. "He's a spin doctor," says one owner, "and when you keep spinning and spinning, people will tend not to believe you." Yet Selig remains so influential that five or six owners would vote whichever way he wanted them to.
The owners want the players to drop the sixth and final year of the deal struck between Levine and Fehr because the final year does not include the luxury tax, a mechanism that would create a drag on players' salaries in 1997, '98 and '99 by penalizing teams that exceed a payroll spending limit. But allowing a luxury tax at all was a substantial concession by the players. The owners also want all teams exceeding the spending threshold to pay some tax—not just the five or six clubs with the highest payrolls, as agreed to by the union. Good luck, for the players are in no mood to make further concessions, not after the charade with Levine. As of Monday night, there was a slim hope the owners would vote again on the Levine-Fehr proposal and accept it. But if that doesn't happen, Selig and Reinsdorf will have led baseball into a long, cold winter.
No Nicholson Sightings
Here's a report on the development of NBA fever in Canada, where the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors are each in their second season.
The Province, a daily newspaper in Vancouver, provides readers with regular updates on the dunks that team mascot Grizz attempts during timeouts. The "Paw ratings" on the "Grizz-O-Meter" read: one paw for "Boo Boo," two for "Just Your Average Bear," three for "Fur-ocious" and four for "Pawsitively Awesome."
From Toronto come the words of Jamie Nishino, the Raptors' manager of stadium operations, who brags that the team is "tight" with the Ontario Film Board and keeps a close watch on which actors are in town so they might be cajoled into attending a game. Says Nishino, "Every fan loves to say, 'Wow, I went to a game last night and I saw David Hasselhoff.' "
It Runs Deep and Dangerous