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Tom Verducci
April 08, 2002
Don't believe the hype—get ready for baseball interruptus
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April 08, 2002

Striking Out

Don't believe the hype—get ready for baseball interruptus

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Bud Selig wants you to be reassured. The baseball commissioner announced last week that the owners will not lock out the players this season. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer and Selig's top lieutenant, said the promise "was designed to allay the concerns of our fans and the players." As grandstand gambits go, it was tantamount to a realtor selling property on a Super-fund site and promising no harmful effects to the buyer—well, for seven months anyway.

Fans, DuPuy said, "need not fear a work stoppage initiated by the clubs"—a misguided public relations gesture that assumes people actually care about the difference between a lockout (which the owners initiate) and a strike (which the players start). No one gets off blameless in a work stoppage. The players, for instance, struck in the middle of the 1994 season, but the owners were the ones who got lambasted for canceling the World Series.

The players walked out that year as a preemptive move to prevent owners from imposing major changes to the game's economic system. Union leader Don Fehr wants you to know the owners are cooking up a similar scenario. Gas can at the ready, Fehr could not let Selig's ham-handedness pass without inflaming the situation: He called Selig's promise "a tacit acknowledgement of the clubs' continuing intention" to overhaul the system after the World Series.

That interpretation would leave the union with two choices: wait for the nuclear winter of the off-season or strike during the season, which would hurt the owners. That's why Fehr has been telling his players to put down those prestige home and luxury car catalogs scattered around virtually every clubhouse and start socking away some coin. Although the union has yet to set a strike date, the All-Star Game should be considered endangered if only because it is to be played in Selig's taxpayer-funded playpen, Miller Park in Milwaukee. The union loathes Selig, especially after a report in Forbes last week revealed that the most profitable team in baseball last year (after revenue sharing) was—surprise!—Bud's Brewers, who cleared $18.8 million.

A third possibility—a settlement—does exist, but if as likely as a Mo Vaughn swimsuit calendar. Red flags were flying long before Selig's promise. The owners bungled the contraction issue, which they had hoped to use as a bargaining chip, and they ran off DuPuy's predecessor, Paul Beeston, the one man the union trusted. Meanwhile the players don't even acknowledge that there's a serious problem with competitive balance—which is where the owners' arguments for change begin.

The rhetorical sorties of last week should leave you feeling exactly the opposite of what the commissioner intended: Be afraid. Be very afraid.