As the Aug. 6 deadline for a strike by major league players approached, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth put himself squarely on the spot. In a radio interview last Friday, Ueberroth said, "I just really can't allow there to be a strike that shuts down America's national pastime. It's been shut down too many times in the past." He said much the same thing on Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies: "We cannot allow these negotiations to fail."
While Ueberroth's statements conjure up an image of the commissioner riding in on a white charger to rescue the game in the nick of time, it also raises some nettlesome questions. Since Ueberroth has no legal means of preventing the players from striking—just as he couldn't force them to submit to his blanket drug-testing program—he could presumably only prevent a walkout by convincing the owners to capitulate to the players' demands. The commissioner may be a very persuasive man, but he is dealing with very stubborn men. The ultimate leverage he holds, of course, is a threat to resign his post, an embarrassment the owners would certainly like to avoid.
Ueberroth has a flair for the dramatic gesture, and perhaps he will pull this one off, either averting a strike at the 11th hour or settling one after a few days of darkness. He did settle last year's umpires' strike swiftly by coming down forcefully on the side of the umpires. But as one general manager put it last week, "If Peter thinks he can settle this like he settled the umpires' strike, he's smoking something. That was chicken feed compared to this."
Good luck, commissioner.
WHAT IF THEY HELD A PLAYOFF...
The United States Basketball League has found the perfect solution to decades of complaints about the length of sports seasons. It cut short its maiden campaign in mid-dribble. The league began with a 40-game schedule, but the players turned out to be too good. The NBA drafted 42% of them, and the start of this year's rookie camps left the seven USBL teams so shorthanded they couldn't finish the season. So the USBL canceled its last four weeks and crowned the league-leading Springfield Fame as champs without holding those bothersome playoffs. The league promises to be back next year with opening and closing dates that won't conflict with the NBA calendar.
...AND NOBODY PLAYED?
The USBL may have started something. The women's basketball tournament at last week's 12th Maccabiah Games in Israel wasn't played out, either.
The men's and women's finals were supposed to be played at Tel Aviv's Yad Eliahu stadium, which holds 10,000. But when the Canadian men balked at playing their bronze medal game against Brazil in 600-seat Kfar Hamaccabiah pavilion, it was decided that they would switch arenas with the women's finalists, the U.S. and Israel.
The Canadian men wound up winning 74—55 in the splendor of Yad Eliahu, where the U.S. men beat Israel for the gold medal. But not everyone was happy. The Israeli women took the switch to Kfar Hamaccabiah as a slight and forfeited the gold to the U.S., which diplomatically skipped the awards ceremony.