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On Sunday it was widely reported that negotiators for the major league owners and the Players Association are close to an agreement that would pay the players $280 million in damages for collusion committed by the owners in 1985, '86 and '87. In addition, 16 players who were free agents after the '87 season would become "new-look" free agents. If there were such a settlement, commissioner Fay Vincent told Murray Chass of The New York Times, it "would be a very important development to have that miserable chapter over."
That chapter was in large part written by former commissioner Peter Ueberroth. When he left office in the spring of 1989, following the signing of lucrative TV contracts with CBS and ESPN, Ueberroth was almost universally hailed as the financial savior of baseball. Much of the reason for the improved bottom line was that Ueberroth had cajoled the owners into keeping players' salaries down and ignoring free agents. But by doing that, the owners were practicing collusion, in violation of baseball's labor agreement.
Ironically, the staggering award could adversely affect the bargaining power of this year's free agents. Each club would have to pay $10.77 million, and that would significantly deplete the coffers of lower-income franchises and thus reduce the number of free-agent bidders.
The time has come for the owners to pay the piper. The time has also come to reassess the Ueberroth era. He was, in many ways, the Teflon commissioner.
Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund, was working at her desk in Washington, D.C., one day in the summer of 1989 when she noticed three light brown ants scurrying around her telephone. Most people would have squashed the little critters, but since Fuller's line of work is protecting wildlife, she left the ants alone and continued doing her work.
Over the ensuing weeks Fuller saw lots of ants in her office, and although she wondered occasionally where they were coming from—her desk is free of crumbs—she wasn't able to solve the mystery until a board of directors meeting last October. One of the directors of the World Wildlife Fund is E.O. Wilson, a distinguished Harvard biologist and the world's leading authority on ants. After the meeting Fuller invited Wilson to view her specimens. "He walked over," recalls Fuller, "and the ants were obligingly out and about. Suddenly his eyebrows shot up, and he said, 'My goodness, these are genus Pheidole.' "
Wilson told Fuller that he was fairly certain her ants were of a new species. He collected a few to take back to Harvard for further study and urged her to round up another bunch. At the next board meeting in April, Fuller gave Wilson some more specimens. "They are more than likely a new species," says Wilson, "but they are in a difficult part of that genus. That's why I'm not 100 percent sure." If they are indeed a new species, the ants may be named after their discoverer—Pheidole fulleri.
Although she still isn't sure how they got to her office, Fuller did discover that the ants were making their home in a potted plant in the office. So now she dutifully feeds her ants sugar water and cookies. In return, they are giving Fuller inspiration. "They are," she says, "a daily reminder of the abundant diversity of life on this planet."