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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Jackie Autry Proof That Owners Still Don’t Get It

That was a nasty, bitter and misleading statement released by Angel owner Jackie Autry in response to the players’ union’s Aug. 12 strike date. Autry said she was disappointed by the action at a time when the players are making more money than ever and added:

” . . . To deprive the fans of postseason play merely because they would be hurting the owners the most is shortsighted on their part. What they fail to recognize is they will be removing money from their own current money stream for 1995 and beyond which cannot be made up financially by a strike no matter what the length.

“It is also distressful that such hatred continues from union leadership. We do not want to end free agency. Nor do we want to break up the union. Quite the contrary. We believe positive, forward-thinking and strong union leadership would be an asset to the game.”

Hatred from union leadership? What hatred? The union, as any labor union would, is simply acting to protect its rights at a time when the owners might unilaterally implement a system that would restrict salaries, eliminate arbitration and, indeed, significantly damage free agency, all rights the union has won in negotiation with the owners and which have been upheld by the courts.

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Positive, forward-thinking and strong union leadership? When have Marvin Miller and Don Fehr exhibited anything but that? They have argued in vain with a series of owners, commissioners and management negotiators that a true partnership must involve the players in the making of decisions, but their forward-thinking concepts regarding TV, marketing, the draft and revenue generating in general have been blatantly ignored.

It has always been the goal of most owners to break the union, and that remains their goal. It took the owners--squabbling among themselves in a big- and small-market battle that betrays their own insistence that the overall industry is on the verge of financial doom--18 months to formulate and present their salary-cap proposal, painting the players into a no-win corner.

If the industry’s economic problems are so forbidding, why won’t the clubs simply increase their revenue sharing without linking it to a salary cap that forces the players to pay back the big-market clubs for their generosity to the small-market clubs?

If the owners are so united on this, why won’t their chief negotiator, Richard Ravitch, let any of them join him during negotiating sessions, and why did he shove through a rule requiring 75% approval of any settlement in the event of a work stoppage?

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Make no mistake. The players are definitely being paid more than they ever have, but it’s the owners who are paying them. No one held a gun to the their head in the process. No player forced the owners into their collusion, an act that destroyed union trust.

Make no mistake. If the fans are deprived of the postseason--interesting that Autry seems to state it as if it were already a fact--it will be the owners who have shut down the asylum.

ROCKIES ROAD

Is it possible that a second-year expansion team is about to embarrass the National League West worse than the sub-.500 Dodgers and San Francisco Giants already have? The Colorado Rockies are in the thick of the race. The Angels led the American League on July 5, 1962, the latest a second-year expansion team has held first place. Mal Florence’s headline in The Times the day before read: “Heaven Can Wait! Angels First on Fourth.”

The Rockies’ quest was dealt a severe blow Thursday as first baseman Andres Galarraga suffered a broken hand when hit by a Dave Burba pitch. “The Cat” will miss the remainder of the season, no matter how far it goes. He was on the disabled list twice last year when the Rockies set an NL expansion record with 67 victories--averaging 5.1 runs a game when he played, 3.6 when he didn’t.

“Big shoes to fill,” General Manager Bob Gebhard said.

The biggest yet in a season when the Rockies have stayed in contention despite the loss of their No. 1 pitcher of last year, Armando Reynoso; their No. 1 reliever, Darren Holmes, and their No. 1 free-agent acquisition, outfielder Ellis Burks. All have gone down with injuries, but the Rockies have received unexpected seasons from the recycled Marvin Freeman (10-2), Mike Kingery (.340-plus) and Bruce Ruffin (16 saves).

The Rockies will try to replace Galarraga by committee. In the meantime, acknowledging that the Rockies would be 14 or 15 games behind the Atlanta Braves if it weren’t for realignment, Gebhard said he was “still thrilled and pleased to be in the hunt,” adding: “We’re a couple years ahead of where we expected to be. No one could have anticipated we’d be fighting for a division title, but we haven’t really focused on that. We’re still trying to take it a game at a time and not lose sight of our long-range developmental plan. We don’t want to make a move that would be foolish in the long run.”

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In other words, Gebhard said he is looking beyond Aug. 12. So is moderate owner Jerry McMorris, who does not expect the season to resume if the players go out.

“I know some players think that after a two- to four-day strike, it will all be over and we’ll be back to work,” McMorris said. “If that’s true, that we could fix this thing so easily, it’s a real shame we’ve come to this stage. My sense is it will take some time. We as an organization would not plan on playing again this year (if a strike begins on Aug. 12).

“I mean, the resolve among this ownership group is pretty hard and pretty deep. I don’t think the industry has ever been in this dire shape. By the same token, it’s never had the players making this kind of money. There’s a feeling among many of these clubs that something has to be done. Fortunately, we’re not in those economic straits, but there’s only a handful of clubs like us.”

STATIONARY TARGET

It is easy to take shots at Dodger Executive Vice President Fred Claire for his reluctance to give up a promising outfielder--Billy Ashley and/or Todd Hollandsworth, for example--in exchange for a proven closer such as Randy Myers (whom he once shunned as a free agent in favor of signing Todd Worrell) or John Franco (once a Dodger minor leaguer). Yet, there is logic to his position: Why trade the future on the slim chance that the season will last beyond Aug. 12?

“That’s at odds with everything we’re trying to do,” said Claire, whose plan is to build from within.

On the other hand, how often does a club get the chance to win a race, of any length? And can the Dodgers hold on without stability from a bullpen that has blown 19 saves while the manager insists that roles aren’t important?

Even Claire’s own relievers are questioning his status quo stance. “Medieval torture,” Jim Gott said in San Francisco.

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This is the final day for trading without waivers, and Claire said the uncertainty of the schedule has definitely encumbered the market. Maybe he shouldn’t have let it get to this point, but who would have thought that Worrell and/or Gott wouldn’t have regained some consistency?

How much weight does Claire place on being first on the 12th?

“There isn’t any day in August or September that you don’t want to be in first place,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything we could be doing to prepare for it that we haven’t done already.”

REMEMBERING 1981

John McNamara, now an instructor in the Angels’ organization, still finds it hard to digest. He was managing the Cincinnati Reds in 1981 when the 50-day strike split the season in half. The Reds had the best overall record in baseball, but finished second in each half, to the Dodgers and the Houston Astros, and didn’t make the playoffs. The Dodgers beat the Astros in the mini-playoff, beat the Montreal Expos in the league playoff and beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

“That still hurts,” McNamara said of the way the champions were determined and the season split. “It didn’t sit well then and it doesn’t sit well now. I’ll feel it was unfair to the day I die.

"(Commissioner) Bowie Kuhn just wanted the big-market teams in there, and it was very, very tough to take--just as tough as the ’86 World Series (when he managed the Boston Red Sox and ultimately lost to the New York Mets after Bill Buckner’s error).

“The only thing that separates the hurt is time. That was like a death in the family. I still live and grieve. What else can you do.”

On opening day of the 1982 season, General Manager Dick Wagner unfurled a flag over Riverfront Stadium that read: “1981 Cincinnati Reds, Best Record in Baseball.” A photo was taken with the team holding the flag, but McNamara can’t be seen.

“You won’t find me in that picture,” he said. “I hid behind somebody. I did not want to be part of that.”


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