Baseball Season, Series Canceled : Sports: Owners say failure to reach bargaining accord and 34-day players’ strike made it impossible to resume play. World Series won’t be played for first time since 1904.
Acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig canceled the rest of the 1994 season Wednesday, including the playoffs and the World Series, amid the likelihood that the continuing labor dispute will jeopardize the 1995 baseball season as well.
It is the first time since 1904 that the World Series will not be played.
Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, said in a news conference at Milwaukee County Stadium that the failure to reach a collective bargaining agreement and the 34-day strike by the Major League Baseball Players Assn. had made it impossible to resume play without substantial conditioning time for the players.
“We ran out of ground,” Selig said. “It’s tragic, but I wasn’t going to allow the most important games of the season to become a farce.”
Donald Fehr, executive director of the players’ union, said it was all part of the owners’ plan to break the union through unilateral implementation of a salary-cap proposal.
“We never had any influence (on the negotiations),” Fehr said. “We might as well have been wooden Indians.”
Selig said he accepted responsibility for the decision and that 26 of the 28 clubs had signed a resolution supporting it.
The strike, which began on Aug. 12, is now destined to become the longest of baseball’s eight work stoppages since 1972. It erased the last 52 days and 669 games of what had been one of the most exciting seasons in recent history and eclipsed by two days the 1981 strike that wiped out 712 games.
The players have already lost more than $150 million in salary. The owners, who had projected $140 million in postseason TV revenue before advertisers began defecting as the strike progressed, may lose more than $600 million in gross revenue, according to union estimates.
The damage to the fan base, however, is incalculable, and Selig said: “You would have to be naive, insane or all of the above not to think that we haven’t been scarred. There are no winners in this. Both sides failed on so many fronts. I mean, it’s almost impossible to articulate the sense of sadness and poignancy I feel today.”
Owner Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds refused to sign the resolution, Selig said, because she thought the season could have been continued with minor league players.
Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, considered by colleagues to be something of a maverick, wrote his own resolution in support of the decision and faxed it to Selig.
Angelos removed any references from Selig’s resolution that dealt with the unwillingness of players to bargain with the clubs in good faith.
“It is my feeling that making these assertions serves no useful purpose,” Angelos wrote. “Moreover, the continuation of these claims works at cross purposes in trying to bring about a constructive end to this strike. What we need to do is reduce the level of rhetoric.”
Selig said that the industry had to face its economic problems or face catastrophic consequences.
“If this provides the impetus for constructing a solution, then something good will have come from it,” Selig said. “We have to rebuild the damage and take the game to new heights.”
That won’t be easy.
The union is convinced that the owners’ objective is to declare a bargaining impasse and unilaterally implement a proposal that would place a cap on salaries, eliminate salary arbitration, modify free agency and reduce the players’ share of total revenue from 58% to 50%, a figure the union says is more like 44%.
If the owners implement the proposal in October, and Selig has insisted that no decision has been reached, the union has predicted it will spawn a winter of chaos. Among the possibilities:
* The union may order players not to sign contracts, it may file a default grievance aimed at making them all free agents or it may do both.
* It may complain to the National Labor Relations Board that the owners failed to negotiate in good faith and ask that the new system be overturned.
* It will continue to pursue congressional support for the removal of baseball’s antitrust exemption and may explore the viability of starting a new league.
* And barring a settlement, the union will definitely resume the strike next spring, with the possibility it will not be resolved until midseason.
“By that point, several of the small-market clubs may have gone under,” a union lawyer said Wednesday.
Said owners’ negotiator Richard Ravitch: “There’s tremendous uncertainty without a bargaining agreement. I mean, there’s a lot of players other than Barry Bonds (of the San Francisco Giants) who don’t know and won’t know if they’ll have a job. On the other hand, the owners face a tough job marketing, promoting and selling tickets.”
Reflecting on that uncertainty, Selig said: “Time is not an ally of either side.”
It is uncertain, however, when the negotiations will resume and what value they will serve.
The sides are polarized ideologically, the players unwilling to accept the owners’ economic claims or address what the owners consider the primary issues: cost control and containment.
Said union leader Fehr: “I can’t see the players ever playing under a salary cap they went on strike to resist. I can’t see the players accepting any system that restricts free agency or serves as a disincentive for the clubs to sign players.”
Fehr will leave next week to begin a series of regional meetings with the players. A management lawyer said Wednesday that the owners may ask the union to agree to a 30-day grace period, in which negotiations will continue without either side taking legal action. Fehr said he would be willing to discuss it.
“We’re not rushing off to court,” he said. “We’ll have due time for that.”
He called Selig’s announcement Wednesday “tragic and disappointing” but so anticlimactic as to be characteristic of negotiations in which the owners never deviated from their plan, never showed a sense of urgency and never went the extra yard to reach an agreement.
“This is the result they anticipated all along,” he said. “I’m amazed by the equanimity with which they’ve tossed away the season.”
Equanimity or unanimity?
“I can’t help but wonder if this was just a test of the owners’ will,” Ravitch said, raising a familiar theme.
Fehr, however, denied miscalculating the owners’ solidarity. He referred to a $200-million strike fund built from licensing revenue--the first distributions will be made Friday--and said:
“We knew it would be rough. We knew it would be hard. We knew it wouldn’t be a short strike. That’s why, individually and collectively, the players amassed a large reservoir of funds.”
The money, however, is unlikely to compensate for the Fehr-Selig legacy, the cancellation of the World Series.
Fehr said the immediate personal impact “indicates a failure to get the job done. But then, it may have been a job that was impossible to get done.”
He added: “History isn’t written by contemporaries. And if it is, it usually isn’t very good. It seems to me I can predict pretty well what the scholars will say 50 to 75 years from now about labor relations in baseball the last 20 years. What they’ll say is, you had a cartel that was exempt from antitrust laws and was used to doing whatever it wanted to whomever it wanted under whatever conditions it wanted.
“You also had a union that didn’t want to let them do that, but as a result of the (owners’) special privilege, they provoked eight work stoppages. I expect historians will say somebody should have understood that the antitrust laws are there for a reason.”
Fehr also said that he thinks historians will conclude that “it took no small amount of courage” for the players, considering the amount of money they are losing, to stand firm “and do what’s right for themselves and the players that come after them. I think when history is written, much more will be said about that.”
Selig admitted that the media’s “Bud bashing” has had an impact.
“I was a history major,” he said. “I love history. I tend to view things in the context of history, including the World Series, and I worry about the reaction--public and otherwise.
“I don’t like the personal attacks--who would? One owner said I have to regard it all as institutional hits, attacks on the industry at a difficult time. Maybe, but it still hurts. At the same time, I know I’d feel even worse if I ignored the (economic) problems. They’ve been repressed for too long.”
The union, disputing the severity of those problems, believes the owners have been following a plan initiated when Selig and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf led the overthrow of Commissioner Fay Vincent, who resigned on Sept. 7, 1992, and no full-time commissioner was selected to succeed him.
That left a seemingly conflicting situation in which the owner of a small-market club that believes it can’t survive without a new compensation system became acting commissioner, supposedly responsible for the best interests of the game, not just his own best interests.
The owners voted to reopen collective bargaining negotiations a year early, on Dec. 7 of 1992, but did not present their salary-cap proposal to the union until 18 months later, by which time they had also approved a new voting rule requiring 21 of the 28 clubs to ratify a bargaining agreement, rather than a majority. That meant that only eight small-market teams could prevent any agreement that did not include a salary cap and increased revenue sharing among clubs.
Fehr said Wednesday that the owners have engaged in a show for public relations’ sake. The goal, he said, has been to break the union and unilaterally implement the cap. The strike was the union’s only leverage, he said.
“Unfortunately, nothing we have said or done has mattered,” he added. “Bud wants to teach the children a lesson.”
Said Selig: “If anybody thinks this is anything preordained and we had a plan, that is just sheer and utter nonsense. Was there a firm conviction that the system needed to be changed? Yes. Did it take 14 months of internal debate to decide on a plan? Yes. Did that leave a stronger sense of unanimity (among owners) and better understanding of each other’s finances? Definitely.
“Were we willing to negotiate with the union? Of course, but the union never responded to our need for cost certainty and a system that would control the growth of salaries. At this point, there’s no sense getting into a debate over who has been the most intransigent.”
Nevertheless, an American League owner, insisting on anonymity, reflected on the owners’ tendency to capitulate in the seven previous work stoppages since 1972 and said: “I’m afraid that some of my colleagues became intoxicated this time with the concept of winning, of drawing blood.”
Thus, one of the most exciting seasons in baseball history has ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Could Tony Gwynn have hit .400? Could Frank Thomas have won the triple crown--the batting average, home run and runs-batted-in championships? Could Thomas, Matt Williams or Ken Griffey Jr. have broken Roger Maris’ record for most home runs in a season? The questions are without answers.
Said Paul Molitor, the Toronto Blue Jay star and most valuable player in last year’s World Series: “We (the players and owners) took the most exciting season I’ve seen in my 17 years and wiped it off the board. Who cares who wins or loses at the bargaining table? We’ve done irreparable damage to the game.
“As a member of the players’ negotiating committee, I feel we did everything we could to get the negotiations moving in the right direction, but we were stonewalled at every turn. We were dealing with an ownership group ready to bring only one proposal to the table and forgo the 1994 season, and maybe the 1995 season as well.”
* RELATED STORIES: B1, C1, C6-C9
No Runs, No Hits, No Season
On the 34th day of a strike by players, major league owners canceled the remainder of the season. The last time the World Series was canceled was 1904; the last time the regular season was cut short was in 1918, during World War I.
The Dispute: The key conflict was a dispute over the owners’ insistence on a cap on player salaries.
The Future: It is unclear when negotiations resume. The players, who lost 28% of their 1994 salaries, won’t feel further financial impact until April, when paychecks would resume if the season began normally.
Rising Player Salaries: As compiled by the Major League Baseball Players Assn. The 1994 figure is based on a survey by the Associated Press. ’94 Average salary: $1,188,679 Minimum salary: $109,000 ***
Owner Revenue: Operating profits (or losses) for the 26 major league baseball teams (28 teams beginning in 1993), as obtained by the Associated Press. ’93*: $50,329,000 * Management estimate