1995 Atlanta Braves Retrospective

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WILL THERE BE BASEBALL THIS YEAR?
A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE STRIKE
(Part I)


On August 12, 1994, the Major League Baseball players went on strike. Less than one month later, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig (who also just happens to own the Milwaukee Brewers) announced that the greedy players and greedy owners (he omitted that last part) succeeded in doing something not even Hitler could do: cancel the World Series, which had been played uninterrupted for 90 years, having survived two World Wars, a fixed World Series, and the late 70s orange marmalade uniforms of the Houston Astros.

We now sit over seven months later, and it not only appears we are no closer to resolution than we were last August, but the damage may be too severe to ever repair. How did the national pastime ever get here? Baseball's eighth work stoppage in 22 years may have destroyed the sport, and while such musings are usually hyperbole, that is not the case this time. So yet again, how did we get here?

In short, we are having the very same argument that has caused every other work stoppage in baseball history: money and (tied to money) freedom. In fact, we find ourselves here now simply because the previous agreements that ended other entanglements always anger one side or the other (and sometimes both). But never before have the owners been as emboldened as they are now. Never before have they gotten serious enough about playing the games without the big names that they have pulled in replacement players (scabs in the labor vernacular) as they've done now, a situation that is dividing owners and players and even managers (former pitcher and legendary manager Sparky Anderson is refusing to manage replacement players out of principle).

So again - how exactly did we arrive at this moment of no spring training and no hope?

The roots of the strike are not hard to find, and are very simple: the players do not trust the owners - and quite frankly, who can blame them? The owners, not the players, have the power as far as money and what is done with it goes - and they have repeatedly both lied and robbed the players even as those players are making more money than they ever have. When baseball had the first in-season work stoppage in the history of American sports in 1981, the issue concerned whether the owners could obtain compensation for the free agents they lost who had signed with new teams. The owners demanded DIRECT compensation in the form of the team signing the free agent could protect only fifteen players, and the team losing the free agent could select from the free agent's new team. In essence, it reduced free agency to a potential trade, a tactic players knew would prevent free agency from blossoming. In the end, the owners largely adopted the plan for which the players had struck, a form of INDIRECT compensation where players WERE replaced but in a general pool of players rather than directly.

And then the 1985 players strike (so brief it's usually forgotten) happened because (wait for it) of the 1981 strike. Although not the sole issue, it was an amusing one: the very owners who demanded compensation in 1981 wanted compensation dropped because of a number of unanticipated team transfers among players such as Tom Seaver, old players left on the unprotected list and then selected by a team needing a player. As both the players and owners wanted it gone, this was not a hard sell. The 1985 strike was primarily about arbitration, the owners wanting a salary cap while the players opposed. But a reasonable compromise occurred when players were willing to make qualifying for arbitration more difficult than previously in exchange for no cap on the money awarded the player by the arbiter.

That agreement, however, set off a destructive (and illegal) tactic by the owners, wholesale collusion and refusal to sign free agents. We have since learned what was suspected: in 1986, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth essentially told the owners that they knew what needed to be done and were faced with a choice between making money every year or winning a World Series and losing money seven of ten years (most clubs). Numerous superstars like Andre Dawson and Kirk Gibson were bypassed and signed to dirt cheap contracts not commensurate with their abilities. After years of hearings, two different arbitrators ruled that the owners had deprived the players of what ultimately was assessed as $280 million in damages. Naturally, this led to the next work stoppage, the 1990 owners lockout. Again, the issue was over arbitration and yet AGAIN, the owners wanted a salary cap. Once again - they didn't get it. The 1990 agreement ended on December 31, 1993, and it is why we are where we find ourselves today.
 
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Part II

The last collective bargaining agreement ended, as noted, on December 31, 1993.

On January 18, 1994, the owners (surprise!) unanimously passed a revenue sharing plan and applauded themselves for preserving their financial future, all the more amusing because the league has been without a commissioner since Fay Vincent resigned under pressure in September 1992. So good was this plan, in fact, that the owners didn't tell the players and didn't even bother to tell the media what was in it. The players' union chief Don Fehr noted that it really didn't matter since the issue was going to be collectively bargained anyway. It was at this juncture that the owners had already promised to not lockout the players while the players weren't exactly promising not to go on strike.

It should be noted that the early rumblings of the labor problems barely disturbed any fans at all. The media might have been mentioning the issue, but the sound of owners patting themselves on the back was lost in the media coverage of the attack on U.S. Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan (January 6, 1994) being attacked by a "hit man" who (it turned out) had been hired by Kerrigan's chief competitor on the team, Tonya Harding. The ongoing soap opera extinguished nearly all sports coverage until such time as teams were in spring training and fans were hearing there might be a strike but maybe not. Owners being owners, they didn't publicly announce their good plan until June 14, 1994...the day the public first began to suspect that O.J. Simpson just might be guilty of murder. With the Knicks and Rangers pursuing championships as well as the World Cup being held for the first time ever in the USA, it was almost impossible to believe there could be a strike. When the NL won perhaps the best All-Star Game in history when Fred McGriff's two-run homer tied the game with one out in the ninth, and Tony Gwynn slid in under Pudge Rodriguez on a double by Moises Alou to win the game in the tenth, nobody could believe there was going to be a strike.

But exactly one month later, the game was silent.

The owners didn't help matters (in June 1994) by resurrecting another old chestnut of failing to donate require monies to the MLB pension fund, the root cause of the 1972 work stoppage. The owners' proposal had a number of goodies for the players, but the KEY issue was it was all dependent on a salary cap. Don Fehr, at a press conference the day after the All-Star Game, expressed frustration at the fact that at that point there had been literally no negotiation at all. Five days later, the players' union rejected the owner proposal en toto. Ten days later, on July 28, the players set a strike date of August 12. Although federal mediators were called in to assist the process in late August, on September 14, 1994, Bud Selig sealed his legacy on earth by announcing the rest of the season, including the World Series, was cancelled. By this time, the NFL and college football were going full bore - and nobody really cared about losing baseball. The owners clearly didn't care; nothing of note happened until December, a full four months after the strike began. Richard Ravitch, the owners' representative, resigned and less than two weeks later, the owners adopted a salary cap.

If this story is sounding familiar that's because it is - with the exception of one word - the 1981 strike all over again. In 1981, the owners wanted "compensation," so they arbitrarily adopted it unanimously, declared it was good for the game, and forced the players into a strike. In 1994, the owners wanted a salary cap, so they arbitrarily adopted it unanimously, declared it was good for the game, and forced the players into a strike. It may not have dawned on some of the owners that money is only coming in if, you know, there are actual baseball games being played. Or perhaps it did given their next move, which was predictable.

On January 13, 1995, the owners - but not unanimously - decided to use replacement players for the major league games in 1995. The notable holdout is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. You could perhaps with charity assume Angelos isn't going along with his brethren on this issue because he's a labor union lawyer who might have enough sense to realize the owners are flirting with dangerous territory legally. Or you might cynically assume that Angelos doesn't want to go down in history as the guy who ended Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak by using replacement players (Ripken is closing in on the hallowed record). You might even more cynically but with likely more accuracy assume that Angelos is banking on making bank with the huge crowds in Camden Yards in the final games as Ripken prepares to pass Lou Gehrig. In fairness, it's probably all three.

Just four days ago, the MLBPA drew their own line in the sand, and it wasn't pretty: play even one game with replacement players, and we will not agree to anything unless those results are expunged and not counted when a settlement is reached.

We are seven months into the longest baseball strike in history - and there seems to be no end in sight.
 

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Thank you for doing this. Back then I was a HUGE baseball fan and watched as much baseball as my calendar and TV allowed. I was so mad I could spit at both the players and owners for taking it away from me
 
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March 19, 1995
MICHAEL JORDAN RETURNS TO THE BULLS WITH19-POINT EFFORT
OWNERS TO PURSUE REPLACEMENT PLAYER PLAN WITHOUT HIM;
SHORT SEASON INEVITABLE FOR 2ND STRAIGHT YEAR


The biggest new in the sports world (setting aside the ongoing OJ Simspon trial) is the return of Double-A baseball player Michael Jordan to the sport he once dominated, professional basketball, with a 19-point effort in an overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers. Showing the rust of a player who has not played competitively in the NBA for nearly two full years, Jordan's announcement from days ago that "I'm back" will be monitored as it ties with the other big sports story outside the NCAA basketball tournament, the ongoing baseball strike, which has already lasted longer than some marriages. How is that you ask? Well, part of the reason Jordan fled the minor leagues was the reality that he was liable to be summoned to the major leagues as a replacement player, particularly given he would be the biggest draw playing baseball until whenever the strike is settled (IF it is ever settled).

And that doesn't appear likely to happen any time soon, which is why baseball owners are suddenly willing to tolerate major leaguers whose AA batting average is flirting with the Mendoza line, the only time in history this will ever happen. And speaking of things that also will never happen, there is yet another possible problem that has not made huge waves but is bound to surface eventually: lawsuits from fans against owners who stage replacement games and then agree to expunge the statistics and pretend the game never happened. This is not as weird as you might think since it does flirt with the grounds of taking money under false pretenses. It will be very interesting if this ever happens to see the responses of a judge and jury to whichever lawyer can take a break from OJ's Dream Team and make the ludicrous sound normal.

Because the players have not yet even begun spring training - which would be one full month in bloom in a normal season - there is no doubt that whenever the unionized major leaguers do return to the field (IF they ever do), the 1995 season will not consist of 162 games. Even if the strike was settled today, the games could not start for about a month (April 19), meaning there's no way to compact a full season into the allotted time frame, particularly given the TV deals that limit the time frame of the World Series due simply to the fact the networks are covering other sports in October and (if necessary) November. But it should be noted the sides are so far apart that there is already discussion that there might not be any baseball until April 1996, a happenstance that might actually destroy the sport if it occurs. Given the two sides aren't even talking, the strike will go on.

The latest development that will play out over the next week or so concerns a meeting of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this week where general counsel Fred Feinstein is expected to be granted permission to seek a preliminary injunction against the owners in the U.S. District Court of New York. If the injunction is granted, it would automatically restore the previous collective bargaining agreement that expired at the end of 1993 with all of its rules on salary arbitration, free agency, and anti-collusion. This injunction, if granted, will then result in a hearing before a judge that is expected to last about one week, with a decision either immediately afterward or the following week (April 2). The judge will not be ruling on the particular merits of the case but rather on three issues:
1) the likelihood the owners have violated the National Labor Relations Act
2) the likelihood players will suffer harm without an injunction
3) whether an injunction is just and proper.

Last week, the NLRB, in fact, approved 142 out of 143 requests for permission to seek an injunction submitted by Feinstein. This leaves us in a gray area with five possible outcome scenarios:

1) the judge issues an injunction, the players end the strike, and the owners lock out the players
2) the judge issues the injunction, the players end the strike, and the owners vote to lock out the players but lack the 21 votes (out of 28) necessary to invoke one
3) the judge does not issue an injunction, so the players stay on strike
4) the judge does not issue an injunction, but the players end the strike and leave their fate in the hands of an administrative law judge with the case to start around May 22, hoping to prevail on the merits
5) the judge issues an injunction, the players end the strike, and the owners not only lock out the players but also use replacement players.

Each scenario has consequences for the principal actors, both good and bad. The last option is particularly hairy for an important reason: if the owners lock out the players, use replacement players and are THEN found to have violated the law, they are subject to a fine of $5 million per team per day that is trebled where free agents are concerned. That's why the scenario of using replacement players, for all of the ink spilled on the subject right now, is the least likely option. It is fraught with too many risks and too high a price to pay for owners who haven't had a single fan walk through a turnstile paying for a ticket since August 11.

And speaking of replacement players, assessments (and participation) ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Pedro Guerrerro, formerly one of the most feared hitters in the National League for what seems like a brief sneeze forever ago, showed up to try out for the California Angels at the ripe old age of 38. Sure, he hasn't seen major league pitching in three years, he never took fielding practice when he did play, and more than once he was still in civilian clothes when the first pitch of a game took place where he was batting third - and his IQ will never be mistaken for that of Einstein - but Pedro and his large smile are back in spring training. Dodgers scout Mel Didier, entering his 44th season in organized ball, has declared that the replacement players are "better than expected, certainly above AA ball." (Whether this is a complement or an insult is open to interpretation). Meanwhile, the focus of the entire strike so far as the replacement players are concerned is the Baltimore Orioles, largely due to the question of whether Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak will end or not. Owner Peter Angelos has stated that the O's will only face teams whose entire roster are actually signed to minor league contracts. This tends to be an exercise in gnat straining since players are often being signed on the day of the game simply to accomodate spring training. But the questionable status of three Pittsburgh Pirate replacement players resulted in yet another canceled spring game by the Orioles.

Rawlings Sporting Goods reported yesterday that the sales of MLB licensed products are down substantially due to the strike. Russell Athletic is reporting similar problems, and it is worth noting that Russell is already reeling from the NHL strike that only ended in January.

And in sad news, Muriel Kauffman, the wife of the late longtime Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Kauffman, has passed away. Her age and cause of death were not disclosed.
 

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March 20, 1995
Strike Day 220
NO DEVELOPMENTS IN STRIKE BUT WILL CAPITOL HILL GET INVOLVED? (HINT: IT ALREADY IS)


Another day, another no settlement, another fan lost to the game perhaps forever.

Baseball's longest, most damaging, gut-wrenching strike entered its 220th day with no end in sight and relations as low between the owners and players perhaps since Charles Comiskey owned the Black Sox. When Americans were held hostage in Iran by the Ayatolloah Khomeini, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite would end each broadcast by citing the number of days Americans were held in captivity. Perhaps one can say this time either the game or the fans - or both - have been "held hostage," and a release date seems as far away as it ever did. Ask the casual fan about what the problem is, and he (or she) is liable to say, "Money," which is true - the problem is there's so damned much of it that neither the players NOR the owners have any real incentive to settle the strike. Ironically, the rapidly ascending pay scale of major league players is probably why this strike has dragged on now for four times as long as the 1981 strike, when the lower paid major leaguers had plenty of incentive to settle early because they didn't make that much bread.

Bill Usery, the former Secretary of Labor in the Ford administration appointed by President Clinton to help mediate the strike largely based on his long record of successful mediation states "there have been a lot of discussions but nothing new" on the strike. Gene Orza, the number two union official (behind Donald Fehr), states they may or may not have talks tomorrow or Wednesday. Chuck O'Connor, a lawyer for the owners states he heard nothing all weekend, probably because everyone was engrossed in the NCAA basketball tournament where, you know, players are still playing their sport with public interest. There have been no negotiations since March 4, when they players proposed a 25 percent luxury tax on payrolls over 133 percent of the average team ($54.1 million last year), and the owners counter-proposed a 50 percent luxury tax on payrolls that exceed 100 percent of the average team ($40.7 million in 1994).* And then there is the issue of the replacement players, which threatens to make a joke of the entire season and issue as well. In their efforts to mimic the NFL owners, who largely pushed aside their players' union in 1987 with replacement games in the standings that actually counted, the owners appear to be forgetting the old cliche that "there's nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball."

Fans - the few who may actually watch the fifth-stringers - are being treated to one of the sports spectacles of all-time, some oblivious to the reality of what is happening. Consider what all has happened to this point with the replacement players and one cannot help but be simultaneously cynical yet amazed:

- the California Angels got a 33-year old catcher...from Home Depot
-the New York Mets have a second baseman landscaper from Alabama named - appropriately - Bubba
- the Detroit Tigers have a 35-year old pitcher who last threw a pitch in 1989 who drives a garbage truck
- the St Louis Cardinals brought no less than 111 players to camp in search of a team
- the Baltimore Orioles and their labor lawyer owner Peter Angelos are refusing to field a team
- the Toronto Blue Jays cannot field a team because of the labor laws of Ontario; as a result the Blue Jays may have to play their home games in Florida
- Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, a clubhouse cancer and head case who hasn't played since he wasn't any good in 1991 has signed with the White Sox, presumably as a replacement for Michael Jordan
- Doug Sisk, whose last MLB stint was a failed closer for the Atlanta Braves, is back with the Mets at 37
- Lenny Randle, best known for beating up his manager with the Texas Rangers and then blowing a ball foul when on the Mariners, came to spring ball and went 8-for-24 with the Angels before he was cut - at age 46
- that's nothing as Pedro Borbon, the former Reds pitcher whose son is in the Atlanta Braves' organization, reported to the Reds at 48 years old, 45 pounds overweight, and hasn't thrown a pitch since the Carter Administration
- Jeff Stone, out of baseball four years and working on a loading dock in Missouri, is back on the Phillies
- Terry Blocker, 35, a former Brave is back with his team after six years out of league as a church deacon and a cable TV repairman who shows up either between 9 and 1 or 2 and 6, and you wait all day on him
- The Reds signed an outfielder named Motorboat Jones, who had been mopping floors in Gadsden, Alabama for $120 a week.
- His brother, Speedboat Jones, signed with Toronto, and when the Jays faced the Reds in an exhibition game, the two brothers squared off for one historic plate appearance: Speedboat vs. Motorboat. Motorboat walked.
- most amazing of all is Pete Rose, Jr. son of the legendary gambler ballplayer, who crossed the picket line to work out with the White Sox, announced he would not play regular season games and then - in a reversal suggesting DNA caused it - turned right around and said he would play as a replacement player since the MLB players already considered him a scab anyway

And then there is the spectacle of the Boston Red Sox, whose hardline ways and lack of political acumen has managed to alienate both the replacement players AND the minor leaguers and might point to why the Sox haven't won a World Series in 77 years. In point of fact, the move was a good one in the sense it (sort of) sided with the players, but if that was the real intent, why not go the route of the Orioles and just not play without major league players? The Red Sox held a meeting over the weekend where they kicked all of the replacement players out so they could meet with "uncommitted" (re: never gonna make the majors) minor leaguers, ticking off the replacement players. They then proceeded to tick off the minor leaguers by offering them the same lowball MLB contract. Again, such a tactic might have been made to appeal to the big leaguers, but it seems dividing the few players you do have is not a smart move if, in fact, you are going to use them.

And then there's the problem of American politics and what role it may (or may not) play in the resolution of the strike, a fact complicated by the recent change in power on Capitol Hill. According to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, the owners (and their families) have donated over $2 million to candidates in both parties for election since 1987. The players have contributed a total of $7,250 while the union lobbyists have donated $140,000. It's not hard to tell where the bread is buttered on Washington, and the players have pretty much no allies given the lack of donations and potential influence such might bring. And this doesn't include Political Action Committee (PAC) donations that donate even more big bucks to prospective candidates. Anheuser-Busch, owners of the St Louis Cardinals, for example, donated another $280,000 during that time frame while the CEO of the Kansas City Royals just happens to be a chariman at Wal-Mart, who has donated over $100,000. This becomes a concern where politics, money, and sport all intersect.

Thus far, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole have remained out of the strike frying pan, asking somewhat rhetorically - and consistent with general Republican views - what role government actually has in a strike of commerce that doesn't exactly affect the nation in any severe way something like a firefighters or law enforcement strike would. President Clinton's appointment of Usery appears to be, on the surface at least, both a noble attempt at restarting the game as well as another accomplishment he can cite in his efforts to be re-elected next year. But there's also a bit of strange bipartisanship going on that if it ever fully coagulates might change the sport as we know it concerning baseball's antitrust exemption. While this is a common whipping boy from time to time, the long strike is bringing together longtime DC foes such as Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and recently retired Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum to muse that maybe just maybe that exemption that has protected the owners from their own anti-labor tactics is not a very good law after all. Such is more significant in the case of Hatch, who is largely pro-business and laissez-faire in his economics approach and yet is troubled what he sees as the owners using the law to "not negotiate in good faith." (It should be noted this same musing was heard on Capitol Hill during the last mid-season long strike in 1981).

But the politics aren't clean, either. Clinton's attempt to get the strike settled through arbitration - a proposal vociferously opposed by the owners - was blocked by Congressional leaders in both parties who did not want to alienate owners of baseball teams in their own states. And it's easy to see why: owners give money to elected officials and players, by and large, do not.

A great game has suffered great damage, and it will take a great miracle to salvage anything for future generations.

* - what this poorly worded sentence is saying is this: the players wanted a 25% tax on teams that spent over $54.1 million on team payroll and THAT total is 33% over what the actual aveage payroll of each team was in 1994, $40.7 million.
 

selmaborntidefan

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Dang, I do not remember any of these details.
I had just returned (on March 15) from a military deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
MOST of this I'm just learning myself - a few of them I'm like, "yeah, I remember hearing something about that," but I tuned so much of the noise out.

Then after two weeks at work, they gave me two weeks off to spend with my then wife, so we hopped in the car and drove and didn't really listen to any sports. I was in a cave near Crossville, TN when the strike was settled. Literally in a cave.
 

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March 21, 1995
Strike Day 221

SELIG, FEHR MEET PRIVATELY IN EFFORT TO RESTART TALKS


Acting (and not very good) baseball commissioner Bud Selig and players union head Donald Fehr met privately Monday in Washington in effort to resume talks that broke down on March 4. The MLB season is scheduled to begin in 13 days (on April 2), and the owners appear ready to play baseball games with replacement players if no settlement is reached. The meeting was not announced in advance in an effort to calm the waters, but the Associated Press has confirmed from sources with both camps that the meeting did, in fact, occur. The meeting is expected to continue today. The session was designed for the two sides to lay out where they stand as basis for continued talks. The AP has also learned that the meeting consisted of more than just the two men. Other participants whose attendance has been verified include Lauren Rich for the players and Chuck O'Connor and Rob Manfred for the owners. As noted yesterday, the concern is how much of a luxury tax and on which particular teams. If the owners' plan is adopted then 15 teams will pay the tax based on 1994 payroll; if the players' plan is adopted only the Detroit Tigers would have paid a tax.

The luxury tax is not the only sticking point, however. The owners want salary arbitration completely abolished, which has led the players to counter with the offer that any players currently eligible for arbitration will automatically become free agents instead. And the players also want the luxury tax to be phased out after three years, a condition that has been called "the sunset provision." Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has set their own meeting in Washington for Thursday morning, and if the board approves the players' request for a preliminary injunction, the hearing will occur before a federal judge in New York possibly as soon as next week. If nothing happens before May 22, Associate Judge Edwin Bennett will hear the complaint against the owners.

The front office, meanwhile, finally got the message being sent by the Baltimore Orioles. Bill Murray - no, not that one - an administrator representing the commissioner's office, notified Orioles GM Roland Hemmond that the rest of Baltimore's scheduled spring training games had all been cancelled in recognition of the fact they do not have any replacement players nor intent of fielding any.

The commissioner's front office isn't the only one taking action. The Cincinnati Reds have told Manager Dave Johnson to either manage the replacement players he's been given or resign immediately. Johnson was summoned to a meeting with Reds owner Marge Schott and General Manager Jim Bowden and given a dressing down as well as an ultimatum. Entering the meeting assuming he was fired, Johnson exited and said, "If they can't take a joke, to hell with them." Ray Knight has been managing the Reds in Johnson's absence. Johnson also said he apologized to Bowden and is nervous because it is obvious this is Johnson's last season with the Reds. He is expected to mentor Knight, who will be the manager in 1996. Johnson mused that he thought with the talent on his team that the Reds had a legitimate shot at winning the World Series, but he also commented that his replacement players "are about like Independent Class A ballplayers."

And then there's Vin Scully. One of the most beloved announcers in the game's history has always been adept at avoiding controversy, but he may have found a more difficult than usual situation to escape. Scully is in his 45th year as the Dodgers' announcer, and though he clearly wants the strike settled, he is one announcer refusing to refer to the replacement players as "replacement players." Instead, he has settled on calling the spring training games "exhibitions" (which they are) and giving full recognition to the players on the field as players.

In baseball related other news, an iron worker at the Olympic Stadium being constructed in Atlanta tragically fell to his death yesterday when one of the nine 150-foot towers buckled and unleashed two banks of lights onto workers below. Two other workers were injured, one seriously. The decedent is Jack Falls of McDonough, Georgia. Witnesses said Falls landed a few feet behind one of the light banks that fell away from the tower as it collapsed. The Olympic Stadium will host the 1996 Summer Olympics and then be converted to the new home of the Atlanta Braves for the 1997 baseball season - if there is one. The stadium is expected to be completed in January 1996.
 

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March 22, 1995
Strike Day 222

MEETINGS TOMORROW WILL SET THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT GREAT SHOWDOWN


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and baseball owners' negotiating committee have meetings planned tomorrow that in a just world may help give impetus to settling the strike that has gone on since August 12, 1994. The NLRB will meet in Washington to decide whether to go ahead with their plan to seek a preliminary injunction against the owners while the 12-man owners' committee will meet in Chicago to consider whether to make yet another bargaining offer to the players. Federal mediator William J. Usery has been in contact with both sides attemtping to facilitate negotation, which broke down on March 4. While both sides agree it is too late to save the current Opening Day (April 2), they do agree that an immediate settlement can push back the openers three weeks and permit the players to get into season ready shape.

It's apparently the only thing upon which they can agree.

The owners met on March 13 but opted to not present a plan after learning that NLRB general counsel Fred Feinstein would issue a decision the following day concerning the charge of unfair labor practices made by the players. The NLRB's five-person board is debating whether to seek the preliminary injunction in court. The players have already announced that if the injunction is granted, which will return baseball to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that expired at the end of 1993, they will end the strike.

That, as noted, does not necessarily mean the strike would end, however, as the owners could then simply retaliate by locking the players out.
 

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March 23, 1995
Strike Day 223

NLRB DELAYS COURT ACTION UNTIL NEXT WEEK; HOWE MAY CROSS PICKET LINE


And the strike totters into yet another week.

The five members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) met in Washington today and is expected to give counsel Fred Feinstein the go-ahead to seek an injunction against the MLB owners that will (presumably) end the players strike, but they opted to delay court action until next week. At nearly the same time, the 12-man owners' negotiating committee met in Rosemont, Illinois (near Chicago) and decided they may as well wait to see what happens with the hearing.

Meanwhile, former NL Rookie of the Year and multiple-time drug offender Steve Howe has announced that he might - or might not, even he doesn't know - cross the picket line as a matter of personal philosophy. Howe is currently with the Yankees after a 1992 lifetime suspension was overturned. Howe, who has been suspended from baseball no less than seven times and is the only player ever banished from the game due to drug use, has been represented in his previous cases by the MLBPA, so his "betrayal" such as it is will likely not go over very well.
 

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March 24, 1995
BRAVES REPLACEMENT PITCHER DAVE SHOTKOSKI MURDERED IN FLORIDA
Strike Day 224


It is one of those things that makes you put everything else into its proper perspective and to realize that as bad as this baseball strike is (and may yet become), it is not the end of the world. Tragically, the end of the world came for one young man just a few blocks from the Atlanta Braves' team hotel last night. Dave Shotkoski, a 30-year old production supervisor at a Coca-Cola plant in Niles, Illinois, was in West Palm Beach attempting to earn a spot as a replacement player on a major league roster. After eating dinner at the team hotel with teammate Max Valencia, Shotkoski went for a walk. Sometime around 6:40 pm according to a witness remaining unidentified for her safety, Shotkoski and another man were standing in a doorway when suddenly she heard three shots. Shotkoski ran south across a field while the suspect headed north on a yellow bicycle. With at least one of the shots in his head, Shotkoski ran 200 yards or so before collapsing and dying on Australia Avenue. Club spokesman Jim Schultz said that Shotkoski took the same walk every evening about the same time and was returning to the hotel when the incident that ended his life occurred. Braves Manager Bobby Cox expressed complete shock at the murder, and the Braves announced they will cancel tomorrow's exhibition with the Montreal Expos.

Shotkoski spent eight years in the minor leagues with several teams including the Braves, but he had never made it to the Big Show. He was 18-24 with a 5.07 ERA in 122 minor league appearances for the Braves, Athletics and A's from 1985-1992. He had been summoned to camp by his former manager at Idaho Falls, Rod Gilbreath, a former second baseman on the Braves in the late 1970s.

Shotkoski leaves behind a wife, Felicia, 30, and an eight-month old daughter, Alexis.



(This is based upon preliminary reports and subject to revision as more is known).
 

selmaborntidefan

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I don't think I ever knew about that killing.
Don't feel bad. The Atlanta Braves don't even acknowledge his existence by and large.

As I'm sure you recall better even than I, back then we had the 24-hour news cycle on CNN Headline News and that was just about it. And at the time, this is what was going on in the world:

1) the OJ trial, 24/7
2) Shotkoski was killed on a Friday evening, and the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney was on Saturday. Back then there wasn't much cross over in sports (like when CBS cut into the 2009 Iron Bowl to show that Tiger Woods had been in an accident with his ex-wife's golf club)
3) the Republicans had just taken over both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years and almost everything in DC was being treated as an all-new thing (Gingrich's attempt at 100 days)

That being said, ESPN actually reported it with some shock value as "a Braves pitcher murdered," so naturally I'm wondering Avery or Smoltz or whomever.

But the Braves' organization by and large has forgotten him. Since this won't develop much more beyond the capture of his killer, let me just share the lowlights (??) in one spot here for historical record and in bullet point form.

- former Brave Terry Blocker went into the "hood" and snooped around and learned who the killer was
- he gave that name to the police, who eventually arrested the man
- the next day, the Braves cut Blocker and who knows why and now who even cares (he wasn't very good)
- Blocker was to be awarded $10,000 for finding the killer, but he said they should give it to the widow
- the killer, Neal Evans, got a hung jury in his first trial in September 1996
- realizing in Florida he might get Ol' Sparky, Evans pled guilty in early 1997 and got a 27-year sentence
- he served 17, this after having served 5 prison sentences already and having been arrested 18 times
- he was wanted on a parole violation as it was when he was arrested for murder
- the Braves "invited" his widow to the 1996 opener, but she paid her own way
- she also bought her own ticket to a 1995 NLCS game in Atlanta
- the only Braves player to call the widow after the murder was Chipper Jones, who became involved enough in the daughter's life that she'd see Chipper on TV and call him "Daddy"
- she basically got $10,000 in insurance money from the Braves
- the team did make an unannounced value contribution to the daughter's trust fund in 1996
- allegedly, team union rep Tom Glavine spoke to the team and said (I can barely sit still for this) that he didnt approve of "what Shotkoski did" (e.g. being a replacement player) but the Braves players ought to do something to help the widow
- allegedly, a number of the regular MLB players gave Chipper and (then) Mrs Chipper a hard time for associating with the wife of a scab
- also allegedly, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine attempted to work behind the scenes to do "something" for the family
- Evans was released from prison in 2012 and put back in for coke possession two months later; his latest known scheduled release date was in 2021

I do recall a time when the fans protesting the players for having been on strike had a big sign draped along the wall on the lower deck (as you walk through it, not the field wall or where the banners were displayed) that said, "REMEMBER SHOTSKOSKI".

I know this is a Venn diagram of emotion on the whole thing, but I just thought a little decency might have been in order. President Stan Kasten had to walk a really tight line, which he did. He'd help the Shotkoski family (the widow acknowledged he was decent and gracious) but he didn't want anyone knowing he was doing it, which is what a lot of people hate about the whole union thing many places.

The Braves didn't have to retire his number or vote him a World Series share or anything like that. But given he WAS a member of the organization at the time regardless, they at least could have done something that was a "taking care of our own" thing, too.

Anyone, this one subject is my least favorite on the 95 Braves (the 2nd being Chipper getting robbed of the Rookie of the Year simply because Dodgers), but it happened today so that was the story.
 

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March 25, 1995
Strike Day 225

OPENING DAY IS JUST ONE WEEK AWAY...SORT OF...AND UMPIRE LOCKOUT CONTINUES;
PRESIDENT CLINTON SAYS REPLACEMENT PLAYERS WILL "STAIN THE GAME"
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RIPKEN STREAK?


Unless something drastic happens to save baseball from itself, perhaps the biggest spectacle since eight Chicago White Sox helped rig the outcome of a World Series will be on full display in major league stadiums and televisions across America when the 1995 baseball season opens with replacement players. Well, some of it opens. Sort of. Guys hitting lazy pop flies to drawn in shortstops on pitches that barely approach 80 mph...while not wearing uniform numbers...will become the norm at least some places outside of Baltimore, where the Orioles are taking a pass on the whole thing. And outside Ontario, where the Toronto Blue Jays will fly south for the spring and play in Florida. And outside Sparky Anderson's purview, as he is on leave and not coming back until the regular players do.

As if this debacle isn't bad enough, there's another element that few people are even considering at this point: the umpires have been locked out since January 1, so not only are the players replacements, so, too, are the umpires. What's amazing is this whole thing could probably be settled in five minutes if we just had 27 replacement owners. (You'd think that if the public at large understood that the owners are not only not negotiating while replacing the players, they're also replacing the umpires that the public perception of the strike would do a quick 180). At least five major league players - Kevin Mitchell, Shane Mack, Julio Franco, Darrin Jackson and Pete Incaviglia - are playing in Japan during the strike and two, Mitchell and Mack, are making several million dollars to do so. If there was not a limit on how many foreign baseball players are permitted in Japanese baseball, these five might be joined by other players, particularly since the yen has skyrocketed against the US dollar, making it easier to fork over large salaries.

There's another aspect to this that has the potential to cause major controversy: records set by replacement players. While it is both far-fetched and pessimistic to think about an entire season with replacement players, if a batter managed to top the all-time regular season record of a .424 batting average or smacked more than the 61 home runs in a season achieved by Roger Maris, the records would, in fact, stand as legitimate accomplishments regardless. The Elias Sports Bureau has already announced there is nothing to prevent recognition of such accomplishments, but there is one peculiar problem where the baseball strike is concerned, the all-time consecutive games played streak currently held by Lou Gehrig but on the verge of being broken by Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, Jr. What if the replacement games are played, and there's no Ripken? The Orioles, of course, have taken care of that little problem by refusing to field a team, but would their games stand as forfeits? What if the replacement games are played and then expunged, a problem brought up here previously? Baseball has entered a land where their most sacred and respected numbers may well be attained through less than desirable circumstances and in Ripken's case may be denied the most bizarre way possible. American League President Gene Budig may have to decide whether the streak continues or not, and he has already said he will make no decision until he absolutely must. The numbers are more important in baseball than in any other sport. Nobody but the most die hard basketball fan can tell you how many points Kareen Abdul-Jabbar scored during his record-setting career, but even most casual baseball fans know the significance of numbers such as 755 and 61 and 4192 and 2130. If ever records fall through devious means such as less than stellar competition or artificial means, many of the points of discussion among baseball fans will cease to exist save to ruminate how unfair the outcome is.

And speaking of problems, will the new Ballpark In Arlington (Texas) host an All-Star game that consists of all replacement players? These are not wild questions to be asking at this point, and Texas has several things to consider. The most obvious is the economic question. The last two All-Star games have pumped about $30 million each into the cities of Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and that is definitely a consideration. But would an All-Scab All-Star Game pump enough money into the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex economy to make it worthwhile? Or would a boycott potentially cause the city trouble? There's another thorny issue given that the newly elected Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, is already being touted as a future Presidential candidate someday, and he's also a former part owner of the Texas Rangers. The politics here are not as clear as other issues because Bush could be harmed either way. If he's too overt, he runs the risk of alienating laissez-faire Republicans in the primaries, but if he takes a strong stance in favor of the replacements, he may find it thrown back in his face if he's a Presidential nominee and has to seek votes in huge labor states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois.

But there also may be a silver lining in all these hypotheticals, too: replacement umpiring has worked so poorly in the past and jump-started negotiations to get everyone going again. The debacle of watching replacement players, whose home runs are down 40 percent and errors up 20 percent in spring training, may be just the tonic necessary for fans to boycott the game wholesale and force the owners to be reasonable against their own inclinations. And that's before considering what President Bill Clinton had to say about the whole mess today.

In an interview with ESPN Radio, Clinton didn't hold back, saying, "There is no doubt the strike will permanently stain baseball." Clinton predicted that if the strike wasn't settled soon, people would abandon the game and no longer miss it, and baseball would plummet to the interest of soccer in the USA. Clinton further noted that with fans concluding baseball is now nothing but a business and not so much a sport, they themselves might "take their business elsewhere."
 

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March 26, 1995
Strike Day 226

NLRB WILL SEEK INJUNCTION AGAINST OWNERS; CHISOX OWNER REINSDORF INSINUATES FEHR IS "A CULT LEADER"; POLL SHOWS BAD NEWS FOR BOTH SIDES


Another day and still no settlement. And folks are getting kind of antsy.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is moving all the chips of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to the center of the table this week in an effort to assure there is a 1995 baseball season with regular major league baseball players instead of replacements. The NLRB will file an injunction this week asking a judge to restore the 1990 Collective Bargaining Agreement that expired at the end of 1993 with the promise the players will return to work if the injunction is granted so that a new agreement can be reached. The injunction is of the utmost urgency given that Opening Day with replacement ballplayers is scheduled as next Saturday, April 2(only six days away). It's also the closest thing the players have in their arsenal to a nuclear bomb since if this action is granted, it will force the owners to declare publicly whether or not they want to lock out the players and thus shift the burden of poor perception held by the public from the players onto themselves. In short, the players are literally begging a judge to save the 28 MLB owners from themselves.

That's not to say there aren't still some very real problems. The five-member NLRB board voted 3-2 to seek the injunction, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea. Meanwhile, there is a meeting tomorrow in New York between representatives for both the players and the owners that will be the first formal bargaining meeting since talks broke down on March 4. And while the owners have publicly declared the willingness to begin the season with replacement players (save for the Baltimoire Orioles), they have also made clear that if a settlement is reached even as late as Saturday, they are willing to delay the season three weeks to permit players to get into shape (this may beg the question as to why spring training nowadays is six weeks if you can actually prepare in just three, but there are plenty of problems and other questions to worry about right now). It's almost as though the owners, too, are begging the players to save them from themselves. Of course, there is the thorny matter of a retaliatory lockout, but such a possibility seems more remote by the day. A lockout requires the assent of 21 of the 28 MLB owners, and anonymous sources close to the owners have spelled out that the Orioles (obviously), Mets, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Yankees, and Padres owernships are all opposed to a lockout meaing that they would only need two more votes to prevent one. And it is also known that the owners of the Rangers, Indians, Tigers, anre Rockies are skeptical of a lockout - and the so-called "moderates" would only need two of those four votes to prevent a lockout. The injunction will be filed tomorrow, and the NLRB hopes to have the case heard by Wednesday and a ruling in their favor by Friday.

Not willing to let owners even attempt to be good guys, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who tends to favor the players publicly more than most owners do in these situations (he was adamantly opposed to the 1981 strike), made news by suggesting that Donald Fehr was leading the players around like a cult leader. Reinsdorf criticized the players for "blindly following" Fehr. Such musings are common as that same accusation was made against Fehr's mentor Marvin Miller in 1981, but Reinsdorf went further by saying, "Don't believe the owners but for God's sake, this isn't Guyana," the latter in reference to the mass suicide of over 900 followers of People's Temple cult leader Jim Jones. Given a chance to clarify, Reinsdorf doubled down and said, "Isn't that where Jim Jones was?" Reinsdorf then equivocated, sort of, saying that he didn't want to say something that made headlines but insisting there were certain similarities between Jones and Fehr. Fehr, who is used to the labels that go with representing his client, calmly retorted, "He obviously feels himself to be under a lot of pressure."

Opinion polls show bad news all the way around concerning the strike. Fully one-third of fans say they will watch fewer games with replacement players while 28 percent say they are certain their interest in the game will diminish even upon the return of the regulars. Perhaps not surprisingly, the higher a fan's income is, the more likely he is to support the owners while the lower it is the more likely he is to support the players. Of course, this assumes support of anyone at all, and the numbers do not paint a pretty picture there, either. Basically, 34 percent of those with an opinion blame the players for the strike while 28 percent blame the owners. The other 38 percent are either not sure or - more commonly - blame both sides for not coming to an agreement. The blame focuses on the players largely because they are the ones who walked out.

In other baseball news, former two-sport athlete Bo Jackson has signed with the William Morris Agency and hopes to become an actor, saying he's tired of waiting for the baseball strike to end.
 

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March 27, 1995
Strike day 227

INJUNCTION HEARING SET FOR FRIDAY IN NEW YORK COURTROOM; HATCH PROPOSES MODIFICATION OF MLB ANTITRUST EXEMPTION


Seven-and-one-half months of the MLB players strike has come down to the players seeking relief in federal court in the form of an injunction that would leverage the strike back onto the owners and see the regular major league players return to the field the last week of April. It is hoped that the judge can do what President Clinton and his appointed federam mediator, William Usery, have not been able to do: end the most cataclysmic strike in the history of American sports. Into this three-ring circus featuring the owners in one ring and the players in another, steps U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who has scheduled a hearing for Friday mere hours before replacement players are to take the field for the opening of the 1995 baseball season. Players have already announced that if an injunction is granted, they will call off their strike. Owners are threatening to go full nuclear with a lockout of the players in the event of the injunction, but it appears unlikely they have 21 votes to accomplish the threat.

Sotomayor's status as a baseball fan is unknown, but she noted that the only thing she actually knows about the strike is what a layperson might read in the local newspaper. She urged the two sides to sit down and find some sort of agreement to end the strike. She said that three criteria will determine her decision:

1) the likelihood the owners broke the law

2) whether a decision in favor of the players would be meaningless without the injunction

3) whether an injunction would be "just and proper"

Players told the judge a decision is needed quickly while the owners basically told her, with apologies to Mrs. James Bond, that she has all the time in the world.

As if this showdown isn't bad enough, the two gangs on Capitol Hill that hate each other 80% of the time managed to find something to agree upon maybe...a modification of baseball's antitrust exemption. While the proposal would not affect the amateur draft or the minor leagues, the modification has bipartisan support and five sponsors. Republicans Orrin Hatch and Strom Thurmond and Democrats Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Pat Leahy and Bob Graham are working on the proposal.

Not to waste the opportunity to get a name in the paper, Maryland Governor Parris Glendening signed into law a bill that bars replacements players from playing games at Camden Yards.
 

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March 28, 1995
Strike Day 228

RIGHT DOWN TO THE WIRE


The baseball owners abandoned talks on Tuesday right as the players showed up for a two-day union meeting that will set the stage for Friday's hearing in front of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who will decide whether or not to issue an injunction that would temporarily restore the old Collective Bargaining Agreement and thus end the MLB players' strike that has gone on since last August. If no injunction is issued then the strike will continue, probably until May 22 with a hearing in front of a federal arbitrator. If the owners continue down the path they pursue, the season will open on Saturday with replacement players in most major league stadiums - and no Baltimore Orioles.

Asked on Monday night at a press conference if Opening Day could be pushed back, Commissioner and Milwaukee Brewers owner (speaking of conflicts of interest) Bud Selig dodged the question. The owners did make a new proposal closer to what the players are seeking, a fact admitted even by MLBPA head Don Fehr. The owners offered to keep the salary arbitration and free agency they wanted scuttled but cling to the luxury tax on the teams with highest payrolls. Fehr did say, "I assume there's room for negotiation, and if there isn't, we are in trouble." Fehr further said there was "some good, some not so good" in the newest owners' proposal. The union is expected to pass a resolution today that declares they will end the strike if Judge Sotomayor issues the injunction they seek. In related strike news, Fehr also had a 90-minute meeting with Selig today.
 

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March 29, 1995
Strike Day 229

PLAYERS VOTE TO END STRIKE IF JUDGE SOTOMAYOR ISSUES INJUNCTION;
OWNERS CLAIM STRIKE HAS COST THEM $700 MILLION, WILL VOTE TODAY ON REPLACEMENTS


The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) today voted to end their 7 1/2 month strike, the longest in the sport's history, effective immediately if New York Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor issues the injunction they seek against the owners that would restore free agency and salary arbitration as it operated under the now expired 1990 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The MLBPA went further, offering a counterproposal to be unveiled tomorrow that is believed to split the difference between the most recent owners' proposal offered Monday and the players' position in regards to the luxury tax. Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling said he believes that the players are moving closer to the owners' position without surrendering completely. Schilling stated that the most recent offer will have a 30% tax on clubs with a payroll above $49 million. Using the 1994 numbers, this would mean that six major league teams would have paid a tax, five more teams than under the players' original proposal but five fewer than the owners' most recent proposal. Bobby Bonillia challenged, "We'll find out how serious the owners are when we make our counter-proposal.

This news comes as owners have delcared that this baseball strike has cost them a combined $700 million in lost revenue, which rational human beings might think would serve as motivation to settle the strike somehow. But the major obstacle as always regarding MLB owners is the fulcrum point: the players always have one united interest overall while the owners have no less than 28 different interests depending on their sources of revenue. In short, what is good for the New York Yankees is not necessarily good - and may, in fact, be detrimental - to the Kansas City Royals.

U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor has scheduled a hearing Friday (April 1 - the readers may choose for themselves whether there's any significance to that date) to determine whether the owners illegally changed the terms of the CBA with an appropriate impasse in bargaining. Donald Fehr, the MLBPA's lead attorney, announced that the board had voted unanimously to end the strike if the judge issues the injunction. The baseball season is scheduled to begin Sunday night (April 3), and the owners will vote via conference all today whether to use replacement players to begin the season. If the judge issues the injunction and the players end the strike, they then face the possibility of an owners' lockout. Sources close to the owners, however, tell us that it is highly unlikely a lockout vote would receive the approval of the 21 teams necessary to impose it. Colorado Rockies Chairman Jerry McMorris, who is against any sort of lockout, says that the owners do not have the votes to implement one. American League lawyer Bill Schweitzer met in Baltimore with Orioles owner Peter Angelos and applied pressure to Angelos to field a team of replacement players. Angelos again stood firm, the only seemingly principled individual in the entire strike thus far, refusing to field a team despite being threatened with mandatory forfeits if he doesn't comply. One may again take either the opimistic view - Angelos IS a labor lawyer who does, in fact, think that using replacement players would be illegal and doesn't want to face any sort of penalties, or one may take the more cynical view that if Cal Ripken Jr's consecutive games played streak wasn't potentially in danger (and all the money Angelos stands to make from that event if it does indeed take place), Angelos would be fielding a team as well. The truth, of course, might actually be both points of view. And Angelos himself has contributed to the notion of both views, actually citing Ripken's streak on occasion as one of his primary reasons for not fielding a team, although he continues (as did Fay Vincent) to hide behind the cliche' about "the best interests of the Baltimore Orioles and baseball."

If it feels like we've been here before, it's because we have. Tomorrow's update will give a brief overview as to how this strike is both the same and yet somewhat different than the 1981 strike that lasted seven weeks. Then, too the players sought an injunction in the same courtroom and had the misfortune to draw a judge who was largely incompetent and who apparently had never seen a baseball game in his life. Nothing is known at this point of Sotomayor's fandom (if any exists) or knowledge of baseball, but it is hoped that her performance is better than MLB got in 1981.
 

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March 30, 1995
Strike Day 230

1981 AND 1994: A TALE OF TWO STRIKES


It might seem impossible to believe now, but there was a time not so long ago when sports work stoppages were nonexistent and for a good reason: the players didn't have a union to represent their collective interests. Although the idea of a players union was tossed about in 1911, it was the foresight of Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts at recruiting economist Marvin Miller as a union leader in 1966 that changed things forever in baseball and, if we are honest, largely to the better. (It's no accident that the rise of the players union and their victories in the legal realm concerning arbitration and free agency have created a world where only one team has repeated as world champions since 1979). In December 1975, a federal arbitrator ruled that Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who had played the 1975 baseball season without written contracts, were now "free agents." That ruling less than 20 full years ago set into motion everything that has occurred since then, including two owner lockouts (1976, 1990) and three players' strikes (1981, 1985, 1994). Bear in mind the average fan does not understand these issues and simplifies them to "billionaires vs millionaires." That is not an incorrect assessment but by the same token these same fans would, in fact, become outraged at their own bosses if they pulled some of the same things the MLB owners have through the years. And that is where the similarites begin between the strike that tore the summer away from young fans in 1981 and the current debacle.

What Actually Happened In 1981?

The 1981 strike actually began because of the free agency ruling of federal arbitrator Peter Seitz on December 23, 1975. Prior to that date, players were held under what was called "the reserve clause." This meant that a player who retired from, say, the Cincinnati Reds and wanted to come back five years later was STILL BOUND to the Reds unless they gave up the player. The key to the ruling was that the owners had failed in their contractual language that said a player's contact was automatically (at club discretion) "renewed for one year" meant "and another year and another year." Everyone - players and owners - assumed this is what it meant until Marvin Miller convinced McNally and Messersmith to not sign contracts. The arbitrator, following the precepts of contract law, ruled that "one year" actually meant "one year," and free agency came to baseball. By coincidence, the current CBA in vogue at the time expired about a week later. Thus, in their efforts to reimpose the reserve clause, the owners locked out the players in 1976. And just like in 1994, there was one owner who wouldn't go along as White Sox owner Bill Veeck opened up his camp anyway. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn eventually ended the strike by ordering the owners to open up training camps and play the season, and an agreement was eventually reached that would carry through 1980. In May 1980 - at literally the final hour - the owners and players agreed on every issue except the major one the owners wanted, "compensation." The 1980 season was played, but it was known even at that time that barring a miracle, there would likely be a strike in 1981.

On February 19, 1981, the MLB owners arbitrarily imposed compensation onto the players. The compensation they imposed worked thusly: when a player signed as a free agent, the team who lost the free agent would get to pick a player directly from the team that signed the free agent. The team signing the free agent could "protect" 15 players. It should be readily obvious why the players would oppose such an idea: it would reduce free agency to basically a direct trade of a superstar for a (presumably) lesser player. Teams knowing they would lose someone would therefore not offer as much money for the player. The owners, of course, went with the argument that they had to replace the player they lost. The players offered a counter-proposal - they agreed upon compensation but wanted INDIRECT compensation in the sense that the players taken by the teams losing free agents would be drawn out of a pool of players. The owners in 1981 - just as in 1994 - imposed their system on the players and then basically dared them to strike to get out from under the new rule. Another similarity to today's strike is that the players sought injunctive relief in the very same federal court and wound up being pushed into a strike but were denied.

In 1981, the players gained a hearing before District Judge Henry Werker to seek an injunction against the owners, which would have bought one year. Werker actedt as one of the most unprofessional judges this side of Lance Ito. From entering the courtroom making an Abbott and Costello joke to telling the principals he was about to skip town for two weeks for casework to rhetorically saying "millions of hot dogs and beers" depended on his ruling to using his opening minutes at the new venue setting up a golf game, Werker was a disaster. He didn't seem to know managers could be ejected from baseball games, either. And then his 23-page ruling said the players should have asked for the information they were seeking in 1980 for compensation not imposed until 1981. As if the ruling wasn't bad enough, Werker then said that "compensation is not an economic issue" despite the fact that common sense, a dictionary, and the very argument itself would have informed him it was. The 1981 strike, which lasted 49 days and ended right as the strike insurance money the owners had purchased from Lloyd's of London was totally maxed out ($50 million), and with slight changes, the owners actually agreed to the plan the players had proposed in spring training.

What Actually Happened In This Strike?

Once again, the players and owners were operating under an expired CBA. On January 18, 1994, the owners imposed a salary cap subject to ratification by the players and one day later they gave the commissioner complete power in negotiations by amending the agreement on their own. The fact the commissioner now just happened to be an owner, of course, was a conflict of interest of the highest order. Less than one month later, the owners voted to reduce the power of the comissioner to act "in the best interests of baseball." In June 1994, the owners unveiled their proposal that would eliminate salary arbitration but permit limited free agency after four years rather than total free agency after six. But these proposals were tied to a salary cap, which the players rejected. On July 28, the players set a strike date of August 12 and when no serious discussions occurred, they went on strike. On September 14, Bud Selig announced the cancellation of the baseball post-season for the first time since 1904.

In both cases, the owners imposed their own plan and forced the players to strike to get out of it. In both cases, they produced joke post-seasons (the split season nonsense of 1981, which saw the Reds and Cardinals compile to two best records in baseball and watch from home, and the non-post-season of 1994). Also ironically in both cases, the Montreal Expos had their two best seasons of their existence and didn't win the World Series. And the case wound up before a NY district judge with Don Fehr arguing the players' case. Fehr is hoping Judge Sotomayor is no Henry Werker, that's for sure. In both cases, the players are tying their cases for not striking to the ruling of a federal judge.

But there are a few differences from 1981 as well. Most importantly, the owners weren't able to get strike insurance as they did last time and largely because of what they did last time. And, of course, there was one more obvious difference that sowed much of the distrust that now exists, collusion.

Collusion Between The Strikes

Starting in 1986 under business-minded Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, the owners engaged in wholesale collusion regarding free agents in an effort to keep player salaries low and incoming revenue high. They were found guilty of these unfair labor practices and assessed damages of $280 million due the players. Naturally, they made up most of this money by expanding the league and forcing the new franchises in Denver and Miami to fork over enough in franchise fees to cover most of the damages incurred. Indeed, don't be surprised if the owners add more franchises in the next few years to offset the damages they claim to have suffered this time.

The fans, of course, will largely blame the players for the strike, which is also understandable. The players are visible, the owners (generally speaking) are not. The players' contracts make large print headline news, the income the owners receive largely do not save for the Yankees. In 1981, the fans actually did blame the owners for the strike (by a small margin), but 1981 did not feature Tony Gwynn challenging for a .400 batting average and Matt Williams challenging the hallowed record of Roger Maris, either.

What the 1995 baseball season needs now is someone to save the players and owners from themselves. Perhaps Judge Sotomayor can fill the bill in the coming days.
 

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