Let's get that straight right at the beginning. If the Major League Baseball Players Association sets a strike date next Monday and then goes through with its threat to shut down the final months of the season, everybody loses.
The fans lose, because the mixed blessing of realignment -- for better and worse -- has made the 1994 season one of the most interesting in years.
The owners lose, because they dragged their feet on a revenue-sharing plan and now are in danger of losing great sums of playoff and World Series money.
The top players in the game lose, because they make tremendous salaries and several players -- most notably Seattle Mariners home run machine Ken Griffey -- appear to be on their way to record performances.
And the youngest players lose, because they are the ones most vulnerable to the financial hardship that would be created by a lengthy work stoppage.
Nevertheless, the owners and players appear to be on a collision course again, their differences so fundamental that another lengthy strike, such as the one that interrupted the 1981 season for 50 days, appears all too likely.
The success of such a strike would depend almost entirely on the resolve of the union membership, so the question of who loses the most is most relevant.
For every Cal Ripken or Barry Bonds at the top of the salary scale, there are a dozen Jack Voigts, guys who make close to the major-league minimum salary and would lose a third of it if a strike were called on Aug. 1. That could mean making as little as $75,000 this year -- which might seem all right to the average man on the street, but isn't all that much for a kid who's supporting a family back home and keeping an apartment in the city. Especially if there is no guarantee that he'll be back next year.
Difficult as it might be to imagine, even the players making millions could face some short-term hardship if they have overplayed their financial hand and under-prepared for a serious crimp in their cash flow.
"We've talked a little bit about that," said Florida Marlins player representative Bryan Harvey. "We've been telling them, 'Save your money.' Fortunately, most of our guys don't have three cars and three houses. We talked about it last year, when there was a possibility of a strike. Hopefully, they have put enough aside to hold them over."
No one is going to be left completely out in the cold. The players union has been setting aside a portion of each player's share of licensing revenues since 1990 in anticipation of another work stoppage. The total strike fund is estimated to be at least $150 million, so some players could be eligible for as much as $150,000 in relief payments.
Those benefits would be based directly on the amount contributed by each player, however, so the players who need the most financial help actually might be entitled to the least strike relief. The union withheld a third of the licensing revenue in 1990, half in 1991, two-thirds in 1992 and all but $5,000 per player last year.
If a player came into the league midway through the 1993 season, he might have only $30,000 (less a prorated share of strike-related union expenses) set aside. If a player entered the league two months into this season, he would have almost no share of the union war chest, but union reps say that those players will not be forgotten.
"I don't think it should be a problem right out of the chute, and even if it becomes a problem for them, that will be taken care of quickly," said Orioles pitcher Jim Poole, who is the club's alternate player rep. "There are plans to take care of players who have no service time before this year. They'll be taken care of, whether they have time or not."
Voigt, for instance, entered this season about a month short of one year's service time, so he'll have much of last year's licensing revenue to fall back on. Pitcher Mike Oquist, on the other hand, had just 26 days of service time last year and has been in the majors only for a few weeks of the 1994 season. His share of the strike fund would be nominal.
"I'm going to lose some income," Voigt said. "I'm getting married in September, and I'm just starting to build a home. It would hurt, but, hopefully, it'll all get paid back in what we agree on. I don't plan on making any big purchases. My fiancee is here from Venezuela, so I'm not paying $500 a month to AT&T.; That's going to help."
Even if the youngest players do receive some help, they lose out a second time because a strike will cost them the opportunity to establish themselves further in the majors. There is no way to put a dollar figure on that, but there is nothing they can do. They might -- technically -- have the same voice in union matters as any other player, but they tend to go along with the program.
"I think the young guys understand, we're doing it for them just as the players in 1981 did it for us," Orioles player rep Mike Mussina said. "In 1990, I was in that situation. We didn't feel we should give in because of baseball and the players. You've got to look at it long term."
The fans can look at it only short term. The Cleveland Indians are in first place and looking like a postseason team for the first time in 40 years. Griffey is on pace to challenge Roger Maris' single-season home run mark, and Matt Williams and Frank Thomas are not far behind. Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell would drive in 152 runs if he keeps up his current pace.
Closer to home, Ripken just moved within one season of breaking Lou Gehrig's once-seemingly untouchable record of 2,130 consecutive games played. If the players strike the last two months of the season, it would push the date of his projected record-breaking game back from late June 1995 to August or September.
"It's going to be a shame to lose this year," Harvey said. "This is my seventh year in the majors, and I've never seen anything like what guys like Griffey, Thomas and Jeff Bagwell are doing right now."
Griffey has come out in full support of the union. The players have shown amazing solidarity at a time when their interests are far more diverse than ever before in the history of the game's labor/management relationship.
"We don't want to see Ken Griffey's season interrupted," Poole said. "We don't want to see Cal's streak interrupted, but it's the whole that's important."
With a strike a distinct possibility, these are some of the players whose monster offensive years will be cut short:
Ken Griffey,.. ..32 HRs in team's 80 games .. ..On pace to hit 65
Matt Williams,...30 HRs in team's 82 games .. ..On pace to hit 59
Frank Thomas,.. .29 HRs in team's 78 games .. ..On pace to hit 60
Chicago White Sox
Jeff Bagwell,.. .76 RBIs in team's 81 games .. .On pace to drive in 152
Mike Piazza,.. ..72 RBIs in team's 81 games .. .On pace to drive in 144
Kirby Puckett,...74 RBIs in team's 78 games .. .On pace to drive in 154