They went and did it. Representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association set an Aug. 12 strike deadline on Thursday, leaving just two weeks to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and avert another in a series of labor-related work stoppages.
So what happens now? The negotiations should intensify during the next 13 days as the deadline approaches, though that is about all that anyone can predict with any degree of certainty.
There are a lot more questions than answers, but what follows is an attempt to answer some of the common questions that have arisen since the union drew its line in the sand.
Q: Is there any chance for a settlement without a strike?
A: Sure, but it would require one side or the other to take a philosophical leap that would totally alter its bargaining position. There's a better chance that one of them will win the $50 million Powerball jackpot and retire before the next negotiating session. Ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch says that "there will be no collective bargaining agreement that does not fix the cost of labor." Union director Don Fehr says that the players will never accept a plan that does. They are on different planets. A lengthy strike now seems almost inevitable.
Q: Why did the union set Aug. 12 as the strike date?
E9 A: Why not? The owners reopened collective bargaining
months ago and only recently delivered their salary cap proposal to the players. The only way to accelerate the process is to create an arbitrary deadline that puts pressure on both sides to reach a settlement. The players chose to do it sooner rather than later because it leaves time to salvage the season and postseason if the work stoppage is brief, and because it leaves plenty of time to test the owners' resolve. This strategy has been successful in previous labor disputes, but the owners insist that they are playing for keeps this time.
Q: What happens between now and Aug. 12?
A: Ravitch and Fehr will hold a lengthy bargaining session in New York Wednesday, after which each will meet the press and blast the other for his unwillingness to face reality. This process will be repeated several times before they hold their first serious session on Aug. 11, at which time they will negotiate well into the night, make no progress and the season will come to a halt.
Q: Do the owners have strike insurance?
A: The owners did buy strike insurance in 1981, but they have not done so this year. That may be because large insurers such as Lloyd's of London realize that strike insurance is a bad bet, since it gives the insured more incentive to hold fast to a hard-line position.
Q: Does the players union have a strike fund?
A: The players union has been setting aside licensing revenue since 1990 and is believed to have a strike fund in excess of $150 million. The exact figures have not been released, but players who have been in the major leagues continuously since that time could have as much as $200,000 on account.
Q: How much would the Orioles' highest-paid players -- Cal Ripken and Rafael Palmeiro -- lose in salary if the strike lasted for the remainder of the season?
A: Player salaries are paid on a 183-day schedule. Ripken's five-year contract calls for an average of $6.1 million per year, but he took some of that in the form of a $3 million signing bonus when he agreed to the deal in 1992. His base salary for 1994 is $4.8 million, so he would lose $26,229.51 a day and a total of $1,363,934 if the strike wiped out the rest of the season. Palmeiro would lose "only" $10,929 per day and $568,306 over the remainder of the season because the first year of his five-year, $30 million contract called for a $2 million signing bonus and $2 million in base salary. They also would each lose about $1,600 in meal money. Anyone wanting to send food baskets should contact the Orioles.
Q: Could they still have the playoffs and World Series if the rest of the season is canceled?
A: Don't put anything past the owners if a settlement is reached in late September. They stand to lose $140 million in television revenues if the new expanded postseason tournament is canceled. In 1981, after the 50-day strike, they rescheduled the All-Star Game to kick off the second half of their new split season and came out of it with an extra tier of playoffs. It would be difficult to put the teams back into action immediately, but the owners likely would devise some hybrid playoff format to salvage the World Series.
Q: What will be the Orioles' ticket policy on games that are canceled by the strike?
A: Orioles officials say they are working on that now. It seems likely the club will offer fans the option of obtaining refunds or exchanging tickets for future games, but an announcement on that probably won't come until a strike actually begins.
Q: Is there a chance that the owners will continue the season with replacement players?
A: In 1981, there was talk during the 50-day strike of continuing the schedule with minor-league players, but the owners decided that it might do more harm than good. Major League Baseball officials say that replacement games are not being considered, so don't hold your breath waiting to see the Bowie Baysox or Rochester Red Wings take the field at Camden Yards next month.
Q: Where can fans go to satisfy their craving for baseball if the Orioles go home early?
A: Minor-league schedules will not be affected by the strike, so fans can look at baseball from a new perspective by traveling to Bowie or Frederick to watch the Orioles of the future. Orioles fans also can go to Hagerstown and boo the Toronto Blue Jays of the future, but the minor-league season only lasts through the first week of September.
Q: Could a strike affect where Cal Ripken will be when -- good fortune willing -- he breaks Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games?
A: Of course it could, but it depends on how long the strike lasts. The first draft of the 1995 schedule is complete and Ripken would play his record-breaking game at home next year if this hTC season is not interrupted. If the rest of the season is wiped out, Ripken would break the record in the 121st game of the '95 schedule, which also is scheduled for Camden Yards, but it is the last game of a homestand, so the record-breaking game could be pushed out of town by a rainout.
L Q: Will the players have organized workouts during a strike?
A: They have in the past. It is in the best interests of the players to remain in the best possible physical shape so that they can return quickly in the event of a settlement. The players won't necessarily assemble by team, however. They usually work out with other players -- regardless of affiliation -- who live within range of a selected workout facility.
Q: What will Johnny Oates and the coaches do during a strike?
A: They'll probably go home for the first few days, but they won't necessarily get a long vacation if the strike wipes out the rest of the season. They will continue to be paid, so it is likely that they will use the final weeks of the minor-league season to familiarize themselves with the lower levels of the Orioles organization. Oates probably will visit each minor-league club and some of the coaches may even do some instructing at the minor-league level.
Key player demands
1. Salary arbitration: Reduce threshold to two years of major-league experience.
2. Minimum salary: Increase from $109,000 to $175,000-$200,000.
3. Pensions: Increase for players who played before 1970.
Key owner demands
1. Revenue: A 50-50 split with players.
2. Salary cap: Phased in over four years.
3. Revenue-sharing: Need player approval to increase sharing