Reality strikes in variety of ways Angelos' straight talk throws owners a curve


NEW YORK -- Now the baseball owners know how Johnny Oates feels.

Peter Angelos second-guesses them, too.

Angelos wrote Oates a new lineup, and just so the owners wouldn't feel slighted, he wrote them a new labor proposal.

Fear not, Mr. President:

Angelos is working on a health-care plan.

Things to do, places to go, people to see . . .

Oates should be delighted.

Angelos is too busy with the labor dispute to fire his manager.

All he proposed yesterday was that the owners pledge not to implement the salary cap after this season in exchange for the players agreeing not to strike this season or the next.

It's a suggestion that undermines the owners' entire negotiating strategy.

It's a suggestion that would settle this strike in, oh, about three minutes.

It's typical Angelos:

Completely out of line.

Completely to the point.

Angelos must have been upset that George Steinbrenner grabbed all the headlines yesterday, saying management's argument about competitive balance "doesn't wash" and insisting that owners be allowed at the negotiating table.

Angelos' team can't beat Steinbrenner's on the field, so it surely drives him crazy when the Yankees owner also beats him into the newspapers.

He dropped his little no-cap, no-strike bombshell on the Associated Press yesterday afternoon, then did a 5 p.m. news conference at Camden Yards, then made an 11:30 appearance on "Nightline."

He also made the front page of today's New York Times.

Who's going to shut him up, the commissioner?

Angelos' performance was challenged only by Donald Fehr and Richard Ravitch, the worst double-play combination in major-league history. On the eve of the strike, Donnie and Dickie could be seen on Larry King, but not in negotiations.

Angelos was a better show. He equated revenue sharing with "baseball-club welfare." And he boldly suggested his no-cap for no-strike swap, which the union would gladly embrace.

The proposal will fall through, like so many of Angelos' other trade concoctions. But this time, he'll have only his fellow owners to blame, not Roland Hemond.

In any case, we now interrupt Day 1 of Baseball Held Hostage to bring you this public-service announcement from Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

"The problem with Mr. Angelos is he's new in the game and not fully aware of all the things that have been going on."

Oates would second that.

Oates, Hemond and a few others.

How will Angelos get back at Reinsdorf? The possibilities are endless. When baseball resumes in 1998, he can just summon Oates to his office and issue one of his many orders.

Like, "Beat Chicago -- or else."

Or, "Knock down Frank Thomas."

Let the feud begin. Reinsdorf bought the White Sox in 1981, and now he's Abner Doubleday. New in the game? Ravitch is nearly as new as Angelos, and a far greater embarrassment.

"I work for 28 owners, and not all 28 of them agree on everything," Ravitch said yesterday, "but not a single one has suggested to me that we should change our position."

Not a single owner.

It's just one big happy family.

The problem is, now that the strike is upon us, the owners don't need absolute unity. To forge a settlement, Angelos and Steinbrenner need 19 other owners -- a three-fourths majority.

The rule, intended to keep the owners from folding, means that any eight clubs can block a settlement. And yes, there are enough Pittsburghs and Seattles to make this strike last a long, long time.

Indeed, the question might not be whether baseball will return this season. The question might be whether it will return next spring.

No talks scheduled.

No way out.

Angelos and Steinbrenner will keep shouting, and maybe they'll be joined by other high-revenue owners. But if the owners make it through the World Series, they might finally break the union.

That's a huge "if," and the owners must endure a $140 million loss in postseason revenue -- $5 million per team -- to make it happen. They'll be jeopardizing their new Baseball Network venture, not to mention the public trust.

But come next spring, they'll open training camps, and the players could divide. Some might be anxious for a paycheck. Others might be anxious to return to their million-dollar lifestyles.

That's one scenario, and it's six months away.

Six months, and many more eruptions from Mt. Angelos.

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