Salary cap lacks logic, owners try again

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The waiters all wear leisure suits at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere, this restaurant that serves soybean burgers and little else.

The eating establishment, call it Pit's Burgers, is losing money. But the owner of Pit's Burgers doesn't want to move his restaurant from the run-down, bowl-shaped building in the middle of nowhere, to a more uplifting environment in a more populated area.

He wants to stay where he is, even if it means losing money, and he wants to stay in business, even if no one in the area cares much for soy burgers. A dim bulb goes off in his head. He picks up the phone and calls his competitor from the smashing hit of a Greek restaurant on the other side of town.

"Listen, Lou, I'm losing my shirt, not to mention my Nehru jacket, on this place, and I need your help," Ed says. "You're making more money than you know what to do with and I'm losing money. Let's share your revenue."

Lou: "Are you out of your mind? Why would I want to do that?"

Ed: "OK, I've got an even better idea. Tell your waiters and waitresses you are going to cap their salaries and we'll take the money we save from that and we'll use it to pay my bills. I'll cap the money my employees make, too. The workers will go for that to save my restaurant, even though it's not their fault I'm losing money, don't you think? I mean, your waiters are the highest-paid waiters in the country. If they don't go for it and they go on strike, then there won't be anywhere in town to eat and we'll all starve to death and it will be their fault. Right?"

Lou: "I can't see them going for that, especially when you could move your restaurant. But I guess it's worth a try. Bring your financial records over so you can prove to the dishwashers you are losing money."

Ed: "No, I'm not willing to do that. They are going to have to take my word for it."

Click.

Such is the logic practiced by the most influential baseball owners trying to force players to let them restrict their earning power and freedom of movement.

It simply will not happen. The players will not cave in. The players will not accept the clumsy, belated, un-American salary cap proposal put forth by the owners. So, the game sleeps. It will continue to sleep until the salary cap idea takes a run through the paper shredder.

It took the owners 18 months to come up with the same basic proposal the players rejected in 1985 and 1990. The players turned it down then. Why did the owners think it would be accepted now?

And don't forget, the owners were convicted of collusion in holding down salaries, so if the players are a little reluctant to accept the owners at their word that the game is in financial ruins, maybe history gives them a reason for skepticism.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the players union, always has come across on television as a pompous intellect, though far less so now than in past years. He comes across as a tough guy to warm up to, a guy with whom you wouldn't necessarily want to spend a doubleheader. He seems to have little patience for those who have less brainpower than he possesses.

Yet, it's impossible to find fault with the man on this one.

The owners' proposal is designed to limit salaries, and unions are created for the very purpose of preventing that. If Fehr advised his players to accept a salary cap, he wouldn't be serving those who employ him.

This work stoppage can't possibly be pinned on Fehr, yet he is painted by some fans of the game as a villain.

Meanwhile, owners negotiator Richard Ravitch repeatedly gets lampooned as a buffoon. And the man does have a dreadful style of presentation, barking and boorish.

But consider his job.

He represents the interests of 28 owners, most of whom seldom communicate with each other. He represents 28 different owners with 28 separate agendas.

What a mess.

The first step to mopping up the mess lies in the owners agreeing to recognize the salary cap for what it is, a bad try, then moving on to serious negotiations.

On Melvin and Robinson

Orioles assistant general managers Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson might have the first word of their titles removed this winter. If that happens, they will be competing for players, instead of for a job they both have coveted. While Robinson is on the rise in the organization and likely in line to become the Orioles' general manager when Roland Hemond takes on the new title of vice chairman, Doug Melvin could end up as GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Former Orioles boss Larry Lucchino, heading a group attempting to purchase the Pirates, thinks highly of Melvin's work and likely would give him his first GM job.

In the event Melvin left the organization, scouting director Gary Nickels would be in line to assume his responsibilities, should Nickels be interested in heading the minor leagues for the Orioles instead of serving as scouting director.

Interestingly, when Lucchino was with the Orioles in 1992, when small-market owners pushed for the reopening of labor negotiations to change the economic structure of the game, Lucchino was strongly against that, siding with big-market clubs against revenue sharing.

Should Lucchino's effort to purchase the Pirates succeed, he naturally would side with the small-market argument. Does this make Lucchino a phony? Of course not, but it does illustrate that referring to "the owners" as if they are a unified group with identical interests is absurd.

Lucchino, an attorney, has made a living arguing both sides of various issues and doing so convincingly.

Winners, cheap and costly

The Montreal Expos (74-40) and New York Yankees (70-43) have the best records in baseball, an illustration that building winners happens in different ways.

The Yankees have a $44.5 million payroll, the highest in baseball. The Expos, at $18.5 million, have the second-lowest payroll, ranking ahead of only the San Diego Padres.

The Yankees have seven players making $3 million or more. The Expos have two (Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker).

The Yankees have 14 players making at least $1 million. The Expos have five.

The Expos have a remarkable 16 players making $200,000 or less. The Yankees have four.

The combined salaries of Yankees Jimmy Key, Danny Tartabull, Don Mattingly and Paul O'Neill are equal to the entire Expos payroll.

Oops

Bobby Bonilla of the Mets, who has worked to polish his image, lost his cool with a New York television reporter who wanted to know how Bonilla felt about losing $31,146 per day during the strike.

Bonilla's obscenity-laced tirade directed against the TV reporter was captured on camera and shown to the country on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Don't think the hard-line owners didn't enjoy it. Bonilla is the Mets' player representative.

He's no Kenny Lofton

Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Pat Listach stole 54 bases and hit .290 to edge Cleveland Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton for American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1992.

Lofton's career has soared since then. Listach's future with the Brewers is in limbo. He hit .244 and stole 18 bases last season and played in only 16 games this season, all in April, before knee problems put him on the disabled list. He underwent rehabilitation for patellar tendinitis, played briefly during a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, but was sidelined again when his knee problems resurfaced.

He recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will not be able to play winter ball, as had been planned. Listach was going to begin playing center field during the winter, but that experiment will have to be tabled until spring training.

The Brewers like the job Jose Valentin has done at shortstop and want to bring Jody Reed back at second base next season, leaving no spot for Listach in the infield.

Outfielder Greg Vaughn also has had a disappointing season for the Brewers, hitting .258 with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs. Vaughn drove in only seven runs after the All-Star break and could undergo as many as three operations. He might require minor surgery in both knees and has a torn labrum (shoulder cartilage).

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