As strike drags on, it may create drag on some veterans' careers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was a sign of the times when Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Paul Molitor suggested last week that he may retire if the strike continues deep into the season.

"Do you sit out a year and go back out there?" Molitor said. "Not to mention that the longer this thing goes, the more hostile the environment is going to get when we return. You wonder if you need the aggravation."

The shame of it is that Molitor is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Another year or two to add to his career stats of 2,647 hits, 1,482 runs and 976 RBIs and he'd be a shoo-in.

There are other older players whose twilight time is being curtailed. Can Dave Winfield, in serious decline anyway, get himself into game shape? Will the time lost destroy Eddie Murray's chances to hit the 42 homers he needs to reach 500 for his career? New York Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs (2,392 hits) and San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn (2,204) need every game possible to reach 3,000 hits. Lee Smith seems to be fading; can he rebound after taking almost a year off?

What an awful irony if Molitor and Winfield were to make their final appearances on a players association barnstorming tour.

Labor-free zone

The strike is helping the Yankees in one way by providing more time for left-hander Jimmy Key to recover from shoulder surgery. "He's throwing four, five innings in simulated games," said Yankees manager Buck Showalter. "He's to the point where he's going to be ahead of a lot of others when this thing is settled." . . . The Chicago Cubs' farm system is reputed to be the worst in baseball. But new manager Jim Riggleman says the organization has a solid core of power pitchers at the Single-A level. "I think they are still two or three years away," Riggleman said, "but it's a lot better situation than I was led to believe." . . .

Pitcher Doug Million, the Colorado Rockies' No. 1 pick in 1994, has gained 36 pounds since being drafted out of high school -- and little of the additional weight is muscle. "Obviously, high school guys do put on weight more than college guys," said Dick Balderson, vice president of player personnel. "I just hate to see all the weight go to one's rear and one's stomach." . . . The Oakland Athletics have signed former Cubs pitcher Mike Harkey to a minor-league contract. "If his arm is healthy," said A's coach Jim Lefebvre, "he can help us." . . .

The Texas Rangers are negotiating a contract with former Orioles third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, who would spell Dean Palmer against tough right-handers. . . . When Brien Taylor was drafted No. 1 overall by the Yankees in 1991, the left-hander was clocked at 97 mph. He had major shoulder reconstruction surgery after getting hurt in a fight, and now his fastball tops out at 87 mph. . . . From the Will They Ever Learn Dept.: San Francisco owner Peter Magowan said this week that outfielder Darryl Strawberry, suspended from baseball for testing positive for drugs, may one day return to the Giants. . . .

When he signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies, former Orioles second baseman Harold Reynolds had a clause that required the team to release him if he didn't make the major-league team. Because he refuses to play replacement ball, Reynolds may report to the minors after all.

"If [the strike] goes into April or May and he's home, released, what good will that do him when the other guys come back?" said Rockies manager Don Baylor. "He'll be so far behind. Right now, he's so far ahead of everybody else."

Warning: labor talk

There's been no communication between the Detroit front office and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who has been on unpaid leave since Feb. 17 for his refusal to supervise replacement players. "They know where I'm at, but I haven't heard a word," Anderson said. "My wife said John [McHale Jr., the Tigers president] called about a week to 10 days ago from an airport somewhere, but I wasn't home. That's been it." The bet is here that Anderson never manages another Tigers game. . . .

Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens slammed Houston Astros manager Terry Collins last week for pressuring minor-leaguers to play in replacement games (which Collins acknowledged). But, c'mon, is there really a difference between what Collins did and how the union has treated the minor-leaguers, saying that any player who participated in spring exhibitions would be considered a strikebreaker? Just one more example of the hypocrisy regularly displayed by both sides. . . .

Here's another: Cleveland Indians designated hitter Murray was one of several players at the Orlando, Fla., meetings this week criticizing the media for its coverage of the strike. Murray indicated the players' side of the issue had not been fairly portrayed, and free-agent third baseman Terry Pendleton said the players' stance had nothing to do with greed and everything to do with principle. Excuse us while we gag. The owners created this mess, and the players union has helped perpetuate the problem with its intransigence. Where is the principle, pray tell, in debating for seven months the salary cap, the luxury tax, salary arbitration? It's all about money, for the owners and the players, and for any major-leaguer to criticize a replacement player for being motivated by financial gain is laughable. . . .

Neither the players association nor the owners seem to understand baseball's appeal. The players' proposed barnstorming tour would be as embarrassing as the replacement games and a box-office failure. The traditional excellence is what baseball fans pay to see: They pay to watch the players wearing the uniforms of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Orioles, Cubs, with inherent faith that those players are the best in the world. Replacement and barnstorming games would violate that trust on both counts. . . .

Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton joined the other high-profile players in the Orlando meeting. But when it came time for the news conference, Daulton was conspicuous by his absence. Instead, he was in his hotel room, eating breakfast. "I'm disgusted," he said. "I'm so disgusted I don't want to be a part of it. I'm disgusted with baseball. I am in the middle, but what do you do? If I had the answers, I would have passed them out by now.". . . .

The owners' Player Relations Committee has ordered the Blue Jays to restrict the workouts of reliever Duane Ward, who is coming off surgery. Ward will be allowed to play long toss and work with trainers, but cannot take the mound and throw to hitters. . . . California Angels minor-leaguer Pedro Guerrero said he is thinking about participating in replacement games. "It depends on how much money they're willing to pay me," he said. . . .

If you wondered about whether Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is in this for the long haul, read these words from the Darth Vader of owners, who considers the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board a victory: "[The NLRB] ruled that we did two little things wrong and one major thing right," Reinsdorf said. "The board won't even render its decision until the end of next week, and assuming the worst . . . [the litigation process] will be a minimum of two months. . . . This will keep the pressure [on the union leaders] to negotiate."

Funny. We were kind of hoping this would be resolved by April 3.

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