One way to approach the 1995 major league baseball season is to compare it to a ball game that has started late because of rain -- and that might not last the full nine innings if more rain comes from those nasty-looking storm clouds lingering behind the left field stands.
Yes, baseball is back, with honest-to-goodness big leaguers instead of replacement players culled from the fields of truck driving, pizza delivery and drywall installation. But the joy in Mudville is muted by the troubling prospect that there is still no real labor peace between the club owners and the players union.
Indeed, the circumstances are such that their mutual acrimony could boil over again, leading to a repeat of the eight-month strike that was the longest work stoppage in the history of professional athletics. We wish we could say it ain't so.
Probably the best hedge against another strike is the fear both sides would have of risking financial suffering on top of the pain they began inflicting on themselves last Aug 12. The strike cost the players $230 million in lost income, while the owners took a hit of roughly $700 million. Ironically, a key reason for the owners' insistence on a salary cap -- one of the major stumbling blocks to a labor agreement -- was to look after the economic well-being of the less wealthy franchises, such as Pittsburgh's and Milwaukee's (the latter owned by acting Commissioner Bud Selig). Now those franchises have been left in even worse shape by the revenue losses caused by the strike.
Lawyers for the owners were scheduled to go before a United States appellate court today to seek a stay of a U.S. District Court judge's injunction from last Friday that, in effect, upheld the pre-strike working conditions. However, there seems little likelihood that a stay will be granted. And even if it were, would the owners actually wish to compound baseball's public-relations fiasco by resuming the labor wars just after declaring a cease-fire? We doubt it. But then the owners' and players' lack of concern for the game's image should leave no one surprised at any action they might take.
At least baseball fans, in Baltimore and across the country, can find satisfaction in the fact that Cal Ripken Jr. can continue his pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. The Oriole shortstop's unwavering support of the union, maintained throughout the strike without the slightest gripe about the potential forfeiture of a milestone he has chased for years, was one of the few shining moments of the work stoppage. It confirms what most of us in this region have known since the early days of Mr. Ripken's career -- he is an exceptional person both on and off the field.