What makes for peace now could spark labor war later

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It should be over any minute now. The baseball labor negotiations apparently have reached the point where both sides are ready to put a new collective bargaining agreement in front of membership for ratification. Labor peace is at hand, though it would be wise to believe it only when you see it.

The owners will get a tax plan that contains the growth of #F payrolls. The players can celebrate four more years without a salary cap. Commissioner Bud Selig will announce the settlement early this week and call it an historic partnership with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Don't be fooled.

The pending agreement was the result of economic pressure brought to bear on both sides by the growing disinterest of the public, which finally flexed its considerable monetary muscle and sent a strong message to both sides in the bitter 3 1/2 -year labor dispute.

The owners won't get what they wanted. The luxury tax plan may subtlely narrow the gap between the largest and smallest payrolls, but the thresholds are too high to make a significant difference in the percentage of revenue spent on salaries. Certainly, nothing was achieved that was worth the price both sides -- and the fans -- paid during a lengthy strike that damaged both the 1994 and '95 seasons and canceled the 1994 World Series.

It will take another four or five years to rebuild public confidence in the sport, then the whole process will begin anew. The owners, still burning because they had to back down from their heavy-handed attempt to wrest control of the game away from the powerful players union, will be tempted again to push for give-backs. The union, already convinced that it gave too much in 1996, will push back. The stage already is set.

Throwing out the net

The California Angels are said to have more than 100 candidates on their preliminary list of possible managers for the 1997 season, including Orioles hitting coach Rick Down, former Cubs and Mariners manager Jim Lefebrve, manager-turned-broadcaster Jeff Torborg (a former Angel), Jim Fregosi, Sparky Anderson and Rene Lachemann, who would probably bring back brother Marcel as pitching coach if he were hired.

General manager Bill Bavasi has his work cut out for him, because the club is looking for experience and stability, while making it clear that it doesn't want to recycle a member of the usual managerial talent pool.

The club probably will give its new manager a long-term contract to create the kind of stable environment the Angels have not had since Bill Rigney mothered the fledgling club for eight years in the 1960s. That will make it difficult to hire anyone without major-league experience. If there was any doubt that Marcel Lachemann gave up the job voluntarily, there won't be when he returns next year as the Angels' organizational pitching coordinator or major-league pitching coach. The parting was amicable, and Angels sources claim they are anxious to have him back with the club in one of those two capacities next year. Accepting Lachemann as pitching coach may even be a prerequisite to become the club's next manager.

Yanks block Knoblauch

The Cleveland Indians covet the services of Minnesota Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, and appear to be the most likely candidate to sign him if he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Perhaps that's why there are reports that the Twins tried to sneak him through waivers last week for the purpose of a 'blauch-buster, stretch-drive deal.

Word is that the New York Yankees, who figure to run into the Indians in the postseason, placed a waiver claim and forced the Twins to withdraw Knoblauch. Waiver transactions are confidential -- so there's no way to confirm that happened -- but it was a smart move by Yankees GM Bob Watson if it did.

Cleveland pitcher Orel Hershiser is troubled by his club's suddenly soft performance at Jacobs Field, where the Indians had been dominant their first two seasons. "Our stretch drive is going to be at home," Hershiser said, "so we're going to have to step it up a notch."

Not that the Indians are in any real danger of coming up short of the playoffs, but the second-place White Sox have a soft schedules over the next few weeks. They do not play a team with a .500-or-better record between now and Sept. 10.

Twins designated hitter Paul Molitor is the only Minnesota player to start every game this year, which is slightly amazing considering that he turns 40 on Thursday and he used to be one of the most injury-prone players in professional sports. And he continues to play like he's 30, ranking among the league leaders in hits and batting average.

The last Twins player to play all 162 games was third baseman Gary Gaetti in 1984. It's a tall order on artificial turf, but Molitor doesn't have to contend with that as much because he is the full-time DH.

Still going strong

Tom Lasorda's retirement left only two members of the team's traveling party with roots in Brooklyn. Broadcaster Vin Scully is in his 47th year as the Dodgers play-by-play broadcaster and Bill DeLury remains traveling secretary.

"I plan on doing this as long as I'm healthy and feel as good as I do," Scully told the Los Angeles Times recently. I still get excited about baseball. . . I don't have to manufacture the feelings. That is real emotion."

That much must be obvious to anyone who listens to the Dodgers broadcasts. Orioles fans may favor Jon Miller, but even he would concede that Scully still is the king.

Wake-up call

Indians slugger Albert Belle may be one of the most unsympathetic guys in the game, but you have got to side with him on this one. Radio station XTRA in San Diego thought it would be a great prank to send someone to Belle's hotel room at 7: 30 in the morning posing as a bellhop, then record his reaction when he found out it was a member of the media.

Angry Albert, who seldom shows much self-restraint, just slammed the door on the guy, when he could have been forgiven for stuffing him down the nearest laundry chute. He apparently is making progress.

The Indians complained to the Commissioner's Office, which is considering sanctions against the station. About the only thing Major League Baseball can do is deny the station postseason credentials, but that would be significant if the San Diego Padres get into the playoffs.

Dawson bows out

The pending retirement of Andre Dawson all but assures that there will be a lengthy milestone drought after Eddie Murray hits his 500th home run and Paul Molitor reaches 3,000 hits later this year.

No one else is within five years of reaching 500 homers or three years of 3,000 hits. It could be longer than that before the next pitcher reaches 300 victories. Dennis Martinez is the closest active pitcher, but he would have to stay around four more years to have a real chance.

Most memorable Dawson moment: The day he signed a blank contract to break through ownership's free-agent freeze out after the 1986 season. That made it obvious to even the most skeptical observers that the owners were colluding to force high-priced players back to their original teams. Later, an arbitrator would assess the owners with $280 million in fines for illegally acting in concert to curb the free-agent market.

The New York Mets were looking for an impact infielder when they made the deal for second baseman Carlos Baerga, and a source claimed recently that they originally were pursuing San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams. Williams is more of an impact offensive player, but the Mets made the right acquisition, especially considering that Williams will be lost for the remainder of the season after shoulder surgery.

Williams could face extensive shoulder surgery. If that's the case, the Giants probably will move him permanently to first base next spring to reduce the wear and tear on his throwing arm. Who's on third? Maybe Shawon Dunston, if the club can re-sign him and convince him to make the switch from shortstop.

The Seattle Mariners used to have a dome field advantage, but not anymore. They were 19 games over .500 at the Kingdome on their way to the AL West title last year, but are just 30-32 at home in 1996. Of course, losing eight or nine home starts by Randy Johnson probably has been enough to make the difference.

Juiced baseball revisited

If the baseball was juiced in 1987, then it must be turbo-charged this year. Thirty players hit 18 or more home runs in the first half of the '87 season, which was unheard of at the time. This year, 34 players had more than 18 homers at the half, but history says that most will fade in the late-summer heat. According to Stats Inc., only eight hitters managed to hit 18 or more homers in the second half of 1987, and only four of those had hit that many in the first half.

The common thread that runs through both seasons is Oakland A's slugger Mark McGwire, who emerged as one of baseball's premier power hitters with 49 homers in his rookie year. That still stands as his career high, but not for long. He's on pace to get the closest look ever at Roger Maris' single-season home run record.

If anyone doubts his ability, consider that McGwire's 42nd home run last week was also his 70th in the his previous 162 games.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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