August 22, 2002
Why there won't be a strike
ESPN The Magazine
There is a week to go before the players' strike date. Wednesday was a relatively good day, as the owners made a proposal on revenue sharing. But some days, it all seems so bleak, as there is so much ground to cover in such a short amount of time. We, however, are going to take the high road. We're guessing that there's not going to be a strike. Here are five reasons why.
There's too much to lose. The players are living comfortably with an average salary of $2.38 million. Even if the luxury tax creates a drag on salaries, and players have to take a little less, they'll still make big salaries. The owners have offered to increase the minimum salary to $300,000, which affects a lot of players, given the average service time for major leaguers is roughly two years. The players really don't want to strike, not this time.
The owners can't afford a strike. "If there's a long work stoppage," one owner said this summer, "it won't be a question of when we come back, but how many teams will come back." Some financially troubled clubs, such as the Devil Rays, may not be able to withstand a lengthy shutdown. Healthy teams won't want to lose 30,000 fans at the gate every night. The banks will let baseball go on strike, but it will only increase the enormous debt.
September 11. It is a very important date, especially in the minds of the players. In previous baseball negotiations, no date has served as such a strict deadline. "This is just my opinion," one player said, "but I guarantee we'll be on the field on September 11. We know that there are more important things going on to this country than baseball." It seems unlikely that if the players strike on August 30, all will be settled and they'll be back on the field less than two weeks later. So, to guarantee play on September 11, there can't be a strike.
Bud's legacy. Commissioner Bud Selig's place in history is on the line in this negotiation. If it is settled without a work stoppage, he will not be viewed as a hero, but people will focus more on the many good things he has done: interleague play, the wild card, revenue sharing. But if there is a work stoppage, especially an extended one that cancels another World Series, he will be savaged publicly, far worse than the treatment (some of it unfair) he has already received. Selig is highly sensitive to criticism, but he can help save the game, and himself, by getting a deal without a strike. He is powerful enough to do just that. Nothing is done by the owners without Bud's approval.
It's about the money. The two sides are far apart on the luxury tax, but at least they're talking about money. This isn't like 1994 when the philosophical differences were so vast, they weren't even close when the players walked on August 12. The same rhetoric doesn't exist this time. Oh, the two sides don't like or trust each other, but it's not nearly as bad as in 1981 or 1994. Those negotiations were nasty. The tenor this time, both sides agree, is better than in a long time. Both sides want to make a deal, which hasn't always been the case in the history of these negotiations. Both sides have to bend on the luxury tax. But a warning here: if the union continues to define the luxury tax as a salary cap, then the issue becomes more complicated than just money, and it's no longer about dividable differences.
Public relations. Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and it always will be, but sadly, it's no longer king in this country. People have other things to do with their time than go to a baseball game. August 30 is nearly three weeks later than when the players walked in 1994 -- that's three weeks closer to football season. Football rules the sports pulse these days.
Fans will be so angry if there's a work stoppage and will not understand this time. Most will come back eventually, but like 1994, some won't. Those who do won't be coming back as quickly as they did after 1994 -- remember, it took four years to recover from that strike. If there is a long stoppage, anger will turn to disgust, then to indifference.
Both sides know this. They understand the damage that will be done by another strike. They know a long one won't be tolerated. That's why a deal has to get done before August 30.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Bud Selig's legacy in baseball is on the line.||