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Baseball's owners and players are set to resume talks this week at The Swan Hotel in Disney World, near Orlando. There was confusion, however, over whether the two sides would meet tomorrow or Wednesday. The owners' committee meets today with Special Mediator William Usery to begin discussions on their "best offer," which Usery requested be presented to the players this week. The schedule "may be further complicated" by the expected ruling from the NLRB on the players' charge of unfair labor practices against the owners. NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein is expected to issue a complaint against the owners, followed immediately by a request to the Board that it seek an injunction in U.S. District Court (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/13). Management sources indicate if owners do present their "best offer" to players, "it will be just that -- an offer with little or no room to be diluted" (Bill Madden, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/12). NOT AFRAID OF THE NLRB? One owner: "We know the NLRB will always rule in favor of a union. Our lawyers let us know that the chances of management winning in front of this board are slim. But rulings don't mean beans. It's what happens in court that counts." Murray Chass notes that the NLRB's success rate in getting injunctions during FY '95 has been 83% (N.Y. TIMES, 3/12). Tribune Co. attorney Robert Ballow reportedly told the owners in Palm Beach: "You've only had three NLRB complaints; we never even take notice until we get to three figures" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/12). FEHR STRIKES OUT? In Baltimore, Buster Olney writes, "The union is in trouble, and unless an agreement is reached in the very near future, its members could start jumping ship to save themselves." One agent, on MLBPA Exec Don Fehr: "The best thing that could happen now is for Don to walk away. I don't know how that can be done gracefully, but a change needs to be made" (Baltimore SUN, 3/12). Fehr: "If I believed I was the problem I would resign tomorrow. But it's not that simple" (Peter Gammons, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/12). In Atlanta, I.J. Rosenberg writes, "The union's leverage has all but disappeared. While the work stoppage may go on for some time, when it does end it appears the players will be the big losers" (ATL. CONSTITUTION, 3/12). OWNERSHIP STANDS FIRM: ESPN's Peter Gammons: "The message at [the Palm Beach] meetings was that the owners really believe they won no matter what the NLRB says and that they have gone too far not to hold out for what they want" ("Sports Weekly," 3/12). In his GLOBE column, Gammons quotes one moderate owner: "The union has driven us to this point. Look at McMorris and [Red Sox CEO John] Harrington. They started out in the same camp as [the Mets'] Fred Wilpon and [the Orioles'] Peter Angelos, but after seven months of negotiating with these guys are hard-line in their resolve to get a meaningful deal." Gammons notes, "While the owners don't know that the center of the union is indeed falling apart, they are proceeding on that theory" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/12). One source close to the talks says the time for a deal was in Scottsdale: "Fehr had his shot. Now the window of opportunity is closed, and (the owners) want to break the union" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/11).
Both the Devil (Manta?) Rays and Diamondbacks entered their first weekend of existence with celebrations planned and the drive for season tickets at a peak. A look at other happenings on the expansion scene: WELCOME WAGON: After MLB owners threatened to raise the franchise fee by $35M to $175M, Diamondbacks Owner Jerry Colangelo remarked to Rays Owner Vince Naimoli: "This is not the way we treat our future partners in the NBA. The new owners know months in advance they're getting a team. There are no surprises. We want them to feel good about joining us" (Joe Henderson, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/12). JUST IN CASE: "Jilted seven times since 1984," Naimoli was ready with a response if MLB owners rejected Tampa for an eighth time. Naimoli had a letter in his pocket signed by FL Attorney General Bob Butterworth informing the owners that "legal action was commencing immediately on behalf of Tampa Bay against Major League Baseball." He didn't need to use it (Tracy Ringolsby, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/12). GIVE AN INCH, TAKE A FOOT: Already the owner of a lease with the ThunderDome that one former MLB owner called the "best lease in baseball," Rays officials say they "'may' revisit the lease's financial terms." But St. Pete city officials say the team may "find the well dry." The team already will manage the dome, its employees and receive all profits from non-baseball events. The Rays also have the rights to sell the Dome's name and keep the first $10M plus 40% of the remaining profits from that deal. Plus, the club will receive $1.4M from the city during each of the first three years of the lease. The city receives $.50 from each ticket sold (Noam Neusner, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/11). State officials say improvements to the ThunderDome must help the Rays operate or make money to receive funding. FL Sports Foundation Exec Dir Larry Pendleton said a waterfall did not merit state fuding (Noam Neusner, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/12). EASY FINANCING: In Phoenix, Former Maricopa County Supervisor Jim Bruner, the man who cast the deciding vote for county funding for the Diamondbacks' new retractable dome stadium, says the $253M debt generated to build the park will be serviced by the time the team takes the field. Bruner: "Basically, by the time the first (baseball) season comes around the debt will be gone." County taxpayers will pay for the park with a quarter-cent sales tax increase (Mary Joe Pitzl, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/12). NONE FOR YOU! If MLB decides to expand and bring the number of teams to 32, the Rays and Diamondbacks will not see any of the fees. As part of the expansion agreement, they were told they would be excluded from the next round of expansion revenues (Joe Henderson, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/12). THE NAME GAME: By 6pm Friday, more than 15,000 people had called the hotline to choose between Devil Rays and Manta Rays for Tampa's team name. Four telephone lines were added to the eight originally set up to take calls because of the massive response (Bob Chick TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/11). TAMPA TRIBUNE columnist Steve Otto on some of the reaction he's received from fans disturbed by the Devil Rays name: One "guy wanted me to know that Devil Ray spelled backward is 'yar lived' and that the word 'yar' is a satanic dog" (Steve Clark, RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 3/11). GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT: Another 100 $50 season ticket deposits were received Friday, giving the Rays a total of 32,179. The team also received another $5,000 luxury suite deposit (Bob Chick, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/11). VIRGINIANS UNITE! Northern VA leaders were told to "settle on one investor group" if they want to have a chance at MLB's next expansion. Both Virginia Baseball, led by William Collins, and Capital Baseball, led by Bart Fisher, represented the region in vying for the latest round of expansion (Eric Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 3/11). Fisher will "push for stadium plans to continue, even without a team" (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/11). For news on a possible Expos move to Northern VA, See #14.
NL President Len Coleman sent a memo to clubs assuring them there will be an All-Star Game, whether it is made up of replacements or regulars. The game will be held at The Ballpark in Arlington, TX, the first time the Rangers will host the Game (Gerry Fraley, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/9). HELLO, CLEVELAND: Cleveland is "very close" to being named the site of the NBA's 1997 All-Star Game, according to Burt Graeff of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. Portland, Boston, and Sacramento are the other cites which have expressed interest. One NBA source tells Graeff: "It's virtually a done deal. I expect an announcement to be made soon." The Indians will host the '97 MLB All-Star Game at Jacobs Field (Cleveland PLAIN- DEALER, 3/9).
As the possibility of replacement baseball approaches, debate about how Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak will and should be treated is heating up. In Philadelphia, Jayson Stark writes, "The more we think about poor Cal Ripken, the more it gives us the shakes." Although AL President Gene Budig has yet to rule on the situation, Elias Sports Bureau's Tom Hirdt says the issue is "fairly simple": "It seems to me that if they play games that count, the streak would end." Hirdt points out that forfeits count as losses, "not mere non events" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/12). Tom Carter, statistics editor of THE SPORTING NEWS, is responsible for determining criteria for records published in The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book. He hasn't made a final decision on how to rule on the streak. However, Carter is "leaning" towards continuing the streak if the O's refuse to field replacement players and forfeit the games. Carter says if MLB fields a team for the O's, the streak will come to an end. Carter also said he will "probably" abide by any decision made baseball officials (Buster Olney, Baltimore SUN, 3/12). Budig on the streak: "It's under very, very active review. Major league leaders past and present are being consulted on the issue" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/12). TIME's Steve Wulf said breaking the streak "would be the blackest mark in the history of baseball. Blacker than anything that the 1919 White Sox did and blacker than anything Pete Rose did" (ESPN, 3/12). THE BOOK: The 1995 AL Red Book features pictures of Ripken and Gehrig on the cover, "the two seemingly gazing at each other from across time." AL VP for Administration and Media Affairs Phyllis Merhige: "I know I took a chance; I knew it was going to be controversial. But I felt I had to acknowledge that it was going to be a big story this year. Either way, it's the story of the year. Either he breaks it or he doesn't" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/12).