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As both sides make the necessary arrangements to meet this week with the start of the season hanging in the balance, Peter Gammons lays out the choice: "This is it, defoliation or compromise." MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr and acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig are expected to meet before the resumption of formal talks, which could be as early as tomorrow. Gammons argues that the owners "already have won" because of the revenue losses the game has undergone already from the strike. According to Red Sox CEO John Harrington, the projections are that clubs will lose around $400-500M if they play with replacements, $600-700M if they stay closed. Harrington adds: "The radio and TV advertising dollars are essentially gone through June" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19). As Gammons explained on ESPN: "What you're looking at is a market where general managers can say 'Hey, we don't have any money.' Once they do that and they force about 200 Jody Reed's out on the market, next year when they have very limited arbitration, they'll have had a profound effect. But for some reason, the owners are scared of a free market" ("Sports Weekly," ESPN, 3/19). INJUNCTION JUNCTION: As expected, NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein asked the five-member board for an injunction to restore the old system. NLRB Chair William Gould said the board will meet Thursday on the issue. Fehr has said the players will end the strike if there is an injunction, but the NLRB is no "quick solution." A hearing could not take place before next week, "and no one can be certain when a ruling would come" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/18). Selig: "We're not going to worry about the NLRB. With the appeals process, this could take months" (Larry Whiteside, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/18). Noting Fehr's no- strike promise, Tracy Ringolsby writes, "Fehr, however, has not discussed whether the fact that the NLRB filed a complaint on only a portion of the union's charges would impact his recommendation" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/18). In New York, Murray Chass reviews the legal precedents which could come into play should the owners lock out the players (N.Y. TIMES, 3/19). WHAT'S THE HOLD-UP? Special Mediator William Usery, on Sunday night: "Not a thing is set at this point. We should know something Monday" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/20). The union, and some on management's side, "believe Selig is stalling in the hope that striking players will begin to break ranks and return to their teams in the two weeks before the season starts" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/18). COUNT 'EM: Should replacement games not count, Jayson Stark asks, "How long until the first lawsuit is filed by the first disgruntled ticket-buyer? The early over-under is 11 seconds" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/19). Phillies President Bill Giles: "We'll be having people suing us, or at least asking for their money back. I think it's another reason you never start with replacement players." Adds columnist Frank Dolson, "Keep the stubs" (PHILA. INQUIRER, 3/20). ESPN's Bob Ley reported that management has said there "will be a way found to preserve the integrity of Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak" ("SportsCenter, 3/17). THE BARN'S ON FIRE: While MLBPA officials are claiming that owners pressured Reebok to pull out of the proposed players' "barnstorming" tour, sources close to Reebok "said it was a myriad of problems: a lack of an interested television outlet, few commitments from star players whose individual contracts require permission from their team to play in games; problems finding suitable stadiums, and the prohibitive cost of insurance" (Tracy Ringolsby, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/19). Gammons reports Reebok pulled out a month ago when the union "didn't deliver promised signed forms that players would actually play, and when Reebok rep Frank Thomas was asked if he would play, he said he would not, nor would Barry Bonds. Some players have asked their agents to get them out of their Reebok contracts because of what they were told [by the union], so Reebok has asked agents to come in and get the facts" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19).
BOSTON: Red Sox VP John Buckley said the Red Sox might be able to break even with replacement ball, given two factors: attendance is at least 1 million, and local TV and radio deals take less than a 50% cut. Buckley, who spent Friday trying to work out a deal with the Red Sox radio network and WSBK-TV, said a 50% cut would be "too much." While Buckley wouldn't say how much he is willing to take, "it would appear" the local TV package would have to be reduced by at least 35%. To reach 1 million, the Sox would have to average 12,346, and with 94% of approx. 22,000 season-ticket holders renewing, that goal seems to be attainable (Nick Cafardo, BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19). CINCINNATI: Reds Manager Davey Johnson called replacement ball a "travesty." Asked when he will begin to manage intensively, Johnson said: "When my stomach settles down. How's that?" (Chris Haft, CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/20). FLORIDA: Marlins Owner Wayne Huizenga expects the team to regularly draw at least 16,000 to replacement games. Huizenga also had "harsh words" for union chief Don Fehr: "I don't think we can ever properly market baseball until we have a partnership with the union. I don't think, under Don Fehr, we will ever have a partnership with the union. That's the problem" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/20). The Marlins announced that for games from April 2-9, children 12 and under will be able to get a ticket and a coupon for a free hot dog and soda for 50 cents (MIAMI HERALD, 3/17). NEW YORK: For WABC's suit against the Yankees. OAKLAND: On April 9, the A's will offer "what they claim is the most extravagant giveaway in major league history." The first 15,000 fans will get custom-fit wool caps, the same the players wear (S.F. EXAMINER, 3/18). ST. LOUIS: There were only 25 buyers in the first two hours when Cardinals tickets went on sale at Busch Stadium Saturday (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/19). SAN FRANCISCO: Giants tickets went on sale Saturday, and while no figures were available, Giants P.R. Dir Bob Rose admitted: "Sales were slow" (S.F. EXAMINER, 3/19). TORONTO: The AL approved Dunedin Stadium for Blue Jays regular season games (American League).
The NBPA filed a grievance with the league over the 5-game suspension of Knicks forward Anthony Mason. NBPA Exec Dir Charles Grantham called the suspension "arbitrary and unjustified." Mason was suspended after an argument with coach Pat Riley (Mike Freeman, N.Y. TIMES, 3/18). Grantham, who claims that Mason "works very hard" and broke no rules: "It's clear that the club's only motivation is to gain complete control over the personalities and actions of what it perceives to be the new breed of athlete, and they hope to gain this control by humiliating a player and taking his money" (Curtis Bunn, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/18). LABOR TALK: Deputy NBA Commissioner Russ Granik said negotiations on a new CBA will resume this week, "with the hope that a new deal can be struck by the end of the regular season" (Ric Bucher, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/19).