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One week before Opening Day, the NLRB "authorized its general counsel to seek an injunction in Federal court that could send striking players back to work as early as this week." Daniel Silverman, director of the NLRB's New York office, said he would initiate the effort in U.S. District Court in Manhattan today "and would ask the judge, once one is assigned, to handle the case expeditiously." While the players have made it clear they would return if such an injunction is obtained, it is "not clear" whether the owners would subsequently vote to lock them out. "And in a related development, the two sides in the dispute agreed to meet tonight in Manhattan to resume negotiations for the first time since March 4" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/27). The story led ABC's Sunday "World News Tonight" (ABC, 3/26). REAX: MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza: "I'm never surprised when something we say is upheld by a third party" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/27). Braves President Stan Kasten: "I have utter confidence in our case, unfortunately that would take a long time to get to" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/27). Rangers President Tom Schieffer: "What we have here is something that just prolongs the process. The NLRB is not a body that resolves things" (Simon Gonzalez, FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/27). "The best case scenario for the union is that there could be a hearing on the matter by Wednesday, and a ruling by Friday" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/27). ESPN's Peter Gammons, on a pre-Opening day injunction: "There's no guarantee, because of the unusual nature of this case, that [the players] are actually going to get the injunction. If they do, the players will offer to come back, the owners will then vote 23-5 or 22-6 to lockout. Unless there's a settlement this week, we're going on into replacement ball next weekend." Gammons said the owners don't view the NLRB ruling as "important," adding, "If the players really do, then these negotiations are just going to be distracted and not go anywhere" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 3/26). TO LOCKOUT, OR NOT TO LOCKOUT: Several reports note that the owners might not be able to get the 21 votes necessary for a lockout. One AL owner predicts six teams would vote "No" -- Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Blue Jays, Orioles and Padres -- with the Indians, Tigers and Rangers leaning that way (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/27). In Philadelphia, Jayson Stark noted "major doubt among baseball people" that the owners would vote pro-lockout. But the nature of the ruling, the timing and whether the players return with a no-strike pledge are all factors (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/27). The latest BUSINESS WEEK outlines the owners' risk: "If the NLRB finds the lockout illegal, the league could be on the hook for players' salaries totaling some $1 billion for the season. That amount could be tripled if the lockout was also found to have violated the old contract's anticollusion clause" (Aaron Bernstein, BUSINESS WEEK, 4/3 issue). In Washington, Mark Maske notes that "ownership moderates will try to convince hard- liners they're in a precarious position" by risking that much (WASHINGTON POST, 3/27). In New York, Murray Chass adds, if the players stay out, "they may prefer a lockout to a strike at this juncture, partly for public relations purposes and partly to keep any players from being tempted to break ranks and return to work" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/27).
The owners could submit a formal proposal to the players when meetings resume tonight, according to the L.A. TIMES. The key points, according to a top management official: Arbitration for players with three years of experience, restricted free agency for four and five-year players, unrestricted after six, a 40% tax on payrolls over $40M (Bob Nightengale, L.A. TIMES, 3/25). But ESPN's Peter Gammons cited Red Sox CEO John Harrington, who said the owners "will not present a new proposal. They will present some new ideas, and maybe some things that will bring the players closer." But Gammons added: "I really don't think that there's any way that they're going to come any closer" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 3/26). FOR GOD'S SAKE, DON'T DRINK THE KOOL-AID! White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf compared Fehr to cult leader Jim Jones. Reinsdorf, who recommended the players hire an "independent third person" to evaluate offers from both sides: "Don't believe the owners, but for God's sake, this isn't Guyana. Don't believe the guy that's misleading you" (Paul Sullivan, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/26). ESPN's Keith Olbermann: "No truth to the rumors that Fehr will reply by comparing Jerry Reinsdorf to the worst person he could think of -- Jerry Reinsdorf" ("SportsCenter," 3/26). WASHINGTON WEEK IN REVIEW: President Clinton was interviewed over the weekend by ESPN Radio. Clinton on the baseball strike: "If it becomes so painfully clear that it is no longer a sport and it's just a business, then the customers may decide to take their business elsewhere. ... It could become a community sport again -- almost the way soccer is, if they don't fix it" (ESPN Radio, 3/25). Citing what he claims are conflicting statements from acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy plans to reintroduce legislation today with Republicans Orrin Hatch and Strom Thurmond to partially repeal MLB's antitrust exemption (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 3/25). Speaker Newt Gingrich predicted hearings on the issue, "once we're past the labor-management fight" ("Larry King Live," CNN, 3/24). THE WINNER, AND NEW CHAMPION? Two baseball writers give the owners the nod thus far in negotiations. In Denver, Tracy Ringolsby writes, "The owners have finally stayed together, and the union has failed to adapt" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/26). In L.A., Ross Newhan writes, "No matter how a negotiated settlement plays out, the owners would finally win one" -- but, that is if they can: 1) "disentangle" from the Reinsdorf-led effort to break the union; 2) convince Selig "to act like the commissioner many are convinced he wants to become"; 3) compromise on the tax -- 35% at $47M is suggested; and, 4) include a three-year reopener on the tax, unrestricted free agency for 4+ players and right-of-first refusal for three (L.A. TIMES, 3/26). OTHER STRIKING THOUGHTS: An AP poll (403 self-identified baseball fans surveyed March 15-19) found 34% saying they would attend fewer games if replacement players are used, and 38% saying they would watch fewer games on TV (Mult, 3/25)....MLBPA counsel Lauren Rich: "If there's not a settlement in the next seven to 10 days, it will reopen an era of litigation that will make collusion seems like child's play. ... This will degenerate into a legal war that will take a very long time to play out and (in) which the only winners will be football, basketball and hockey (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 3/27)....ESPN's Karl Ravech reported that spring training attendance per team is down from 89,000 last year to 20,200 this year. Averages per game: 5,933 in '94, 2,020 in '95 ("Baseball Tonight," 3/26).
Two days after NBA Commissioner David Stern publicly criticized the BOSTON GLOBE and columnist Will McDonough for his piece on the NBA drug policy, McDonough responded by reporting that Stern "was just bowing to pressure" from Celtic officials. McDonough claims Stern was met before Wednesday's ceremony honoring Reggie Lewis by an angry Red Auerbach, who "whiplashed Stern verbally" for past issues issues concerning Lewis' death, and by Celtics Owner Paul Gaston, who criticized Stern for "not standing up" to media reports alleging Lewis' drug use. Later, Stern held a press conference to denounce the GLOBE story and defend the league's drug policy. McDonough spoke to Stern on Friday about the incident, and Stern said he wanted to show that the GLOBE was "inaccurate and made my drug policy look bad when I think it is the best." McDonough noted marijuana is not recognized as a drug by the NBA -- "maybe someone forgot to tell Stern when he authored this drug policy, which he claims to be the toughest he is aware of, that marijuana is illegal everywhere but in the NBA." Stern said he hoped "it can be included in the next NBA policy." McDonough's conclusion remains that the NBA's policy is that "it does not want to catch its players. ... The facts seem to be that Reggie Lewis used cocaine from his days at Northeastern until his last Celtic game, and the great NBA program did nothing to stop him, or ever slow him down." McDonough's column included a comparison of drug policies of the four major leagues (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/25). MEDIA INTROSPECTION: More thoughts on the coverage of the Lewis story. In L.A., basketball writer Mark Heisler writes that as the Celtics retired Lewis' number, "everyone railied at the media, the timing, the snitches. TV poofs like CNN's Fred Hickman, uncomfortable with an actual story, asked plaintively, 'Why now?' Heisler writes, "Why not now? Unbecoming as it is, there is only a problem if the story is inaccurate" (L.A. TIMES, 3/26). In Boston, sports media writer Jim Baker criticized NBA broadcast partners TNT and NBC for not showing "the kind of zeal they display" in showcasing Michael Jordan "when it comes to a meaty issue like probing an NBA drug policy" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/24). UNION ISSUES: NBPA Exec Dir Charles Grantham "takes issue" with Suns Owner Jerry Colangelo for reinstating Richard Dumas, only if Dumas agreed to submit to frequent testing by the club. Grantham said this is technically a "violation of the [league] agreement, and I would expect the league to fine any team not in compliance with the agreement substantially" (Ailene Voisin, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/26). The latest discussions on a new CBA "were not hopeful," according to the BOSTON GLOBE's Jackie MacMullan. Sources told MacMullan the NBPA asked for 73% of the defined gross revenue in its last proposal (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/26).
The state of the LPGA was a hot topic this weekend, as the Tour held its first major, the Dinah Shore Classic. ABC's coverage of the Dinah Shore is one of only seven tournaments carried by network TV. In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes, "If you're a fan of women's golf and you can't understand why there isn't more TV coverage, it's because there aren't more of you fans" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/25). In San Jose, Marcus Hayes blames the lack of coverage on the the popularity of the men's tours: "Men own the airwaves" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/25). In L.A., Thomas Bonk creidts outgoing LPGA Commissioner Charlie Mechem for increasing the prize money from $17.1M to $24M and the number of LPGA licensees from 20 to 29. Candidates to succeed Mecham include former Sprint exec Jack Frazee and Wilson Golf marketing chief Jan Thompson ( L.A. TIMES, 3/26). GOLF "FORUM" SEEN AS A "SHOT" AT WORLD TOUR: In Boston, Joe Concannon writes that last week's World Golf Forum (see THE DAILY, 3/23) "seemed to be a united shot at Greg Norman's proposed tour." Greg Norman defended his proposed Fox-sponsored World Tour: "Now that the smoke has cleared, a lot of good has come out of it. I have played in different parts of the world, and there is a very supportive feeling for it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/26).