MLBPA officials met with about 75 agents yesterday in New York and according to the union's General Counsel, Gene Orza, the agents "overwhelmingly supported" the union's decision to discipline any agents who represent replacement players. Orza said union sanctions would be decided on a case-by-case basis by the union's executive board and could include decertification. But, Orza added: "No discipline will be necessary, because no agents are going to represent replacement players." MLB General Counsel Chuck O'Connor said the owners believe that the union's stance is improper and perhaps illegal: "It's a players right to choose to cross the picket line or not cross the picket line. We think decertifying an agent interferes with a player's right to make a free choice" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 1/11). RECRUITING CALL: The Rockies have established a hotline for recruiting replacements. Candidates can make their "best sales pitch to a voicemail system if they call the team's downtown headquarters" (AP/FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/11). Dodgers GM Fred Claire and his staff have phoned several agents in an attempt to identify players who might be willing to cross the picket line (Bob Nightengale, L.A. TIMES, 1/11). AAA player Orlando Palmeiro on being offered a chance to become a replacement players: "It's like that Indecent Proposal movie" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/11). NEWS & NOTES: American League spokesperson Phyllis Merhige said AL President Gene Budig will have the authority to decide whether Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive game streak will be halted if replacements are used (USA TODAY, 1/11). ....The Braves are considering pushing back their date to renew season tickets from January 20 to February 3 giving the team time to formulate a policy in case replacements are used (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/11)....The Cubs said 88% of season ticket holders have put down deposits to renew (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/11)....All Blue Jays front office personnel -- from secretaries to CEO Paul Beeston -- accepted across-the-board pay cuts. The club refused to reveal the percentage of the cut (TORONTO STAR, 1/11).
Leagues Governing Bodies
According to a CANADIAN PRESS report, two sources familiar with the CFL's expansion efforts told CP that the group seeking to attract an expansion franchise to Birmingham, AL, will announce today that it will begin play next season. Birmingham- based doctor Larry Lemak is the expected front man for the unnamed Atlanta-based businessman who will own the team. It would mark the second time in as many months that the CFL has expanded into the southern U.S. Last month, Memphis was awarded a team for '95. The Birmingham team will play at Legion Field, which has a seating capacity of 83,000 (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/11). No word on where the Las Vegas Posse will move. It had been reported that Birmingham was a strong candidate to lure the team for the '95 season (see THE DAILY, 1/9).
Upon direction by the NHL Board of Governors, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the NHLPA with a final proposal to be decided upon today. According to NHL VP for Public Relations Arthur Pincus, the season will be canceled if an agreement is not reached "promptly." Asked to elaborate, Pincus said "very soon" (David Shoalts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11). According to the NHLPA, Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow are expected to meet again this morning (THE DAILY). Bruins President & GM Harry Sinden: "This is the final, final, final, final, final offer" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/11). In Toronto, Damien Cox describes the deal as "Take it or leave it" (TORONTO STAR, 1/11). One league source, on the free agency age issue: "[The owners] want 32 all the way across. And if the players don't think the owners will cancel the season over this, they're wrong. That's been the problem with this situation all along. All of the players want to play, but not all of the owners want a season" (Cynthia Lambert, DETROIT NEWS, 1/11). THE OFFER: A six-year agreement (The owners could initiate renegotiation after the 1996-97 season, the players a year later). Entry draft starting at age 19. A rookie salary cap of $850,000 that will increase incrementally every year of the deal (The cap scheme does not include "slotting," or different levels for different rounds). The right of teams to "walk away" from three unfavorable arbitration decisions every two years. Unrestricted free agency at 32 for first three years of the deal, and then at 31 in the final three years (TORONTO STAR, 1/11). THE OWNERS' POSITION: Canucks Owner Arthur Griffiths: "It is very clear that the authority, ability and intentions of our league and our leadership are to make a deal on the basis of what was sent back and if Gary Bettman can do it, he will. If he can't, we know the consequences" (Elliott Pap, VANCOUVER SUN, 1/11). One NHL Governor: "There is no room for bargaining this time. That was made clear to Bettman" (Damien Cox, TORONTO STAR, 1/11). Sinden hopes the union will take the offer: "But I'm not Bob Goodenow. He's full of surprises" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/11). While Jets Owner Barry Shenkarow said he can live with the deal, another Jets exec responded to an opinion the players would reject it, saying: "I can only hope" (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/11). PROSPECTS OF A DEAL: Blackhawks Player Rep Jeremy Roenick said the fact that 10 to 30 players could be affected by each increased year of free agency makes it a valid point of contention: "In three years you're influencing 90 to 80 lives, how much money they can make. ... That's something you have to think about very seriously" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 1/10). Neil Smith, Rangers G.M. and President: "I'm optimistic a deal can be done because we're close enough to the players proposal that something can be worked in order to get the vote of the constituency of the players." Rangers Goalie Mike Richter: "You think of the repercussions of getting too rigid, and it could be the loss of the entire year." ESPN's Al Morganti, asked if he believes the players will accept the deal: "I don't know that they have much choice, it's now in their court the ball's been hit back to them. Are they going to push the button on the season? I don't think they can, I don't think there's enough room to maneuver now, to say no to this and blow up the season" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/10).
Many reports across the U.S. and Canada this morning focus on the contentious nature of the first conference call among NHL management that resulted in a 14-12 rejection of a proposal worked out by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow. The N.Y. POST and TORONTO STAR identify the 14 teams as: Anaheim, Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, Hartford, New Jersey, Quebec, Vancouver, Washington and Winnipeg. Of those, seven joined the majority in approving the league's "take it or leave it" offer to the players: Anaheim, Calgary, Dallas, Hartford, Vancouver, Quebec and Florida. BETTMAN AND THE OWNERS: In Toronto, Bob McKenzie writes, "If ever there were any doubt the hawks rule the NHL roost, yesterday's unfolding drama erased it" (TORONTO STAR, 1/11). In New York, Larry Brooks compares Bettman to Abraham Lincoln writing that he will have to "rule over a house divided, ruined by a bloody civil war" (N.Y. POST, 1/11). One NHL exec: "The idiots are running the asylum." The TORONTO SUN's Scott Morrison adds that, for a time, Bettman "resembled former president John Ziegler in not only height but league stature" (TORONTO SUN, 1/11). According to the SUN's Al Strachan, Capitals Owners Abe Pollin confronted Bettman in the call, saying: "Who authorized you to negotiate after we had made a final offer?" Writes Strachan, "These people would rather kill the season than see reason. ... Bettman, who precipitated this mess, has finally fought the good fight for the game over the last few days, but it may be too late" (TORONTO SUN, 1/11). Pollin: "It's an important issue, some guys get emotional" (Len Hochberg, WASHINGTON POST, 1/11). In Toronto, James Christie writes, "The yo-yo dispatching of Bettman by the owners created an impression that the commissioner was plagued by a lack of owner confidence -- or certainly a lack of empowerment" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11). In Boston, Stephen Harris writes that the owners' "egos, greed and stupidity" has pushed the NHL to the "absolute edge of disaster" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/11). In Vancouver, Archie McDonald writes, "The most revealing development in the past few days is how united the players have remained and how fractured the owners have become" (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/11). In Detroit, Vartan Kupelian writes Bettman's "tenure is on the brink" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/11). USA TODAY's Tom Weir: "Hear that hissing sound? Pssssssssst. That's the air going out of Gary Bettman's balloon" (USA TODAY, 1/11). ESPN's Al Morganti: "Gary Bettman has a house divided. He has a hawkish element, which may be a misnomer, its kind of the needy and the greedy. Needy teams from Canada which are not big market teams, and wealthy teams like Boston and Chicago" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/10). STANDING BY THEIR MAN: In Montreal, Red Fisher reports that Bettman "was among those who weren't satisfied with the tentative deal he brought to the governors." Bettman told them, according to Fisher: "This is what the players' association is ready to accept, but I'm not. If you want to vote on it, go ahead, but I wouldn't recommend it" (MONTREAL GAZETTE, 1/11). Canucks Owner Arthur Griffiths "all but accused" the NHLPA of planting the story that Goodenow and Bettman had reached a tentative agreement and that the owners undermined the deal. Griffiths: "There was, in fact, no consensus and [Bettman] indicated to [the players] there were issues that would not fly. Therefore it was not a proposal he was recommending and it was not a done deal" (Elliott Pap, Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/11). Panthers President Bill Torrey: "It was fair to say today's discussion was heated at times. But if anybody thinks there's a division on the board or that we don't support what Gary is trying to, that is erroneous" (David Neal, MIAMI HERALD, 1/11). Whalers Owner Peter Karmanos: "The early vote was to test the mood of the ownership, not to end the season" (Jeff Jacobs, HARTFORD COURANT, 1/11). Don Cherry, a oft-foe of Bettman's: "Everybody's blaming Bettman for everything ... I think he's saving hockey for the year right now. If it wasn't for Bettman, I heard last Saturday that the league would've been cancelled" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/10). GOODENOW AND THE PLAYERS: Goodenow faces his own set of potential problems with his employers. In Toronto, Gare Joyce writes that, if a deal is done, the NHLPA "will have to explain to its members why they can't gain access to the free market ... why, in a business where the average career lasts but five years, players have to be long-time fixtures before they're eligible for arbitration, that is, the independent determination of fair- market value. When hockey's brightest lights negotiate their contracts, they'll look to NHLPA leadership and ask: 'Where did our leverage go?'" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher writes, "Somewhere, Alan Eagelson is laughing." Canucks Player Rep Trevor Linden: "We're getting raped" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/11). ESPN's Mike Milbury on Bob Goodenow: "He's the reason this mess has occurred. The guy wouldn't come to the table, he missed meetings, wouldn't return phone calls. I put the blame squarely on his shoulders. He blew it, and he blew it big time, and the players are suffering, they're getting a tough deal from the owners. I think a tax consideration would have been better off than the deal that they're getting right now. ... The players union has come out of this bloodied, and I think his job's on the line" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/10).
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's "ScoreCard" reports that the Professional Bowlers Association is having trouble finding corporate backers for some of its events, and two of its 15 events have yet to be sponsored at all. Although ABC, who has aired the tour for 33 years, has renewed its contract with the PBA, it did so for a fee of $700,000 for 14 events, down from $3.52M for 24 events in its previous deal. True Value has recently ended its 12 year affiliation with the tour, and the Tournament of Champions, the sport's "crown jewel," has had to find its third sponsor in as many years. Although bowling still "dominates its Saturday time slot," ABC senior VP Dennis Lewin says that "Ratings aren't a problem. Revenues are" (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 1/16 issue).
In Boston, Michael Gee examines the likely NHL rookie salary cap and its potential effect on other sports leagues. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's "victory will almost certainly spawn an antitrust suit with the potential to cost the NHL owners far more than they'll ever save from any of the concessions they wring out of the current players. And such a suit could wreak havoc" with the NFL and NBA. Gee notes that the player draft is the most "obvious example of restraint of trade to be found in American commerce." A potential employee cannot freely choose his employer. But, the NHL deal would "change the equation. It would remove the bribe that is the linchpin of the draft system." Sooner or later, there will be a rookie -- "the next Gretzky" -- who could challenge the system. Agent Steve Freyer: "If I were a top NHL draft choice, I'd certainly be considering the possibility (of a lawsuit)." The player that sues could contend that since he is an amateur, and not a member of the union which negotiated the agreement, he is yet to surrender any rights. The owners will argue that "merely wanting to play NHL hockey makes you subject to the contract that binds all the league's players." If the courts find the hockey draft illegal, "the resulting free market for amateurs will send salaries soaring" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/11).