Representatives of the two sides in baseball's labor dispute resume high-level talks in Scottdale, AZ. While the two sides remain far apart, "several owners remain optimistic that this latest round of negotiations" will end the strike (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 2/27). Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris: "If both sides are willing to do some hard, earnest bargaining, I think it can be over in a day or two" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 2/27). MARGINALIZED MEDIATOR? MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr "doesn't foresee any bargaining taking place" within the framework outlined by Special Mediator William Usery. In Washington, Mark Maske reports the union "probably will not permit Usery to have much impact on the negotiations any longer." One source on the players' side: "He's a schedule-maker at this point, and no more" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/27). Labor Secretary Robert Reich was asked if the administration "blew it" by publicizing Usery's recommendations. Reich: "We did not publicize Mr. Usery's proposed resolution. In fact, Mr. Usery did not come up with a proposed resolution. Mr. Usery was bringing, as any mediator does, bringing the two sides closer and closer together." Reich placed the odds of a negotiated settlement at about 35-40%, and said he faviored binding arbitration ("Evans & Novak," CNN, 2/25). OUTLOOK: ESPN's Peter Gammons said that "both sides seem very pessimistic. But, maybe in pessimism comes desperation and the only way there is going to be a deal is if both sides are desperate." Gammons added if a deal doesn't happen in the ten days to two weeks, "dig in. This strike is going a long way" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/26). In his Sunday column, Gammons cites on "outside go-between" who says that Fehr "is ready to seriously negotiate a luxury tax," provided the owners modify their revenue-sharing agreement," and that acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "is signed on." But others believe "nothing will happen, not with the hard-line owners" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/26). Red Sox CEO John Harrington, the owners' chief negotiator, said the dispute would have to be resolved by March 5 if the season is to start on time with regular players (Mult., 2/25). NLRB UPDATE: USA TODAY's Hal Bodley reports that NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein "is close to issuing a complaint and seeking an injunction" against the owners. An injunction could bring the players back, but also spur a lockout -- although Bodley writes that the necessary super-majority vote from owners could touch off a "nasty battle." An aide to Feinstein says expect a decision on the matter this week or early next week (USA TODAY, 2/27). TIDBITS: In Denver, Tracy Ringolsby reports that, depsite claims that a network deal is close for a MLBPA-run barnstorming tour, tour sponsor Reebok "has been in touch with independent producers to see if they can put a TV package together because of what Reebok officials say is a lack of network interest" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 2/26)....In New York, Jim Heyman cites Don Mattingly: "We're only as strong as Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas." If one were to corss, "Forget it." Since Griffey and Bonds have major league bloodlines, Thomas could be the "owners' best hope" (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 2/26)....Int'l Sport Summit Exec Dir Craig Tartasky, on the status of MLB's sponsors: "They are stepping aside. They're not walking away, but they're saying let's see which way the wind blows. They don't want to get their hands dirty, but they don't want to lose the opportunity of perhaps being there when the players return" ("Bloomberg Business News," 2/27).
Leagues Governing Bodies
ATLANTA -- COX STEERS OWNERS' LINE: ESPN's Peter Gammons reported from the Braves spring training site. Braves Manager Bobby Cox: "I've worked for Ted Turner for an awful lot of years and he has paid the bills for me and my family for a long time now. You know, you signed on, you have to work." Braves President Stan Kasten, on the MLBPA's position on minor leaguers: "I think from the start this has been about how high we can get salaries, and how we can protect the people at the very top of the salary scale, with not a whole lot of thought given to the rest of the players in the industry" ("SportsCenter," 2/24). BALTIMORE -- NO FRIENDS, NO FOES: The Orioles' spring schedule "could be wiped out because of the organization's stance against replacement players, leaving the club's minor-leaguers with a month of intrasquad games" (Olney & Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 2/26). Orioles Owner Peter Angelos, asked which teams he thinks will show: "Maybe nobody" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 2/27). CALIFORNIA -- OPTIMISTIC AUTRY: Angels Owner Jackie Autry: "It's too early to tell, but every survey we've done shows fans will support replacement players because their anger is such that they may come out just to prove a point" (Mike DiGiovanna, L.A. TIMES, 2/26). CHICAGO -- CHECK THE MESSAGE BOARD: White Sox GM Ron Schueler said a meeting reportedly called by minor league pitcher Barry Johnson and attended by White Sox Player Rep Mike LaValliere had nothing to do with Johnson being asked to leave camp. Johnson had decided he wouldn't play in exhibition games. Schueler did say he didn't think minor leaguers needed to attend union meetings, but that he didn't care if they did. But Paul Sullivan writes, "The decision on Johnson could be intrepreted by some as a not-so-gentle persuader to stay away" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/27). CINCINNATI -- BIG-NAME ON THE WAY? Reds GM Jim Bowden said a "high-profile" player was headed into camp: "It's a big Cincinnati Reds name. It's a name you're not going to guess and it's going to shock you and excite you and do all kinds of things to your emotions." Guesses ranged from George Foster to Ted Power (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 2/27). DETROIT -- TAPE DELAY: While Channel 50 was to debut as the Tigers' TV outlet Saturday, the team may delay the first telecast until March 15 (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/27). LOS ANGELES -- RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: The Dodgers say they have a replacement team in place. Manager Tommy Lasorda: "It's like if you can't have pasta, you have to have something else, like pork chops" (L.A. TIMES, 2/25). MILWAUKEE -- Brewers Baseball Dir Sal Bando said "he will not issue ultimatums to play in exhibition games unless there aren't enough volunteers to field a team" (Tom Haudricourt, MILWAUKEE SENTINEL, 2/27). NEW YORK -- KING GEORGE SPEAKS: ESPN's Peter Gammons spoke with Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner for ESPN's "Sunday Conversation." Steinbrenner: "Teams like Minnesota, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh ... even Anaheim, I want to help those people. But I don't want to help some other teams. I don't want to help Montreal. ... If they [Montreal residents] don't want baseball, they don't want baseball." Steinbrenner believes lost paychecks will eventually force the players to return ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/26). Steinbrenner will be named to replace the Angels' Jackie Autry as one of the four AL owners on the MLB Executive Council at the March 7-9 owners meeting (N.Y. TIMES, 2/27). OAKLAND -- KEY ISSUE? A's Manager Tony LaRussa said the MLBPA's minors policy "could be the issue that brings things to a head" (Frank Blackman, S.F. EXAMINER, 2/27). PHILADELPHIA -- UNION MEN: Frank Fitzpatrick reports a "strong preference" among Phils' minor leaguers towards abiding by the MLBPA edict (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/25). SAN FRANCISCO -- GOOD COP/WORRIED COP: Giants GM Bob Quinn: "We're ready to roll. We like our numbers." Giants Asst GM Brain Sabean: "I just want to know who will say 'yes'" (Mark Gonzales, SAN JOSE MEFCURY NEWS, 2/26). SEATTLE -- EXTRA CHEESE? Mariners VP of Baseball Ops Woddy Woodward and Manager Lou Piniella met with 30 replacement players and 60 minor-leaguers over approx. 50 pizzas to outline the team's policy: Players who come forward will be given $100 per game plus an additional per diem of $80 (Jim Street, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, 2/27). TEXAS -- FIELD OF TEAMS? Rangers GM Doug Melvin is confident the club can field a replacement team despite 14 defections from camp over the past two days (T.R. Sullivan, FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 2/27).
In the latest issue of BUSINESS WEEK, Paula Dwyer examines the possibility of success for the World League of American Football. Besides hiring "hotshot marketer" Marc Lory to revive the league, the reasons why the league should succeed include: American football "has thousands of fans in Europe," the partnership with Fox Sports and the fact that Europe's media business has "undergone a sea of change since the last World League foray." Lory: "People want it. It's an enormous force, like a tidal wave building up" (BUSINESS WEEK, 3/6 issue).
Maple Leafs President & GM Cliff Fletcher says the NHL will expand by two more teams after next season, according to Damien Cox in this morning's TORONTO STAR. Fletcher notes there has been no official discussions, but adds, "There are so many people out there willing to put the money up. The NHL is hot right now, and people want to buy franchises." With an eventual goal of 32 teams, the STAR's Cox mentions Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta and Houston as candidates. Cox cites the league's desire to get the estimated $150M entry fee from the each of the two new teams before the Jets, Nordiques or Whalers move to one of the desired locations. Cox notes, "With no Canadian city, including Hamilton, considered a viable candidate, and with Winnipeg and Quebec possibly interested in relocating, the Canadian influence in the league seems destined to be reduced further" (TORONTO STAR, 2/27). FOLLOW THE BOUNCING NORD: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont reports that last week's Comsat offer to buy the Nordiques and move them to Denver "rattled a few chains in Quebec City." Nordiques Co-Owner Marcel Aubut is giving the province 90 days to come up with plans for a new arena or he says he will sell the team to the highest bidder. Dupont: "It now appears the government will build Aubut his new arena and include an on-site casino to finance the project" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/26). In New York, Joe Lapointe predicts the team will stay. "With another referendum on provincial sovereignty approaching in Quebec, what French politician voting on arena financing would want to take the blame for the creation of the 'Phoenix Sudiques?'" According to Nordiques spokesperson Jean Martineau, the team wants a financial subsidy from the province until the arena is built. Lapointe also theorizes that Aubut's threat of a move and the potential loss of expansion revenue could spark revenue-sharing talks (N.Y. TIMES, 2/26).
Vince Naimoli, head of the group trying to bring a MLB expansion team to Tampa Bay, assumes that if both expansion teams are put in the same league, they would be in the NL. But if they split the teams, Naimoli believes Tampa will go to the AL (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 2/25). In New York, Bill Madden writes, "At long last, Tampa Bay is going to get its baseball team. It has taken no less than a half-dozen jiltings at the altar -- and a like amount of threatened lawsuits -- but there will be major- league baseball at the Thunderdome" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/26). THE NAME SEARCH: In VA, the two investor groups bidding for an expansion team are trying decide on a team name. The two groups have until Wednesday "to submit one name each" to MLB officials. The Capital Baseball Group Inc. has "all but settled" on the Virginia Generals. Some of the names being considered by Virginia Baseball Group, considered MLB's favorite: Fury, Diamonds, Monuments, Grey Sox, and Bats (Eric Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 2/26).
The NHL and NHLPA are still at odds over items such as player pensions, draft rules, and the relationship between the NHL and Europe, according to Roy Cummings of the TAMPA TRIBUNE. Cummings reports that the NHLPA's refusal to address the question of Canuck Murray Craven's status as either a Group II or Group V free-agent is "holding things up." When Craven's status is determined, the league's average salary can be determined. Cummings says the final sticking points leave questions about issues such as the NHL's status for the '98 Nagano Games and possible sponsorship of a European development league. Cummings notes the IHL's planned expansion into Europe: "There is concern over the NHL's future there if the IHL gets deals in all the key markets" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 2/26).