- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

What bad taste! The players association announced the strike date on the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death.

Then again, maybe it was appropriate. After all, they share a common bond drugged up and bloated.

If it came as a surprise to you that the players yesterday set a strike date of Aug.30 and the optimism that had surrounded the talks between the owners and the players earlier disappeared by the end of the week, then please, Peter Pan, do not read on. Pop up your "Elvis Live" tape from the 1968 TV special and continue to believe that the King is alive as well.

If there were a luxury tax on Elvis, he might very well be alive today.

The game resides these days in the "Heartbreak Hotel" (do I have to pay the estate of Elvis Presley for even mentioning his songs?), despite the pleas of "Don't Be Cruel" from baseball fans, including George W. Bush himself, who declared from Texas yesterday that the players "need to keep working."

That's rich, coming from a former baseball owner. Not that the owners' side takes what President Bush, who used to own part of the Texas Rangers, says to heart either. The president has made it very clear to Cadillac Bud Selig that he would like to see a major league team in Washington, and we've seen how much progress there has been to fulfill those wishes.

The last time a president got involved in baseball's labor dispute was the last strike, when President Bill Clinton assigned federal mediator W.J. Usery to help hammer out an agreement. Usery came up with a plan so ridiculous that it nearly made Jimmy Hoffa rise out of the ground at Giants Stadium, and it proved to be an embarrassment for everyone involved (of course, on the list of embarrassments of the Clinton administration, the baseball talks came in at about No.292).

Here's what you need to realize about the resolve of the players association. There may still be some bad feeling looming from the last strike, which lasted 232 days and wiped out the playoffs and the World Series, and their stomachs may be a little queasy and their pocketbooks a little sweaty about the prospects of another work stoppage. But there may be no union in America where peer pressure means more than in the Major League Baseball Players Association.

The union knows how to rally the troops, which means having former and current players that these younger players grew up revering like you and I did call on the rank and file to make sure they understand how they got to the place where they are now. It is an effective tool, certainly not one that the owners have. In fact, the owners are the ones who may show cracks in the ranks before the union does.

There are only two issues of note in this dispute: luxury tax and revenue sharing. The players want no part of the luxury tax the owners are proposing to control team payrolls they are united in that. But on the owners' side, there is no such unity over revenue sharing, despite the show they are putting on. It's small market vs. large market owners, and the haves are not thrilled about paying money to the have-nots particularly when they have seen what has been paid so far squandered by the have-nots and have little impact on their success.

As far as the luxury tax goes, if the players agree to the numbers proposed by the owners reportedly a 50percent tax on payrolls over $102million or anywhere close to that, it would be an enormous concession, and any concession the union agrees to is not just for a five-year deal but forever, and worse, because the next time the owners will demand further concessions. That's how this thing works.

There has been criticism about the union considering a strike within two weeks of the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But let's say the union agreed, that in light of the times and the importance of playing the game, to go along with the owners' proposal. Would it be temporary? Would it be known as the September 11 concession, and five years from now, when the mood of the nation was better, the contract would revert to the existing terms? Not hardly.

The union has another tool to close ranks as well the credibility of the owners. How can players expect to believe what the owners tell them when an owner himself New York Mets co-owner Nelson Doubleday, who was involved in a dispute with partner Fred Wilpon over a buyout of the franchise said that "Major League Baseball was engaged in a systematic effort to undervalue baseball franchises as part of its labor-relations strategy. In short, MLB, in a desperate attempt to reverse decades of losses to MLB's player's association, determined to manufacture phantom operating losses and depress franchise values."

Did you notice how quickly the Doubleday-Wilpon legal battle was settled? Within 48 hours of the news hitting about Doubleday's charges against baseball, the suit had been settled, and Doubleday wound up getting four times what Wilpon had been offering him in up-front money. They cleaned that mess up very quickly, which tells you how serious the charges were and the damage it was doing.

Here's the one word that sends chills up the spines of baseball owners discovery, as in legal discovery of confidential documents that could come out in a lawsuit.

Can you really blame the players for having "Suspicious Minds" when it comes to dealing with the owners?


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