Go ahead, just drop the gloves and go on strike

Sunday, May 26, 2002

There's a theory on hockey fighting that purports to explain why it's been allowed to become so large a part of the game. The idea is that emotions on the ice run so hot that it's preferable to let two players vent by throwing dukes than to wait until someone in a blind rage jams a stick into somebody's eye.

It's probably time to apply that theory -- to major league baseball.

With strike talk in the air yet again, fans probably are sitting back thinking, "These players and owners are so stupid. Attendance is already down this year. Why can't they realize that another strike might damage baseball beyond repair?"

Believe it or not, both sides are very aware. They aren't ignorant, they're just angry, and it may be time to let them skate off into a corner, drop the gloves, pull the sweaters over each other's heads and just have at it until only one of them is left standing ... or breathing.

Both players and owners may be at a point where they'd get more satisfaction out of "winning" the next round of negotiations than they would from peace and prosperity. This would appear to be particularly true of the owners. The next round of collective bargaining they win will be the first one.

In their "real" lives as plutocrats, the owners make a point of not losing too many financial battles. If they couldn't avoid losses, they wouldn't long be plutocrats. If there's even the slightest kernel of truth behind Commissioner Bud Selig's assertion that from four to eight MLB teams are one baby step from bankruptcy, that easily could produce a kamikaze attitude among that group of owners.

Except that there's no reason for anyone to trust Selig on this or anything else. Six owners of franchises worth at least $150 million are just going to drop their cards and fold? Who could possibly believe that? On the credibility list, you'll find baseball management somewhere underneath boxing promoters, defense attorneys, political spin doctors and French figure skating officials.

Constant posturing and blame-shifting out of the commissioner's office keeps the players and their representatives in a gnarly mood despite their long winning streak at the bargaining table. How else could you possibly explain the Players Association's decision last week to announce that they'd begun the process of selecting a strike date?

It's been eight years since they've had their chance to whack their bosses in full public view. For eight years, they've endured being portrayed by management as money-hungry, steroid-guzzling disgraces to the game's glorious history. A lot of them have millions in the bank and are more than ready for another strike.

No wonder outsiders see the disputants as not knowing what they're doing. No one with a legitimate interest in solving baseball's complex labor issues would act the way the players and owners are acting.

In this case, the real interest and the real agendas lie elsewhere, which is why there will probably be another strike.

As for that strike date . . . today sounds as good as any.

John Markon is a sports columnist for the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch.

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