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Savran: It's time players step to the plate

Saturday, August 03, 2002

I have changed my mind.

In years and work stoppages past, I always sided with the players. Never completely, but primarily, for a number of reasons.

Outside of those who own their own businesses, most of us are players in our respective fields.

We don't earn anywhere near what even a fifth outfielder makes, but this is a philosophical, not a practical, application.

Secondly, an insurance salesman, a plumber, even a sportscaster, has every right to change employment, free to pursue the best job available.

Why should professional athletes be denied that right?

And lastly, owners have been paying for nearly a century of their predecessors' tyranny.

Baseball's reserve clause was indentured servitude, and the courts were right to strike it down.

Yes, I'm allowing for the fact that playing professional sports is a privilege, an opportunity most of us would love to pursue if only it weren't for that annoying qualification of talent.

But that's part of the equation, too, isn't it?

There are few people able to do what these guys can do, so they deserve to be paid at a premium rate.

But this time, I have changed my mind.

As baseball stands on the abyss, I can no longer stand firmly on the players' side of the line drawn in the sand.

I'm not terribly comfortable on the other side, either, but the pendulum, for so long anchored on the owners' side, has swung so far in favor of the players that the entire institution has lost its balance and, for the first time, is about to topple over from the weight.

They won't be able to get up unless things change.

It's time for the players union, a willing and active partner in baseball's self-destruction, to take some responsibility for the game's survival. Players are no longer mere employees, they are stewards of the game.

While respecting the hard-earned triumphs in the courts and at the bargaining table, the union, although it won't ever say it publicly, has to feel the tremors under its feet.

Union head Donald Fehr cannot truly believe that a small-market team's inability to compete is solely a product of its baseball and/or fiscal incompetence. Deep down he must know that.

In fact, Fehr told me in a television interview after the lockout of 1990 that the Players Association would gladly consider salary restraints when and if the owners showed a willingness to help themselves first -- meaning revenue sharing.

Well, here we are. Where's the promised cooperation?

Before the strike of 1994, competitive balance wasn't an issue.

In a five-year span before that work stoppage, Oakland, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Toronto had won World Series titles.

The Pirates had won three consecutive division titles and had the most wins in Major League Baseball during those seasons.

On the day of the strike, the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians were 1-2 in their division, vying for the best record in the American League.

The little guys had a chance.

That's no longer true. And that's what changed my mind.

I fully recognize that the owners are largely, if not totally, responsible for the cesspool that baseball has become.

But, while they might not be entitled to large doses of sympathy, they are entrepreneurs; thus, as risk takers, they are entitled to at least have a chance to make a profit.

Owners don't exist merely to provide three Mercedes' in every player's garage.

Granted, too often the owners have asked the players to protect them from themselves, and, quite rightly, Fehr has steadfastly refused.

He says the players don't want more, they just want to hang on to what they have.

Fine, except I don't understand how revenue sharing -- which shouldn't be the players' business in the first place -- is going to severely limit salaries.

And if the luxury tax holds down the high-end bidding, wouldn't the money generated from that tax, plus the sharing of local revenues, allow more teams to bid on more players in free agency?

The players have had it all their way for entirely too long. It's time for Fehr and his minions to recognize that they are more than just worker bees.

They must understand that they have a large stake in all this.

They must understand that they have squeezed out every golden egg to be laid by this goose.

Now, the goose is dying, and the time has come for them to aid in its survival.

I've changed my mind. It's time for the players to change theirs.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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