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Savran: It might be crime, but strike is needed

Saturday, August 17, 2002

It's not terribly different than what Clemenza told Michael Corleone in "The Godfather." "These things have to happen every five or 10 years, kid. Helps get rid of the bad blood."

The Corleone family capo regime was talking about war between the five families of the New York underworld.

I'm talking about Major League Baseball.

I'm saying baseball needs now what the mob needed then: War. A strike.

I'm all for a strike.

I encourage it.

It's not that I don't want to see baseball, or the playoffs or the World Series. It's just that I believe the only possible way to fix the damage the game has done to itself is through a work stoppage.

I believe baseball is at its Armageddon.

If it's not fixed now, the damage will be irreparable.

And the only way to accomplish that is by going dark. Blow it up, then start, virtually, from scratch.

It's said negotiation is the art of compromise.

Compromise is something the owners absolutely cannot afford. They just don't have the wiggle room. They need substantive change.

They can't just push their peas around their dinner plate, trying to hide them under the mashed potatoes, hoping their mother won't force them to be eaten.

I'm afraid if the owners succumb to the pressure from fans threatening to abandon the game forever, they will compromise their position so that whatever change is effected will be cosmetic.

Which is to say no change at all.

Which is to say the game will be doomed.

This is not to suggest the owners will get everything they want, especially if there remain hard-liners whose objective is to break the union.

That's not going to happen.

The union is too powerful and has won too often in collective bargaining, victories upheld by the courts.

But if the owners are as resolute as we're told, they must not bend on the two basic planks in their platform: Meaningful revenue sharing and a luxury tax.

If there is room for wiggling, it might come in slightly altered percentages.

But that's it. That's as far as they can go.

The union, this time around, has at least been willing to discuss the issues of revenue sharing and luxury taxes. Since the negotiations center on percentages rather than concepts, I suppose that represents progress of sorts.

But you knew and I knew and Donald Fehr knew that unless ownership completely folded its tent, there was never going to be a negotiated settlement by yesterday.

And that was obvious Monday when the union declined to set a strike date. What a shabby attempt to curry public favor.

This transparent tug-of-war on the heartstrings of baseball fans, this totally unconnected public relations concern about not striking near Sept. 11 is hampering negotiations.

It puts artificial time constraints on both parties and is liable to pressure the owners into accepting less than what they need to return sanity to the game.

The one constant in these affairs is fans saying they will never come back.

But they do.

And although they haven't come back all the way from the strike of '94, revenues have never been higher.

Undoubtedly more customers will be lost if they again go dark.

But the true fan, at least those not living in New York, Atlanta or Los Angeles, understands that unless there's competitive balance, you might still have the game of baseball but you don't have the sport of baseball.

And until Kansas City, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh can go to spring training with their fans believing they have a chance to be something more than an opponent, then there's no sport in it at all.

Understand, equal revenues don't mean equal success. You still have to draft well, develop well, trade well and manage your franchise well.

Someone has to lose and someone has to finish in last place. And if you're incompetent, you deserve to fail.

But if my car can go 100 mph and yours can only go 55, who's likely to win that race?

They can sit around a mahogany table until the next millennium, and I don't believe the owners will get all that they must through negotiation.

That doesn't necessarily guarantee they would maintain their resolve through a strike, either. But given the mounting pressures, any deal containing significant compromise will be a bad deal for baseball.

I believe a giant step backward is the only way to move forward. I'm afraid it's time to go to war.

Commence with the spilling of the bad blood, then clean up the mess whenever the time comes.

Stan Savran hosts a sports talk show weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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