The Shadow Government

added 4/21/2002 by Gene Elston
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has turned his office into what is reminiscent of the title of a 1958 Navy submarine movie, RUN SILENT - RUN DEEP. The rule he laid down in Jaunuary-2001 to the club owners was .. be prepared to pay a $1 million fine if you say anything concerning labor matters.

His directive, decried by the press and the union, so far has amounted to: Mr. Selig will do all the talking for baseball through the entire 2002 season. This single voice has pledged not to lock out players through the World Series and, of course, said nothing of the possibility they (owners) might impose new work rules.

In his announcement on March 26 Selig said, “Our fans deserve to know that the 2002 season will be played to completion without interruption and they deserve to know that now before we begin the new season. Therefore, on behalf of the clubs, I pledge that we will not take any economic action either in the form of a lockout or unilateral implementation against the players’ association throughout the course of the season and postseason."

“The sanctity of the season, however, is only partially within my control. Since we do not have a new collective bargaining agreement (expired November 7), the players have the right to strike at any time. I sincerely hope that they share my strong feeling of playing the entire season.”

The players’ union, it seems, interpreted Selig’s statement as a veiled threat to impose sweeping economic changes as soon as the postseason ends, and in essence it put sole responsibility of a strike during this summer, equally in the hands of the opponent. Just what are we seeing here? Could it be a bold and more aggressive approach by the owners to finally make a major attempt to get out of the financial rut they created for themselves many years ago, to put on the gloves and come out swinging in their attempt to finally win one from the union? Frankly, I think it’s more than a threat.

I am not a supporter of Mr. Selig, but I believe if my theory is close, he may have something here. It is my opinion that this “gag” order imposed by the commissioner is a plan that has been in the works for some time, is being carefully thought out, orchestrated and scrutinized thoroughly by their lawyers. It can only be enhanced by his recent statement of no lockout through the 2002 season.

The ultimate goal (by Selig) would be to have an economic plan ready to roll during the 2002-2003 off season. It could, however, mean a visitation to the long, embarrassing, painful and expensive years of 1985-1988 when the owners were fined $285 million that cost the 26 clubs $10.8 million each. This was the period called the ‘Collusion Era’.

At the end of the 1980 season then commissioner Bowie Kuhn warned the club owners that they faced heavy financial losses if salaries continued to escalate. In 1980 the average major league salary was $143,756 up from $113,558 in 1979. This warning shot across the bow of the owners was simply ignored. In Kuhn’s final year as commissioner (1984) the average had risen to $329,408.

Kuhn’s replacement was Peter Ueberroth. He assumed the commissioner’s post on March 31, 1984 and almost from the moment he took office he minced no words when speaking of the owners’ failure to recognize the definition of fiscal responsibility. It was not uncommon for Ueberroth to refer to them as “stupid” and “dumb”.

In October-1985 the commissioner was addressing club owners during the World Series in St.Louis. Ueberroth let the owners have all barrels. Among many other quotes: “Look in the mirror and go out and spend big if you want, but don’t go out there whining that someone made you do it.”

But, the owners were over-galvanized. Lawyers had warned them they needed to make their own individual decisions to get to fiscal responsibility, but they were carried to extremes. Too much talking to each other and too many paper trails being shared between clubs, using identical language in dealing with agents and players - the owners had opened a can of worms - and they paid the price.

I sincerely believe the owners and major league baseball will challenge the players union, and the word COLLUSION will be back in the baseball vocabulary. Assuming this to be true, I wonder if Selig has also placed a ”gag” order on owner-to-owner conversation - I would assume he has. Remember the three little monkeys? “Speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil.”

INDIVIDUAL fiscal responsibility is the answer - are there any owners who are willing to step up on their own - anyone, or even more, willing to step up and begin the end, or even a slow-down to this financial debacle. Or will a continuation on the present course result in ultimate disaster.

I will leave you with this telling quote from an article I ran across written by John Helyer in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, May 20, 1991 - quoting Helyer: “At one meeting, soon after taking office, Mr. Ueberroth announced he’s figured out what was wrong with the economics of baseball. Ueberroth said: ‘Let’s say I sat each of you down in front of a red button and a black button, push the red button and you’d win the World Series, push the black button and you’d make $4 million and finish somewhere in the middle’ (of the standings). Ueberroth looked around, ‘The problem is most of you would push the red button.’”

Gene Elston-4-21-2002

Reprinted with permission from the E-Z Board Astros Forum

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