NEW YORK (AP) _ Collusion I is in stage II. Collusion II is in stage I. Collusion III has just begun. And all the while, the strike of 1990 approaches.
It used to be that when a player had a grievance, he went upstairs and worked it out with the general manager.
Now he calls the union and a year of hearings ensue.
It makes the IBM and AT&T antitrust cases seem simple.
″It’s pretty clear managements in all sports are taking pretty hard lines and pushing players around,″ union head Donald Fehr said.
Counters the owners’ chief negotiator, Barry Rona: ″This union will never stop filing charges and will never be satisfied unless everyone has a five- year, guaranteed multimillion contract.″
Collusion grievances have become an annual event, like the winter meetings. There are three now - 1985, 1986 and 1987 - a new version of who’s on first, what’s on second, and I don’t know - third base.
Briefly, Thomas Roberts ruled last September that the owners conspired against signing free agents in 1985. He made seven of the 1985 players free agents again in January, and Kirk Gibson left Detroit for Los Angeles. Now Roberts is holding hearings on monetary damages.
George Nicolau, Roberts’ successor as head baseball arbitrator, is expected to rule in May or June on the 1986 case, which includes Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson. He might make them free agents after the season, except for Dawson, who agreed this week to a two-year contract for a guaranteed $4.15 million and gave up his ″new look″ rights.
This month, Nicolau opened the record on the 1987 case, which covers the current free-agent group. Hearing dates haven’t been scheduled yet.
Economists hired by the union estimate that players lost between $70 million and $90 million because of collusion during 1985 and ’86. That comes to about $3 million per club, if Roberts and Niolau agree with the union. The owners have hired their own economists, whose estimates will be much lower, Rona said.
″You must adjust the whole salary structure because it wasn’t where it should be,″ Fehr said.
The fight over collusion has prevented the union and owners from agreeing about anything. They can’t discuss a drug agreement. They can’t even agree on what the strike zone should be.
They haven’t been able to agree on the language of the 1985 strike settlement, so the collective bargaining agreement remains unsigned almost three years later.
The union treats collusion like a religous case. The owners view it differently.
″This is not that big,″ one management official said. ″It’s a fight over contract language and how far we can push it.″
On Dec. 31, 1989, the unsigned Basic Agreement expires. Both sides are arming for the 1990 strike. Owners have refused to agree to contracts through 1990 for all but 12 players.
″That’s why we didn’t guarantee the third year of George Bell’s contract,″ Toronto general manager Pat Gillick said.
Tom Reich, agent for Jack Clark, Tim Raines, Dave Parker, Jesse Barfield and dozens of other players, started planning a year ago.
″We’re taking very aggresive steps with our own players,″ Reich said. ″My objective would be to have six-figure drawing power for every player going into the 1990 season.″
Fehr and his staff have started saving money, since they don’t get paid during a strike.
Owners talk about the possibility of a lockout, but commissioner Peter Ueberroth discounts the threats by both sides.
″It’s just posturing,″ he said in January.
Ueberroth’s term expires the same day as the Basic Agreement. The network television contracts also expire after the 1989 season. Ueberroth must decide this year whether he wants to stay on, according to baseball officials. And then the owners have to decide if they want him.
Several baseball officials believe the only way to stop the grievances is to settle the collusion cases and reach a new collctive bargaining agreement at the same time.
Roberts and Nicolau both have urged settlements. Neither side seems interested in compromise.
″In every management-labor situation, logic suggests that some sort of peaceful coexistance develops,″ Fehr said. ″Experience suggests that logic may not hold in this case. I thought you could put the bickering behind, but that hasn’t happened yet.″
It will be difficult to begin the collective bargaining negotiations as long as the collusion cases continue.
″As long as these things are going on, there’s never going to be peaceful coexistance,″ Reich said.