WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. -- America's favorite pastime is in danger of becoming a "past time" for at least a part of the '94 season, predicts a sports labor relations expert.
"I hope fans enjoyed the World Series, because it's likely to be the last major league action they'll see for awhile," says the expert, James B. Dworkin. He is professor of organizational behavior and human resource management and associate dean of Purdue's Krannert Graduate School of Management and School of Management. Dworkin is the author of a book, "Owners vs. Players: Baseball and Collective Bargaining," and a number of articles on labor relations in professional sports.
The four-year collective bargaining agreement between owners and players expires Dec. 31.
"Either a lockout or a strike will occur sometime before or during the '94 season," says Dworkin. "Each of the last five times the contract agreement has expired, we have had a strike or a lockout. In '72 there was a 13-day strike. In '76, a 24-day lockout. In '81 we saw a strike of a somewhat larger magnitude, which lasted 50 days. The strike in '85 only lasted two days. Most recently, in 1990, there was a 32-day lockout."
Dworkin doesn't see the '94 season being any different.
"The issues are familiar ones: free agency, salary caps, minimum salary guarantees, salary arbitration and revenue sharing among teams," he says. "Players are concerned with losing important free agency and salary arbitration rights, while owners are seeking to 'level the playing field' by restricting player privileges -- instituting salary caps, for example -- in an effort to increase parity within the league."
As the contract expiration deadline approaches, Dworkin says four things could happen:
"Players are relatively happy with the status quo; it's the owners who are really unhappy," Dworkin says. "If the owners try to institute changes the players don't want -- such as restricting free agency or eliminating salary arbitration -- things could get ugly. I think that's exactly what we're going to see happen."
Timing is the key where lockouts and strikes are concerned, Dworkin says.
"The objective is to institute such an action at the precise time it will be most damaging to the other party," he says.
Owners would benefit most by calling a lockout before the season begins, putting tremendous pressure on players who would not be able to collect paychecks until a settlement was reached.
Players, on the other hand, would benefit most by striking late in the season, after the all-star break or closer to playoff time, when television revenues are high and after receiving most of their paychecks for the year. Owners would suffer losses in revenues during tight pennant races.
"Of course, the thought of a postponed or canceled playoff or World Series is very frightening to the owners," Dworkin says, "especially in light of the new playoff format that will begin next year.
"I think we'll definitely see an agreement come about eventually. Collective bargaining has worked before in baseball, and I fully expect the process to work again."
Dworkin predicts some significant changes will come from a new agreement.
"First, the owners will adopt some form of revenue sharing in an attempt to balance the ability of teams to compete in the free agency arena," he says. "There may be minor modifications to free agency and salary arbitration procedures, but I don't foresee anything too drastic in those areas.
"A big change I see coming is the introduction of some sort of salary cap. I believe that owners and players will agree on a system similar to the NBA's. The cap will be instituted for each team and tied to a defined percentage of the revenues in the game."
Baseball has recovered from some of its other ailments, although the process of resolving many of the problems has been slow and painful, Dworkin says.
The new television contract, he says, probably will generate about half as much over the next several seasons as the $14 million per team received from CBS and ESPN from 1990 to 1993.
Baseball has been operating for some time now without a commissioner. Dworkin says that although it appears likely that a new commissioner will be named before next year's season, baseball doesn't really need one.
Other problems still to be dealt with include the possibility of losing baseball's anti-trust law exemption and claims that baseball is unfair to minorities due to their scarcity in front office positions and the Marge Schott incident.
Even with all of these problems, Dworkin says he remains confident that at least part of next year's season can be salvaged.
"Fans shouldn't worry too much," he says. "The question isn't whether we'll hear 'play ball' in '94, it's more a question of when. Until then, fans should pop some popcorn, invite a few friends over, sit back and enjoy the World Series. During commercials, though, they may want to find out the locations and schedules of the closest minor league teams. Just in case."
Writer: Victor B. Herr, 765-494-2077
Source: James B. Dworkin, 765-494-4364
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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