SPORTS

Open for business

Big-league baseball begins a late warm-up

BARBARA WICKENS April 2 1990
SPORTS

Open for business

Big-league baseball begins a late warm-up

BARBARA WICKENS April 2 1990

Open for business

Big-league baseball begins a late warm-up

SPORTS

The peanuts and Cracker Jack were a month past their prime, but at least it was business as usual last week at Grant Field in Dunedin, Fla. For the first time since Feb. 15, the baseball stadium was bustling, as the Toronto Blue Jays belatedly began spring training with about 300 fans in the stands. The Jays, like players for the 25 other major-league teams, were locked out of spring training by club owners in a protracted dispute over money. The two sides reached a settlement on March 19, allowing the serious business of throwing, batting and catching a ball to begin. But, for some fans, the 32-day lockout lasted far too long. Said Donald Read, 56, a Jays fan from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.: “I spent $6,500 coming down here. I’ll end up seeing two games.”

The lockout could have a lasting effect on the 1990 season. Spring training normally lasts about six weeks, giving players time to tune up for the six-month, 162-game season. Although the team owners pushed the start of the season back a week to April 9, the players have only three weeks to get ready. Some players said that rookies trying to make the roster will be especially hard hit. “It won’t give younger players much of a chance to play,” said 29year-old Jays pitcher John Cerutti. The lockout also caused major problems for television networks and sports specialty channels, which had planned to broadcast preseason games. They had to scramble to find alternative programming. And civic officials in the small communities in Florida and Arizona, where the 26 major-league teams hold their spring training, complained that they had lost millions of dollars because of absent fans.

The lockout ended with the players holding the upper hand, according to Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. Under the terms of the 104-page collective agreement, the minimum major-league salary increased to $100,000 U.S. from $68,000. (All players, including the Blue Jays and Montreal Expos, are paid in U.S. funds.) Eligibility for neutral arbitration of salaries—formerly available after three years of major-league experience—was extended to include the top-performing 17 per cent of players with only two years in the majors. And a new clause is designed to discourage any repetition of pay-restricting collusion among owners. The owners were penalized for conspiring in 1985 and 1986 to restrict competition in salary offers to players who gained the right to seek the best bid for their services after six years in the majors. If the owners were again found guilty of collusion, they would be liable to pay aggrieved players three times the damages assessed by an arbitrator.

The lockout forced some other minor adjustments to the season, and disrupted a longstanding tradition in which Cincinnati always staged the earliest opening—if only by half an hour—because the local club, the Reds, became baseball’s first professional team in 1869. President George Bush will throw out the first ball this year on April 9 at Boston’s Fenway Park when the Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers. With spring training extended into the first week of April, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent had to strike a deal with New York City-based CBS TV by moving the end of the season back a few days. CBS, which begins a $ 1.06-billion, fouryear contract with baseball this year, had to give its permission for the playoff schedule to be changed. The league championship series will start on Oct. 4 instead of Oct. 1, and the World Series will be-

While representatives of team owners and players haggled over money, big-league baseball’s month-long absence from training camps hit some towns in the pocketbook. Patricia McGarr, executive vice-president of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, said that studies have shown that each team brings in $20 million to a community. “A lot of our businesses do 35 per cent of their yearly business in the six weeks of spring training,” she said.

gin on Oct. 16 instead of Oct. 13.

But, for the players and their managers, the major concern last week was getting in shape for the long season ahead. To compensate for lost workout time, teams will be allowed to carry 27 players for the first three weeks of the season, instead of the usual 24. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston told Maclean’s: “The players all seem to be glad to be back. The pitchers look like they’re in pretty good shape.” He added, “It takes four to five weeks for those guys to hit their stride, though.” In order to accommodate the pitchers, scoring rules will be altered for the first two weeks so that starters can eam a victory by pitching only three innings instead of the usual minimum of five.

At the Montreal Expos’ camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., the 1990 season began on a note of uncertainty. Owner Charles Bronfman said that the National League team was for sale. Said Bronfman: “After 21 years in baseball, it’s emotionally very draining. We are trying to find a buyer.” It was just one more unsettling piece of news for the team that lost four of its brightest stars—outfielder Hubie Brooks and pitchers Mark Langston, Pascual Perez and Bryn Smith as free agents in the off-season. Still, spirits were high among some of the returning veterans. Said right-hander Dennis Martinez: “I’m here to give 100 per cent.” Indeed, that was a common sentiment as major-league players at last began to warm up for the 1990 season.

BARBARA WICKENS

with

FRANK ADAMS

in

Dunedin