Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 19, 2002
There won't be a strike -- we hope

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

It's easy to think of about 3.5 billion reasons why there will be a strike. But here's why we think there won't be:

How many teams out there can afford one?

Even fewer than can afford to make a free-agent run at Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux, we'd say.

Miller Park
The name "Miller Park" is a hit with the fans.

Let's run down the list. See what you think:

  • The Yankees have a new TV network. What are they going to show on it if there are no baseball games being played -- the Luis Sojo Yankee-ography?

  • The new Red Sox owners just committed $700 million to their new team, with massive debt facing them, the smallest ballpark in baseball filled every night and a chance to go to the World Series? You think they want a work stoppage?

  • Then there are teams like the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Marlins and Twins. They might as well put up their "Going Out of Business" signs the second they lock the gates.

  • The Phillies, Reds and Padres have new ballparks being constructed. We're guessing their cities probably would like to get some use out of them.

  • Or how about the Pirates, Brewers and Tigers -- teams that just opened new ballparks. Not many people are sitting in them now. So see above.

  • The Mariners and Indians have already put in their time in baseball purgatory. Why would they want to put in any more?

  • Why would the Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers or Mets want any part of a work stoppage? Business is good, and a whole slew of bills need to be paid.

    We could go on and on. But here's what we're getting at:

    The list of teams that could survive a work stoppage of more than a few days is shorter than Calista Flockhart's shopping list. We're talking about a handful of teams. And even if they could survive, could the sport of baseball survive?

    If we have another protracted work stoppage, we won't be talking service time when we come back. We'll be talking about how many teams will come back.
    Bob DuPuy, MLB's COO

    As MLB's COO, Bob DuPuy, recalled in a visit to ESPN this month, one of his recent conversations with Don Fehr, executive director of the players association, started this way: "If we have another protracted work stoppage, we won't be talking service time when we come back. We'll be talking about how many teams will come back."

    And they will. If it's bank debt that has Bud Selig sounding the financial-solvency alarms, then all a work stoppage would do is provide more of that debt.

    Fox, for instance, would get a credit for every TV dollar it paid out to MLB during a strike. So even though that TV money would keep some clubs afloat temporarily, it also would have to be considered as just one more mountain of debt to be repaid later. And that's the last thing many of these clubs need.

    But it isn't just the teams whose futures are at stake. We're also sure, from talking to players, that they have very little interest in killing their sport, either.

    So while it's true that there are hard-liners on both sides who aren't afraid of war, our gut feeling is that when the strike date approaches, sometime in the middle of August, neither side will have the gall to drive their sport off a cliff. We just hope we're right.

    Miscellaneous rumblings
  • It's getting to be the time of year when the trade rumors start getting serious. The Astros are about ready to move either Daryle Ward or Richard Hidalgo if they can get a true center fielder back. One team believed to be interested in Ward is the Yankees. So they're rumored to be exploring three-way packages with somebody who can fill the Astros' needs.

    Ward
    Ward

    On the other hand, it's baffling to look up in late June and find Ward with only two home runs in 228 at-bats. Two years ago, he got only 264 at-bats all year -- and hit 20 home runs. The Astros' latest theory is that he has backed too far off the plate and has positioned his hands so high, he's lost the ability to lift the ball.

  • The Blue Jays are also turning up the dial on their efforts to move almost anybody except their best young players. Chris Carpenter can be had as soon as he shows he's healthy. Kelvim Escobar is available. Roy Halladay isn't.

    But any veteran position player is on the market, with the possible exception of Carlos Delgado, whose no-trade clause makes him all but untradeable. Teams that have talked to Toronto are grumbling, however, that GM J.P. Ricciardi's asking price has been more Nieman Marcus than Wal Mart.

  • Then there are the Phillies, who continue to see what's out there for Scott Rolen. But the one team that seemed interested initially -- the Mets -- is now looking for an outfield bat before it addresses any other priorities. And the Phillies need to get a third baseman back if they deal Rolen -- or they need to know they have a second trade in place that gets them a third baseman. But except for trying to move Rolen someplace where he'll be happier, the Phillies aren't ready to blow up the team or the season yet.

    So the Phillies are stuck in this limbo -- for who knows how long?

    "I think they could have a hard time moving him," says one AL GM of Rolen, "if only because whoever is trading for him knows it may be just to finish the year. But he'll be an attractive free agent, because he's one of the best players at his position, he's so athletic, he's still looked on as an offensive player and he'll be a free agent at 27, at a prime position. He'll have a lot of takers."

  • As for that story in the Bucks County Courier Times in which an anonymous player allegedly called Rolen a cancer (without quote marks), the Phillies held a players-only meeting in which they asked that player to identify himself. Interestingly, no one admitted to the quote.

    You can call Rolen unhappy. You can call him a lame duck. You can safely say that the lingering tension his "situation" has produced has been unhealthy and distracting. But a "cancer" works relentlessly from within to destroy the whole. So any man who would call Rolen a "cancer" doesn't understand the meaning of the word. Anyone who knows the soft-spoken Rolen knows the one thing he has most wanted not to be is a distraction, let alone a cancer.

  • If the Mets were going to trade for Rolen, they'd have to give the Phillies Edgardo Alfonzo. But one NL scout says he's convinced Alfonzo's back is still limiting him.

    "He told someone I know that it's bothered him all year," the scout says. "And you can see it. You can see it in the field. You can see it running. You can see it at the plate, in his power numbers. I'd be very careful (if he became available)."

  • We're starting to hear rival GMs grumble about the situation in Montreal again, as the Expos briefly hovered on the brink of falling out of the race.

    "In a normal year, you'd have guys like (Javier) Vazquez and (Tony) Armas on the market by now," says one GM. "But Omar (Minaya) can't think that way in their situation. There's no next year to think about. They think they've got to win now. And if they can't, they've got to win as many games as they can now. What a mess. I just can't believe we can get ourselves into these situations in this game."

  • Through Tuesday, the Blue Jays were 8-7 under Carlos Tosca. And Ricciardi is describing Tosca as "a breath of fresh air." But there are still no guarantees Tosca will get the managing job beyond this season.

    Ricciardi continues to say that while "I like the direction" the club has been going in since Tosca took over, "we'll re-evaluate at the end of the year." In other words, A's bench coach Ken Macha remains an option.

  • It's no accident that you're starting to see suggestions in New York that Mets manager Bobby Valentine would make a great manager-GM. Sources say Valentine's pal, Tommy Lasorda, has started to float that idea in his travels.

  • Despite Reds GM Jim Bowden's denials, other clubs think the Reds will, in fact, trade Juan Encarnacion for the right pitcher -- assuming Junior Griffey can stay healthy and attendance picks up enough that Bowden will be allowed to add payroll. But is it too late? Scouts following the Reds think the league has adjusted to Encarnacion after his hot start.

    Encarnacion
    Encarnacion

    "Early on, he got a lot of fastballs out over the plate," says one scout. "Now they're jamming the hell out of him, busting bats and tearing his thumbs off."

    On May 12, Encarnacion was hitting .290, with nine homers and 25 RBI. Since then, through Tuesday, he'd hit .212, with three homers and 10 RBI.

  • Mike Morgan ought to start getting nervous about Bruce Chen challenging his record of most teams pitched for. Chen has already ripped through five teams by his 25th birthday -- without ever being released or becoming a free agent. As the East Valley Tribune's Ed Price observes, Morgan had tried on only three of his record 12 uniforms by age 25.

    The big questions, though, are why does Chen keep getting traded, and why do teams keep trading for him?

    "I've seen him dominate," says one NL front-office man. "I've seen him get knocked out in the first inning. I think he has it in his mind that he's a power pitcher, but his fastball is too straight to rely on the four-seamer. When he uses his curve, his change and his two-seamer, he can be really tough. But you just don't see that grit in him mentally, to gut it out when times get tough."

  • It comes as no surprise to either Luis Castillo's teammates or his opponents that Castillo has been able to put together one of the five longest hitting streaks of the last half-century.

    "He's such a free swinger," says Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal. "He can hit the ball in, and he can hit the sinker away. There's no one way to pitch him. Plus, he can fly. There have been games in this streak where most hitters would be 0 for 3 -- but he gets his knocks with those choppers that he just beats out."

    "The thing that's amazed us is his consistency," says Castillo's double-play partner, Andy Fox. "We're talking 150 at-bats, and he hasn't gone into a funk yet. But the thing that's been impressive is that he's still willing to take a walk. I know one game, he didn't have a hit yet and he still ran a 3-and-0 count. He worked the count instead of hacking. So he's always kept the team concept. And that can be hard to do when you're in a streak like this."

  • Bud Selig, not surprisingly, took polite exception to our column last week suggesting that the NBA never complains about the Lakers' three-peating the way baseball grumbles about the Yankees. And Selig wanted to point out that NBA commissioner David Stern had just used his state-of-the-league press conference to point out how much better the NBA's system has worked than baseball's system.

    Except that what Stern really did was use his remarks to do more positive spinning to make it appear the NBA's cap has produced far more competitive balance than it actually has. Here's the quote:

    "I think the entire playoffs have been sort of a good coming-together for us of many things that we've worked on over the years," Stern said. "To see teams from small markets involved, I think, reflects the fact that our collective bargaining agreement is working."

    But the fact is, more small-market teams make the playoffs in the NBA simply because more teams make the playoffs, period. We've still seen 22 of the last 23 finals feature teams from at least one of the four largest markets. And the most recent NBA final, obviously, featured teams from the two largest markets (considering New Jersey is very close to New York).

    We still have trouble seeing the difference between Sacramento in the NBA and Oakland in MLB. It's true that Oakland hasn't made it out of the first round the last two years -- but that's only because it played the Yankees in the first round both of those years.

    Want to solve the problem of the A's not winning a round? Easy. Add more rounds. The NBA system creates the illusion of more competitive balance because more than half the teams in the sport make the playoffs.

    Under the NBA system, Oakland most likely would have been the No. 3 seed in the AL last year. And had eight teams made the playoffs, Oakland would have played the No. 6 seed, the White Sox, in the first round. We'd have liked its chances in that one.

    The point is that David Stern always makes the NBA look as good as possible. And while we don't dispute how much Selig loves the game, he has spent too many of the last six months making the baseball business look as lousy as possible. And that has to stop.

  • Finally, it's hard even to think about a baseball world that doesn't have Jack Buck's powerful and eloquent voice as one of its most beautiful nightly soundtracks.

    Buck gave us some of the most emotional and everlasting calls in broadcasting history. And the testament to his feel for every moment he ever witnessed was that none of them was scripted or staged. He saw it. He felt it. He put it into words better than any of us ever could. We could sit around and listen to his call of Kirk Gibson's homer all day long -- and smile every time we heard it.

    You can find some of those calls available right here in cyberspace for your listening pleasure. But what you'll find is that many of them were so memorable, you won't even need the miracle of audio tape to hear them again. They're still playing in all of our heads.

    So in many ways, the singular voice of Jack Buck lives on forever.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.