One by one, baseball owners started deviating from the party line just before the baseball strike began.
First it was New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner, then Cincinnati's Marge Schott, then Baltimore's Peter Angelos, then Colorado's Jerry McMorris.The four owners on Thursday made the first breaks in what had previously been a unified front by baseball's owners. They either showed the first signs of independent thinking or outright rebellion. Take your pick.
Steinbrenner boldly declared in New York that management's argument of competitive balance problems "doesn't wash" and insisted that owners be allowed at the bargaining table.
Schott questioned the experience of Richard Ravitch, the owners' negotiator.
Angelos, in Baltimore, suggested the owners drop their threat to unilaterally impose a salary cap, and the players in turn abandon their plans for a lengthy strike.
Finally, McMorris termed the salary cap a negotiable issue and offered to bring his considerable experience at the bargaining table to the baseball talks.
"I think we could negotiate a settlement that did not include a salary cap," McMorris said after his Rockies bowed to Atlanta 13-0 Thursday in what could be the final baseball game at Mile High Stadium.
"The offer that we presented the players included a salary cap, but it was a very comprehensive offer. We never got a counter-offer. The counter we got just said `we don't want to change anything, we don't want to address any of the problems, we just want more of the same.'
"I feel the salary cap is a negotiable issue because, let's be realistic, this is all about simple economics. It's all a balance. There has to be a change in the economic system and some sanity."
McMorris expressed disappointment that neither Donald Fehr of the union nor Ravitch of management "seem to be able to get this thing (negotiations) started. I'd like to see it begin."
He offered his services at the bargaining table, noting his experience as a trucking company magnate in talks with the Teamsters. McMorris earned a reputation as a tough but fair negotiator, and brags that in eight contract talks he never had a strike.
"I think I could help bring some experience, and I would hope that I would bring a fresher perspective that doesn't perhaps have a whole lot of built-in prejudices to the existing system or a new system," he said.
Schott questioned the experience of Ravitch, who led New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority through an 11-day strike in 1980.
"I don't know if he's ever had any experience with unions," she told Cincinnati radio station WLW. "I don't think so. It takes a certain person. We'll see what he does."
Angelos said that in talks with owners, whom he wouldn't identify, he sensed a movement to alter owners' insistence on a salary cap.
Noting the break in owner solidarity by the threesome, Angelos said, "I expect tomorrow and the days ahead we'll be hearing from more of them."
Angelos asked the owners to open their books for review by an independent commission.
"The owners' position that a salary cap is absolutely necessary is based on the premise that there is a financial crisis. "If there is such a crisis, it's incumbent upon the owners to prove it without a doubt," Angelos said.
He also suggested that Fehr and Ravitch should iron out their personal differences for the good of the game, saying their egos and personalities are obscuring the issues.
Steinbrenner's statements directly contradict the assertions made to players by Ravitch, but he insisted later that he wasn't breaking ranks with other owners.
"Look at Montreal," the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Steinbrenner as saying. "The best record in baseball is the team with the second-lowest payroll. So you can shoot that theory right in the butt. Look at Minnesota, they've won twice since we won. He's got to get off that argument. It doesn't wash."
Ravitch repeated Wednesday that owners don't need a salary cap because of inability to pay but because they foresee growing competitive balance problems between large- and small-market clubs.
"Maybe they just don't support baseball in Montreal," Steinbrenner was quoted as saying in today's editions of The New York Times. "In that context, it's like any good business. Year after year if your store doesn't get customers, you move it or you close it."
Ravitch also said owners had taken the position they wouldn't be allowed at bargaining sessions. None have appeared so far.
"We must get ownership to the table," Steinbrenner said. "We must get people to the table who have considerable financial interest in the game - personal financial interest in the game. Not a bunch of lawyers who are the only ones that are going to make money out of the strike."