Weak owners will cave again

If we're wrong (and that will come as a shock to few), the Major League Baseball season will end Thursday night and a long, cold winter will follow.
The postseason will disappear, forcing FOX to scramble for such fine programming as "Celebrity Boxing III," "Married ... With Grandchildren," "Ally McBeal Returns" and "That '90s Show."
Don't hold your breath on baseball going away -- the owners' unified front is about to collapse like a trailer in the path of an August tornado.
Giving in
Sometime in the next 30 hours, baseball owners will blink -- again -- in their stare down with Donald Fehr and the players association.
For those of you keeping score at home, that will make the score Players 9, Owners 0.
This much is certain -- you won't see the players giving in, not when they've never lost. The word concession is alien to their collective thinking. And that means that all hopes of cost containment for a sport desperately needing it will evaporate.
Since the last work stoppage that canceled the 1994 World Series, the average baseball salary has increased from $1 million to almost $2.4 million. Has any other profession enjoyed such a rise?
The mid-market and small-market owners claim they can't afford to continue doing business with the current system that favors the richest teams (New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets and Anaheim Angels). If the players strike Friday, the curtain will fall on highly competitive and entertaining playoff chases.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks are waging a great race for home-field advantage for the NLCS.
Even better is the scramble in the American League West where the red-hot Oakland Athletics and their outstanding young pitching rotation has a lead on the Seattle Mariners and Angels.
If the season is played out, one of those teams is assured a playoff berth. Another could slip in as the AL's wild-card team.
But many baseball fans expect the Red Sox will get that spot because of their relatively easy September schedule. While the Athletics, Mariners and Angels are beating up on each other, Boston will feast on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Cleveland Indians, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox.
How would you like to be a Minnesota Twins season-ticket holder? After a decade of mediocrity, the payroll-challenged Twinkies (one of Commissioner Bud Selig's contraction targets) are this close to clinching a postseason berth. How ironic would it be if a strike wipes out the prize for the Twins and Athletics?
Yankee dominance
But as painful as a strike would be to the Athletics, Mariners, Angels, Red Sox and Twins, no team would ache quite like George Steinbrenner's Yankees.
Just look at the Bronx Bombers' lineup. Winners of four of the past six World Series, the Yanks have five regulars on pace to drive in 100 runs -- first baseman Jason Giambi (102), center fielder Bernie Williams (86), third baseman Robin Ventura (86), catcher Jorge Posada (85) and second baseman Alfonso Soriano (82). A sixth player -- right fielder Raul Mondesi, who was acquired in June from the payroll-slashing Blue Jays -- has 76 RBIs.
The seventh regular is shortstop Derek Jeter, the team's all-around best player. Even though the Yankees' pitching staff is creaky, it's hard to imagine this team losing a playoff series with that powerful lineup plus Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte on the mound.
Of course, Fehr won't rest until he can assure Steinbrenner of the right to fill the team's weakest links with all-star free agents. So if after the owners' latest attempt to cap salaries fails, Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy may decide that he can no longer afford Brian Giles' salary.
We're pretty sure that Yankees GM Brian Cashman could find room for Giles in left field.
Tom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.

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