By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Their names move across the computer screens of major league baseball offices, veiled in secrecy and controversy.
Identities will not be revealed for weeks, even as they now begin to sever ties with employers and make dramatic adjustments in family life to become potential replacement players for Major League Baseball.
The Rangers have signed 23 six-year minor league free agents, but won't say who. No one is saying. This is serious labor business, the management people say, and revelations have consequences.
Some of these mostly unknowns have given up real world jobs for this dream, or--depending on how you look at it--to participate in this betrayal.
There are a lot of striking ballplayers who would like to shove this oversized chunk of opportunity down their scabby throats.
Ninety-five percent of these pawns will not make it once the big guys return. And they will be dumped just as quickly as they were happily grabbed by the big teams who had always shunned them. The few who remain after the end of the strike, to play with the real players, will find themselves shunned in the clubhouse and a target at the plate.
And most of them know it.
"I fully anticipate for those guys to treat me like shit if I stick on with the Rangers," says Jackie Davidson, one of the "unannounced" 23 who have signed with the Rangers.
"I'm just gonna blow it off because the fans don't care. My family won't care. I have my fans--the people I know here, my family who has stood by me. They don't care."
There are a lot of unseen undercurrents in the vast flow of bull coming out of "negotiations" in Washington.
There are the replacement players--whose teams are trying to hide from media and the union until the last minute. There are the minor leaguers--who dread reporting to camp, because just being down there puts them in the middle of the war.
And then there are the major leaguers, whose problems are a day at the mall by comparison. They are also part of the problem.
Rangers general manager Doug Melvin knows the secret names of the 23--and those of other teams in both leagues. He can yank them off the computer system--a special system for baseball eyes only. He says there is a need to keep the identity of replacement players secret--probably until the day they report--because the union will harass them.
"The biggest reason is that the union will find out who they are," says Melvin, "and they'll try to work on those players to keep them from reporting.
"I have talked to players who have been contacted."
Davidson--a 30-year-old father of two until recently employed as a truckdriver for a produce company--says no one has hassled him.
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Larry Andersen, who is sitting at home in Seattle and tired of having time for cappuccino, says he has no knowledge of harassment by the union. As an active participant in most of the year's negotiations, he knows plenty. "I get all the directives" from the union, says Andersen, "and there is nothing in them about harassing replacement players. Of course that's not the kind of thing that would be put in writing."
He laughs a little.
"Of course we do have access to bats," says Andersen. He is joking.
More likely they will simply use balls, figuratively and literally--hard talk, cold stares, and some tight pitches near the throat.
"I think the replacement players understand and expect guys to be throwing at them," says Donald Harris, a union member who will be reporting to the Rangers' camp--without stigma--as a minor leaguer.
Replacement guys aren't the only ones under pressure. "The union has threatened agents with de-certifying them if they act as agents for replacement players," says Melvin.
San Francisco-based sports agent Steve Compte says union members employed the threat when he and other agents sat in on a regional players meeting. "They made it very clear at the meeting in LA that they would de-certify.
"I took this threat on face value. I haven't investigated it further because it is not something I am going to have to face."
Most agents won't. Most replacement players don't have--or need--agents. They basically walk in out of the real world and are herded into the system for an uncertain incarceration.
The owners need these pawns to keep the tit-for-tat going.
"Replacement players are nothing but a threat to the [players] association," says Compte.
"When it is all over and done--if this is ever all over and done -- they will be left in the wings, out in the cold.
"It won't just be the other players who will shun them from now on. When it is over, it will be coaches, managers, clubs--nobody will want to have anything to do with them once this is all over."
Compte is sympathetic to the guys doing it as a last chance. Or for a chance to better their family financial situation.
Union members like Harris, still living in the corn flakes-in-water poverty of the minors, understand too. "Bless those guys," says Harris. "I think a lot of guys in the union understand."