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Villanueva hopeful union sets right tone with new commish

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Updated: August 17, 2014 9:58PM



Rich Renteria, the Florida Marlins infielder who would one day become Rick Renteria, the Cubs manager, had returned from a hamstring injury less than week earlier when he took over for Gary Sheffield at third base in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the seventh, he grounded out to short. In the eighth, the South Florida rain finally ended the game early. The Marlins lost.

Renteria lost more. He never played another big-league game.

That was 20 years ago Monday. The players walked out on strike after that day’s games, triggering the labor stoppage that took out a World Series, and, it turned out, a 32-year-old infielder’s career.

‘‘We thought it was going to last only [a couple weeks]. We stuck around,’’ he said. ‘‘Then it kept going, and we packed up and went home. And then, sheesh, it lasted a long time.’’

Renteria claims no bitterness.

‘‘I think all the players have the benefits that are borne of all those moments,’’ he said. ‘‘It was what it was.’’

It is with sacrifices such as Renteria’s in mind that Cubs veteran Carlos Villanueva goes to Manhattan this week, with rookies Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez in tow, for meetings at the players’ union office starting Friday, the day after Major League Baseball is expected to determine Bud Selig’s replacement as commissioner.

Villanueva, a Cubs player rep and a member of the union’s executive committee, typically visits the union office when the team goes to New York. This time, the union has a scheduled meeting, he said, for news and ‘‘updates’’ on issues and the new commissioner, who will be in charge for negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement beginning sometime next year.

The three finalists are Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, MLB business exec Tim Brosnan and Selig’s candidate, Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer.

‘‘We don’t know who we’re going to be dealing with from the commissioner’s side,’’ Villanueva said. ‘‘Hopefully it’s somebody that’ll come in and understand it’s all about the people, and we want to keep our game obviously going. Nobody wants a lockout or strike.

‘‘There’s still a lot of people around that remember those dark days [of 1994-95]. I was probably 9 or 10 years old in ’94, and I was a super baseball fan. And I couldn’t understand why we weren’t playing ball. And my dad tried to explain the best he could. But for a kid like me, I was super sad. Being in a position where I am now, I feel a little bit of responsibility now to not let that happen again.’’

For the first time since long before the ’94-’95 stoppage, both sides will have new leadership, with Tony Clark having succeeded the late Michael Weiner as head of the union.

And for the first time since the threat of contraction and fights over drug testing more than a decade ago, lasting labor peace could be challenged. Issues include free-agent compensation and strict draft-pick slotting that resulted in the Houston Astros’ reneging on a predraft agreement with the No. 1 pick over a disputed medical exam.

‘‘There are things that we’re going to try to tweak a little bit,’’ Villanueva said. ‘‘I’m not very worried yet. I feel good about it. I was a little worried last time because it was my first time [involved in the process]. . . .

‘‘If we have a new guy and MLB has a new guy, I don’t think that should matter. I don’t think anybody at this point is going to come in and try to flex their muscles because we know we have a common goal at the end, to keep making money as a group, as a brand. And we want to keep expanding. And we can’t expand individually. We have to work together.’’

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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