When the major league baseball players last went out on strike, our family was in Boston on vacation. We held in our hands three Red Sox tickets, purchased some months earlier for a game to coincide with our visit. For years I had wanted to see the Sox play in Fenway Park. Now, with wife and young son in tow, it was to happen.
On the very day of our game, the players union went out on strike. I vowed never to watch or show interest in a major league game ever again.
Then came the Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa duel, the Yankees' dream season and, foolish me (like many other fans), I took them all back.
Now here we are again. Strike date and all. August 30 and counting. The Mariners are locked in the closest battle in years. Curt Shilling and Randy Johnson are getting ready to singlehandedly take out the Damn Yankees again. The Braves have found the hitting to match their pitching. The Twins are showing us that small might be good after all. And we're looking at another strike?
They -- both players and owners -- tell us it's a labor dispute, no different than any other.
Yes, airline pilots sometimes go out on strike to passengers' great inconvenience, so to do truckers. But the last time I checked, it wasn't the hapless public that had ponied up the money to pay for those stymied planes and trucks. Major league teams play in ballparks bought and paid for by taxpayers, and that alone makes baseball strikes different.
And let's not stop there. Pilots and truckers don't claim to be stewards of the "national pasttime." They don't claim to be what fields of dreams are made of. No indeed, they only claim to be working stiffs who want a fair shake.
Greed. That's what major league baseball strikes are all about, what they have always been about. And there are enough culprits to fill an outfield. Even if there's some kind of solution by the time you read this, it's probably just a Band-Aid designed to salvage the season and what goodwill the sport has left.
Let's start with the owners: They say that unless they get concessions about revenue sharing and salaries, many teams will just go under. Columnist George Will, who recently sat on a commission to look into the matter, makes just this argument. He points out that on any given day, the Yankees (or, he might have added, the Rangers, Dodgers or Braves), sporting a payroll larger than most countries, take the field against another team (such as the Padres, Twins or Expos) who put out on the field a bunch of guys all making... less than $10 million a year! No wonder they play so badly.
Well, yes, George Steinbrenner is one of the culprits who pay the big bucks. The players, however, like George. They all hope against hope that "The Boss" will someday offer them a job. He is their hero. Yes, he does try to buy World Series, one after another, and it's been working pretty well.
The players suggest that all owners might just pay what "The Boss" pays. The other owners, those in the "small markets" say they can't -- then they go out and sell their teams for maybe five times what they paid for them.
These owners are the very same guys who ran a version of a slave labor camp until Curt Flood of the Cardinals placed his career on the line to fight against indentured servitude several decades back.
Not only have the owners themselves to blame, but they don't even have the courage to go out and get themselves a real commissioner to make the tough and disinterested calls, i.e. doing what's best for baseball. They drove out Fay Vincent because he crossed them, and then selected one of their own, a club owner (after all, this is a group of clubby guys) to "run" things, i.e. carry the water for the other owners. Here's a thought: Rudy Guiliani for commissioner. You think this thing wouldn't have been settled by now with him in charge?
But don't shed any tears for the players, the just-as-greedy bunch they are. They don't want much revenue sharing, and without revenue sharing the small market teams really can't compete. I call it the Green Bay Packer Rule: If you want teams like the Packers to survive, you have to see to it that they get some TV money from New York and Los Angeles. Now maybe you don't want teams like the Packers, or, say the Twins, to survive, but let's not kid ourselves.
The real question for the players is, are they playing in a league, or are they overpriced yahoos who are in the game only for the bucks?
A plague on both their houses. And this year in particular. The last thing this country needs to is work our way through the anniversary of 9/11 without baseball to remind us of better times.
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