KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
a strike date is set, and the end of the season
is nigh. In Minnesota, the pain is especially
acute, as fans wonder if the Twins will be the
next incarnation of the '94 Expos. The questions
haunt every baseball fan: Why can't the owners
get their house in order? Don't the players care?
As usual, the pundits are brimming with lousy ideas. Thanks to a free subscription (don't ask us why), we've discovered that USA Today's Paul White is absolutely giddy over the fact that the strike is prompting both sides to begin "good, old-fashioned labor negotiations". As for the rest, they write using the Toll House recipe: first two paragraphs, "players greedy". Second two paragraphs, "owners mean". Final paragraph: "can't we just fix this thing?" Fold in a bunch of clichés about the dastardly Bud Selig and drizzle in some Donald Fehr as Jabba the Hutt and you've got a dozen columns that taste pretty much the same. Satisfying for a moment, but in the end just empty calories.
We say: support the players. Support the strike. Now, just 'cause we hail from Michigan, fatherland of the labor movement, doesn't mean that we're looking at this solely on a labor basis. We're not. And we're not unaware of the fact that the players seem to be growing more and more distant from their fan base. However, even though the players appear to be rich, greedy bastards, they are not, by our standards, contemptuous liars. From the beginning of time, the owners have pretty much treated player and fan alike as if they weren't anything more than sharecroppers begging for a extra sack of seed. It was the owners (and Kenesaw Mountain Landis) who kept African Americans from playing. It was O'Malley and Stoneham who tore the heart out of New York. Hell, as a group they even kicked out Bill Veeck, the only decent owner ever to sit on the throne. As time marches on, they've only grown worse, blackmailing cities into taxpayer funded stadiums. Players didn't cancel the 1994 season. None of them likes the idea of contraction. Unlike the owners, we know exactly how much money each player makes. And above all we know what they want: namely, to be able to work and make a great salary, without limitations.
Oddly enough, the latter goal seems to rankle fans the most. So often we hear that Alex Rodriguez makes $25 million a year, which is bad. Somehow it's not bad that Arnold Schwarzenegger makes just as much for garbage like
well, like everything he does. Rodriguez performs brilliantly; Schwarzenegger does not. But doesn't Rodriguez's salary raise the price of tickets? Well, the price of hiring the Schwarzeneggers keeps the studios obsessed with their bottom line, forcing them to produce more garbage like "Collateral Damage" than gems like "L.A. Confidential". Furthermore, Rodriguez's career will be over by the time he's 40. Sadly, Arnold's keeps on rolling, probably until he's dead. Fans also forget that Rodriguez did not raise the bar on his salary: the Texas Rangers did. The union only determines base salary. Yes, yes, we've heard that the money distances players from the common fan. But, again, the bloated salaries of movie stars doesn't seem to do the same. For some reason we all want to live in Brooklyn in 1947 when Duke Snyder lived next door and Jackie Robinson spent his off-season selling men's clothes to feed himself. Well, those days are over.
Then comes the weakest plea for the owners: that player salaries are bankrupting the small teams. We've said it before and we'll say it again: the owners are making money. In fact, we believe that not a single baseball team is losing money. Not one dime. If you seek proof, don't turn to us. The burden of proof is on the owners. Make no mistake, Bud Selig is easily the most powerful owner since Kenesaw Mountain Landis, probably even more so. His strategy is brilliant, and it's straight from Goebbels' notebook: a lie repeated often enough becomes truth. Selig says all but four teams are losing money, in spite of the fact that logic (and Fortune Magazine) dictate otherwise. Two teams won't make payroll, he says, without saying which ones. And, of course, there's contraction: two teams must go, never mind which ones, you can figure it out yourself, wink, wink. Shouldn't someone ask Selig to prove these statements? To prove the Twins and Expos are on the chopping block? To point to the teams in the red and show us some hard facts to back it up? For you better believe that if Selig could open the books and show the hard facts, that would be the end of the discussion. But the Commish doesn't have these numbers. What he does have is a press corps who follow the party line, asking instead: which teams will fail to meet payroll? Who is losing money? This serves to create the impression that baseball needs public help and free stadiums. Baseball will stop 'losing' money as soon as a) the unions are reined in and b) every team has a new stadium funded by the public.
With that in mind, we believe that if the players' demands aren't met, they should go on strike. And they should still play baseball.
If the strike occurs August 30, and there is no settlement, then the players should allow the owners to cancel the 'official baseball season'. Then, they should prepare to play a clandestine playoff and World Series a month later. This isn't just a pipe dream, it's good baseball, good business, and good politics.
It's good baseball because we believe that this show would be talked about for years. Think of an alternative Series without owners. Speculate about the debates over whether or not to include the games in the official statistics. Thrill to the notion of being able to say 'I was there!', at a World Series without owners. It almost makes us swoon.
Business-wise, it's ideal. More than anything else, it is imperative that the players union remains strong if only to keep a system of checks and balances on an ownership cabal that has, throughout history, never had baseball's best interests at heart.
but not least, it behooves the union to understand
that destroying a season is definitely not beneficial
to anyone, least of all themselves. Eventually,
fans will give upunlike nurses, baseball
is not essential, and we can endure life without
professional ball if we need to. The players cannot.
It is time for the union to show some political
A difficult plan, but hardly impossible. Unlike any other worker, baseball players can still provide their services without the infrastructure that management provides. Autoworkers, air-traffic controllers and the like have no such luxury. The players could wear uniforms that read simply "Minnesota", "New York", "Seattle", etc. They could play in alternative sites or, since we're going all the way, sue to play in the Metrodome, Safeco Field, etc. After all, they are publicly-owned stadiums.
Playing ball during a strike would show that the power of baseball lies in its players, and its fans. If this strikes your fancy, don't just nod in approval, but write to Donald Fehr and the player representatives of your favorite team, and tell them you support this plan.
DIG THIS CRAZY PAD!
"Instead of looking at [the Metrodome] as yet another abhorrent bastardization of baseball architecture, even die-hard traditionalists came to view it as a cozy, ol'-time ballpark..." The 1988 Elias Baseball Analyst
There's nothing like living in a city with a team gunning for the pennant. Twins fans are delirious this year, for a million reasons. The only problem with baseball in Minnesotaother than worrying about the strikeis the unending din of local sportswriters grumbling about the Dome. Worse, their constant gripes have had an effect on not a few of the locals. Over and over we hear that sad refrain that the Dome must go, and what we all need is a beautiful, open-air park like Baltimore's. We say, why not give the old broad a chance? Fact is, the Dome is one of the most colorful places to play baseball, and we might just miss it when it's gone.
Frankly, we're not so keen on the new stadiums. Consider Detroit's Comerica Park, with its gaudy merry-go-round and Ferris wheel, or Arizona's Bank One Ballpark, with its goofy pool and the retractable roof sprinkling air-conditioning onto the bleachers. Those pleasure palaces have failed on nearly every level to achieve the pleasures of the old-time stadiums. There's no genuine character and the distractions keep the kids from developing a love for the sport.
Tiger Stadium, rickety though it was, succeeded brilliantly. Most people we knewwho didn't like baseballwere often disappointed to find the place was dusty, that the beer-soaked concrete floors were sticky enough to tear the soles off your Chuck Taylors, and that it could be gloomy in those dark stands. But baseball fans loved the fact that Tiger Stadium, looking like so many of Detroit's run-down warehouses, afforded you the best seats in all of baseball. No, Tiger Stadium did not open out to some tremendous view of downtown. Who wants views? At Comerica Park your view is of the twelve block square of abandoned skyscrapers, reminding you that Detroit remains a city in trouble. You didn't see anything in Tiger Stadium blue sky above, the diamond below, and you left all your frustrations outside. It was perfect.
The Metrodome has a similar charm. While watching the Twins dispatch the Red Sox last Sunday, we couldn't help but overhear some lucky father explain, in loving detail, how this wicked game operates. The tykenot more than eightloved it, asked questions, and already found his favorite player (Guzmanthe pirate beard and the baggy pajamas couldn't be beat). To the kid, the Dome had personality. He was too young to hate the baggie in right, wobbling with from every ball that whacks its hide. When the turf shot the ball across the outfield, he didn't lament the lack of green grass. No, this innocent didn't know that he was supposed to hate those left field seats, fashioned for football, facing straight ahead and giving you a kink in the back. And appreciated the dirty big top roof as much as we do, especially when the sunlight undulates from above. We wish he'd been there during a thunderstorm, when the heavy rain reminds us of the days in our old fold-up trailer-tent during a washed out camping trip. His father pointed out the blurry photos of the Twins in years past, including the only dull photo of Jackie Robinson in existence. Although I didn't see them go, I bet that boy got a real kick out of the great gusts of pressurized air that ushered him on his way. Sure, the Dome's a mess and ugly in spots. But like the old stadiums, the Metrodome was designed for functionality, and its quirks not only give the Twins advantages, but they make the place endearing in its own way. No merry-go-round interfered with Junior's first sight of the diamond. Nor did a wading pool compete with his learning about strikes and balls. Like Fenway Park, in the Dome it's nothing but baseball.
Beware of what you wish for, Twins fans. For we doubt new stadium would have many legitimate charms. Oh, they might try to build in some little eccentricities, like the dopes who put an incline in the centerfield of Houston's former Enron Field. At best, geography gives the new stadiums their characteristics, like San Francisco's short right field fence, kept in check because of the Bay. That wouldn't happen here in the flats of the Midwest, as it hasn't in Milwaukee and Detroit. Our Dome has character by accident, which is the best of all.
Ask yourself these questions: Do you really want to shell out a bundle for every seat and parking space in the new stadium? Do you want to have yet another corporate-named theme park (Pillsbury Field? Honeywell Yards? US Bank Park?) Most importantly, do you really want to see the Twins fail, year after year?
C'mon, there's no way on earth anyone can predict that. True. But it's also true that the Dome has been a great friend to the Twins. Would Jack Morris have been able to endure ten innings in the chill of that October evening? Would the Twins have won every single home game in both Series? We doubt it. And once you've given that away, it's gone for good.
Maybe it would be a dream to sit out in the sun and watch the Twins on a bright Thursday afternoon. But it'd also be great if movies were free and they served decent popcorn. So instead of cursing our luck that the Twins play in the Humphreydome, maybe we should be thankful that our team plays in one of the most friendlyand characteristicstadiums in America.
THE EYE WANDERS
It's official: if there is a season, the Twins will have a thrilling one. For they'll either win their division, or fall, Icarus-like, enduring of the greatest collapses in sports history. That would also be keen. Early in the season, we predicted that the Twins would win their division with a losing record. Well, they could still falter a bit and finish with an 85-77 record, same as last year, same as their glorious '87 season. They'd have to go 11-25 the rest of the way, which we all know is possible. It's happened before, to our beloved '88 Tigers. In one of the most amazing late-season swoons, the Tigers went 3-17 beginning on August 21. Ouch. And we're superstitious: the media and fans have been saying the Twins are a lock a bit too much for our taste. If Chicago went a 26-9 tear in the same stretch, you could see some fireworks. With teams like Seattle, Oakland, and even Chicago coming down the pike, this might not be the runaway everyone expects.
Speaking of the evil eye, it's almost frightening the bad luck associated with the Cardinals this year. With two more former players passing on, one wonders how the Cards will be able to endure through the end. No, Darrell Porter wasn't exactly the backbone of the team's past players, and Enos Slaughter was nearing his end anyway. But superstition plays a large part in the chemistry of a team. And if the Cards start losing in weird ways, well
There's been quite a bit of chatter about what would be lost in the event of a strike, but, really, aside from the local heroes, this season pales in comparison to the last. Seattle, Boston, New York, same old story, day in and day out. The American League West races are intriguing, but in the National League, the gaps between the playoff-bound and the has-beens are widening. When everyone keeps fretting over the strike's threat to Barry Bond's climb toward Aaron's record (still a good three years away), then you know this year's not one for the ages.
T.S. Eliot once claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he must not have been a baseball fan. August sits high on the throne of miserable months in the world of baseball. Too far from the postseason for the top-dogs to get comfortable, and yet deep enough in for the bottom-feeders to know that it's all over. It's hot, miserable, and often times just plain tedious. In fact, we believe it's the worst month of the year in all regards. School's on its way, the garden's all rough and beat up, and the movies stink.
Same thing goes with sportswriting. There are but two articles of interest in the past month, the first being an excellent interview with Marvin Miller, in USA Today of all places (online edition). Straight from the local Minneapolis City Pages (online edition) Brad Zellar's article "From Father to Son" sums up, with his characteristic style, what baseball means to us, especially in these troubled times. That he does so without the usual syrup makes it a true gem.
We also turn your attention to the book pick this week: Veeck as in Wreck, perhaps the most entertaining and intelligent book written on how baseball is run, and what it means. If only Veeck were around today! Unlike most lovers of the game, he doesn't get wallowed in sentiment, and knew that baseball is a business, that it needed to attract its fans and not take them for granted. There's not a chapter that doesn't offer profound observations on the history, the business, and the philosophy of baseball. Wreck should be required reading for anyone interested in this great sport.
Remember to write and let us know your favorite books and articles on the fabulous sport.