There will be no work stoppage in baseball this year. Owners and players have achieved peace in our time. Pardon us fans for not opening the champagne.
Perhaps you noticed we were the one party not included in the labor discussions. So here’s what one disgruntled fan would have told the owners and players, had he been invited to the table. It is what I suspect a lot of us are thinking.
So you avoided a strike. Bully for you. But for all of Bud Selig’s Neville Chamberlain-sounding pronouncements, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve just witnessed a baseball Munich. We’ve simply postponed a later day of reckoning.
Now, as in 1938, there are reasons why you guys can feel satisfied. You averted an all-out war. In your eight previous negotiations, you never failed to fail. At least now there will be baseball in Octoberand we can still hope that the Minnesota Twins, a team Bud wanted to kill, might play in the World Series this year.
Maybe you nudged baseball slightly in the right direction. But you didn’t really change anything fundamental. And the game’s economic fundamentals are what really need changing.
You say you’re restoring competitive balance. Your deal requires teams to transfer 34 percent of their net local revenueswhere big-market teams like the Yankees gain their biggest financial advantageinto a common pool. Meanwhile, your new “luxury tax” is supposed to inhibit wealthy clubs from snatching up all the best players.
But we noticed that the luxury tax kicks in only after a team’s payroll exceeds $117 million. Maybe that will sting the Yankees, who have a bigger payroll (over $170 million) than several clubs combined, but not many teams clear that threshold. And the threshold rises each year, to $136.5 million, through 2006. That tells us that you’ll let players’ salariesand ticket priceskeep soaring, too.
As before, big-market teams will enjoy a huge advantage over clubs like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Kansas City. In 1992, when the Pirates last reached the playoffs, their payroll was only 23 percent less than that of the Yankees. Today, the difference is more like 300 percent. Even with revenue sharing, the rich teams are likely to have payrolls twice as large as those of the Pirates and Devil Rays. And, as the players point out, nothing prevents you owners from simply pocketing the extra money while making no effort to improve your teams. You also provided a convenient loophole that lets you inflate operating expenses so you won’t have to pay as much in revenue sharing.
Sure, as the debunkers point out, large payrolls matter less than large brains. Fans of the Rangers and Mets, which boast the most expensive last-place teams money can buy, will tell you.
And, yeah, the low-budget A’s and Twins lead their divisions. But that’s deceiving. While big payrolls don’t guarantee success, consistently low payrolls ensure failure. Fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and (to the extent there are any fans) in Tampa have no hope today. Fans in Oakland and Minnesota have little hope that tomorrow they can keep players (like Jason Giambi) who propelled their short-term successes. Old fans will tell you that baseball is less about joy in October than about hope in April.
By the way, your drug-testing provision was the biggest joke of all. It leaves room for players to shoot steroids all winter and still look clean by spring training. We noticed.
And you bozos wonder why we’re mad. You say you preserved baseball for us. Mostly, you preserved the same old mess, and you preserved the shutout you’re pitching against us fans.
You just don’t get it. The Angels’ shortstop didn’t get it the other night when he wondered why fans in Anaheim were booing and throwing foul balls back onto the field. “We’re their team, supposedly,” he complained.
Well, no. You haven’t been our teams for a long time. You’re your team. You’re whores, players and owners alike. Rich whores. Rich, spoiled whores. You keep telling us you love the game, but you choose the money every time. You players want us to be loyal to you on our favorite teams, but almost all of you jump to new clubs if the mansions are bigger. You owners expect our loyalty, then you threaten to move unless we build a new ballpark for you.
Honestly, we don’t begrudge the $2.4 million annual salaries or the chance to make nice profits. We just hate your selfish whining about how bad you have it, as if you players were sweating on an assembly line and you owners weren’t cooking books in ways that would embarrass Enron.
We especially resent that your fat contracts and cushy stadium deals are borne by our straining backsand that it doesn’t bother you any more than a gnat bothers a horse. You can make your millions because we’ll pay $25 to sit in the outfield seats or the second upper deck and shell out $5 for a soft drink and spend a whole day’s pay to take our families to the ballpark. We still come because we love the game. We don’t see any such commitment from you.
You take whatever you think the market will bear. You don’t realize that baseball is also a trust. We like to watch the NFL more, but baseball matters to us in a way that pro football never will. It’s a way we stay connected with our past. A big reason we go to baseball games is that our parents took us, and their parents took them, and we hope our kids will take their kids. It’s not just the entertainment; it’s sure as hell not A-Rod or Clemens: It’s our heritage. It’s part of what makes us Americans. That’s why the idea that there’d be no baseball this Sept. 11 because of a tawdry money dispute was so abhorrent to so many.
You wanted to avoid a stoppage because you finally realized how much it could hurt you, not because you thought you owed it to us. You care about the money. We keep letting ourselves forget. Our bad.
We’re like the little kid who asked Shoeless Joe Jackson to “say it isn’t so” about the rumor that the White Sox had thrown the 1919 World Series. But your actions remind us that it really is so. We care about baseball much more than baseball’s caretakers care about us.
We could have handled a strike, had it led to real reform. We wouldn’t have minded had the owners simply let you players walk out, fired you like air-traffic controllers, offered you a chance to return for the major-league minimum salary (now $200,000), promoted their AAA farm teams to the bigs and reduced ticket prices accordingly. But we knew that idea was fantasy baseball in the extreme.
We’ll keep coming, most of us, though less often. You’ve finally gotten it through our thick skulls that baseball isn’t a game to be treasured but just business to be transacted. In the end, that realization may hurt you worse than any strike.
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Titans 20, Eagles 17
Don’t be surprised if this one goes the other way. The Eagles have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Their physical defenders do not fear Eddie George, and the Titans’ D will have trouble containing Donovan McNabb. The friendly confines of Nameless Coliseum may give Tennessee the edge.
49ers 24, Giants 20
Broncos 30, Rams 26
Colts 31, Jaguars 21
Cowboys 23, Texans 13
Vanderbilt 24, Furman 17
Tennessee 35, MTSU 23
Oklahoma 27, Alabama 7
Arkansas 24, Boise State 14
Miami 23, Florida 20