The coming of the baseball
season never fails to give rise to the most pleasant
kind of hope. Perhaps it has to do with the concurrent
arrival of spring, but it is nevertheless a feeling quite
its own. To point this out is not something newbaseball
is the national pastime for a reason. It has a mystical
quality that no other sport can boast, and within its
borders lie the answers to a hundred questions or more.
Every April the sport is reborn and, with it, so are its
devotees. No matter how desperate the situation had been
a season ago there is comfort in the knowledge that 162
is a very large number, and in the time it takes to play
that many games there will be moments of unspeakable joy.
You can count on it.
There will always be those
poor souls who simply cant, or refuse to, comprehend
baseballs innate joys. These are the ones who say
things like "Its boring; nothing happens." They
will never, no matter how many times it is explained,
understand that meaning often lies in the space between
actions. Many of these same people will go see Star
Wars: Episode II without understanding beforehand
that it will not be good. Its not that theyre
wrong, but they certainly dont get it.
Over the course of the
next six months this space will periodically be filled
with ruminations on the greatness of the game. Here at
the beginning the business is more troublesome. Through
a decades long pattern of mismanagement, shortsightedness,
and greed the custodians of the sport have pushed it to
the brink of becoming something it has never been before:
When the Major League Baseball
Players Association went on strike in 1994 many fans had
already begun to desert the game. A year-round sports
fix is easily satisfied by football and basketball, both
of which are meatier and more slickly packaged than baseball.
The strike, which forced the cancellation of the World
Series for the first time since WWII (when the reasons
were substantially better), was seen as a slap in the
face. With good reason, after allits hard
to sympathize with millionaires, let alone millionaires
who so wantonly stretch the definition of "labor union."
It took unprecedented on-field achievementsMark
McGwire breaking the once sacred single season home run
record, Cal Ripken playing an impossible number of consecutive
gamesto bring the sport back. But the reasons for
its meltdown were never addressed.
Now the labor contract
has once again expired. Nothing has changed since 94,
and if anything the problems have gotten worse. While
nobody is publicly suggesting another strike or a lockoutyet
the bargaining process has been less than friendly.
Commissioner Bud Seliga man whose idiocy/power matrix
is rivaled only by George W. Bushhas called for
the elimination of struggling franchises and made dubious
claims about baseballs fiscal woes. In turn, the
players union has consistently failed to make even the
smallest necessary concessions.
What weve got here
is failure to communicate, but not between players and
owners. They communicate just fine, even if their dialogue
takes the form of argument. The problem is that neither
side understands the position of the ordinary fan. Sports
teams ask a lot of their fans with high ticket prices
and six dollar cups of Miller Lite. All we ask in return
is that we are provided with the chance to enjoy good
competition. But if you live in Milwaukee, Florida, Baltimore,
Kansas City, or a handful of other places competition
is not something youre likely to see much of this
year. The gap between the wealthy teams and the poor teams
is so unbelievably large that it simply will not close
without intervention. Baseball needs a salary cap, and
needs it badly.
The owners would like this,
and its hard to sympathize with their side. They
are the reason that beer costs so much, and the reason
that even nosebleed seats are barely affordable. Still,
salaries are out of control. The players fought hard for
free agency and they deserve to reap its benefits. The
old system, under which teams essentially owned their
players, was wrong. Unfortunately the pendulum has swung
too far in the other direction. There is no reason that
the Yankees should be able to buy championships (and for
any Yankees fans who think this is not the case, youre
deluding yourselves) while the Expos, with one of the
finest minor league systems in the sport, go in every
year knowing to expect nothing. Its simply not right.
Perhaps baseball does have
too many teams, and perhaps the players are right to be
wary of giving up hard-earned rights. But the eternal
hope of spring has been fading a little more each year.
If the problems are not resolved this year, even 80 home
runs will not make up for the damage thats already