HEARTLESSBASEBALL BRINGS NO JOY TO AMERICA

There goes your old friend baseball. You remember him from a happier time, when he walked with his head high, waving at children and swatting home runs. He is stooped over now, fat and bloated, drunk on his own greed. There is no saving him. No one even wants to try.

There goes your old friend baseball. The 1994 season is officially over, tossed away like leftovers, without a climax, without a winner, but with plenty of losers, a roomful of men who are so interested in getting the best sound bite on television they never even notice a grand tradition squashing beneath their feet.

“It is very hard to articulate the poignancy of this moment,” sighed a puppet named Bud Selig, who, in canceling the season, lived up to his role as
“acting” commissioner. “Baseball has changed like other industries. We cannot continue to do business as usual. . . .”

And minutes later, in New York, the players’ mouthpiece, Donald Fehr, responded this way: “What do you expect from a cartel?”

Who are these men, you want to shout. Who are these navy blue suits and maroon ties and pasty skins that look as if they’ve never seen the warmth of an August afternoon, where baseball used to live? Who are these men? What right do they have to command something that was once such a part of the American quilt that sewed together children from Spokane to Providence on a single summer night, sitting by the radio, marking their blue-lined scorecards, listening to announcers bellow, “It’s a long fly ball, deep to left! . . . “

When there was nothing else to bring joy to the masses, there was baseball. When there was nothing else to unite father and son, there was baseball. When there was nothing for an old man or woman to fill the lonely night, there was baseball. It was, above all else, a metronome of American life, an unbroken ritual from April to October. This has always been what makes it important. Not the latest pitching star, or the newest owner — but the assurance that life went on, that the seasons flowed, that players went from wiping sweat to wearing long sleeves to finally, on the last day, leaping into a happy pile. It was our nation’s growth chart.

Who are these men? They have seized control, and it’s like giving the car keys to a bunch of 7-year-olds. Canceled the season?

Do they know what they’ve done?

Fall of the Fall Classic

There goes your old friend the World Series. There will be no annual visit this October. No letting the kids stay up late, no cutting out box scores and putting them in a scrapbook, no screaming fans, no crowded bars, no soldiers overseas huddled around a radio, eyes closed, fists clenched, whispering, “Get

a hit . . . get a hit.” The Fall Classic has survived so much stronger adversity. It has filled rosters during two World Wars, when healthy young men were in low supply. It has filled stadiums during the Depression. It has endured scandals from the outside and the inside and has even endured midseason work stoppages and yet, autumn after autumn, it was there, something you could count on: falling leaves, children in school clothes, a champion in baseball.

Now the leaves fall and kids are in school and the stadiums are empty. They’ve been since Aug. 12, when this strike began, when a union of players
— not one of them earning less than $109,000 a year, some earning upward of
$8 million — decided they simply can’t live with what their bosses were suggesting, which was a limit on their salaries.

And so they left. And for weeks both sides postured and posed and swallowed network air time as if it were chocolate. They spoke passionately, but they were dedicated to themselves, not the game, and it is their own interests that they serve today.

“The problem is complex,” they will tell you, and they’ll prattle on about indexes and revenue sharing and small markets and cable. But it is all money, it is only money, and there is more than enough money to make all of them happy, owners and players, if they were the kind of people who could accept that no one doubles his income forever.

They are not. This is not even about right and wrong anymore. It’s about respect for the game, the way firefighters respect their job, the way police don’t go on strike. That respect is gone. Anything is possible.

“This is not about greedy owners versus greedy players,” Selig insisted.
“This is about two sides trying to make adjustment to economic conditions. In the end, all will be better off, mainly the fans.”

The fans, he said?

You don’t know whether to cry, or throw up.

Not one for the books

There goes your old friend history. More than any other sport, baseball keeps track of its efforts. There were strong men this year who threatened hallowed baseball records: Ken Griffey Jr. and Matt Williams, rattling the cage of Roger Maris and his 61 home runs. There was Tony Gwynn, out in San Diego, knocking on the door of a .400 batting average, something not achieved since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

All that is gone now, wiped like chalk from a classroom board. You need a season to make a record. You need games to make a season.

Since 1904, baseball has always ended in a city celebration. Some school kid had his favorite memory made with the last pitch. Some family went to the parade and took pictures. Who will remember 1994 that way? No one. It might as well have never existed.

There’s a story about this sport that goes back to President Franklin Roosevelt, who is said to have telephoned Joseph Stalin one night. This was in the days when America and Russia got along. The call took awhile to place. Finally, when the connection was made, this is what the president said:

“Hello, Joe? It’s Frank. Giants three, Dodgers nothing.”

We don’t tell stories like that anymore. We don’t have them to tell. Baseball was a heartbeat, and a heartbeat will forgive you, it will let you speed it up, even skip it for a moment, it will keep on going, and be there when you catch up, always, forever — unless you stop the heart.

They have stopped the heart of this sport. And in so doing, they set a precedent for all the money-grubbers that might own it in the future: If all else fails, it’s all right to cancel the season. The hell with it. That’s the history owners and players make today.

There goes your old friend baseball. You can’t help him. You can’t reach him. You can’t even recognize him anymore.

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