Baseball is a sport in trouble

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Did you hear the news? Baseball owners and players are going to start negotiating again, maybe around the end of the month.

Well, kiss my resin bag. What have these guys been doing since April? What have they been doing since last Aug. 12?

Nothing. No real meetings. No give-and-take. No new proposals.

While we're at it, they also seem -- as usual -- to be in no hurry.

Don't the empty seats tell them something?

Don't they get the message when ABC and NBC want to boot them off the air in favor of more beach babes and cop shows?

Don't they know that most of the fans who still care about the game . . . well, they are downright mad?

Don't they get it?

OK, Lenny Dykstra does. The Phillies star called the strike a "waste" and a "mistake." He said that tanking the World Series wasn't exactly the greatest marketing idea since Bat Day.

But the rest of these guys -- if they had brains, you'd call them idiots.

Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said that the strike was a success because the players didn't lose any of their free-agency rights.

Thank the Lord that these Boys of Summer aren't enslaved -- and so what if they also weren't working for the most important part of last season?

As for the owners, they are definitive proof that wealth doesn't necessarily imply intelligence or common sense. Listen to shill acting commissioner and Brewers owner Bud Selig discuss the aftershocks of the strike in USA Today:

"Being a fan myself and talking to other fans, I'd have to agree [that baseball hasn't fully recovered from the strike]. In a way, it's a compliment. In baseball, people really take it personally."

Huh?

This guy is supposed to be the leader of the game, and he believes it's a "compliment" that the paying customers are angry?

No wonder baseball is in trouble.

Why bring it up now, after the All-Star Game? Because behind the charming stories of the Indians' uprising, Hideo Nomo's fastball and Cal Ripken's streak, there is a sport in shambles.

A year ago, baseball was exactly in the same quagmire. There was no labor agreement. No one was talking about a settlement -- at least not the two sides who need to get this thing done.

The players were steeling themselves to protect civilization As They Know It, namely a free-agency and arbitration system that made Greg Swindell a $4.5 million player this year.

Meanwhile, the owners insist they can't pay the checks -- the same checks they insist upon writing. The small-market guys talk about dining at the local Salvation Army, and Selig does nothing to stop the rumor that baseball will lose $300 million this year.

Selig then says that the $1 billion salary-cap offer of last summer "is off the table." He adds: "The billion-dollar offer was based on continued growth of our industry. But that was in a different environment than we live today."

Well, Buddy Boy, who changed that environment? Who stopped the games and made basketball and football fans of half of today's kids? Who can't even start meaningful discussions about the financial future of baseball?

And while we're at it, quit calling baseball "the industry." It's a game, a sport. That is what fans are paying to see.

The auto industry is crucial to our society, but you can't sell tickets to watch guys assemble the cars at Marysville or Lordstown.

At least the players aren't threatening another strike. Not yet, anyway. The owners aren't going to lock out the union and raid the Northern League -- they tried that once, and it didn't work.

So maybe baseball will finish its season. Maybe we finally will see the new-and-diminished playoff system, which means that the Indians could have to play as many as 19 postseason games to win the World Series.

Then what?

The players are saying the same things now that they did a year ago. And the owners sound more embittered and entrenched than ever before.

Selig tells us that the players and owners have a "better understanding" of each other, even though there have been no negotiations since March 30.

Isn't that wonderful?

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