Jewish World Review August 29, 2002/ 21 Elul 5762

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Consumer Reports

Baseball beans its fans


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | My friend Al From Baltimore is hoping for a baseball strike on Aug. 30. He says, "If the owners are smart they'll replace all the players with minor-leaguers and keep the season going. That way, every team will be as crummy as the Orioles." Fine with me, but it's pure fantasy: no budding Triple-A star is going to jeopardize his future in the Major Leagues, and the salary that goes with it, to play in the bowels of say, Shea Stadium. Union thug Donald Fehr, who has amazingly eclipsed the inept MLB commissioner Bud Selig as the architect for baseball's demise, has his sheep so cowed that no athlete will cross a picket line.

I'm fatalistic about the impending "work stoppage," one that will further alienate millions of Americans who still read box scores in the daily papers, watch games on tv and spend a lot of money at ballparks. As I wrote in an article for The New York Sun last Friday, in the mid-70s, when I was a vendor at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, a bottle of beer sold for 60 cents, a Coke for 35 cents, a scorecard was a quarter and a dog was 75 cents. Sure, there's been inflation in the past generation, but like college tuition, the increase in the cost for three hours at the stadium has risen disproportionately. That's business, and owners have the right to charge what the market will bear, but it's unfathomably myopic for management and the players' union to treat the fans like trash.

Mike Freeman wrote a smart piece in Sunday's New York Times about the selfishness of the labor impasse that's of a piece with the corruption that occurs in corporate boardrooms, Congress and the AFL-CIO. Freeman derides both players and owners for trying to use the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 11 massacre to advance their cases. He says: "But some players keep talking about that date, using the tragedy as some sort of creepy rallying cry. 'Sept. 11 is a huge issue,' Minnesota's player representative, Denny Hocking, said. 'If there is no baseball on 9/11, it would be a huge slap in the face to all of those people who went through 9/11 firsthand.'

"Actually, it would not be an insult. It would simply confirm what we already know: many in the baseball establishment have severe selfish streaks. It hasn't quite dawned on the baseball brains that if there is no baseball being played while all of the tributes to the Sept. 11 victims are going on, few will be thinking of their sport."

Fehr's brainwashing sadly extends to almost all the players. As a Red Sox fan, I'm biased, but there's been no better pitcher than Pedro Martinez in the past 25 years; and that's no slight to Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson. Martinez is not only dominant on the mound, but he's a terrific man as well, tutoring his teammates, donating money and time to Boston charities and joshing with kids in the stands on days when he's not pitching.

But even Pedro, whose number my kids wear on their Sox t-shirts, came up with this corker in the Boston Herald last Saturday: "It would really be rough on a lot of people. Derek Lowe, having his best year in the big leagues, baseball in general, the fans, everybody else. I would feel really sorry if we would have to go on a strike. We are young and that is why we so far have achieved some of the things we have achieved and I have to back up my team. I support my team any time I have to go but I will be really, really extremely sorry for the fans after coming back and supporting us so well. In the long run, they are going to understand that what we are doing is to bring them something good in the future. It is not for us. It is not for our salaries. It's for the fans and the other teams that need to be on the competitive level. Hopefully everything will be solved."

Pedro, please. Of course it's about the players' salaries, that's what the dispute over the luxury tax is all about. Nothing about this self-destructive action is about the fans. As for the "competitive level" in baseball, that's just another myth propagated by the owners. The Mets are in last place in the NL East with a huge payroll; the Oakland A's are in first in AL West because of their superior young players, none of whom make as much dough as Mo Vaughn, Mike Hampton or the raft of players born-again skinflint Tom Hicks has lavished huge, wasted contracts on for the Texas Rangers. Baseball has never been competitive: If you were an American League fan in the 1950s, and didn't root for the Yanks, it was a decade of year-in, year-out frustration.

Instead of yapping about the strike, Pedro ought to fire up his teammates, the worst clutch team in baseball right now. The Sox play like a bunch of NPR-devotees who wear flowers in their hair.

SCROUNGING FOR AN AUDIENCE

How desperate is Time for new readers?

Apparently not content with the result of constant direct-mailing campaigns, the weekly has now resorted to spamming on the Internet. Certainly it's not been a proud year for Henry Luce's once-relevant magazine. With the one exception of pink-slipping columnist Margaret Carlson-would that Newsweek followed suit and send Anna Quindlen packing-Time's cover stories have either been fluff or irresponsible. A nadir was reached a few weeks ago when a "special report" claimed that the Clinton administration handed over a blueprint on how to dismantle Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda to President Bush's foreign policy team in the first months of 2001. Given Clinton's record on apprehending terrorists, the story was the immediate object of ridicule in Washington, DC.

So this is the message from William O. Riley I found in my e-mail box on Aug, 25. He writes: "Life is hectic. Frantic, even. And it's not just that there's not enough time in the day, although I'm sure that's as true for you as it is for me. [Can Riley be more condescending?] It's just that there are so many pitfalls in the world, so many things you have to know to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy, happy and thriving.

"You have to grasp the finer points of the new curriculum your local school board has adopted. You want to know the story behind the latest terror warnings. Know whether the latest hit movie is eye candy, intellectual sustenance or just plain unsuitable for preteens. Discover the truth behind the latest over-the-counter treatment for allergies. Know whether that tech stock is worth your hard-earned investment dollars.

"The list is endless. Who can keep up? Time magazine readers can. You know you can trust Time: Everything you need to know is in one place, completely accurate and scrupulously reliable, every single week. Bring sanity, safety and wisdom to your life with a completely RISK-FREE trial to Time at absolutely no cost, along with a FREE databank and a chance to get a FREE Levenger Time Guardian if you act fast.

"Once you've restored sanity to your life, you won't want to stop reading Time."

Yes, it is critical that "frantic" Americans read Time to find out if a movie is merely "eye candy." And while I agree it's criminal that the NEA has determined on this Sept. 11 students should not assign blame to anyone for last year's cataclysmic events, who can doubt that Time's editors agree with the union's morally indefensible decree?

As George Will wrote in last Sunday's Washington Post: "The National Education Association, the largest teachers union, usually concentrates on convincing legislators, against ample contrary evidence, that increasing the number and pay of teachers is certain to improve schools. But now the NEA has gone into wartime mode and become a sensitivity tutor for parents and teachers. The result makes one wish the NEA would stick to misleading legislators."

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith