Not in church, guys!

Russell Baker

September 09, 1992|By Russell Baker

THE newspapers say the baseball owners pressured the baseball commissioner into resigning. I want to say, "Hold it right there, newspapers. How can baseball be owned?"

I have been thoroughly soaked, marinated you might say, in the propaganda of baseball. When you say "baseball" to me, I think of church, and not just because the average baseball game nowadays lasts longer than a month of Sundays. It's "baseball owners" that puzzle me. Church can't be owned, can it?

When you say "baseball" to me, I think of the Fourth of July, the flag and the Gettysburg Address. I wouldn't want to live in an America where the newspapers spoke of the "Fourth of July ownership" or "Gettysburg Address owners" as though it weren't repugnant to have sacred matters resting in capitalism's sweaty paw.

When you say "baseball" to me, I think of hot dogs and apple pie and the good old summertime when I don't care if I never get back, and so on. I am talking real, true, genuine, authentic, wholesome, crunchy American goodness.

I hope never to see the day when real, true, genuine, etcetera American goodness can be captured by a band of entrepreneurs so suspicious of each other that they need an American Goodness commissioner to keep them from doing something terrible to that goodness.

Yet this apparently is what has happened to baseball. I had begun to suspect something like this was afoot after making a pilgrimage to the new temple of the Baltimore Orioles, known in Maryland as Oriole Park At Camden Yards Where Cal Ripken Jr. And Assorted Other Ripkens Are On Display.

As one who remembers that 50 cents bought a pretty good seat when "Pooch" Puccinelli, Art Graham, Murray Howell & Company played at old Oriole Park on 29th Street, I was startled at the $12 price for a seat in the new shrine. Anybody who has ever watched a baseball game through a mail slot will know what this seat was like.

There were plenty of seats from which a lot of the game could be seen, but you apparently had to put big, big bucks in the plate to get one.

Or so I guessed after noticing that most bore the names of corporations, which led me to guess that they'd been bought by the kind of people permitted to charge entertainment costs off their income tax, from which I guessed that, in addition to paying for my own seat, I was also contributing to the pleasure of those who had seats with a view.

Five dollars to park the car didn't seem baldly felonious to one who has paid to park the car in midtown Manhattan, but the price on everything edible and potable seemed to start at $2.75. After a quick calculation on the cost of enough hot dogs, peanuts and soda pop to fill four children, I was so grateful I hadn't brought even one that I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to the baseball ex-commissioner.

The reverential mood became harder to support when someone told me that Oriole Park At Camden Yards was built at public expense. I knew, of course, that football people extort taxpayers to build them nice places to make money in.

That's football. What else should we expect of a business whose purpose is to amuse mass audiences with television spectacles in which huge men, unidentifiable except by large numbers on their backs, knock each other down?

Football is business. Business is expected to extort subsidies from the public in return for helping finance the election of zTC statesmen who will stop public handouts to the unworthy.

Baseball, however, is church. That's why these news stories about baseball being owned are so distressing.

The owner, I gather, is CBS. It paid the teams a bankruptive sum for rights to televise games, then didn't do it after deciding that golf, tennis and bowling were lots more fun to watch, even though golf lasts even longer than baseball.

The CBS gold was divvied up among the players, leaving not much for the middlemen who pass the millions from CBS to shortstops, relievers, pitchers and all.

It's these middlemen who call themselves "owners." Blasphemy, not baseball, is their game.

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.

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