Baseball's attitude is turn-off for some

March 24, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Bill Rush loves baseball. Loves it. He has loved it since he was a kid some 50 years ago.

He's happy that Opening Day is less than two weeks off.

He's eager to see how the Orioles do after a massive injection of Peter Angelos' dough.

There's nothing unusual about any of that in this town -- not with the Orioles now drawing 3 1/2 million-plus.

But Bill Rush is not like most of the herd that packs Camden Yards any time there's a game. He's deeply bothered by what's happening to his beloved baseball.

"I still love to follow the Orioles," he says. "I've been doing that for 30 years. That's in my blood now.

"But I'm really upset that the game is getting away from its basic integrity. Baseball has always had a magical quality that other sports don't have. The game had exactness, but it also had leisureliness.

"I used to love watching baseball at Memorial Stadium. The fans were there to see baseball. At Camden Yards, it's not like that. I went to a game there last year and five guys sitting behind me talked business the whole game. They socialized. They were constantly getting up.

"I hate the technological part of the game. The messages. The advertisements. The way they blast music at you to get your attention. It's as if they fear that if the fan is not entertained every minute, they're going to lose him."

Rush would hardly be one to complain about music. He's in the business. For 22 years he and a partner have owned the record store in the Rotunda. But he doesn't go to ball games for music.

"For me," he says, "the baseball is enough."

His concerns have been mounting for years. During the off-season something else happened that he says is "the last straw."

"It's the wild card thing and the three divisions in each major league," he says disgustedly. "This year eight teams will make the playoffs and two of those will be wild cards. That goes completely against what baseball is supposed to be all about.

"Baseball is a game for the long haul. You have to do it over 162 games. That's the charm of the game.

"A wild card team hasn't won anything. This year a wild card could win the World Series. That's terrible. I don't know why there hasn't been more of an outcry against it."

There were some who cried out. American League president Bobby Brown, who didn't have a vote, was one.

"I'm a dinosaur," Brown said. "I don't like any of it."

Of the 28 owners, the only one who voted against it was Texas' George Bush Jr.

"I made my arguments and I went down in flames," Bush said. "History will prove me right."

The other owners were determined to add another tier of playoffs to enrich themselves -- and, in the process, alienate fans like Baltimore's Bill Rush.

Rush is not one of those who goes into tirades over the players' multi-million salaries. He grew up like millions upon millions of kids, dreaming of becoming a ballplayer. OK, he didn't make it and these guys did. No problem.

But don't ask him to have any sympathy for them. He considers them very fortunate people indeed.

"I read an interview this spring with Rafael Palmeiro," Rush said, "about how he was unhappy that Texas allowed him to get away. Don't ask me to feel sorry for a guy making all those millions playing ball. That's ridiculous.

"At the same time there was another story in The Sun about a single mother with six kids. She has a Ph. D. and has taught English but she can't find a teaching job. So she has several part-time jobs including one selling hot dogs somewhere.

"Which do you think I'm more sympathetic to -- this well-educated woman who is doing whatever she can to support her kids, or Rafael Palmeiro? Please!"

In spite of everything, Rush continues to love what's left of the essence of the game.

"I don't go to many games anymore," he says. "I went to three games last year. I'll probably do the same this year. It's hard to get tickets. But the spirit's just not there."

Rush feels good about having a local man, Angelos, own the Orioles, but he doesn't see this club winning any championships.

"I think they have a good shot for second place in the East," he said, "but they have pitching problems.

"They're still suffering from the Glenn Davis trade. They're still trying to get Pete Harnisch back. Imagine if we still had Harnisch and Curt Schilling. And this Sid Fernandez is starting to sound like Glenn Davis all over again."

The Orioles will get along fine without more support from Bill Rush. But you have to wonder how many there are out there like him who are finding the spirit is just not there the way it used to be.

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