Daddy, what's a baseball strike?


August 04, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Allan Taublib stands at his seat behind home plate hoisting a homemade sign during the fifth inning with the Orioles trailing the Toronto Blue Jays by a run. The sign does not call for a rally, praise Cal or slur Cito; it poses a question:


Taublib, a 41-year-old man from Anne Arundel County, says he is having trouble making sense of the strike threat to his 9-year-old, Craig.

"He wanted to know, 'Dad what does this mean? What is a strike?' " Taublib says.

Put it on the list of mysteries of adult life, along with sex, death, mutual funds. Go tell a kid about the arcane economics of baseball, wherein owners -- who despite the brutal hardship of the business stay in the game for the good of the fans and the American Way -- say to their employees: Please, please, stop us before we pay you more money.

Craig doesn't get it. He has heard star players' salaries described in the sort of numbers usually associated with astronomy. What's the problem?

Dad tells the boy that the strike threat arose from a dispute between the players and the team owners, that the owners want more control over money.

"I don't know," says Craig, when asked what he makes of the impending strike, which threatens to interrupt his third season as an Orioles spectator. Then he shrugs his shoulders. The boy sleeps in a bedroom with orange walls and black accents. Cal Ripken is his favorite player. He's interested in baseball, not salary caps, revenue sharing, arbitration or competitive balance.

Kids are left out of all this. It's easy enough to get caught up weighing the owner-player arguments and forget that baseball has something vaguely to do with children. For a reminder, try showing up at the ballpark when the gates open 90 minutes before game time. Watch the scene.

The first kids into Camden Yards seldom walk. Usually they run from the right-field flag court into the vacant grandstands, hustle through the seats and cluster along the rails and around the Orioles' dugout as the home team finishes batting practice.

For those first moments, until the adults file in, the ballpark belongs to the players on the field and the kids packing the rails. You hear the crack of the bat, the chatter of the players around the batting cage, and so many children shouting for autographs.

"MR. PALMEIRO . . . MR. RIPKEN, MR. RIPKEN . . . BRADY . . . HEY, MIKE. . . ."

They're out on Sunday afternoon right on time. Strike, shmike. It's baseball in the daytime, baseball suited to a child's schedule. On the diamond are the heroes, close enough to hear their voices.

"I heard something about some guys were going on strike and baseball wouldn't be anymore," says Larry Billings, 13, of Lexington, Va., attending his first Orioles game Sunday and standing in line by the rail on the first base side hoping to get autographs from Ripken and Rafael Palmeiro.

And how did he hear about the strike threat?

"My mom told me one day."

And what does he think about it?

"It's really stupid," he says.

John Gutermuth, 11, of Pensacola, Fla., leans against the handrail in the aisle near the Orioles' dugout, also at his first Orioles game. He says he has heard there might be a strike, and appeared to be bored by the subject. Asked what it's about, he exhales a word: "Money."

The boy and his parents, Mark and Beth, drove about 20 hours to Baltimore, arriving on the previous Thursday. They drove past Camden Yards that night just to see the park from the outside.

"When we got here, the place was all lit up," says Gutermuth. "[John] started crying. He was so happy."

Jason Yarashes, 10, of Norfolk, Va., holds a baseball newly signed by Chris Hoiles and stands next to the field rail hoping to get Ripken's attention. His version of the labor dispute goes like this:

"Baseball players are mad because they're not being paid enough money by their owners and they're going to strike on August 12."

His father, Dave, confesses that he's not too clear on the specifics of the argument, either. He says he hasn't tried to explain it to his son, figuring kids are not interested.

"When it comes to the money aspects, they kind of blank that out," Yarashes says. "They care who hits home runs."

Emily Beckman, an articulate 15-year-old from Kensington, is more up on the subject. She's standing with the autograph hounds holding up this sign: "We support the players. SOLIDARITY."

The sign was suggested by her father, Steve, an international economist for the United Auto Workers in Washington, whose philosophy has apparently passed down a generation.

"The baseball players are workers like everyone else," Emily says. "They should be able to strike like anyone else. . . . I haven't heard that much about it, but that the players haven't been able to negotiate their contract."

Nicholas Nuzzi Jr. of Kitty Hawk, N.C., doesn't know labor history. He's 9 years old and attending his fifth Orioles game. His father has tickets for September games against the New York Yankees and fears those may by wiped out by the strike. The boy holds in both hands a pen and two open boxes, each containing a new baseball, the covers as white as milk.

"What is the strike?" asks Nicholas. His adult inquisitor informs that this means there would be no ballgames. He looks up with his green-blue eyes holding his baseballs like some supplicant at a shrine and actually says this:

"You mean baseball will end? You mean totally? No more?"

As if he's trying to grasp something cosmic -- the last sunrise or the disappearance of the moon. No, Nicholas, it may just end for a while.

"You mean it won't end for eternity?" he says. He really says that. "Just for the season?"

Hard to say, kid. And you probably wouldn't understand.

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