Strike posturing is the worst game of all

August 04, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

The main drawbacks with stories concerning baseball strikes are two: They invade previously unexplored regions of boredom, tedium and monotony and, worse, usually go unread.

Nevertheless . . .

Easily the most dreaded times as the millionaires and multimillionaires shine up their armor and sharpen their lances in preparation for specious combat through their spokesmen are the weeks, days and minutes leading up to the deadline, eight days hence.

Rattle-rattle-rattle go the swords on one side. Rattle-rattle-rattle is the reply from the other. Each vows that they're willing to go to the mattresses on the top floor of an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn rather than give in. Over the last couple of days alone, at least three nationally syndicated TV shows that usually concern themselves with subjects of real importance have given 30 minutes to an hour to the tri-annual squabble.

The issues are reviewed and discussed endlessly, but not with the meaning anyone can relate to. Questions are asked that never seem to get answered (at least coherently). Meanwhile, the typical fan sits there with a hazy or erroneous understanding of what's going on.

For example, a gent in one of those "what the fans are saying" features, says, "I think the players have reached the limit of asking for too much money. They really don't deserve more than they have. I'm very angry. The strike is wrong. They are going to destroy and bankrupt the game by asking for too much."

Only problem with this line of thinking is the players aren't asking for anything (seriously). And this isn't the first time such has been the case. But most fans don't have the time or inclination to delve into the issues. They have enough of that stuff in their day-to-day lives.

Off their seven-strike winning streak, the players couldn't be in better position if the patron saint of diamond labor, Marvin Miller, had been allowed to author the rules and regulations of all the game's off-field activities.

After negotiating away almost anything worth mentioning over the years, management finds itself in the same old fix when time comes to work out another players' agreement with the hirelings. It consistently screams that, generally speaking, clubs are losing money and please, pretty please, won't you greedy players give back some of the things we gave you out of the goodness of our hearts previously?

Even before discussions commence, the owners will scream about the money they're losing, going on the record this time as saying 19 of their 28 lodge members are operating in the red.

Records indicate that the business of baseball is a $2 billion industry now, four times what it was a decade ago. The combined profit was a paltry $50 million last year. Over the last eight years, though, the owners have cleared $675 million and this doesn't include the $200 million they had to pay after losing a collusion suit.

Rarely does management have the gall to even suggest that labor give back gains resulting from tough negotiation. Imagine some cufflinks type from the Ivy League looking across the table at BB-eyed Jimmy Hoffa and suggesting that the former Teamsters boss let loose of a benefit or two. Yet, that's always the owners opening move in this chess game.

Negotiating session follows negotiating session as the two unbending sides try to give the impression that they're moving heaven and earth to get this thing settled "for the fans." It's always a part of the act that the negotiators will break in the early evening for "only a bite to eat" before returning and hammering away at it until well past midnight.

A long-held theory is that the spokesmen for each side show up in a suite, go to separate rooms and spend the afternoon watching the soaps and Oprah. When they add the evening sessions, it's generally for the purpose of ordering up a couple of pay-per-view movies.

Unproductive. Slight gains were made. We're plowing ahead. These progress reports are rendered every few hours similar to a weathercaster reading the latest from the U.S. Weather Bureau: "It may rain but, then again, it may not. Bring an umbrella with you just in case."

The boycott season is in full swing, the first shot being fired Tuesday with a movement in San Francisco suggesting fans eat their tickets and stay away from the Giants-Cincinnati game. Yeah, a guy with a couple of expensive box seats is apt to go along facing the prospect of baseball being finis this year.

Countless people will say and write that the biggest losers in this never-ending debacle is the fan, the thinking being that perhaps this will push the rivals into some sort of agreement. Of course it's bull.

But sooner or later the show will resume and the first thing spokesmen from both sides will have the guts to say is, "The biggest winner in this negotiation was the fans." Right.

My eyes are glazing over; yours must be closed by now.

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