Fans more than ready to call it a season

September 13, 1994|By BILL TANTON

Baseball's club owners don't have to worry about a public backlash by calling off the season.

At this point, a month into the players strike, that's what the fans want:

The end. Finis. No mas.

That's obvious from a survey taken of 80 persons who attended the September sports luncheon at J. Patrick's in Locust Point.

One nice thing about those get-togethers is that they provide a chance to hear what people feel about sports issues of the day.

Usually the luncheons feature an appearance by a personality such as Sparky Anderson, Ernie Harwell, Gary Williams, Mark Duffner, Chuck Thompson, Pete Angelos, Gene Corrigan or Frank Cashen.

This month I had the pleasure of serving on a sportswriters panel that turned the tables on the audience. We asked them the questions. Bear in mind that these people are sports fans.

Question: How many of you think the baseball season should be terminated now?

Result: The show of hands was 4-1 to call it off.

"It's football season now," insisted Luther Miller, an analyst with the state. "It's too late to restart the baseball season."

Most of the audience agreed, even though we've always had the World Series in October, yet another month or more into the football season.

Question: Why would you want the season resumed now?

Former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster raised his hand. "I think they ought to play the rest of the season for the sake of the little people who sell the tickets and the hot dogs," he said. "They need the income."

An admirable consideration, to be sure, but not enough to change opinions in the room. The owners and the players are the principals in this clash.

Question: How many of you are on the side of the owners?

Result: Seventy-five percent of the hands went up.

There were the usual comments about how outrageous it is for people to be on strike when they're earning an average of $1.2 million annually.

Question: Who's on the side of the players?

Result: A fair sprinkling of hands was raised.

"I'm on the players' side, probably because I remember what it was to be a player," said a tall, lean, gray-haired man.

This was Walt Budko, a Columbia University grad who came to Baltimore to play for the NBA Bullets from 1949-1953. His son, Pete, became a basketball star at Loyola High and the University of North Carolina.

"When I played," Walt Budko went on, "the players had no rights but we didn't know any better. We made -- if we were lucky -- $5,000 a year.

"As for endorsements, the only one I ever got was for Bennett's Prune Juice. The whole Bullets team posed for a picture advertising prune juice. Of course we had to smile.

"My pay was a case of Bennett's Prune Juice. We gave the stuff away to the kids at the door at Halloween."

One of the most revealing things about the survey was the response to this question:

How many of you don't give a damn whether the ballplayers come back or not?

Just about every hand in the room went up.

"I don't care if they never come back," said Tom Mooney, a Baltimore lawyer.

Question: The record shows that the fans come back, sometimes in record numbers, after a baseball work stoppage. How many of you believe more people will stay away after this strike?

Answer: Sixty percent of the hands went up. No one came forth to say he thought the fans would come back in as great numbers as ever.

One of the regulars at J. Patrick's is Monsignor Martin Schwallenberg, who gives the blessing before the meal. He also says Mass at Camden Yards on Sunday mornings for the ballplayers and the Orioles staff.

Question: Father Marty, whose side are you on -- the players' or the owners'?

"I have my thoughts on that," he said, "but I prefer to keep them private. I'm close to the players and to the owners.

"But there is one thing I would like to say. Through this whole thing, I haven't heard one person -- player or owner -- say he's sorry."

Monsignor Schwallenberg was a good amateur baseball player growing up in East Baltimore. Of course he loves the game. Most of the people in the room, at some level, also love it.

But major-league baseball has been taken away from these people and from many millions more. Now it appears there will not even be a World Series.

As the monsignor said, no one has issued a mea culpa.

It might not be a bad idea to issue one.

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