Owners' good names should be over, too

September 14, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

The baseball owners wanted this, understand.

They wanted to stick together for a change and not let those smug, so-and-so players beat them.

They wanted the world to listen to their cry that baseball has serious problems.

Incredibly, they're going to cancel the season and kill the World Series to make their points.

They're really going to do it.

Let's hope the blood on their hands never washes off.

Let's hope that history gets it right and their names become synonymous with the greed and stubborn stupidity that has so diminished the game.

Let's hope that when a kid reading "The Baseball Encyclopedia" in 50 years asks his father why there was no World Series in 1994, his father will say, "Because a silly man named Bud Selig killed it."

Let's hope that when Jerry Reinsdorf walks down the street, people point to him and say, "Look, there goes the clown who killed the World Series."

They deserve such shame.

Because they are indeed the ones who did it. Selig, Reinsdorf and the rest of the merry band of baseball owners are the ones who killed the season.

Not that Don Fehr and the players haven't contributed. They clearly underestimated the owners' surprising resolve. And they're the ones who chose to strike so late in the season, jeopardizing the playoffs.

But please understand: The players are basically just bystanders in the real disagreement that is causing the season-killing strike. That is the disagreement among the owners, who can't agree on a way to make their playing field more level.

The Yankees make $47 million a year in local television revenue. The Pirates make $7 million. The disparity doesn't prohibit the Pirates from scouting better, coaching better and fielding a better team, but it doesn't bode well for long-term fairness.

If the owners could agree on a way to share their money more fairly, as the owners in other sports do, they wouldn't be calling for a salary cap and there wouldn't be a strike and the pennant races would be heating up right now.

But the owners can't agree on a way to share their money. There are two reasons why:

* They don't trust each other, as well they shouldn't, considering that one of them is always willing to bump salaries even higher with some crazy contract.

* The ones with all the money don't want to give any up.

Because they don't trust each other and can't work out their own problems by themselves, they're making this big grandstand play for a salary cap and blaming the players for failing to cooperate. Thus, the strike that makes it appear that both sides are to blame.

Here is the truth: The players shouldn't even be involved in what is strictly a dispute among ownership. It's not their argument.

The players' principal contribution to the mess that baseball finds itself in is that they went ahead and signed the huge contracts the owners offered them.

Some crime.

To try to force them to share the blame is as cynical as cynical gets. Which is a pretty fair description of the owners.

First, they ruined the purity of the regular season with a six-division, wild-card format that was going to lead to the game's first "champion" with a losing record. Now, they have the gall to stand there and claim that their inability to agree on a way to share their money is more important than playing the World Series. A pox on their houses. Make it a double.

(As if we should believe a single word they say after they have colluded and cooked their books and cried wolf. They have no credibility. None.)

Understand this: There is enough money to go around. Baseball is a $5 billion industry. The owners just don't know how to run it. They have taken a grand and glorious institution and put cheap siding on it. Bud and Jerry moved in, and the neighborhood has gone to pot.

The shame is that there's nothing we can do except hope that history treats them appropriately. It would be little solace, but some, to know that Selig would forever be known as the man who killed the World Series. Let's see Ken Burns pretty that up.

Oh, Selig and friends will pay for this in other ways, yes. They're going to lose their antitrust exemption. They're going to watch the value of their franchises drop. But they'll survive that. Sharks always survive.

Let's just hope that their names are done indelible harm, that they become the classic symbols of the ruinous blowhards so prevalent in sports today. They deserve such an unattractive legacy.

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