Money tears to the heart of heartbreaking decision AN EMPTY FEELING BASEBALL 1994: THE END

September 15, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Baseball, the greatest game God gave man the opportunity to invent, has been blatantly betrayed by the money-changers in the marketplace, otherwise identified as the fat-cat owners of teams and the little boys in knickers, mentally speaking, who are out of control.

The grand American pastime has been so much a part of the fabric of the country and its people. But now it has been done in by the serpent of greed that has strangled it into a state of self-paralysis.

The major leagues have shut down in this eventful season of 1994 when so many good things were happening. Money once again has brought out the worst in the human species.

Hereafter, newspapers should treat the story with a more accurate label by placing it in the business pages, certainly not the sports section. This game, incomparable in history and tradition, has been devastated by what has happened.

Imagine, no pennant chase or stretch run through the month of September and, of course, the World Series has been wiped out. The only time that ever happened was in 1904 when the long-established National League, losers in the first World Series ever staged, decided not to risk further embarrassment by playing the then-upstart American League.

Two World Wars, the influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed over 400,000 citizens in 46 states, the financial depression of the early and even an earthquake in 1989 couldn't do to baseball what the club owners and their employees -- the millionaire players -- somehow managed to accomplish.

This lack of consideration for a public that has suffered emotional torment because of the abuse of power by the owners and players in jointly taking all the fun out of the game, means it must remain as an indelible mark on their conscience.

But the spectators of major-league baseball must come to realize this lesson that has had to be learned the hard way: Neither side cares for them. Instead, they are taken for granted in any and all conditions.

Owners and players expect all will be forgotten once they settle their monetary differences and the turnstiles are sure to return to normalcy.

It's an occasion that's long overdue for the fans to assert themselves and stay away, when the parks open again next year. They need to stay away, in a reaction of reciprocity, for the same number of games that are lost in the 1994 season.

Some owners, of course, are going to have more problems making their bank payments than heretofore. Numerous highly-leveraged operations are going to take a strong hit in the profit-and-loss column.

The fans need to get their shots in to send a graphic message to the offending parties, those same owners and players who have brought the game to a dead stop. How best to do that?

The answer is ready-made: Merely boycott baseball when it eventually resumes for the same length of time it failed to function in 1994. Baseball's avarice and the fact it violated the trust it built up for over a century is reason for this kind of a payback.

It was Bill Veeck Sr., father of the innovative Hall of Fame club owner, who once put the present situation in perfect perspective. Then the general manager of the Chicago Cubs, the elder Veeck said, "This has to be one great game to survive all the damage that has been done to it."

Those immortal words are applicable at this moment, a period for mourning its demise and expressing dismay over what has evolved in the strike action and resulting shutdown. The animosity cuts deeply into the game's heart and soul, as well it should.

All of us at times like this think of more pleasurable moments spent in ballparks across the land and we dwell on heroes of the past. We worshipped Hank Greenberg and, as a child, when we met him, he didn't let us down.

Greenberg, the towering first baseman of the Detroit Tigers, retraced his steps to sign an autograph book for a little boy -- a signature we still treasure as an ancient sportswriter. Every child and adult has similar recollections to prize and hold dear.

Too bad that major-league baseball, 1994, has sold away much of its inherited decency because of insatiable demands that have become inherent to the modern game and its self-serving )) ways.

Baseball, by what it has done, has violated its own heritage, insulted its followers and revealed itself for what it is -- a cold, rotten business. Its proud history has been tarnished and both the owners and players should be exiled to an island of miserable isolation as a penance for inflicting a despicable deed against the sporting element of society.

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