Baseball lifers find life beyond games

September 16, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Relieved, saddened, perplexed, angered.

Such were the emotions expressed by baseball lifers after the announcement that officially terminated the 1994 baseball season. The grieving started long before Bud Selig took the podium.

Yet, the finality of it still stung.

"How could anybody have thought it would come to this?" said Jerry Hoffberger, Orioles owner from 1965 to 1979. "It's driving me nuts. . . . I was going to a ballgame Sept. 17. I was going to take my grandkids. My next game was Sept. 23. Sure I'm sad. I never thought this was going to be possible."

Former Orioles coach Jim Frey spent 43 years in the game as a player, scout, coach, manager, broadcaster and general manager. He is retired, living in Towson, playing a lot of golf, enjoying life. He figured it was time.

"If they resumed the season and played now, everybody would know it would be for the TV money from the World Series and playoffs," said Frey, the manager of the Chicago Cubs when they won a division title in 1984 and the GM when they did it in 1989.

"The credibility of the game would lose something," Frey said. "I don't think players could have ever gotten back into the right frame of mind. What were they going to do, come back and play for six days, play the playoffs and World Series, then stand up and say we're No. 1?

"They say the same words after every World Series, but they wouldn't have meant as much this year. It's not to preserve the season that they wanted to play the World Series. It was for the TV money. I think that would have been the reaction of most fans."

Why did it come to this?

Not because owners' revenues, which exceed $2 billion, are insufficient. Not because the average player salary of $1.2 million isn't enough. Not because a record 70 million people paid to watch major-league games in 1993. Not because new stadiums bringing back the charm of simpler times are popping up across the country. Not because franchises consistently are sold for tens of millions of dollars profit. Not because this season didn't generate interest.

On the contrary, Ken Griffey, Frank Thomas, Matt Williams, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken made this the most fascinating regular season in decades.

Which made the end painful, though there were some nice elements, too. "This was the first time I had a chance to see my kids go off to school for the first day of the year," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "It was nice, but I don't want to make an annual habit of it."

Selig's announcement was greeted throughout the country by a mixture of sadness and cynicism.

Jim Bouton, author of "Ball Four" and more recently "The Strike Zone," puts the onus squarely on the owners.

"The arrogance and the ignorance from these guys are monumental," said Bouton, a former pitcher. "Even if the salary cap is successful it'll take years and years before they ever get back what they've lost and the damage to the game. This will have a long-lasting effect. It's going to be [Walter] O'Malley moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn, only with every town in the country. None of these owners can escape what they've done."

Hoffberger and Frey expressed faith in the game's resilience.

"I don't really think it will hurt the game long-term," Hoffberger said. "I think at the first crack of the bat the people will be back, assuming it is settled amicably."

An amicable settlement. Therein lies the key, according to Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, one of the game's great ambassadors.

"If you end up with a winner and a loser, you are going to damage it so bad you're going to kill it," Anderson said. "If you have people sniping at each other, you can open wounds ain't no doctor gonna stich up. When you're under adversity, that is the time you must show the highest class you have in you. And if you do that, it's amazing how you can survive because people recognize class. They do not recognize crybabies."

Said Frey: "I don't think it will have a long-lasting effect on fans. We have a new generation of fans coming along all the time. I don't think the young kids coming along now are going to worry about the 1994 strike when they become baseball fans. The game will remain popular. It's played every day. People identify with that and it gives them something to talk about every day."

How did it come to this?

"I think each side misread the other side's position," Hoffberger said. "Once they did it they got locked into a lousy situation and couldn't get out."

The old Cubs double-play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was immortalized in poetry. The 1994 baseball season will be remembered as Selig-to-Ravitch-to-Fehr. The basic difference? This time, everybody dropped the ball.

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