Looking for baseball's dire 'economic problem'

September 21, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

In formally announcing the end of this baseball season, somebody named Bud Selig, who represents the franchise owners, went on TV and used the phrase "terrible economic problem" to describe their plight.

I have nothing but compassion for those who have a "terrible economic problem." And while I'm not a businessman, I know a little bit about "economic problems." Not necessarily "terrible," but somewhat uncomfortable.

During my childhood, there were times when we could barely pay the rent on our Armitage Avenue flat and couldn't afford our own telephone. A car? We didn't even dream about owning one.

Although we were almost broke and living from week to week, it didn't occur to us that we were experiencing "terrible economic problems." That's because just about everybody else in the neighborhood was in the same pickle.

So I never heard anyone describe our condition as a "terrible economic problem." The kerosene stove in the parlor worked, so we were warm. Unless a frigid snap froze the pipes, water for coffee and washing flowed from the faucets. And those who cooked did wonders in stretching a scrawny chicken, a half-peck of pates, some onions and a few eggs into a filling meal.

I don't know what Mr. Selig's standards are for a "terrible economic problem." If he is having trouble filling his tummy, I will give him my mother's recipe for potato pancakes.

But I doubt if Mr. Selig needs it. Like most of the people involved in baseball's strike, he is probably eating fine meals, living in a fine house and riding in a fine car. And I wouldn't begrudge him any of these gifts so common to millions of Americans. Despite our chronic hand wringing and griping, most of us live well. There is not a bare essential or luxury item in which we don't lead the world in conspicuously consuming.

So about 99 percent of us don't really know about "terrible economic problems." If you want to see those who do, you can turn on CNN and catch the latest snippets from countries where gaunt children with swollen bellies die by the roadside.

Mr. Selig looked fashionably lean, and it did not appear that his belly was about to pop from hunger bloat.

No, the owners of the baseball teams are all men and women of substantial means. Some were born into wealth. Others stole it on the legit. But not a one of them has to miss a meal or a tee time.

The same can be said for the players. The least-competent, lowest-paid air-hitting rookie is paid far more than the mayor of Chicago. There are pouty, dead-armed pitchers with longer and bigger guaranteed paychecks than those drawn by the president of the United States, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of the CIA and any fireman who has to burst into your burning house. All put together.

That's why it was an act of mercy when Mr. Selig dropped the other shoe and said this season was over.

Good. Maybe now the owners and players will go away and shut up and not bother us with their foolish babbling. Most of us don't care anymore. Is anyone losing sleep over salary caps, profit sharing, TV markets and any of the other profound issues?

No, because most baseball fans aren't economists, but they understand the basic problems, which are:

* A long time ago, the baseball owners proved their stupidity by trying to outdo each other in paying huge sums to mediocre players. The average fan could have told them: "Hey, a pitcher who loses more than he wins is not worth $1 million a year. A .230 hitter is not worth $1.5 million. And a 10-home-run guy is not worth $3 million." But the owners did it anyway. Now they are saying: "Save us from our own silliness."

Sorry, but you should form and join Splurgers Anonymous. Stand up at a meeting and say: "Hi, I am George Steinbrenner, and I am a splurge-aholic."

* The players were eager to grab all that money. Wouldn't you? But the players made the mistake of believing that what they did justified their incredible instant wealth. It doesn't. But the fans can't be fooled. They know a .220 hitter, a stumbling outfielder and an 8-15 pitcher when they see them. And they have limited compassion for 29-year-old multimillionaires who are forced to play golf instead of bat and ball.

So the fans will survive. The nation will survive. Will baseball survive? If it means more public whining, who cares? Tell me, what's the betting spread that the sun will rise tomorrow?

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