A major-league goof

March 28, 1995|By Robin Miller

MAJOR-LEAGUE baseball players had a chance to become working class heroes but they blew it.

When the players first talked about going on strike, they had some legitimate grievances. It was true that team owners were trying to roll back their salaries and make it harder for players to move from team to team.

This was worth a bit of sympathy from other workers, but not a lot. Baseball players already made so much more money than the rest of us that we had trouble understanding why they wanted even more.

Most Americans work harder and longer than baseball players, under much worse conditions, for a fraction of what baseball players earn.

What the major-league players -- and the rest of us -- forgot is that most baseball workers don't earn millions.

Stadium ushers earn $5 to $10 per hour and only work during home games.

Groundskeepers, parking lot attendants, ticket takers and other team and stadium employees are paid less than a living wage, even though they are just as necessary to major-league baseball as the players.

Most minor-league baseball players earn so little that they work at other jobs during the off-season in order to make ends meet.

When the major-league players were preparing to strike, why didn't they mention any of the other people employed by Major League Baseball?

By including better pay for minor-league players and low-level stadium employees in their strike demands, major-league players would have been viewed as progressive labor advocates who were using their media clout to help less fortunate workers.

A few pictures of baseball players with their arms around the shoulders of underpaid ushers, saying such things as "I'm not just going on strike for myself. I'm doing it for Tim, here, and all the other people in baseball," would have generated tremendous public sympathy for the strikers.

This ploy would have turned the baseball strike from a squabble between two groups of rich people into a moral battle, led by the players, against greedy capitalists who line their pockets by preying on minimum wage, part-time workers.

I have trouble understanding why the players didn't figure any of this out. Perhaps, to them, only other major-league baseball players are of interest and the rest of us exist only to buy tickets and pay for autographs.

But imagine what would have happened if the major-league players' demands had included better pay and working conditions for minor-league players and other baseball workers:

* Other unions would have gotten involved, especially if one of the demands had been union representation for all baseball workers, combined with a refusal to play in stadiums where workers were treated unfairly.

* A strike fund would have been set up to take care of low-paid baseball workers during the strike. Donations to this fund could have been solicited from the general public, and each strike fund ad (or direct-mail piece) could have been used to generate sympathy for the striking players -- and their fellow baseball workers.

* Baseball players would have had endless opportunities to parade before TV cameras, extolling their own humbler origins and general solidarity with other American workers, instead of coming across as spoiled millionaires.

But major-league baseball players decided not to become working-class heroes. Instead, they chose to come across as spoiled millionaires.

Now it is too late for the players to change their tactics. An attempt to include better pay for other baseball workers in their demands at this late date would look like a cynical public relations gimmick, and that's all it would be.

Robin Miller is a Baltimore taxi driver.

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