Put-upon fans now will be begged to forgive, forget FTC

April 03, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Prepare for the greatest public relations onslaught in the history of the world. Major-league baseball players and team owners are going to start apologizing profusely, more artificially, it seems, than from any genuine feeling of regret. They'll be posturing in an attempt to ease the animosity that was created when they shut down the game.

Presuming that affections can be bought, both sides will try to buy back your love with such inducements as free autographs, pictures, personal appearances and assorted give-away souvenirs in an attempt at appeasement. You'll read newspaper advertisements, see and hear television and radio spots, all calculated to regain your interest in buying tickets.

They'll even slash prices on hot dogs and soft drinks at concession booths. Anything to make it seem they are suddenly interested in regaining their commercial standing with you, the fan. The players and owners might be so desperate as to blame the sportswriters of America for their plight. What a sham.

The owners and players want to kiss and make up, not with each other necessarily but with the public. They suddenly need you. In an attempt to forewarn the ticket-buying clientele, don't for a second be naive enough to believe a single word of such contrived contriteness.

If you, as a fan, are going to be bought off with such soft-soap puffery, then check into the nearest hospital and order a lobotomy. You are in need of help, desperately so. Don't buy into what they are going to try to do to make you like them again.

If there's any lesson the fans of America should have learned in the longest strike in the history of sports, it is the players and owners care not an iota for you or your feelings, only the ticket-purchasing power you represent. Now they want your presence at the games and, of course, you'll acquiesce.

The owners were bent on breaking the "union" that is truly not a union by the strict interpretation of what a union is supposed to be. In the grand scheme of things, instead of the union's going down, it worked the other way. The owners broke themselves. They capitulated, folding like a pack of jackals.

Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, spoke out against replacement players. But Angelos may have fought and won for the wrong side. In some quarters, but not all, Angelos has assumed the role of a folk hero. Told that Angelos was being applauded by a host of labor-oriented supporters, sports columnist Bruce Kiden of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said, "That's not true in our town of Pittsburgh."

That was a strange reaction to hear because Pittsburgh is what it is because of the dominance of unions and a need for same, plus the fact Angelos was born in nearby McKessport, Pa.

The Pittsburgh baseball team, with an illustrious history, is fighting to stay in business. It is referred to as a small-market franchise and in need of financial assistance to keep from spending more money on players than it could intelligently afford.

The stance Angelos took with the Orioles is something that could haunt him in his quest for a National Football League franchise. NFL front-office people, at the club level, insist they regained control of their game when the replacement brand of football in 1987, even if only for one week, forced regular players into a more submissive mood. Right or wrong, that's what they believe.

So they read and hear now about Angelos and a red light flashes. One NFL owner said they see nothing but bad signals. They know, of course, where Angelos stands. He is a labor attorney who owns a baseball team. His allegiance is well-defined.

Returning to the baseball issue, the team owners were "out to lunch" for 7 1/2 months. It's obvious now they had no feel for what was going on in the strike. When a U.S. District Court judge called them off-base and approved an injunction against them, favoring the players, they were astonished and started blaming the attorneys handling their side of what was a losing cause.

In relying on precedent, it was predicted far and wide the owners were about to take another pounding. The decision was no surprise, except to the owners. The players won again. Donald Fehr, tough, smart and arrogant, who is head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, held his membership together through difficult times.

Make no mistake about how the owners and players will attempt to return to your good graces. They'll offer to appear at banquets, before service clubs and other organizations. It will be that way for a span of time, while both sides are in a mood to recover the public relations battle they both lost, then revert to what it used to be.

To term a replacement player a "scab" is not necessarily true. Salaries for the substitutes, long on effort, short on ability, would have been around $25,000. Compare that with the millions paid to Bobby Bonilla, Cecil Fielder, Cal Ripken Jr.

The replacement games were competitive through the exhibition season, no different than any in the past. But some television shows, using highlights of the action, only showed them making mistakes or misplaying batted balls so as to expose their flaws and turn public sentiment against them. Errors happen every spring -- replacements or not.

Denigrating the fill-ins wasn't fair. After all, the regular major-leaguers walked out last August, bringing the season to an abrupt end and wiping out the World Series. That's right, the love of the game by the strikers was such they cared not for the long and beautiful history of the sport. They shut it down without care for tradition or sentiment.

Now the players and owners are about to embrace the fans in an attempt to demonstrate their love.

If the fans accept such bogus attention -- and they will -- they deserve to be exploited and denied such a simple pleasure as major-league baseball.

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