Baseball may return, but purity is gone

April 04, 1995|By BILL TANTON

It should have been a perfectly joyous occasion at Camden Yards yesterday. All the elements were there.

Bright, sunny weather with the temperature at 60 degrees; the grass well-manicured and invitingly green; Pete Angelos smiling behind a microphone near home plate; Gov. Parris N. Glendening beside him, standing tall and erect and wearing a tie decorated with baseballs.

Yes, baseball was back, as the page one headlines screamed and as the TV and radio newscasts blared in their lead items.

The major league players strike was over and the owners had accepted their offer to return to work.

On a lovely April morning -- a day when the weather was more baseball-like than it often is for Opening Days -- shouldn't that have been enough to bring on euphoria?

Peter Angelos apparently thought it was.

"There is nothing like baseball on a spring day," said the Orioles principal owner, "in a ballpark that is the envy of every city in the country."

Sure, Pete was laying it on a little bit, but why not?

He was the one owner who stood firm against the use of replacement players. In the end the rest of the owners came to agree with him. Now there will be no scab ball. The replacement players have been replaced.

Angelos praised the governor for signing into law legislation barring non-major-leaguers from playing at Camden Yards so that the place "would not be desecrated by players other than the best."

That was laying it on, too, of course.

The word desecrate means to abuse the sacredness of something. That's a little heavy for a ballpark. But in that setting it sounded good.

Angelos no doubt would have been content to sign off right there.

But the governor, who has been in office for only three months, showed that he is a realistic man.

"Baseball is back," he said, "the Orioles will open on April 26 in Kansas City and will play here on May 2 against Milwaukee and Cal [Ripken, naturally] can continue his streak.

"But I've got to be realistic. I'm not completely optimistic because nothing has been resolved."

True enough. By agreeing to play under the 1994 conditions, baseball got itself back on the field but solved none of the serious labor problems that brought on the strike in the first place.

There still is no agreement for revenue sharing. There are no provisions for a salary cap. The owners and players still have no collective bargaining agreement.

"The strike," said the realistic governor, "took away jobs and business opportunities. Last year it meant a net loss in the state of $75 million for 25 games lost.

"The loss was more than dollars. The worst part is, it could happen again this year.

"Peter Angelos and I are here today to say we hope the owners and the players can work out their differences so that fans can depend on baseball and workers can depend on their jobs and incomes."

The delayed start of the '95 season also will cost $3.01 million a game, the governor added.

Maybe that's why there was a certain emptiness at the ceremony at home plate, why the mood was less than totally celebrative.

The dollars that have been lost in the strike -- baseball owners say they lost $700 million -- are so vast that they're hard to comprehend.

The owners and players need to get together soon to finish the job of finalizing a labor agreement.

That won't come easily. The sooner they start, the better.

I think there's an additional reason for the reserve shown by many in the wake of the strike's end.

Sports have changed. They have lost their innocence. The game itself used to be the thing. Now it's the money. The 7 1/2 -month strike underscored that.

In this age of franchise shifts, free-agent players jumping from team to team, and the emergence of sports stars such as Mike Tyson and Tonya Harding, there's no way people are going to embrace their games and their heroes as they once did.

In many cities, baseball faces a bigger damage-control problem than it does here. Elsewhere, fans are occupied with the efforts of their NBA and NHL teams. They anticipate the NFL draft.

In Baltimore, there is only one major-league sport. Baseball is all-consuming. The fans will return and Camden Yards again will be sold out. The lines at ticket windows yesterday proved that.

The return of baseball is good for a lot of reasons. Governor Glendening's statistics show that. It is also good for the spirit of a city or a region, though not as much as it once would have been.

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