In the wake of a botched All-Star Game, amid rumors of illegal steroid use on the field, and in the shadow of growing disparity between rich teams and poor, the 2002 baseball world holds its breath.
The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement expired a year ago. Players' Association chief Donald Fehr aims to shut out any excuse the owners might have for imposing a salary cap this off-season. It doesn't seem to matter that a cap might be vital to the game's future health.
The looming question, then: Are the players going to strike? Again?
The Sun reached NBC broadcaster Bob Costas at his St. Louis office this week to ask just that. The author of the 2000 best seller Fair Ball, a carefully reasoned blueprint for the game's future, sighed. "None of the issues warrant a strike this time around," he said. "A presentable commissioner might help, but you saw what happened at the All-Star Game. Bud Selig is a schlub! I think it's inevitable."
Costas, often seen as good commissioner material himself, speaks for many in and around the game. Is he right? How would a strike affect the less eminent people who support baseball? And what would they claim as a new "pastime"?
At two recent Orioles games, a cross section of those in attendance - from a groundskeeper to a ketchup supplier, from a rabid fan to a just-arrived rookie player - shared their views.
Andrew Bermehren-Shepler, 14, autograph seeker and "huge baseball fan."
"If there's a strike, I'm not sure what I'll do. Bud Selig made a mistake at the All-Star Game, calling it off the way he did. When he announced it between innings, it put everyone in a terrible mood. He needs people to like him now, but they're just sick of him. If the players do go on strike, they'll probably just talk about the issues and negotiations on ESPN. That'll be pretty boring. I like basketball a lot, but that doesn't start for a while, and you have to go to Washington. I'll probably watch football."
Det. Greg Hartsock, Baltimore Criminal Investigations division
Found at the Babe Ruth statue outside the Camden Yards gates, he works ballgames for overtime pay: "I'd be disappointed. [A strike] would be a shame. I grew up with the Orioles. I used to watch the games with my grandfather, with my dad. It's entertainment! I realize the players have their issues, and their careers aren't long. But the average salary is $2.5 million! I do financial investigations now. It's an indoor job. This is the only chance I get to put on a uniform anymore."
Mike Tewolde, 18, a native of eastern Africa
Tewolde, who speaks five languages, is a parking-lot attendant on Eutaw Street. He's become a baseball fan since moving to Baltimore. (He's a Yankees fan, but won't elaborate on that.): "I listen to Oriole games on the radio while I'm working. I make $10 an hour here. But if baseball goes on strike, nobody comes to park here. I'll be laid off. I'll have to go home. This would be the second time! My brother was working during the last strike [in 1994], and he's home now."
Chuck Lowenson of Fells Point, an O's ticket taker
On the job since he retired five years ago, he wears the team's official vest. It reads "Baltimore Baseball Club": "I don't know what the players want. They can't get by on what they make? Gah! My wife and I watch on TV; we're fans. But if they strike, that's it. We'll watch the other sports! Soccer, hockey, women's basketball - I like 'em all!"
Al Capitos of Catonsville, O's head groundskeeper
Capitos has an office whose window looks directly onto right field. His job is not in danger: "We have to maintain the grass here, strike or not. They haven't said a word to me about it one way or the other, but they'll keep enough people to care for the turf. If it's just me, it's just me. They'd probably lay off some of my crew, but they're seasonal employees anyway. My assistant and I are the only full-timers.
"This is a sand-based field, state-of-the-art, one of the best in the majors. But because there isn't much soil, there aren't a lot of water reserves. Water goes right through sand. You get a day or two of 95-degree heat and you don't have much grass left.
"I'm not a huge baseball fan anyway. I went to Penn State. Football's starting soon."
Jim Bradley, O's clubhouse attendant
Bradley sits in a folding chair, keeping watch on the entrance to the locker room. He's retired and holds this job just for fun: "Aren't they already playing without a contract? I don't know the issues, but why don't they just keep things status quo? Keep playing? People like the team this year. If they strike, I'll just start watching the Ravens. They start Aug. 9."
Ed Koski, Seattle Mariners fan who lives in Philadelphia