Out! (of their minds)

August 19, 2002

BY AUG. 30, minds all over the country will be thinking forward 12 days, to the first anniversary of Sept. 11. Most will be searching for an appropriate way to commemorate. Attend a memorial service? Say a prayer?

Meanwhile, baseball's filthy rich players have decided that Aug. 30 is the day they'll start sticking it to the sport's filthy, stinking rich owners. The players union plans to walk out that day, likely ending the season and wiping out the World Series, if the owners don't accede to their wishes in contract negotiations. It's blind selfishness, to say the least.

These are the same players, mind you, who talked so much after Sept. 11 last year about the perspective they'd gained about their sport and its place in our culture.

Yes, they acknowledged, what they do is ultimately trivial. But its value lies in its connection to America's sense of identity and history.

When players returned to the ballparks after Sept. 11, it was a reminder that even in the face of great tragedy and horror, American life -- and its diversions -- had to go on. The least the players could do, they said, was put their own concerns aside to play ball.

So much for those sentiments. If the game goes missing with the Sept. 11 anniversary looming, players will prove beyond a doubt that they hold their own interests in higher regard than the nation's needs.

That's not to say baseball is without legitimate issues that merit discussion. A salary cap and revenue sharing are badly needed to make more teams competitive -- both economically and on the field. Drug testing -- with consequences for failure -- would restore confidence that sluggers aren't doping.

Owners have their own sins to answer for, particularly big-market owners who have been loath to share revenue with clubs that can't get lucrative local television deals.

But sadly, the players union has been on the wrong side of the game's important issues, too, and that's the source of their current rift with management.

If owners give in and sign a contract to avoid the strike, they'll be indulging a financial setup that works against the game's economic health. Incredibly, the players are threatening a tantrum if they don't get what's bad for baseball.

Commissioner Bud Selig, who himself rarely reflects what's right about baseball, displayed unlikely wisdom about the game's value in an interview last October.

"The thing that has always been appealing to me about baseball is its ability to do good in bad, tough situations," he said. "I've seen it in so many different situations where baseball has this remarkable ability to bring communities together, more so, I believe, than any other sport."

He's right. It happened after Sept. 11.

But it can't happen again if players trade their bats and gloves for picket signs and petulance.

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