Sound Off

Who is at fault for major league baseball's current labor woes? Is it the owners? The players? How about the fans? Territory columnist Mike williams takes a candid look at our national pastime.

Major League Baseball fans are gutless cowards.

That's the only conclusion I can come to given their inability to back up their tough talk. This unseemly quagmire which Major League Baseball has spiraled into is not the fault of the players. If offered, anyone want to tell me they would refuse $250 million dollars to work eight months a year?

Nor is it the fault of the owners. Inept that they may be in controlling the game they supposedly own and run, why should they make changes to a venture, which pours hundreds of millions of dollars into their pockets.

That leaves only the fans to blame. Fans who after a negligible wrist slapping of the game that betrayed them in 1994, flocked back like blind lemmings. When the opportunity presented itself to take control, the fans not only balked, but returned in force. Did they do so for the love of the game? Hardly.

They were marketed back into freshly bricked caverns to root feverishly for an Andro-laden (yeah, right) freak that crushed super ball centered cowhide into the cosmos. They returned to cheer on an aging shortstop who, in spite of not playing a single inning from August 1994 through March of 1995 (seems he was busy exercising his right to kick fans in the teeth), was held in reverence next to the "Iron Horse" who truly did not miss a game.

Hopefully baseball historians will revisit these "feats" and stamp them with the asterisks they deserve. Yet, fans could not be kept away. These very fans who cried foul as the owners and players conducted "business" and decided their own interests soared above those of their customers.

It is ridiculous to associate the game of baseball to business. If baseball were truly a business and forced to conduct business as others do, it would be a bankrupt memory of bygone days. The bottom line is baseball is not a business. Baseball is a game. The act of watching baseball is a business and those who are most trusted to uphold their end are inexplicably treated like diseased lab rats. The strangest piece of this equation is their bleary-eyed acceptance of such actions.

Instead of a business-customer relationship, what we have here is a battered woman-abusive husband equivalence. You've read the stories; Husband slaps the wife around, only have her not only return, but refuse to testify against him. The parallel is eerie in its exactness.

Baseball, owners and players alike, treat those that adore them like a collective punching bag, yet the fans keep coming back. Not only do they return, they rationalize their acquiescence as "Love of the game." Hogwash. If you really loved the game, you'd bring the ogre to its knees and demonstrate you are no longer willing to see it sullied with such disregard. You'd substitute your infatuation with boorish men playing a boring game by supporting a high school or college team. At least with those teams you don't have to worry about some impetuous owner holding a move to a new city over your head as ransom for a new stadium.

Now talk of another strike looms, and baseball fans return to their same hollow, proclamations of "Never going back" if it happens THIS time. It's only been eight years since the last "THIS time! If they strike THIS time, I'm not going back." What a joke. If you went back to baseball after the 1994 strike, you'll go back after every successive strike, and the owners, networks and player KNOW IT. That's why they do it. Not because the ghosts of Curt Flood and Bowie Kuhn implore them to carry on the fight against tyranny. They do it because they can. The mere mention of a strike should send baseball into sports exile until it can get its act together and behave like a grown-up. Yet, fans only sling threats of "if they strike." In other words, if they don't strike, everything will be hunky dory, and I'll return to my undying support of my thrasher. Somehow, the image of Nicole Brown Simpson keeps coming to mind.

Baseball used to be something a parent had at their disposal to share with their kids. Something they could point to as a basis for life lessons. It was good, regardless of the gregariousness of its characters, and often created unbreakable bonds between parent and child. It was a way to indulge your naiveté. You knew Mickey Mantle was a hard drinking, womanizing lout, but he was YOUR hard drinking, womanizing lout and there was no doubt he would show up to perform, bad knees, hangover and all. Not only would he show up, he would show up in a Yankees uniform and entertain you with his heroics. You could wake up the next morning and pore over the box scores and contemplate the importance of that eighth inning double play.

Now, parents are left to explain Enron-like accounting scams and the detrimental effects of Deca-duraboline on your liver. Eternal optimists, these fans are; "Maybe it'll get better" must be what inhabits their gray space.

But it won't. This once proud sport no longer captures the imagination of the masses on the merits of its nuances. It relies on over-hyped instances of power, while the sacrifice bunt goes the way of an honest spreadsheet. It won't get better, because the fans won't make it get better. The nation's former past time is in their hands.

As Union Steward Tom "Norma Rae" Glavine said prior to the '94 strike: "We don't care what the fans think." As long as fans of Major League Baseball refuse to accept their responsibility for the problem, the players and owners won't have to care.

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