I have to admit, I've never been much of a baseball fan. In addition to not being a huge sports fan, I've always thought of baseball as, well, the sport of wusses. Think about it, there's little contact between players, the action itself is extremely slow, it gets called on rain and the most exciting moments involve a small white ball being propelled by a wooden bat over a distant wall. Baseball's the only sport where players get to sit down every few minutes (I wonder how they'd feel if they tried playing soccer) and baseball is also the only sport currently preparing to go on strike.
I'm not saying that baseball players don't work hard and don't stay in shape, after all, I couldn't do what they do, but the fact is that, for sports stars, they have it pretty easy. Baseball lacks the endurance of soccer and basketball, the danger of NASCAR, the injuries of football or the sheer athleticism of Olympic track and field. Golf is perhaps the only sport in the world easier on the player than baseball, but at least Tiger Woods is smart enough not to walk out on the sport and the fans that have made him a millionaire.
All baseball insults aside, millions of people think I'm wrong, perhaps rightfully, and those people line up at baseball parks across the nation to watch their favorite players and teams in action, many of them gladly paying hundreds for a ticket and five dollars for a single hot dog (Fast fact, when visiting Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics, we ate lunch at the very classy Sundial restaurant and dinner Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. Though one meal was cooked by a five-star chef and one was warmed over hot dogs, both meals cost the exact same price.). I don't get it, but I respect it because these people, rightly or wrongly, look up to these players and what they can do, letting the excitement of the game provide a needed distraction for the realities of life.
However, that's a distraction that baseball fans are about to lose. In addition to allegations of steroid use and other legal troubles, if the baseball players don't get their way, on August 30th, they're prepared to go on strike and deprive the nation of its national pastime less than two weeks before the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11.
Baseball fans, who have put up with two strikes in the last 20 years, including the longest strike in 1994, have about had it and for good reason. Baseball, a game of statistics, has worked up some pretty bad numbers in this field including eight work stoppages over the past 30 years totaling up to over 1,700 games missed. However, all games lost were due to player strikes, which total five, and though the owners have locked out players three times, every time was during spring training meaning no regular-season games were lost.
It's sad to think that baseball's greatest enemies are its own players, but that seems to be the case if you look at the numbers and if there's one thing baseball taught me it's that the numbers don't lie. The players have struck over everything from pension plans to free-agent compensation when they're literally holding one of the cushiest and most desirable jobs in the world. Most people would love to make millions per year and get months of paid vacation for playing baseball and there's no way in Hell that Joe-six-pack, who is working long hours in a factory so his family can scrape by and uses baseball to escape the harsh realities of life, is going to be sympathetic to the player's "plight."
The cold fact is that every strike that the players have gone on has been for one reason and one reason alone, money. Not once have they struck for better working conditions, fewer hours or more vacation. No matter what the issue of the dispute has been, it's always centered around pay and while I can understand some people striking for better wages, especially teachers that make less than $30,000 per year, I'll never understand how million-dollar baseball players can feel they're not being paid enough.
A 15% raise to a teacher means better food on the table, a better home to live in and a more secure retirement, but a 15% raise to a baseball player means, what? A fifth summer home? Trading up to a Porsche? A new fur coat for your girlfriend? Or just that you get to pocket more money for doing the same work?
No matter what it is, it's not worth trashing the sport and the fans have spoken up. In a recent CNN/Sports Illustrated poll, 61% of respondents said that if the players strike, that baseball will lose them as a fan forever. If those numbers even loosely translate into reality, baseball will fall on the popularity ladder to somewhere between the WNBA and sumo wrestling. Needless to say though, if the fans walk out, then the money in baseball won't be there and the industry will no longer be able to support the players' current salaries much less the ones they want.
To put it bluntly, if the players walk out now, at a time in which the sport has just barely recovered from the last strike, they could do themselves more harm than good and put the sport that has paid for all their cars and mansions on the skids forever. It takes the cliché of biting the hand that feeds you to a whole new height.
But in the end, the only people who lose in the event of a player strike are the players and perhaps the owners. Joe-six-pack can find something else to believe in and America can find another past-time. Despite what the players think, they have a great job, they are not essential to this county and if they strike they could very easily be kissing their salaries and the sport they claim to love goodbye.
After all, wrestling's still on and at least those guys don't go on strike.