May 20, 2002: Baseball on the Verge of Striking out

It looks like Major League baseball is about to go on strike again. “Work stoppages” in the Bigs are becoming old news as our heroes have walked out on us in 1972, ‘73, ‘76, ‘80, ’81, ’85, ’90 and most recently 1994, when the World Series had to be canceled.

You would hope that the people involved in the game would understand that every time there is a strike, more and more fans are alienated. But listen to that noted philosopher, Braves outfielder Larry Jones.

Jones, better known to his adoring legions as “Chipper,” suggested recently that a work stoppage – that’s baseball lingo for “strike” – would be “perfect” if it came in August and threatened the playoffs. As for those who shell out their hard-earned bucks to support the game, Chipper says, “There has been talk that another work stoppage would kill the game. I don’t see that. There will always be baseball fans.” In other words, once a sucker, always a sucker.

The average salary of a major league baseball player today is $2.4 million per year. That’s the average. Baseball salaries have increased 126-fold since 1967, while the CPI has increased fivefold in the same period. According to the U.S. Census, U.S. average annual household income is currently $57,045. Do a little math and you will see that the majority of baseball players make that much in four days. In fact, Larry Jones does even better. The Atlanta Braves are paying him $90 million over the next six years to hit a ball with a stick. He gets his $57,000 in a little less than 36 hours.

Have no sympathy for the owners, either. They plead poverty, but trying to understand their bookkeeping is like trying to understand hieroglyphics. Somehow, they manage to come up with the money to pay exorbitant salaries. In defense of the players, if owners are dumb enough to offer that kind of money, who is going to say “no thanks.”

Fans are the last thing on the mind of Major League baseball right now. The assumption is that when all the parties get over their snits and finger pointing, you will meekly accept the higher costs that will inevitably result from settling the “work stoppage” and once again show up to cheer on the boys of summer. You will pay for baseball’s avarice, and the baseball lords think that is the way it should be. Major league ticket prices have gone up steadily since the last strike and we have very reason to believe that they will continue to increase. The same holds true for the cost of parking, concessions and programs. The Atlanta Braves, who received a $209 million stadium free and clear from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, have the eighth highest ticket prices in the major leagues. They are not paying for the stadium with all that money. They need it to pay Larry Jones $90 million to hit a ball with a stick.

If Major League baseball gets too expensive for your budget, so what? As long as they can get fat-cat corporate types to buy the luxury boxes and get television networks and advertisers to pay for the privilege of showing half-empty stadiums around the country, baseball says you can take it or lump it.

My fervent prayer is that the greedy owners and the out-of-touch players will stay on strike until everybody totally forgets about baseball and starts doing things like taking walks in the park or playing Scrabble or building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Maybe then, owners and players will have to get real jobs in the real world. Maybe Larry Jones can get hired as a sales clerk at WalMart and then tell everybody that the Christmas shopping season would be a perfect time to have a work stoppage but, not to worry, because there will always be customers. Maybe Larry Jones would get fired for having a big mouth not connected to his brain.

Ice hockey is the world’s dumbest game and has no redeeming social value whatsoever. But at least this non-sport understands that and accepts the fact that if they went on strike, nobody would ever know or care. Baseball is not quite there yet, but one more strike should just about do it. At least, that is what I am hoping.