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Support American baseball - don't go back!

Are you hoping, as we are, the baseball strike will not be settled? Isn't it terrific to see spoiled millionaires in a huff? We remember not long ago when players and owners got involved in the sport for the love of the game. Yes, love for the game!

Baseball was a dollar bleacher ticket and, if you were lucky, a wayward foul ball into the bargain. And a batting percentage worked out with a pencil by long division. No calculators then. And after the game, outside the clubhouse door, players would stop to sign autographs. Not this $10-a-shot bit. Shame on them all.

OK, there's no going back, you say. Never is. But baseball was a sport then - not just an opportunity to rip off a few extra million bucks.

Oh, we don't begrudge owners and athletes the chance to wrest further millions from each other. Nor do we need to allow them to trample us along the way. There was this matter of team support, even a hint of fidelity to the ball club. Today, there is no fidelity. Players jump from team to team, dancing to the highest bidder. We'd probably do it ourselves. But it, too, has changed the "sport." Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said recently that supporting the local club has come to mean cheering for laundry - the uniform is now the only constant.

Who can name six players who've recently shared a major league uniform for more than two years? So much for team sport.

As representatives of baseball's striking players and owners resumed talks last week in Milwaukee, the two sides in the seemingly ceaseless dispute pondered the continued escalation of the skirmishes that break out between them almost daily. Do they sound just a bit immature to you as well? Or is greedy the word?

We were actually worried when President Clinton tried to get them to budge. To our relief he failed, allowing the rich spectacle to go on. Baseball, you see, is the American pastime and it should continue to speak to us and, in so doing, tell us something about who we have become. Is this indeed what is going on? Let it hang out, as they say.

Bud Selig, the acting commissioner, who has spent little time at the bargaining table, last week joined the talks, which were overseen by Bill Usery Jr., the mediator. John Harrington of the Boston Red Sox and Jerry McMorris of the Colorado Rockies joined Selig. Donald Fehr, the union head, and Lauren Rich, a union lawyer, represented the players. They were all there. Don't expect they'll betray their interests.

What is keeping the two sides apart is who will get the lion's share of the millions pouring into the sport via broadcasting rights and the commercials that support it. With a World Series now out the window and tradition out the door, what more is to be lost? Some sexually evocative beer and auto commercials stacked between innings of what were once called spoilsports at the plate?

Hey, this is our chance to wean ourselves of bad habits and, as they say, "get a life." Need baseball? Check out the sports pages. There are plenty of high school teams around and leagues and leagues of local teens - young kids, girls and guys - out there really playing the sport, having fun. Or maybe you can find a struggling minor league team to watch. You'll be surprised at the warm nostalgia you'll feel during a trip to an old ball park.

For now, let's use our new freedoms and grow. Let the strikers strike and the owners have their salary cap. Let's rid ourselves of acquired bad habits. When the time comes, let's not give in to the temptation to return to what passes as sport and is called "Major League" baseball. We did, after all, live through an October without a World Series and probably were better for it.

So as spring peeks through the gray winter clouds and the cracks of bats begin to call like ancient Sirens, look for a club in need 6f one more fan. They're everywhere and playing without commercials. Go back and smell the oiled infield, the cut grass. Let the dust from a slide into home plate drift over you. Think of the kids. It's springtime in America.

One day, after it's settled and the make is on and they come after us again for our bucks and the temptation hits, let's pause and think. Now we're in charge. And know this for sure: Once they've got us hooked again, it will be time to pay the piper. The price of tickets will go up. Their gain will be our loss. Remember, it's the American pastime and they're intent on making it the American way.

Let's not let them do it. 2
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Title Annotation:baseball strike
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 3, 1995
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