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How Baseball Became America vs. the Damn Yankees
Posted on May 19, 2010
By Mark Heisler
In the park, baseball has an epic feel all its own as 95-mph fastballs smack into the catcher mitts and home runs arc into the stands in majestic parabolas that make the world they left behind seem tiny.
As a competitive system, however, it’s like China in the warlord era, a tumultuous world with no order or balance.
A salary cap, like that of the NFL, NBA or NHL, would change everything, but, rising up before the owners like the Himalayas, is the Major League Baseball Players Association, which has effectively run things since it shut down the 1994 World Series and likes things the high-priced, unbalanced way they are.
“The Lords of Baseball,” as Dick Young once called the owners, were so offended by the union’s mere existence they warred on it at every opportunity, resulting in a shameful eight work stoppages between 1970 and 1994.
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In 1994, the owners launched the all-out war they’d been spoiling for.
The broken lords of baseball, lowercase, have barely been heard from since.
The owners lined up behind amiable Bud Selig, the commissioner they chose from among their own—he owned the Milwaukee Brewers, which had a .500 season or two under him—to make sure they got no more advice they didn’t want to hear from the outsiders they had brought in, like Peter Ueberroth and Faye Vincent.
Showing what a doofus he was, Selig let the 1994 season start without a new bargaining agreement, rather than locking the players out.
In August the players, having banked most of their salaries with growing leverage as the postseason approached, struck.
The owners called their bluff. The postseason was lost. Dire things were said about the game’s future.
The owners got set to play 1995 with replacement players, but caved in after spring training with the wannabes and after federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s decision on an National Labor Relations Board petition raised the specter of triple damages in an antitrust action.
“We’re back and we’re delighted,” announced Selig, glossing over the fact they not only hadn’t gained anything, they didn’t even have a contract, in a lasting lesson for labor negotiations.
It’s now such a given that you don’t start a season without an agreement that people talk about the 2011 NFL and NBA lockouts as if they’ve already been announced.
It’s a cunning capitalist, or monopolist, indeed, who understands his interests lie with those of the proletariat—like George Steinbrenner, the Great Shop Steward, selling out his own “side” in a tacit alliance with the union to protect the status quo they all had reason to defend.
So, baseball looks like it’s good for another decade or two, to see if what’s good for the Yankees is good for the game, diving TV ratings notwithstanding.
In the meantime, it’s depressing to spend a whole season waiting to see who the Yankees get in the playoffs as they flatten everything in their way and cherry-pick poor teams’ too-costly player at the midseason fire sale if they’re short here or there.
On the other hand, having 29 teams to root for makes it fair, with one of them prevailing in nine of the last 14 years!
Even if you have to wait until fall, who says hope doesn’t still spring eternal?
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