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August 29, 2002

Breaking Balls

Thoughts on Strike's Eve

by Derek Zumsteg

I asked Prospectus authors if they thought there would be a strike and if there would be playoffs this year. Everyone said there would be playoffs, and a few thought there wouldn't be a strike. Consensus among the strike-heads seems to be it'll be short and sharp, a 7 day 1985-style strike.

I could use the break, to be honest. The Mariners are getting beaten by teams like the Tigers and the Indians, while the A's are on a tear barely to be believed. If this were a basketball game we'd have called a momentum time out and regrouped. A brief strike might suit my team well right now. It's hard to watch some batch of half-trying scrubs beat your team and then flip over to SportsCenter to see your divisional rival introduced with "Another gem from Barry Zito as the A's roll to their 82nd consecutive win."

And since the Mariners, fearing a strike, are blackmailing their season-ticket holders into paying up front for--get this--every potential home playoff game every round, including a possible one-game playoff at the end of the year, I'm a little peeved at the home team lately.

That's right. If a game is mathematically possible, no matter how unlikely, I've got to give the Mariners a free two-month loan for the cost of tickets. No, I don't get to charge them a service fee on the order, or a convenience fee for mailing a check in. This is the most ridiculous extortion I've ever been subjected to in fandom. Even the NBA (or the Sonics, anyway) let fans purchase tickets for the first round, and if they move on, get charged again. The Mariners will collect all that money and sit on it, which (scribbling on napkin) works out to something like $250,000, or three Jose 0-for-man games. Which is exactly the kind of bench presence they need in this AL West race.

So I'm a little sore about this season.

I wrote an ESPN article much earlier this year on the Angels, looking at their earlier success, comparing them to the Mariners, and predicting the Angels would hang around in case a contender failed. Some astute readers wrote me about neglecting over the A's, but I believed Oakland didn't have the offensive unit or the bullpen to run with the big boys.

Yeah. Turns out I was wrong about the A's there. I should have known better, of course, that they'd tweak and trade and come roaring back. Right now, Oakland wins the AL West crown, the Angels hit the back door, and the Yankees and Twins are in. A strike that goes more than a couple days could wipe out the Mariners' best chance back in--head to head games against their two division rivals. If we get a short strike, it's on, and I'll be in the front row cheering.

Good thing about this is that Lou Piniella's started swearing a lot again, which amuses me no end. When Piniella is quoted as saying "I'm tired of our lousy hitting. You want to find out why we're not hitting? Go down the hall, ask the players..." well, you can pretty much bet you're only getting about 1/5th of the actual verbal content. This is they don't carry many long video or radio segments of post-game interviews, and why Piniella comments after losses tend to vary widely from source to source even if the sentiment is the same, because the beat writers have to write around him. And if there aren't any quotes at all--the story says "Piniella expressed serious disappointment with Franklin's performance"--you can bet there were some shocked Teamsters blinking in awe as they pulled up to the stadium with the next day's supply of rosin.

Anyway, the strike--I hope that no one who has made any comment about not coming back after a strike comes back. I don't want to hear "oh, I meant an extended strike". Nope, you should have written that on the sign you held up for the cameras.

I don't go telling my lovely and talented wife I'm going to leave her when she doesn't (uh, for instance) clean the cookie sheets she's cooked on. I don't threaten it because I love her, and I understand it's part of the package. Professional sports are no different--it takes an immense amount of money to pay the best athletes in the world on the field, and those same athletes are going to want fair compensation for their services. That they're going to argue about it sometimes shouldn't surprise anyone. Would it be in the best interests of everyone if the owners stopped seeing the players as an exploitable resource and instead as potential partners in growing the game? Sure. But there aren't a lot of companies, much less industries, who have that kind of enlightened vision.

If your relationship with baseball, or any professional sport, is so filled with jealousy and anger that you can't enjoy the beauty of the game and the talent of its players because management is inept, go watch Friends (which has been beset by labor, money, and drug issues throughout its history) and forget all about the greatest sport there is.

A seven-day strike that gets us four years of labor peace (and, likely, increasing competitive imbalance, but I digress) and clears out the angry, "players are overpaid" crowd? Sign me up.

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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