Foul Ball

Whitey Herzog takes a vicious swing at money-driven modern baseball, where only the wealthy win -- and the fans always lose

Rosentraub outlined his plan in some detail in an op-ed piece in the April 11 Post-Dispatch. In broad strokes, he says, "They should declare their intention to build a new stadium in full partnership with the leagues, the Players Association and the owners. If baseball will not as part of that partnership come forward with a revenue- and player-sharing program, then St. Louis city and county will ask the Missouri delegation, the Minnesota delegation and the Pennsylvania delegation to hold hearings on the status of baseball and ask for congressional action."

Herzog wants to stimulate debate on the game's problems with You're Missin' a Great Game, and no doubt he's encouraged that others such as Rosentraub are grappling with them, but he remains pessimistic about the eventual result. "You can say a lot of things that should be done," he notes. "It's almost like Ross Perot at election time. He's got all the answers, and some of the things he says are very true, but if he became president he couldn't implement them.

"Right now we have no trust in baseball. The owners don't trust each other, the owners don't trust the union, the union doesn't trust the owners and the fans are in the middle: They can't trust either one of them. That's a problem."

James is no less dismayed: "I don't see how you can be too optimistic," he says, "because there's no process for resolving these problems. No one has the power to decide what ought to be done and implement it. Everything has to be negotiated among 16 power centers -- you've got the big-market owners, the small-market owners, the players' union, the umpires' union, the TV networks. There are very obvious solutions to almost all of baseball's problems, but there's no mechanism to implement any of those obvious solutions. If you can't solve your obvious problems, how optimistic can you be, realistically? I don't think baseball will reach the point where it begins to solve its obvious problems until it has a real crisis, something worse than '94.

"Baseball today is like a bus with everybody steering," James concludes. "When you come to a corner, you vote: Do we want to turn left here, do we want to turn right, do we want to speed up? And everybody has to agree before you do anything. Sooner or later, you crash."

But not everyone is depressed about baseball's future, and it's perhaps a sunny portent that Miller and Alderson -- representatives of labor and management -- are upbeat. Miller is pleased that the commissioner is promoting more widespread revenue sharing: "Now, I am mindful of the fact that Mr. Selig is not just the commissioner but also the owner of a small-market team (the Milwaukee Brewers)," says Miller, "so his self-interest is fairly obvious. Nevertheless, it's encouraging that he's peddling that kind of thing rather than the nonsense that baseball's going down the drain." Alderson also sees positive signs: "I'm actually optimistic because I think we've gotten to the point now where the fans understand what's most important: Can my team win or not win? This has become an argument over competition and not over money, and I think that, explained in those terms, most people believe something needs to be done."

Costas puts the situation even more basically: "Everyone has to take a step back," he claims, "and say, 'Look, what is the basic principle in any sport?' If we were in the schoolyard -- if you and I are playing a schoolyard game -- what's the objective? To make the sides as even as possible so that the game is fair and interesting. If I get to take the best player, then I also have to take the youngest and littlest player. Now, pro sports can't and shouldn't work exactly that way, but that principle has got to be acknowledged.

"When it is, then everybody -- owners and players -- can help to craft a system in which the players are still going to be fabulously wealthy but the money is going to be distributed a little more equitably among the players and every team will have a reasonable chance to contend."

"It takes two teams to play," Herzog concludes, reducing the problem to its fundamentals. "That's the thing.

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