Jewish World Review August 28, 2002 / 20 Elul, 5762

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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From Doubleday to strikeday: Baseball's collective anxiety attack | Build it and they will come. Destroy it and they won't come back. Abner Doubleday must be yelling foul ball from his grave six feet under the mound.

So yet another MLB that's Major League Baseball "work stoppage" approaches. Or, if you prefer, "play stoppage." In either case, it's the ninth since 1972. Three times the "Three Strikes and You're Out" rule of this and that other great dysfunctional national pastime, criminal justice. Very well. Perhaps it's time we came to terms with the terms on which this and other professional sports are played and paid.

There are, we would suggest, five ways of thinking about the sad state of MLB and NFL and NBA and the rest. Since this is a baseball column, we shall call them: Spitball, Curve Ball, Slider, Change of Pace and Knuckleball.


As in, I'm mad enough to spit. Who are these whiny, pampered prima donnas who feel so anxious for giving so much and asking so little in return? At a mere $4 million average salary, condemned to spend a few hours each week for half a year mostly lolling about in billion-dollar facilities, soaking up the adulation and the perks and . . . OK, you feel the same way. 'Nuf said, except maybe to invoke that old 1940's slogan: Don't you know there's a war on?


Granted, professional sports now display certain characteristics usually associated with mobsters, extortionists, class-action trial lawyers and corporations audited by Arthur Andersen. But professional sports are still a meritocracy, the purest in America. The players have risen through a combination of rare talent and dedication, and are kept around only so long as they produce. Skills fade quickly. The Play the injury that suddenly ends your career is an omnipresent peril. Same with the normal hazards of life. Not for nothing does MLB also stand for Maybe Later, Baby, and NFL for Not For Long. (The exact meaning of NBA may be debated, but the point is still valid.)


So who can blame the players for taking as much as they can as fast as they can, especially when it's the owners and the politicians who have turned pro sports into such a rip-off of the average fan? In the end, baseball does symbolize what America has become part meritocracy, part kleptocracy, part glitz, part scam so deal with it. By which we mean, enjoy it for what it has become, and don't pretend that it's possible to return to some "Field of Dreams" fantasy. If present trends continue.


But present trends never continue. Greed, the symbiotic greed of owners and players, may well destroy what's left of the game. And it won't be just because baseball prices itself out of even the corporate market. Professional sports are, to borrow an image from the real estate world, getting overbuilt. Everybody knows what happens to these markets when one-too-many high-rise complexes or residential developments or office towers goes up. Prices crash for everybody. Call it a natural corrective. As part of the overbuilt world of for-profit collegiate and professional athletics, baseball is not immune.


As in you great big knuckle...

So that's five pitches. Personally, however, we favor a sixth:

The Fastball straight and hard and honest. We've lost something precious. Who wouldn't give anything to spend one more day at the ball park with dad or grandpa? But if we can't get it back, there are still alternatives. Non-commercial non-exploitative alternatives. Little League. High school baseball. College ball. Even the minors. This is where the game is still pure and played for pleasure and pride and you don't have to have a kid on the team to enjoy it. Maybe it's time we regained yet another lost art the art of entertaining ourselves in our own communities, surrounded by our neighbors and our countrymen. Not merely consuming whatever the System deigns to toss our way at whatever prices they set.

Personally, we'd give a lot to play catch with Dad just one more time. We'd also love to honor those memories by starting a strike of our own a strike of the fans. Maybe, in the end, that's the real fast ball.

Wouldn't you love to hear your once-favorite player saying, "Would you like a small green salad with that?"

So, if the players do walk, show 'em your heat, America. Make it not matter unless and until they remember the heritage, and learn to honor it again.

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., of Kirkland, Wash., is president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists who write numerous commentaries and articles for newspapers, newsletters, magazines and journals nationally and internationally. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002