Jewish World Review August 28, 2002 / 20 Elul, 5762
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
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
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.
CHANGE OF PACE
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
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