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A league of their own

Mike Larkin

Is Major League Baseball insane?Are they not reading the papers these days?The players’ labor union is talking about walking out before the end of the season.The only thing less sympathetic than a multi-millionaire CEO pleading the fifth to congress is a multi-millionaire baseball player complaining that he’s having trouble making payments on his Lamborghini.I should come clean here and mention that I’m not a baseball fan.People tend to feel sorry for me when I tell them I’m not really into any major league sports. They shake their head in pity like I just told them I’m having my appendix taken out.But I have a feeling I’m about to be joined by an army of people who no longer are baseball fans.Why? Because baseball didn’t learn any lessons from the last time it went on strike.Baseball players, arguably the least athletic of major league players, are not happy with their salaries. Owners, who are saying they can barely make payroll now, are not happy with paying higher salaries. Ticket holders are not happy footing the bill for multi-millionaire owners and players to publicly argue about how to slice the pie of the recently fleeced ticket holders.I’m not a very good businessman, but I did get a solid “C” in my college macroeconomics class, so I think I’m qualified to say: the solution is not to go on strike but to cut both owners’ and players’ salaries.When you have a pie of a certain size to divide between a certain number of people, the answer is not to make the pie bigger but to cut the pieces smaller. And when that pie is estimated to be $2.4 billion annually, asking for a bigger pie might come off as looking greedy in some circles.Don’t they teach this stuff at Harvard or Baseball Team Owner Community College or wherever these owners went to school?It’s amazing that baseball is even drawing a crowd at all. After the baseball strike of 1994, fans did not exactly return to ballparks en mass. In fact, it’s been a slow, steady rebuilding process with the numbers barely up to what they once were. So what’s the best thing for baseball to do right now? Exactly, go on strike and infuriate the few people that still love baseball.According to MLB statistics, the average player salary right now is $2.4 million. To play a game. And chew tobacco. (Do they still chew? I haven’t watched a baseball game since I was in elementary school.)The problem is MLB, like most major league sports, is the only show in town. They have a noncompetitive monopoly that allows the business side to play with numbers on a whim. It allows them to demand — and get — taxpayer-funded stadiums so they can build a “club level” and box seats that they make even more money on.For “America’s pastime” they have opted for a pretty un-American economic system.But all of these numbers will be moot when Baseball kills itself by stupidly turning its back on the fans again.The second the players’ union started crying again I would have locked them out. Throw the bums out. Start from scratch. Make these grown men go out and find real jobs and get some college kids who care into the game.But if we do have a strike or lockout, the inevitable consequence is that Keanu Reeves will eventually make a movie about the season of unruly but genial scabs taking to the field to replace the real players.Nobody wants that.The other problem with baseball shooting itself in the foot like this is that something else will quickly fill its place. I’ve got a funny feeling arena football is going to start looking a lot less dorky after a baseball walkout.


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