Will baseball wait and dodge until it’s too late? | VailDaily.com

Will baseball wait and dodge until it’s too late?

Ryan Slabaugh

And then, like a kindergartner with a thumbful of glue, baseball has an idea. Or, a few ideas. Does it eat the glue to get some laughs, or does it put it down and risk boring its fans? Baseball’s problem is it can’t make up its mind.

The sport responded to steroid accusations with red-faced denials. Commissioner Bud Selig tells us he’s looking into it. Don’t forget, he also said he’s looking into contraction and was, upon mentioning it, bulldozed by more than one billionaire owner. In other words, even with Elmers breath, Selig’s still convinced we don’t know or we really enjoyed the glue tasting.

But that was fine. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Even during the strike in 1994, I kept my faith. They’re not really that bad. What’s one year without the World Series? It’s not even a “world” series, now is it?

But they started talking strike again this year. In the same season, the wayward son of former wayward owner Bill Veeck actually locked the gates to his minor league team, the Charleston Riverdogs, Monday night. The dogs lost 4-2 to the Columbus RedStixx as the Class A Tampa Bay Devil Rays affiliate kept hundreds of fans outside Joe Riley Stadium as a publicity stint.

See, baseball wanted to set a record. Fewest fans. But does it really need to padlock the stadium? It seems to me they need to follow the example of the big leagues. Take steroids, complain about money and then, when push comes to shove, wait and dodge, wait and dodge. And now the players want to strike again.

I know you’ve all heard it before. Baseball’s no longer the national pastime. It’s basketball, or football, or some other highly marketable activity. But baseball’s done nothing to earn the dubious title. No longer do players have personalities, they have home run records and salaries. Even those that do liven up the circuit (see Sosa or McGwire or Bonds) all have pharmacists cheering more often than fans.

As Selig recognizes the fact that a work stoppage will happen this season, and is offering increasing the percentage of locally generated revenue shared by teams from 20 percent to 50 percent, and imposing a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million, baseball further alienates its fans – who love statistics – by lulling them asleep with figures outside the ERA. Anyone can do that. I just did.

But I have a few suggestions that, in my opinion, will help the game of baseball.

n Lift the ban on foreign ownership. I know this goes against the “national pastime” aspect, but basketball is adopting the international influence that baseball started and is thriving. Baseball has been about blazing trails, not reclusion and finance. Allow the world to have a say in major league economics and see if competition, in fact, will benefit each franchise.

n Enjoy contraction. Celebrate the two franchises that are being eliminated, but do it majestically and tactfully. Then move on very quickly and instigate a bigger change. Come to an agreement on a salary cap or start a world league. Announce a long-term plan for the American and National leagues to combine after contraction and another league to expand into Europe, Asia and South America. If not, then stop talking about it and fade into an era comparable to the pre-Magic NBA or, at least, contemporary boxing.

n Regulate mid-season trades. My proposal is this: For every trade completed after June 1, take away a draft pick, starting with the first round. This will avoid confusing fans with Raul Mondesi trades to the Yankees. An exception could be allowed. If the owner is willing to be taxed 100 percent of the trade value (per person per season), shove that tax money into profit sharing. Those who can’t afford big-name trades in July will at least see a benefit.

Other than that, baseball’s on its own. Nobody can do anything about the Jose Cansecos or Darryl Strawberrys or the league strikes. Nobody, except of course, for Bud Selig. While the debate continues, I’ll be waiting with the other fans outside the locked stadium, dribbling a soccer ball, waiting to get inside.

– Ryan Slabaugh is a sports reporter for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or rslabaugh@vaildaily.com

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