Will baseball really be missed?

Any second now, representatives for the major league baseball players union (with heavy, heavy hearts) will announce a strike date against the owners.
C'mon admit it -- this summer, you could not care less if the millionaires walk out on the billionaires. In fact, you might even cheer for the break.
Right now, six American League teams are in contention for four playoff berths. None of them are spelled C-L-E-V-E-L-A-N-D I-N-D-I-A-N-S.
Over in the senior circuit, seven teams have high hopes for postseason slots. None play their home games in the state of Pennsylvania.
So if the players decide that a strike is the only way to preserve their hard-knock way of life (average salary -- $2.3 million), you won't hear much crying in the Mahoning Valley.
In fact, the reaction might be the opposite, especially from fans who have purchased Indians and Pirates tickets for August and September games. Those once-appealing contests now are about as exciting to anticipate as the second half of an NFL exhibition game (except when Steve Spurrier sends in the first team to run up the score).
The real fun over the next several weeks is watching both sides posture. Here's a new fantasy game to play: pick the player/owner who will make the most insensitive remark against the fans (average salary -- $40,000).
Players will win again
As for the showdown, it's no contest -- the players will win. Again. In a slam dunk.
The owners, who haven't won one of these showdowns, can't agree on sharing revenue. If they can't come together on a no-brainer like that, how will they ever agree to sticking together long enough to crack the union?
Answer: They won't.
When the owners caved to end the 1994 strike during spring training of 1995, baseball's economic system began spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, competitive balance disappeared as well.
Only two of the AL's 14 teams have made it to the World Series since, and one of them -- the one that plays near Lake Erie -- has stopped trying to get back.
Many owners plus Commissioner Bud Selig are crying the blues because the lower-income franchises are stuck in what appears to be an endless cycle of non-competition. Their revenue don't come close to what George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees rake in, so how can they compete with the Bronx Bombers?
Steinbrenner has been painted the villain, but why blame him for spending revenue on better players?
Don't. Instead, point the finger at the owners of the small- and mid-market clubs who have allowed this competitive imbalance to run unchecked. If they would stick together and force revenue sharing, maybe the Yankees would be sharing more and spending less.
Want proof? Look at the National Football League.
Salaries skyrocketed
Because of owner stupidity, baseball salaries have skyrocketed -- remember when Albert Belle's five-year, $55 million contract to join the Chicago White Sox in 1997 was shocking? Four years later, Belle's paycheck wasn't even half of what the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez $25 million) for 10 years.
Where did all that money come from?
Some of it was generated by the new ballparks that many major-league cities built to keep their team owners happy. However, a lot of the luxury seats in these cash cows now sit empty.
Television revenues in the best markets continue to rise even though the ratings have plummeted. Can that trend last?
A smart ballplayer might look at decreased TV ratings and empty seats and wonder where the money is coming from for future raises. The less intelligent ones are preparing their repression speeches.
For the first time since 1993, neither the Tribe nor the Pittsburgh Pirates are chasing a playoff spot. If these guys go away for a few months, they won't be missed as much as they believe.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.

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