Now that the drama of the Toronto Blue Jays' World Series victory has subsided, a rather predictable argument is making the rounds of sports talk shows and bar conversations. Some observers claim it is more than mere coincidence that the first non-American team to win the World Series did so in 1992, the year in which it became impossible to follow Major League Baseball without noticing its off-the-field problems.
Any such symbolism in the Blue Jays' victory is mere nonsense. Although owned by the largest Canada-based brewing company (Labatt's) and supported by Canadian fans, the Blue Jays' players are just as American and Latino as those of any other team. (In fact, the Blue Jays don't even have a token Canadian player.)
However, arguments stating that there is increasing disaffection with Major League Baseball tend to be quite on target. A recent Gallup survey reflects this. A sample group of Americans was asked to name their favorite spectator sport. Thirty-eight percent chose football. Only 16 percent chose baseball.
Every baseball season offers certain personalities the chance to become forever associated with a specific year (for example, 1961 and Roger Maris, 1980 and George Brett). Nineteen ninety-two was no exception. However, this time those personalities tended to be dressed in suits and ties.
Before the season was hardly underway, owners got their chance to jump on the "Take Back America" bandwagon. Only after months of bombastic deliberation did they approve the sale of the Seattle Mariners from an Indianapolis-based owner to a Seattle-based owner who happens to be Japanese. When baseball's commissioner tried to bring geographic accuracy to the composition of National League divisions, the Chicago Cubs' owners filed a law suit. (More Pacific Time Zone games caused by a move to the West Division would have cost them a little television revenue.)
In the season's biggest drama, a putsch by owners removed Fay Vincent from the office of commissioner of Major League Baseball. Admittedly, Vincent's personality could have benefited from a few more readings of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Beneath the surface, however, owners wished to emasculate the broad powers of the commissioner's office.
As for the behavior of owners in recent years, a certain historical analogy is fitting. As written by Baird Professor of History Richard Pipes in The Russian Revolution, Alexandra and her Rasputin (the wife of Russia's last czar and her confidant) "could not have worked more effectively for the enemy if they were full-fledged enemy agents." Similarly, if someone had set out to destroy Major League Baseball, they would have instructed owners to take the exact actions that the owners chose to take on their own.
The owners created a system engineered toward financial disaster, particularly for small market clubs. Owners spent money, according to former Commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth, like "a bunch of drunken sailors." In attempts engaged in bidding wars and players' salaries escalated (an overall 3,000 percent increase over the last 22 years). The multimillion-dollar loss felt collectively by owners this season is less a result of occasional $6 million contracts to the game's Ryne Sandbergs than of frequent $2 million contracts to the game's Matt Youngs and Von Hayeses (translation for the non-fan: "losers").
The owners' desperate financial situation holds two major implications, neither of which sits well with baseball purists. The first is that baseball's future will likely include interleague play, wild-card playoffs and other restructurings designed to increase TV ratings. (CBS and ESPN have lost hundreds of millions of dollars under the terms of baseball's current TV contract.)
More immediately, owners, desperate to restructure the game's player-compensation system, will likely greet the 1993 season with a lockout until a new agreement with the players' union is ratified. A cancellation of the entire season is not out of the question.
Since blame is an integral part of American culture (Where else do people point fingers for damage done by a hurricane? Where else, assuming current rates of growth, are lawyers expected to outnumber nonlawyers by the end of next century?), it is appropriate to assign blame for baseball's current mess. It clearly belongs to owners.
Although fans tend to respond to owner-caused problems with an emotional drift from players, players deserve a bit of criticism themselves. This criticism should not stem from high player salaries. (After all, given the opportunity, who wouldn't want to maximize their personal income?) Rather, criticism should be directed toward those players who nauseate fans by behaving like insolent jerks.
In this regard, Jose Canseco may have the most telling quote of the season. In explaining why he didn't mind his surprising late-season trade to the Texas Rangers, Canseco lamented: "In Oakland, it was always win, win, win--and you get fed up with it."
In any case, the hype surrounding the U.S. Men's Basketball Team during the heart of the baseball season poignantly reminded baseball fans of a painful truth. Unlike pro basketball, Major League Baseball today has no one who holds the national appeal in the way that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley do--or, for that matter, in the way that Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and numerous others once did.
Adam D. Taxin '93, a contributing writer for the editorial page, is a diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan. We have absolutely no idea why he's a little cynical about baseball.