No Joy in Mudville

Four Weeks Until Monday Night Football

THANK GOD FOOTBALL SEASON is only a few weeks away. The sooner the baseball players and owners put themselves and the fans out of their misery the better it will be for all. In fact, both sides will have an extra-long winter vaction to prepare for a new season of contractual negotiations.

But for almost an entire month, we will have to concern ourselves with the latest round of soap opera baseball. In this episode, the players are right. In fact, the players are always right, and in this case, for three very good reasons: 1) players are underpaid, 2) the owners are walking off with embarrassingly large profits, and 3) the owners have kept the players under Stalinesque bondage for too long.

First, the players are underpaid. The average $300,000-plus that each major-leaguer scrapes by on is hardly enough to rent a hotel room in each city he plays in during the season.

Oh, wait a minute. Players don't have living expenses during the season. Even so, the meager $300,000--which is certainly in the same ballpark as the salaries earned by other professionals like doctors and lawyers--would hardly cover the costs of the expensive education the players had to go through to get there.

But, wait. They are paid to play in the minor leagues and many of those who went to college were there on scholarships.

Even so, the $300,000 is barely enough to cover the expenses that accompany a fleet of Porches. And, if you can't keep your Porsche looking sharp, it's just not the ultimate driving machine, is it?

SECOND, OWNERS ARE WALKING OFF with embarrassingly immense profits. The simple fact that they say they are losing $20-30 million a year obviously means they are pulling in huge sums of money. Some people, however, insist that running an operation where you pay players like Jim Rice several million dollars to hit into double plays 45 times a year might lose money.

Silly them. That's how a successful business is run.

If the owners had any sense, they'd unburden a few more million on all-stars such as Lee Mazzilli.

THIRD, THE OWNERS have kept the players under strict control for just too long. For a while, there was talk of allowing players to divide up the millions of dollars from television revenues, to allow salary arbitration, and even worse, some rebels talked of allowing free agency. If that ever happened, the owners' counterparts over in football-land would have had themselves a pretty good chuckle (and a pretty good scare.) Luckily, people like Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson realized that they should act in the best interest of baseball to prevent the sport from becoming controlled by money.

Oh, you say Catfish and Reggie did become free agents. And you say arbitration is a common practice now that allows players who can barely hit .250 sign contracts worth millions of dollars?

Even so, the players have virtually no rights. They have no say over when they can be traded and no right to demand where they may play.

Oh, you say they have control over this too.

Well, the owners still wield an oppressively strong hand. In fact, in some players' contracts, there are clauses which say they have to actually play in a certain number of games to get paid. They might as well play for the Politburo. And, who says you actually have to play baseball to get paid for doing so?

George Foster gets paid for playing baseball, doesn't he.

And while he's on strike, he'll be getting what he earns.

In the meantime, I really don't mind waiting for Monday Night Football.