In 1973 doctors at Johns Hopkins performed the first successful sense-of-humorectomy, on a man named Donald M. Fehr. Two years later a Hopkins patient named Richard J. Ravitch had his personality removed by a pioneering team of microsurgeons. To this day both men courageously await charisma donors. Who says there are no sympathetic characters, no people to root for, in this baseball strike?
Fehr is the head of the baseball players' union, the "labor" chief who portrays the strike as a kind of peasant uprising, ignoring the fact that not a single member of his flock would know Che Guevara from Shea Stadium. Ravitch, the owners' representative, does not actually exist but is merely an animated character drawn by Jerry Reinsdorf and voiced by Bud Selig. You may have seen him in Who Framed Richard Ravitch?
The last strike negotiation took place on Aug. 25, and as of Sunday no new meetings had been scheduled to resolve the tired, boring, appalling dispute, now in its fourth week. Instead of repairing to the bargaining table in the hotel conference room, Fehr, for one, is said to be barricaded in his suite upstairs, insisting to housekeepers that he'll never—under any circumstances, so help him—accept their cynical offer of a shower cap.
And yet if the strike is somehow magically resolved this week, it is baseball's intention to finish the season. Never mind that John Kruk may have fallen out of game shape at this point. Or that Cecil Fielder is under scaffolding that might take months to remove. Baseball's "guardians" do not care. Their "thinking" goes like this: The World Series has been played 89 consecutive times. It is a sacrosanct "tradition," and so it is better to invite wild-card teams to a six-division playoff, which could result in some winded Montreal Expos playing some flatulent Texas Rangers during the World Series, than to altogether skip the "Fall Classic."
Which brings me to the point of this POINT AFTER. (Thank you for waiting.) Gentlemen: Your season is already finished, whether you choose to resume it or not. It's over before it's over. It got late early. Stick a fork in your forkballs. Football has already taken your place in the national consciousness. Check out the cover and contents of this very magazine if you don't believe me. Could my editors possibly be wrong?
And not just football, but professional football. The NFL. Yes, the No Fun League now seems a relatively cheery and cheeky alternative to the No League League, with the latter's unspeakable bipartisan greed. Just last year SI asked on its cover, CAN THE NFL BE SAVED? I hate to placekick a game when it's down, but today that question is far more appropriate to baseball.
Suddenly, football is baseball's happy converse. Baseball bickers over a salary cap? Football has a more or less workable new one. Baseball has a bum TV contract? Football has a lucrative new one. And if football, too, is infected by unspeakable bipartisan greed, at least it has not yet reached the Biblical proportions found in baseball. NFL players make do on a billion dollars a year, dammit, and compared with their brethren in baseball, this seems downright Calvinistic. Ohbytheway: The NFL actually...plays its games, yet another reason to watch.
Of course, pro football is not the only alternative during this strike. There is college football. There is Australian Rules football. There is fantasy football. If those options fail to excite you, follow these simple instructions: Remove the remote control from your hand (try paint remover and a putty knife; it should come right out) and take those first experimental steps into the world beyond your welcome mat. Why should you sit home during the strike? Baseball players don't.
If it seems we are witnessing the irreversible decline and fall of a once imperial institution, that is because we are. As PBS prepares to air Ken Burns's 18½-hour retrospective on baseball, one can't help but think of Burns as baseball's Edward Gibbon—and of baseball as being akin to the Roman Empire in its final days.
The wheezy talk-radio rhetoric is that fans are the real losers in this strike. But it just may be that baseball—players and owners, Fehr and Ravitch—are in fact the real losers that they appear to be, and that fans are now free to rediscover pro football, which last looked fresh when Broncos were neither Fords nor Denverites but first names, spelled with a k.