Playoffs? no, those are the new, expanded, wild-card layoffs you're seeing in baseball, firings and "furloughs" so hurtful they might even tug at the heart of a team owner, were such a thing possible without the use of tweezers.
The San Francisco Giants recently moved to discontinue the pension of a 76-year-old woman who worked in their ticket office for 32 years. Mary Sutherland was to be paid $10,000 a year for the rest of her life when she retired in 1989. If she lives to be 101, that would require the Giants, over the next quarter century, to pay her $250,000—or what they ordinarily pay slugger Barry Bonds every two weeks. Sutherland received a letter on Sept. 19 from Giant vice president Larry Baer, bidding her a terse adios. Then last week, after the incident hit the papers, the savaged Giants suddenly reinstated Sutherland's pension. Let's just say that when your business address is Candlestick Park, you can sense which way the wind is blowing.
The baseball strike, seven weeks old and counting, has struck a dizzying number of ordinary people—from full-time professionals like the community relations director in Pittsburgh, a 12-year employee of the Pirates whose job has been "eliminated," to the 1,000 part-timers laid off in Kansas City alone. The body count is highest among those who once earned a pittance in major league baseball, from the homeless man in Boston who collected $20 worth of aluminum cans during Red Sox games to the father of three who pocketed $40 a night selling hot dogs during Toronto Blue Jay games at the Sky-Dome. "The players make more money in a year than I'll make in my whole life," notes that hot dog vendor. George Rokos. "They look at us like we're gypsies."
The truth is, George, they don't look at you at all. The players live in a remote universe other than our own, a gate-and-guardhouse world in which Sweet Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers deems it appropriate to arrive at a labor meeting in a stretch limousine with tinted windows, and in which Chicago Cub first baseman Mark Grace sees no irony in saying, "It's the young guys, the players in the $200,000 to $400,000 [salary] range, that we have to help support."
As for the acorn-hearted owners: They have an apt figurehead in $1 million-a-year acting commissioner Bud Selig, the president of the Milwaukee Brewers. He just "terminated" his public relations director of the last 19 years, father-of-four Tom Skibosh, and 10 other full-time employees. Elsewhere, literally dozens of other such men and women who have spent their lives in baseball now find themselves at sea.
What follows are four Profiles in Carnage: a Bronx native, furloughed from his New York Yankee front-office job, whose pregnant wife works while he worries in their newly bought dream house; an idle beer vendor who has had to postpone his plans for college; a father of two who worked two jobs in baseball so that his children might go to college; and a delightful San Diego woman, known as Miss Padre, who was cast away after 24 years of working devotedly for her team.
Bob Pelegrino, 39
Director of special events
New York Yankees
"[A baby cries.] Let me grab my one-year-old. Ever see that movie Mr. Mom? That's me now. Anthony's first birthday is next week. We have another one on the way. We always wanted two children close in age so they could grow up together. We just moved into a new house, in a beautiful neighborhood in Hopewell Junction [N.Y.], we have an acre of land, a swing set and a swimming pool in the back-yard—it's everything we ever wanted. And then this hits us.
"My wife is four months pregnant, and she's working now as a receptionist for a publishing company in Manhattan. One good thing about the Yankees is we still get medical disability. When Liz was pregnant with Anthony, she had a problem with fibroid tumors, which cause pain and bleeding. She had an operation after the birth, but apparently the tumors have come back....
"I understand what both sides are fighting for, but I don't sympathize with either of them. I don't see any owners or players on the unemployment lines. I sympathize with the kids selling beer so they can make the money to go to college, with the older people who work in concession stands.