Bring on the minor leaguers.
Some major league baseball owners have threatened to fill their rosters with fellows from the bushes next spring if the big league players are still on strike. I say, "Do it."
The striking players have said, in no uncertain terms, "Don't do it," with some of them even threatening to do bodily harm to replacement players. Instead of throwing baseballs at the hitters, he would "throw fists," said reliever John Franco, a noted enforcer in the New York Met clubhouse. And Met outfielder Bobby Bonilla, who usually reserves his threats for members of the media, hinted that any player who crossed a picket line might "end up in the East River."
That's swell talk, in the fine tradition of militant striker chest-thumping, and it agitated the owners into filing unfair labor practice charges against the two players as well as the players' union. Is it worth noting that Bonilla and Franco are the Mets' player representatives and are members of the union's executive board? Or that Franco would have made $4 million in salary last season if he hadn't lost three checks to the strike, and that Bonilla would have had to struggle by on $5.7 million, baseball's largest salary in 1994? Probably not.
If you're like me, you're sick of the whole thing. You don't care anymore about the details or issues of this longest baseball strike, except this: Last season was ruined by the dispute, and next season might be too. You tried to sympathize with grown men who were bitching about salary limitations and unfair servitude even though some of them individually were making more money in a season than your father, grandfather, great-grandfather and—jeez!—you, combined, have made in the past century. And you completely lost it when World Series time came and all you saw on TV were Japanese guys raising their front foot high in the air and swinging for the fences.
No, the major league players have done nothing to win sympathy from us, the fans. They have been crude and haughty in portraying their plight and seemingly oblivious to the fact that our working lives aren't so peachy either. Moreover, they seem to have missed entirely the fact that this isn't a typical management-worker strike, the kind that naturally elicits public empathy for industrial laborers asked to do too much for too little by coldhearted bosses. In truth, major league players are not laborers at all. They are members of a new class of elite worker, which has sprung up during the information age and which includes people in a wide variety of occupations that rely heavily on expanding technology—architects, bankers, brokers, engineers, rock singers, scriptwriters, etc. Called the "new social elite" by the late cultural critic Christopher Lasch, this group includes just about anyone whose livelihood "rests not so much on the ownership of property as on the manipulation of information and professional expertise."
Sure, major leaguers swing bats and throw balls, but their real occupation is entertainment and their real job is to perform in front of skyboxes and television cameras. Corporate and TV dollars are the driving forces in big-time sports. Laborers? A major league player is to a drill-press operator what an alligator is to a newt. Bonilla is just Bill Cosby in pinstripes, only less funny.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not a fan of the owners, either. Just because you don't like the mongoose in a fight doesn't mean you like the snake. The owners are so stupid and avaricious, they can't figure out how to share their money with one another. They remind me of 28 little crumb-faced kids, all pointing at the one who ate the cookies.
But the owners have the ballparks, and at this point that's all I care about. Major leaguers live by the mantra, We are the game, but I'm not so sure. I think Wrigley Field and Fenway Park and Camden Yards and green grass and Cracker Jack and hot dogs and cold beer and snappy uniforms count for a whole lot too. Minor leaguers could come up and play next spring for the big league minimum of $109,000—the owners should then cut ticket prices in half—and I would be able to take my kids to see baseball. It would be a slightly inferior version of the game, but I would still know that most teams would win about half the time and that some fun would be had at the old ball yard.
I went to Wrigley for a game last season, and I watched the Chicago Cubs' Mark Grace ($4.4 million in 1994) go 1 for 4, getting a single. I watched a Boston Red Sox game on TV and saw Roger Clemens ($5.2 million) lose big. I think a few minor leaguers could do the same things. I'm sure there are some guys in the minors who are stars in waiting, too. Let's see them.