Contrary to reports, the 28 baseball owners did not pile out of a single tiny Volkswagen upon arriving for a meeting it The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., last week. The rest of the week's events did, however, deserve the accompaniment of a circus calliope, the official musical instrument of Major League Baseball:
•As it was becoming less likely that the season would start on time with real ma-or leaguers, owners and players made no effort whatsoever to end the seven-month-long players' strike. In fact, the two sides did not meet for eight days.
•The owners briefly stopped chirping about the sky falling on their industry long enough to expand it by two more clubs, adding the overly polysyllabic Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the base price of $130 million each. They did so only after a last-minute attempt to shake down their new partners for another $45 million failed. Welcome to the club, boys.
•The drawn-out dispute between players and owners succeeded in running out of the game the biggest sporting attraction on the planet; fed-up Michael Jordan decided he didn't want to be a baseball player anymore. To much less fanfare—but with greater insult to the game—neither did three replacement players in the New York Mets' camp, who bolted to return to their previous jobs.
•Doug Corbett, the 42-year-old pitching coach at Jacksonville University who last pitched in the big leagues in 1987, signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves one morning, threw two scoreless innings in an exhibition game two hours later and then was excused from camp for two days so he could join his college team on a road trip to Western Kentucky.
Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, welcome to the Greatest Joke on Earth.
The worst part of all this is that neither the owners nor the players honestly care enough about the game to do something about it. Sure, both sides will tell you they want a settlement. But at the same time each side is determined not only to come out of this the winner but also to leave its adversary humiliated. To that effect both have adopted long-term strategies that spit in the face of the integrity of the 162-game season and all the lovelorn fans amazingly still eager to buy tickets.
The owners are content to wait until the players miss enough paychecks (beginning with the first one, due April 15) to pressure their executive director, Donald Fehr, into making a deal. The players' union would rather win in court than negotiate a settlement, and this week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is expected to agree with it that the owners have bargained in bad faith. Should the NLRB then succeed in gaining an injunction against the owners in federal court, the strike could be over (Fehr has indicated the players would return to work under the cover of such an injunction, which would require the owners to operate under the terms of baseball's old collective bargaining agreement), and a lockout could ensue (the owners won't play ball without a new agreement).
But an injunction would be good news since it would spare us the travesty of the freak show known as replacement baseball, where the crowds are small and lifeless, and the play is unremarkable except for the lack of speed, power and quality pitching.
It also might spare the Seattle Mariners a hefty clubhouse catering bill. Fans kept hearing how hungry scabs were to play. but this is ridiculous. The replacement Mariners scarfed down chips, ice cream and cheese at such an alarming rate in the Arizona Faux League that Seattle manager Lou Piniella, upon noticing the bulging waistlines, ordered lunchtime rations of half a sandwich and a bowl of soup.