"Obsequious," Jose says. "Want me to run that through spell-check for you?"
I was more comfortable with the way players used to be: boorish, egotistical, cynical. They showed up for union meetings in stretch limos. They visited the White House without wearing ties. I like to know which way the wind is blowing; it will help me gauge the trajectory if Vince Coleman throws another firecracker. But if players are serious about rehabilitating their image, they should look at former Toronto Blue Jay and current Oakland As pitcher Dave Stewart. During the 1993 American League Championship Series, Stewart handed out turkey dinners on Canadian Thanksgiving Day at a homeless shelter—and he kicked out the television crews trying to film his kindness. And last October, with the season aborted because of the strike, with no hope that he would remain with the Blue Jays, Stewart was back handing out food at that shelter. If a player wants to "give back," let him do community service this year. And next year. And the next.
I also liked the owners better when their greed wasn't camouflaged by this sudden outbreak of respect for their customers. Of course if the owners really wanted to keep the price of going to baseball games reasonable, they would refrain from asking taxpayers to build new stadiums for them. The owners hate the players' arbitration system, but they play a variation of the same game for even higher stakes: Well, if that other team got (fill in the blank: a new ballpark, a sweetheart lease, more luxury boxes), I need one too. The owners fired the commissioner, provoked the strike and were prepared to pawn off the loopy idea of replacement players as major league baseball. For the custodians of the game, a winning team has become little more than a marketing tool. The owners owe us something more than cheaper seats.
Still, I admire the gamble baseball is taking with its new servility. For every gimmick intended to placate alienated fans, the question is, What took so long? Baseball might mesmerize some fans by its conversion to decency, but it's simply reminding the rest of us how long we've been played for saps.
Fans notice. Three men in T-shirts emblazoned with the word GREED scattered one-dollar bills on the field at the New York Met home opener. In Pittsburgh fans threw little plastic tubes containing Pirate flags on the field. At Wrigley Field they hurled refrigerator magnets. The first pitch hasn't cured everything.
"Maybe I can baby-sit for you?" Jose asks.
"Sure. The pay is $1.50 an hour, there are Cokes in the fridge and, please, don't bring Madonna."
"When will you be back?"
"Whenever the owners and players stop toadying and negotiate a settlement."