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So there I am, a loyal fan, crammed into a rock-hard seat, nursing my econo-size bucket o' suds, which is a lukewarm gyp at any price, and I'm feeling nasty. I mean, I've just fought my way through a traffic jam for the privilege of paying three bucks to park within 10 miles of the stadium. Then, with my heart still pounding from climbing up to the Himalayan upper deck, here's this surly usher dressed like Captain Kangaroo trying to hustle me for a tip for brushing my seat with a dirty rag. "Get lost," I tell him. "Better you should go dust off all those poor slobs who've been waiting in line since last season to get into the men's room."
Anyway, no sooner do I wedge myself into place than Boom Boom Harris, a free-agent tourist posing as a cleanup hitter, taps one back to the mound and then sort of ambles out of the batter's box. So up I jump, surprising myself at how loud I'm shouting. "What's the matter, Boom Boom?" I scream. "Your wallet so heavy you can't run to first? "
With that, the guy sitting next to me leans over and, soft and sensible like, starts explaining how the owner has promised to buy the city a winning team and Boom Boom just needs time to adjust and....
"Adjust!" I yell, spilling my suds all over myself. "Hey, I'm the one having trouble adjusting to shelling out my hard-earned dough to watch some overpaid prima donna do the hucklebuck on the base paths." Understand, I'm really steamed, not at the guy sitting next to me but at the whole buck-hungry sports scene. "Come off it," I say to him. "You sound like the type of lame-brain who thinks professional basketball players deserve a zillion dollars because they happen to be seven feet tall. Listen, if God gave me a 20-inch neck, I'd chase a football around on a fall afternoon, too, but I wouldn't expect the fans to go into hock so I could spend the rest of the year making underwear ads and counting my money by a swimming pool somewhere.
"And please spare me the commercials for the big-hearted owners. The only time those gougers slink out of their tax shelters is to jack up the price of tickets and stuff more sawdust into the lukewarm hot dogs. Face it, fella, the owners and players are milking the fans dry. I mean, just look at this new $60-million cheesecake they call Memorial Stadium. The only things it's a memorial to are all the tax dollars I've forked over paying for a joint where the escalators work about as often as the cleanup crews. Adjust? You've got to be kidding. Hell, I say revolt! Down with the greed breed! Run the bums out of town! Storm the gates and...."
Well, anyway, right about then I notice that the guy in the next seat is looking at me kind of funny, and very slowly he gets up and sneaks away and sits in another section of the stands. C'mon, tell me the truth, Doc, I've got a legit beef, right? I mean, there's nothing wrong with me, is there?
Sports nuts who seek understanding on a psychiatrist's couch may be rare. Yet there is enough gripe-therapy going on elsewhere that it seems impossible for three fans to get together for a few beers without it turning into a group encounter. There is no evading the complaints about the money mania in professional sports. What displeasures are not voiced in the upper decks of the land are being aired in bars and barbershops, on call-in radio shows and in letters to the editor. While no one seems ready to abduct Bowie Kuhn, feelings more often than not run deep.
Take the case of Warren N. Kellogg of Exeter, N.H. He is 68 and has been a fan of Boston's pro teams ever since his father took him to Fenway Park to see Babe Ruth pitch. He was there when the Bruins played their first hockey game in 1924. And he avidly supported both the Celtics and Patriots through their formative years and beyond. But no longer does he make the 100-mile round trip to Boston to root for the home team. "I have had it with pro sports," he says. "I have contributed my last nickel to the greed of players and owners."
Not only has Kellogg dropped out, but he has also written a pamphlet that chronicles the disenchantment of a real-life superfan. Like Thoreau, another balky New Englander who railed against the excesses of his day, he is not one to mince words. His social protest is titled To Hell With Pro Sports.
Kellogg's alienation began to intensify when the Patriots joined the NFL players' strike in the middle of the 1975 recession. He wrote, "Here they were on a minimum salary of $32,000—that's minimum—in a country where the unemployment rate was running at 10%. It was disgusting." Then came the "single most indefensible and despicable piece of money grubbing ever visited on the people of New England by a franchise owner." Kellogg is referring to the Jacobs brothers, owners of the Bruins and Boston Garden, and their revamping of the second balcony at the Garden "so that a few wealthy people, corporations and politicians could have some bragging rights in their fancy special boxes. And who was dispossessed? People who had supported the franchise for generations." His final word on the brothers Jacobs—"Just so long as they own the Bruins, I'm taking a vacation."