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."
October 9, 1994
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.
"I don't like the idea of Liz four months pregnant working every day. I don't know how much longer she can do it. [Under state law] I can't collect unemployment [for seven weeks, because the work loss is strike-related]. I've just got to wait. My in-laws are staying upstairs, and they help out. But you have to cut back. We used to go out once a week to dinner or a movie. Now we don't. But there's only so much you can cut back on....
"I'm seriously looking at my life insurance, because that's a big chunk every month."
Adam Monash, 27
"I have basically lost $3,000 and had to postpone my education. I planned to go to Metropolitan State College for the fall semester and get a second degree, in marketing.... I'm collecting $125 a week unemployment now, which is nothing. I work Bronco games and Colorado football games, but those are only once a week, once every two weeks.
"Now I'm interning with the American Arbitration Association. It's just an internship, with no pay. I hope I'll find a regular nine-to-five job. I'd like to eventually do something in labor relations....
"I think both sides are at fault. The owners are not being straight, and the players make too much money. It's hard to think of a union with 800 members as worthy of a national crisis. I mean, the Denver teachers are thinking of going on strike, and what's more important? Baseball heroes? Where do our values lie?"
Trent Breitenbucher, 45
"I worked for the Angels nine-to-five, for the last seven years, and for the last two years I've also worked part time for the city of Anaheim selling Angels tickets. In my main job, I was mostly involved with the Junior Angels Club....
"To me the greatest loss is that most kids identified with ballplayers—with Babe Ruth in his time, with Mickey Mantle in his time. Now players are seen as greedy in a time when we need to uphold values, when we need role models, when we need someone to look up to. Greed is a big factor in the strike, but I'm not taking sides. I have friends on both sides of it. I'm still an employee of the California Angels. It's just a loss for everyone.
"It's also a financial loss for me. I'm getting unemployment. But I have a son, Phil, who's graduating from high school next spring. My other son, Erich, just turned 16, he's a sophomore. We're doing the best we can to stay positive, but it's a real struggle. It's definitely curbed our lifestyle. The big question is, With the kids' college coming up, what are we going to do? We're going through our savings right now. It's painful."
Barbara Hendrix, 58
San Diego Padres
"You ask me how I'm coping? I'm not. I did not see this coming. I'd been a survivor all these years in baseball, since I was hired as a switchboard operator on April 6, 1971—Opening Day. Now I'm caught seven years from retirement, my husband is retired, and I'm really in a bind. I have a marvelous rèsumè. If I were 25, I'd like to think I could walk into a job with a lot of clubs. But I'm realistic enough to know that at 58, I won't be able to.
"I feel like it's a divorce from the Padres after all these years. I feel like they've told me they don't love me anymore. And as far as baseball goes, well, I feel like there has been a death. The death of baseball.
"I have been such a baseball fan all my life. I was with the Padres through everything. I know all the trivia. I always ask people, "Who played first base for the Padres in 1969?' Most people say Nate Colbert. But it was Bill Davis. Then Colbert took over. The old Wally Pipp story.
"When I started working at the stadium, it was part time, for tickets to the games. With five kids the tickets really came in handy. I was always the sports fan in my family. I always read the sports pages first. Now, I'm determined not to.
"I'll be honest with you. [Pause.] I came home and packed away 24 years of baseball memories. [Pause.] I put it all in boxes. Pictures, baseballs—I can't bear to look at it all. I keep one baseball out, autographed by Pete Rose. He signed it personally. I look at it like he's on the outside, and now so am I.
"I worked 13 years as a switchboard operator for Buzzy Bavasi [the Padres' first president] before I became an office manager. They said Jerry Coleman was the voice of the Padres, but I liked to joke that I was the real voice of the Padres. [Pause.] I'm supposedly on a list to come back, but I know that layoffs are a way of getting rid of people that you don't want. I know my chances of going back are slim at best.
"My son Chuck was drafted by the Oakland A's in, oh, I forget the year—1973? He was a righthanded pitcher. He ended up in the Cleveland organization. Now all of my children are thinking of burning their baseball memorabilia. I said myself that I wasn't going to watch baseball again. Then I was watching some old program, and they started playing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. And I just came unglued. I said I wasn't going to watch that Ken Burns documentary, but by the time they reached the 1940s, I had to watch. Those were the years when I really started to follow baseball. It felt good to see Chub Feeney and Buzzy and Jerry Coleman. I even met Satchel Paige. Before I went to work for the Padres, I would read all of these names in the sports pages. And then all of a sudden I knew these people.
"They were exciting times. When you knew Buzzy, you knew everybody. Danny Kaye used to call, Walter Matthau, everybody. Ask [ex-Padre] Randy Jones, he would tell you all about me. But ask [current Padre] Andy Benes, and he'd say, 'Who's that?' I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, but... but players are different today.
"Please, I don't want to sound like I'm burning bridges. I have to watch what I say. I have loved baseball so much, I would love to go back. But I've been watching the strike news on TV and wondering, Where are all the people like me? All the talk is about owners and players. What about the other people who have worked in baseball and followed baseball all of their lives?
"You think I didn't want to be in the stands when Tony Gwynn finished the season hitting .400? Like I said, I just feel like it's the death of baseball. I could never imagine my life without baseball, but.... [Voice breaks.]
"But I feel like I came home and my husband of 24 years said, 'I don't love you anymore.' "