Baseball Beware

August 25, 2002

We weren't surprised. Of the more than 85,000 votes cast by fans
in an SI online poll last weekend, 73% said they expect a major
league players' strike to obliterate the postseason. If that were
to happen, 66% said they would no longer be interested in
baseball.

"If there's a strike, there won't be baseball for a long, long
time," Detroit Tigers pitcher Jose Lima said last Friday, after
the players set a strike date of Aug. 30. "We can't afford that.
Not because of the money, but because the fans will go away.
That's my fear, that 95 percent of the fans will go away. It's a
scary moment for baseball."

Two fan advocacy groups were already organizing a Nationwide
Walkout on Baseball, beginning with Wednesday's games.

The timing of a strike, never good, has been made worse by the
5.3% decline in attendance this season and the one-year
anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The sport, after
all, cloaked itself in patriotism last fall, with New York Mets
players wearing FDNY caps, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt
Schilling penning a letter to America and ballparks serving as
virtual town halls that the President himself frequented,
culminating with his rousing appearance at the World Series.

"We want to stay away from September 11 and anything in
September," Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Kevin Young said
regarding the strike date. "That's a very sensitive month, let
alone the day itself." If the players do strike on Aug. 30, they
will have, at most, 12 days to get a deal done before the
anniversary of 9/11.

While owners and players still have work to do on revenue
sharing, a worldwide draft and testing for performance-enhancing
drugs, none of those issues are deal-breakers. The future of the
game comes down to this: What penalty should teams incur for
running up large payrolls, and at what point should a luxury tax
kick in? The tax proposed by the players, based on 2002 payrolls,
would hit only one team, the New York Yankees, at an average
annual cost of $6.73 million over the next three years. The
owners' plan would generate tax bills for seven or eight clubs,
with the Yankees, at their current payroll, paying an average of
$30.62 million annually over the next four seasons. The two sides
also have to agree on how the money collected would be
distributed.

Owners have characterized their system alternately as a luxury
tax and a competitive-balance tax, while the players equate it to
a salary cap. The latter interpretation reverberated when Texas
Rangers owner Tom Hicks interrupted his yachting off the coast of
San Diego last week to opine that "every team in baseball that
has any kind of business sense" would keep its payroll under the
tax threshold.

"I think there is a threshold, and there is a tax that can get a
deal done," Mets pitcher Al Leiter said on Friday. "We have to
find a number that doesn't hurt many teams." Finding such a
number will take significant compromise from both sides--hardly a
hallmark of baseball's labor history.

In the end, in the inevitable last hours before the St. Louis
Cardinals are supposed to play the Chicago Cubs on the afternoon
of Aug. 30, the players will have to judge the intentions of the
owners--Do they really want a compromise deal? Do they plan to
implement their own economic system after the season if the
players don't strike?--and decide what to do.

But in the back of their minds will be the overriding question,
Is a strike worth the damage it would inflict on the game?

[BOX]

FANS FED UP
Results of an SI online poll in the wake of last Friday's
announcement that the major league players had set an Aug. 30
strike date.

Which side in the labor dispute are you rooting for?
Owners 22% Players 4% Fed up with both 74%

Have you forgiven baseball for the '94 strike?
Yes 15% No 75% Wasn't upset 10%

If there's a strike, how long will it last?
Until Sept. 15 13% Until the end of the season 14%
Will wipe out the postseason 73%

If a strike wipes out the regular season but is resolved
in time for the postseason, will you watch the playoffs?
Yes 21% No 70% Wasn't going to watch anyway 9%

If the postseason is canceled, how do you think you
will feel next season?
Not affected 3% Disappointed 10% Angry 21%
No longer interested in the game 66%

For more poll results and other baseball labor coverage, go to
cnnsi.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO (6) THE CUSTOMER'S ALWAYS RIGHT Last weekend baseball fans across the country wasted no time in bluntly telling major leaguers what they thought about the Aug. 30 strike date. The message to their heroes was loud and clear. COLOR PHOTO: TOM OLMSCHEID/AP (2) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: AL BEHRMAN/AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: ED BETZ/AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERTO BOREA/AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: RUSTY KENNEDY/AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: BERNIE NUNEZ/REUTERS [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: SUE OGROCKI/REUTERS [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: MARK J. TERRILL/AP [See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)