The Truth Behind the Lies in Baseball
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| By bfriend on Tuesday, August 20, 2002 - 01:23 pm:|
The truth behind the lies in baseball
By JOE POSNANSKI
Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY - There's a fun book out there called Lies My Teacher Told Me, which talks all about American history, and the various lies we were all taught about Pilgrims and the Civil War and Helen Keller and so on.
We don't need to go that far back in history, though. Every day, someone in baseball lies to us. Players lie. Owners lie. It's no wonder people have trouble choosing sides.
Friday, the players set a strike date, Aug. 30, and this is probably the first time in a while they haven't lied to us. They seem fully prepared to go on strike Aug. 30, even though 75 percent of the players don't know the issues, even though baseball hasn't recovered from the last strike, even though a long strike could drop baseball into that National Hockey League time slot on ESPN2.
And the owners seem fully prepared to let them go on strike.
And the fans seem fully prepared to threaten to never come back.
That, sadly, might be the biggest lie of them all.
• Players' lie: "A luxury tax is a salary cap."
Let's get this straight: A luxury tax is not a salary cap. A salary cap is a salary cap. If a team is not allowed to spend more than $70 million, that is a salary cap. If a team has to cut a player to get under the cap, that is a salary cap. A luxury tax means you tax teams above a certain salary line. It's not the same thing.
• Owners lie: "We need a luxury tax for competitive balance."
Baloney. Owners want a luxury tax because they can't control themselves. It has nothing to do with competitive balance. A luxury tax won't help the Royals - and that's not even the point. The owners want to slow salaries, and they don't have the discipline to do it themselves. Be honest. Say: "Look, we are absolutely incapable of controlling our spending. We are rich fools who are used to getting what we want, so we spend way too much money on Chan Ho Park. We need something that discourages us from spending like kids with birthday money."
• Players' lie: "We just want a free-market system."
Let me ask you something. Do you get to take your boss to salary arbitration? Do you get guaranteed contracts? Is there something that prevents your boss from slashing your salary if you underperform? What is this free-market system they're talking about? You talk to the players about luxury taxes and revenue sharing, and suddenly they're singing the Adam Smith, free-market blues.
But you try and take away arbitration, and the tune changes.
You want a free market? Fine. Make every single player a free agent. Have them send their resumes around to all the teams. Let's see how that works.
• Owners' lie: "Salaries are out of control."
How many times in the last few weeks have you heard that the average player makes $2.4 million a year? Over and over. That number is just beaten into people's minds.
Well, how about this number - $118 million? That's the number the average team makes in revenue. How about this one - $50 million? That's how much teams have after they pay salaries. Think about that. We have no idea what owners pay themselves every year.
Salaries are exactly where the owners put them.
• Players' lie: "Setting a strike date will help negotiations."
Who is stupid enough to believe this one? Setting a strike date will help negotiations the same way Michael helped his brother, Fredo, in "Godfather II." The players may feel like they need to strike to keep the system as it is. So just say that. Say "We're willing to wreck the game if the owners don't give in." This is a threat, not an effort to spur negotiations.
• Owners' lie: "We're all on the same page."
What page is that? Alan Page? The owners are as divided as ever. The big-market owners are privately sniping at the small-market owners, the small-market owners are privately bitter about the big-market owners, everybody despises George Steinbrenner. The only page the owners share is that they can't stand their own players, and they are desperate to win one of these wars.
• Players' lie: "We're going to do what we have to do."
Ryan Klesko said it. Tom Glavine said it. Sammy Sosa said it. In the last few days, it seems as if every single player has said this exact quote in exactly the same way. It's as if we're dealing with a cult or something.
Do what you have to do? OK, how about doing this: Take your new and improved $300,000 minimum salary, enjoy your guaranteed contracts and arbitration, work out revenue sharing and just agree to a luxury tax, which probably won't even affect salaries much. And don't strike.
• New Yorkers' lie: "The Yankees are smarter than everyone else."
This one drives me bonkers. They say that Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug dealer and murderer, believed he was a great soccer player because whenever he played nobody tried to tackle him, everybody passed him the ball, and goalies curiously would get out of the way of his shots (Rule No. 1 in soccer: Don't block shots from the resident drug lord.)
This is exactly how I feel about the Yankees. Baseball is completely slanted to them. They have much more money than anybody, they spend much more money than anybody. And they spend their money pretty well.
And yet, they think they're actually smarter than other teams. They buy Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina and David Wells, pay Roger Clemens millions in off-the-books money, re-sign Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera for more than a hundred million, outbid everybody for young talent like Alfonso Soriano (or busts like Andy Morales, Hideki Irabu and Drew Henson - didn't look so smart there, did they?), then for the heck of it get Raul Mondesi.
The Yankees are rich. As my mother says, you don't have to be smart if you're rich.
• Fans' lie: "I won't ever come back if they go on strike."
Baseball has a strange hold on us baseball fans. We get kicked around by this game. Owners do astonishingly dumb things and then complain they are going under. Players act as if they would happily destroy the game if it meant 20 more bucks in their bank account.
Yet, we can't give it up. Not us. Not the real fans. Fans who are scorching mad about a possible strike, the people who scream, "We won't ever come back," the ones who sign petitions and threaten boycotts, all of us will come back. The game means too much to us.
Baseball is in our blood.
You know which fans won't come back? The ones who don't care if the players strike or not. The ones who can't wait for football, who would rather play with their kids, who find baseball slow and outdated. There are millions of them. There are more of them than there are of us.
And the players, the owners, they should understand that. Those people - the ones who take their families to three or four games, pay those high ticket prices, support those salaries - they won't come back. Why should they pay those crazy prices for a sport intent on killing itself?
I asked a friend, a casual baseball fan, whether he would go to another game if the players actually go on strike.
He said, "Well, I didn't go to a game this year."
"A protest?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I just didn't go. Other things to do."