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Baseball Strike Averted

Aired August 30, 2002 - 12:38   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it looks like a deal has been reached in this non-stop attempt to forge a labor agreement between baseball players and team owners without subjecting fans, fans like here at Wrigley Field in Chicago to a season-ending walkout. We have been talking to reporters all across -- well, from every ball field to ball field also with analysts like our own Jeff Greenfield, who joins us now from New York.
Now, Jeff, do we all need to get a grip here. It's not like this is a peace deal in the Middle East, right?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, I think it would be a good time for everybody to draw a breath, and say, all right, it's good news, and good news has been in some short supply these last several months. The country is in a kind of sour and pessimistic mood, and the fact that we got a baseball season to finish is good. But it isn't peace in the Middle East, and it isn't an agreement on a prescription drug program, and we ought to keep that in perspective.

The other thing is since we are on the air in the 24-hour live, here it is, we know there is an agreement, we don't know what is in it. And depending on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, people like to say either God is in the details or the devil is then details.

We don't know how long this agreement is. If it's three or four years, we might be in the same position four years from now.

We don't know, for instance, the full details of an agreement on steroid testing. A columnists in "The New York Times" suggested that what they have come up with is nothing short of a fraud, which is not going to increase confidence in the love of the game. So we need to wait to see what has been done.

But I do think what is interesting is that this is the first time that the players and the owners have come to a common understanding, apparently, that a strike with would be something from which the sport, at least Major League Baseball, might not be able to recover.

Those of us of a certain age remember when baseball really was the national pastime, when winter was the time when you talked about the next season. Many more Americans follow football than baseball, and basketball I think has surpassed baseball in the terms of fan approval. So this is a sports still with a lot of serious problems to overcome. So this is good news, but it's not the millennium.

WHITFIELD: Why is it? Why is that, Jeff? Why is this not the most popular sport to watch anymore, and why isn't we used to enjoy, dressing up, going to the ball game, and having the popcorn, and singing in the seventh inning stretch?

GREENFIELD: There are a whole lot of reasons, one of which, I think, goes back to the fact that for many, many years, when television came into everyone's home, football is a much better sport to watch on television than baseball, particularly back in the old days of black and white sets, and small screens, when you could barely follow the plate. A lot of people much prefer to watch football at home, particularly than going out to the stadium in the winter.

The second thing is, there are problems with the game, I am a huge baseball fan, but I got to tell you that the average game is a half-hour longer than it was a generation ago. It is a problem. And as we heard a few moments ago in one of Jeff Flock's interviews, the fact that teams don't have the same players from year-to-year, that the loyalty that we used to have is really gone, and has been gone for a long time. People of my generation, you know, increasingly talk about the past, we can still recite for you the day to day lineups of the teams we followed as children. What kid could do that from year to year? I look at my hometown team, the New York Yankees, and I don't know half these guys from year to year.

So those are just a couple of the problems that have helped undermine the game, and I think it's got a long, long way to go before it's back on a secure footing.

PHILLIPS: And you mentioned the love of the game. Let's talk about the love of the game versus the love of money. Has money been just a horrible influence here? Do you think that has made an impact on how fans feel about the game, or how the game is done economically?

GREENFIELD: To some extent. I mean, look, I am no fan in the old days when an older could say to a player, you have signed for this team for life, and you either play for me or you play for no one. I mean, that was an outrageous system that was in baseball for the first 60 or 65 years. And I don't think anybody thinks we should go back to anything remotely like that. But I do think the fact that the players -- look, not just the players, but owners will leave a city if they don't get the deal, if they don't get public financing for the stadium, if they don't get luxury boxes. So the loyalty has cut across the sport, and I think that is a factor.

The other thing in terms of money, if you look at professional football, which splits its television revenue, because it's all network, completely evenly, it does mean a real competitive balance. It mean that a small market like Green Bay, Wisconsin has just as much money as New York, or San Fran, or Washington or any other city, very different in baseball. And I do think the money has played a major role both in how the fans feel about their heroes and in the sport.

But I have to tell you back in the 1920s, somebody once said to Babe Ruth, who was then making the unheard of salary of $80,000 a year, "How do you feel about making more money than President Hoover?" And Babe Ruth said, I had a better year than he did." So this has been around for a while. WHITFIELD: I have a better batting average than the president.

GREENFIELD: OK, let's talk about the owners for a minute here. There has been so much focus on the players, and egos and how much money they make, but the owners, they are not driving VW bugs or eating at the local diner. They are doing pretty well, too, and they are making a big chunk of change?

Well, you can never get a real straight answer as to just which teams are making and losing money. These numbers have been argued about for year after year, and every time they say they are losing money, an expert looks at the books or tries to look at the books and tries to figure out the tax consequences, and says, no, you are not, you are not doing that badly.

But I think that look, the basic issue here about money, and I said this on the air this morning on our morning program, part of the problem, I think, is that the reason you have the fans during this controversy siding more with the owners than the players, which is really odd in terms of normal labor management, is that they look at players not just in terms of making a lot of money, but making a lot of money to play a game. It is a game that most of us, or at least the male persuasion, have played.

It is hard for -- a lot of people, they don't see these guys in any kind of situation that should merit sympathy. It is, you are being paid, in many cases, millions of dollars to do what thousands and tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of people in the country do for free. I go out an play softball every Sunday in the summer. I understand that I couldn't draw much of a crowd to watch, except that they like train wrecks.

But the fact of the matter is that I think the fact that the umpire does not yell "go out and work." When the game starts, the umpire yells "play ball." And I think it is very hard for fans to have any sympathy for people who seem, never mind the reality of travel, and 162 games a year and injuries and stress, who seem to be playing for a whole lot of money, and it's just one of those perception issues that I think has really over the years come to help undermine the players' position.

PHILLIPS: All right, our Jeff Greenfield. We're going to ask you to stand by, Jeff. Great insight. Hold tight with us. We're going to go back out to Wrigley Field, where Jeff Flock is.

I understand that, Jeff, you have a player or a fan with me.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are on the air here by golly.

This is a guy -- I had to come over here to get a perspective from Ronnie Woo (ph). This is a guy who has been coming out to the ballpark, used to work for the Wrigley company, used to work for the guy whose made the bubble gum that used to use Wrigley Field. And Ronnie Woo (ph) is an institution out at Wrigley Field and I didn't want to get away without hearing from him. He's talking to someone else right now, but I want to stick a...

Now you understand why they call him Ronnie Woo (ph). It's obviously a red-letter day, or a blue-letter day for the Cubs.

RONNIE WOO (ph): Well, I am glad a lot of people are happy about it. I glad they came to an agreement. But every fan is a baseball fan, like me, myself, it is good for the game, no matter where you come from, it don't cost nothing to be nice. The owners, players, I am quite sure they're glad they came to an agreement, for the love of the game. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I love the baseball. I do it for the love of the game.

FLOCK: There you go. You had to hear from Ronnie Woo (ph) here, Kyra. You don't have a happy day here at Wrigley without hearing for Ronnie Woo (ph).

PHILLIPS: We've been wooed, no doubt, Jeff Flock, there at Wrigley Field. We'll keep checking in with you, my friend. Thank you so much.




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