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Baseball Agreement Reached; Interview with Brett Butler

Aired August 30, 2002 - 13:31   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We have another big baseball fan in the CNN family, that is senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. He is live in New York. We are going to bring him back in. What do you think, Jeff?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think Larry has pretty much covered almost every key element of this, so I may just sit here and nod and say amen. When we find out what is in this deal, and I think Larry is exactly right, the specifics were not disclosed because any good labor union tells its members first and the teams have to be told. When we find out, one of the things we also have to find out is what is the nature of the revenue sharing, the way that baseball needs to get back to something like -- something like what happens in particularly football, where the big and small city teams, because they share equally in the television rights and much more equally in the ticket price revenues, are able to compete. We don't know that yet.

Larry mentioned the steroid agreement. As I mentioned to you about an hour ago, one columnist in today's "New York Times" who thinks he knows what is in that agreement has branded it a fraud, because it really -- it says that if we find 5 percent of the players on steroids, it doesn't proceed, and this columnist suggests that this is an absurdly high number, that it is an agreement in form only, and easily evadable, and whether or not that has had something to do with the lack of public affection for the game, the loss of some public affection, is another great unknown.

Really, I think, all we can say now, is that the worst has been avoided. I remember eight years ago during a strike, I said on the air the only good news about what we see is that neither side has access to nuclear weapons. This time, in effect, there was the equivalent of a nuclear weapon hanging over both the owners and the players and that is -- that was that a strike could conceivably have finally done to the game what other work stoppages haven't: that is, permanently alienated hard-core fans for the foreseeable future from the game. They have avoided that. They deserve credit for that. Beyond that, we are going to sit here and scratch our heads until we find out what's in the deal. Baseballs of mass destruction, is that what you are talking about?

GREENFIELD: Well, the -- actually, the weapon of mass destruction in this case would have been silent. It would have been the fans, one by one, but adding up to an aggregate of, you know, hundreds of thousands if not millions finally saying forget it. You mentioned earlier that baseball is no longer the great bargain that it was, in the days when you could spend literally a buck and half and go into bleachers, but -- and Larry, please correct me if I am wrong, compared to, say, pro basketball or football, it is still, relative terms, a decent deal for a fan.

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORT ANCHOR: It is, and especially football and especially hockey. Which is sport we don't talk about very much. Hockey price is actually more expensive than football, so you are right. One question very quickly, Jeff, while we have you here, talking about the steroid issue and steroid testing, regardless of how good it really is, isn't it still -- it is a win for the fans, just like it was in the NBA 20 years ago with the drug policy they put in, not that it cleaned up all the drugs among players, but it did a lot to repair the image and it cleaned up the league somewhat. Won't this still do that for baseball?

GREENFIELD: I really think, Larry, it depends what the steroid testing deal is. I take your point that something had to be done, in the wake of all the stories. But the question before the House is, if it turns out that this agreement is more, you know, hole than doughnut, I wonder if it just not going to breed more cynicism.

And again, we need to see the details of this agreement before we can make that judgment. But I also think -- you know, look. If there is one thing that I think everybody knows about baseball, and it is different, it is that it is steeped in history. If the current records that are being set are brought into question, that is another black mark baseball can't afford.

SMITH: You are right, you are right. Let me break in, I am sorry to interrupt you here. We have on the phone now Brett Butler, a long time, now retired former baseball player, outfielder with the Atlanta Braves and L.A. Dodgers -- Brett, can you hear us?


SMITH: Hey, thanks for joining us. I know you were a rookie in 1981. You had your rookie year interrupted by a strike. Your thoughts on what has happened today?

BUTLER: Well, actually, in 1981, they came to me and asked me if I would go up -- if there was a strike, I'd go up and play, so I have been through it from '81 all the way through -- I was in the room in 1994, in the negotiations when it brought down the playoffs and the World Series, and to me, I think it is a breath of fresh air, and the only people who have really won in this -- the owners didn't win, the players didn't win, the fans won.

And to me, I think -- as the gentlemen said prior to me coming on, it was a nuclear blast, if in fact, something would have gone down and there would not have been -- and there would have been a strike. To me, I think it is a breath of fresh air. The players, like B.J. Sernoff (ph) said on the TV, their fans, I was in the room in '94, there was no way that we ever believed that there would ever be a work stoppage to the point where it would bring down the playoff and the World Series.

Maybe in '94 we thought that there might have been for a number of days, but we never in our wildest imagination would have fathomed the fact that we wouldn't have played the playoffs and the World Series, and so that is a reminder of what happened in '94. They did not want that to happen this time. That is why there was a deal done.

SMITH: I was just going to say, do you think that -- obviously, I mean, I guess lessons learned by two sides that -- well, you know, kind of get raked over the coals, maybe deservedly so, by the public.

BUTLER: Well, you know, and I believe they have learned. They are not stupid, and I think both sides have given. When you start talking about a luxury tax, and you start talking about revenue sharing and concessions, that's another name, so to speak, as a salary cap, and you sit back and you look at things like that, and the players have never wanted that.

But the players want to play the game of baseball, and I believe that the owners do want to be able to negotiate and get things where, you know what, they want to be able to regulate their own spending. And in this, the players have helped them a little bit in that regard, the big market clubs are going to give to the small market clubs. We don't know, really, the understanding of where that is going to go.

If the big market clubs are going to give, and the money is going to go into players' salaries for small market clubs, we don't know all the details of the concession. There will be ramifications done on both sides, but the bottom line is that the players will play, there will be a play off and World Series, and we can enjoy baseball the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.

SMITH: Brett, as someone who has been in the war room, so to speak, and I hate to use military analogy, especially with what's going on right now in the world, but to be in the room and to kind of be going toe to toe and across the negotiating table, what do you think happened in the past 12 to 18 hours to make this happen? You mentioned, obviously, giving in, but a different tone from 1994, obviously.

BUTLER: Well, again, like we said earlier, I believe that lessons have been learned. But I think what has happened is that both sides have looked at our society, and the way things are right now, from September 11 to the stock market and just how things are in our society today, and baseball is a haven for the American people.

And I think they realize, finally, you know what? This is not for us any more. This isn't for the players. This is not for the owners. This is for the fans, and really for our country, because it is America's pastime, and what we need to do is we need to put our differences aside, even if, in fact, we don't agree with everything, we can agree on the structure, which they did, and in turn the numbers are just something that we got to negotiate because we have got to think about America and that baseball is a safe haven for that, and so let's put all that -- I think that is what they took into consideration and that's why a deal was done.

SMITH: OK. But with that, I know you were always a fan favorite, your 16, 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, always someone that fans got behind, enjoyed watching you play. The numbers are down, and are really pretty scary right now in terms of -- the attendance of fans, and apathy among fans. What do you do from this point on? You have kind of avoided the nuclear blast, as you mentioned, what do you do to repair the rest of the damage to the game, and the image of the fans?

BUTLER: Well, I think initially what you do is you play the ball game. You go out there and play because it is a wonderful sport, and people love to come out and do it. I think you have to put fans more in the back of your mind on how can we enhance the game of baseball even more so. How they do that? They have got ideas of what they want to try to do, and try to bring people, you know, players along that will get a little bit more involved with the fans, so to speak in certain arenas.

But again, those are things that need to be talked about. We talked about those things in '94. How do you get more involved with the fans, and being, as a player, more accessible, to be able to sign autographs a little bit more. People -- you know, to stay around, and to be with that kind of stuff, and be a little bit more personable, where I think in yesteryear, players were personable. There are players today that are, but they need to step out and think even a little bit more, bend over backyards to think about the fans, and I think that's how you start.

SMITH: OK. Brett Butler, thanks so much for your time today.

BUTLER: All right, guys. Take care.

SMITH: OK. Brett Butler. Loved to watch him play. L.A. Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves, played for many years, '81 -- he retired at age 40 in 1997. He was a part of the negotiating process on the players side as we watch him -- a sight we didn't really know if we would see 24 hours ago at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs taking batting practice there in the foreground in the blue warmups. The St. Louis Cardinals there in the background, a great rivalry in the Midwest, and the weekend series about to begin here, the first game that could have been canceled if a strike had happened. But again, our big news today, that has not been the case. They do have an agreement in place.




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