Major league baseball died across the nation yesterday afternoon. There were few mourners in Washington.
"I'm no longer a baseball fan."
"I haven't watched a game since the Senators left."
"Soccer is my game."
Those were the typical responses from afternoon lunchers lounging in downtown bars and restaurants.
Scarred by the politics and money squabbles that took away their Senators and contributed to the game's current problems, Washingtonians are reluctant to forgive or forget.
If free agents want freedom, give it to them, said Florent B. Hughes.
"I'd give them all their freedom," the 53-year-old financial consultant said at the Touchdown Club. "Then if I was a owner I'd advertise we were playing baseball Saturday night and whoever wants to play I'll pay them $300."
Consider this: Yankee Reggie Jackson makes more money eating candy for commercials than playing baseball. Touchdown Club bartender Chuck Henson interjected.Without baseball, the commercials would be meaningless, he said.
"For $780,000 a year he can eat a lot of candy." Can't he play himself? Henson wondered.
"I guess I go along with the players," said Edward Flack, 53, a union accountant, said. "I'm from Baltimore and the radio station there said they'll broadcast their (Baltimore Oriole) Rochester farm team games. I'll have to be satisfied with that for awhile."
A soft music played in the background, Bill McNeill discussed the strike with a friend at Mel Krupin's Restaurant. McNeill said he was angry.
"Crass commercialism is killing the game," McNeil declared. "I think this present crop of baseball players is a bunch of spoiled brats. If I was an owner I'd close down a few years and start with kids," said the retired Air Force colonel.
"It will be a gap in some people's lives." Not his, though. "Since we lost our team in Washington I don't go to baseball games, nor do I watch them on television," he said.
Asked which side he supported, McNeill said he was reminded of a smiliar question put to him several years ago. Somebody had asked him who he wanted to win in a Army-Navy football game. McNeill smiled wickedly. "I said, 'I hope they both lose.'"
At The Saloon, a Georgetown watering hole, a group of construction workers enjoyed a late-afternoon brew and talked sports.
Any baseball fans here?
"I am. I'm a baseball fan," said Pat Cutschell, 26, a carpenter from Bethesda. "Let me tell you what I think. The players are hurting the fans, they really are.
"I'm honestly upset. What's a summer without baseball?" he asked, turning to his friends seated around the table.They had no answer.
"I'm with the owners absolutely. They (the players) ought to settle their stuff on their own time, not ours."
Unlike Washington, Boston is a town where baseball can be taken seriously and summer social events are likely to revolve around trips to the ballpark.
"It's a real bummer," said Mike Buckley, a Red Cross employe, between sips of a beer. "I've got a bunch of people coming in from Rhode Island for the game next weekend. Now I don't know what we'll be doing."
In Washington, Earl Telfair, a 52-year-old illustrator, also talks about fairness.
"I think it's a waste of time. It's not fair to the fans," said Telfair, a Washingtontian who grew up with the Senators and later, learned to love the Baltimore Colts. "I think they should go ahead and play baseball the best they can."
Baseball Bill Hodfforth, a bartender at Runyon's says he'll reluctantly stock up on reading matter for the summer. "I'm not ready to start reading about (John) Riggins and the Redksins," he asid sighing.