Baseball used to be an institution. Now it ought to be in one.
The only thing missing from the farcical goings-on has been the rascality of Charlie Finley, the visionary who first recognized Boo-Hooie Kuhn as "the nation's idiot." And now, as if in answer to a madman's prayer, we see Charlie O's name in the papers again.
Chalie O wants to rescue baseball. He wants to take it to Tokyo and Vancouver, to Cuba and Venezuela, and, for sure, to the city blessed by Boo-Hooie's promise of baseball's return -- yes, Charlie O wants to bring baseball to Washington as part of a supercalifragilisticexbialidocious Global League.
This is wonderful theater going on here. Cheech and Chong couldn't write it funnier. The federal mediator bright enough to keep the planes flying can't get a baseball in the air. The poor guy got in an elevator this week and couldn't even get it to go. Dear President Reagan: Ken Moffett, the valiant mediator afflicted with the assignment of listening to baseball's owners, needs a vacation after this. Something soft. Have him explain the F-16 question to Begin.
The owners are such natural comedians even they don't know how funny they are. Maybe Boo-Hooie is a robot, a kind of like R2D2, with Mel Brooks inside. The guy is hilarious. Boo-Hooie made a big deal out of baseball's "imminent catastrophe," saying the game was in danger unless it discovered oil behind second base.
Well, the owners quickly said the commissioner didn't know what he was talking about. They practically said they never heard of this guy they are paying about $200,000 a year to look after baseball's best interests. He's the guy the owners let drive Charlie O out of the league. You would think that in this time of peril, strife and imminent catastrophe, the owners would turn to the commissioner for help.
But when he cried poverty on their behalf, they said ti wasn't so. They disavowed him. Bowie Kuhn became Bowie Whom.
That's because the owners' labor negotiator, Ray Greey, was smart enough to know that disinformation is destructive. The commissiner's disinformation would never survive the scrutiny of a judge or impartial arbitrator assigned to look into baseball's financial books. One look at the figures would tell anyone that baseball can afford every one of those big salaries being paid. Giant corporations such as Doubleday and Levi Strauss do not buy into failing enterprises.
So the owners told the commissioner to shut up, they had enough problems of their own.
And they still do. They have problems because they are trying to destroy a union that has decided it won't be broken.
Whoa, you say, what's this about breaking a union? You say you haven't read to anyone talking about that? You thought the beef was over free-agent compensation?
Maybe it is. Everyone says it is. But if it is, why haven't intelligent men been able to come up with a compensation plan? It's not as if we're asking them to get the missiles out of Lebanon or get the curl just right in Nancy Reagan's hair. This is a possible mission for anyone really trying.
But the owners aren't trying.
They took $50 million worth of insurance in case of a strike.
Then they caused a strike.
Maybe sometime after Aug. 5, when the strike insurance stops paying off, the owners will make a settlement.But the theory at this typewriter is that the owners won't settle before then. That is their self-imposed limit on breaking the players' union. If they don't break the players by then, they will try to salvage the playoffs and World Series. You can't live on strike money forever.
Why break the union?
Not because of the free-agent issue. The owners, being intelligent men, know they can't wint that one. They lost that one when wise men wrote the Constitution.
The owners can pay the big salaries. Baseball never has had more competitive teams. Attendance and interest has never been greater. Free agency is the reason, and there is no arguing it.
So the owners have prolonged this strike, even rejecting the players' offer of binding arbitration, for one reason only. They want to win a clear victory over the players' union before the next big test of strength. They want to break the union before the union asks for its fair share of the massive revenues soon to come from cable and pay television.
Hollywood script writers struck this spring. They wanted a share of the money from resale of their works to cable and pay-TV. They deserve it, they got it. So do athletes deserve a fair share of the money generated by their rare talents.
Part of this theory rests on an interpretation of the owners' gag rule. The motive, it says here, was not to prevent a show of disunity. The press will find out in about six minutes which owners are on which side of every issue. No, the gag rule and the heavy fines accompanying it are intended to keep eveyone's mouth shut about the real reason the owners are being so blatantly stoneheaded.
If this theory makes no sense to you, ask a question. Does it make sense to think owners are willing to lose 100 games and the World Series in order to fight over a free-agent issue they know they can't win in any court? Ask, this, too: Does it make sense for the players, already wealthy, to kill the goose -- unless they know the goose is about to lay the damndest golden egg anybody ever saw?
The issue is not free agency, the issue is the technological revolution and the money it will create.
And maybe Charlie O, with his Global League, will get part of it right here in the nation's capital.
Walter Dilbeck once proposed a Global League. He was a real estate developer in Indiana who later dealt with the deposed Spiro Agnew and his Arab friends. Dilbeck wanted to put teams in Louisville and Honolulu, Mexico City and New York, yes even Tokyo ("We would have geisha girls perform the seventh-inning stretch," Dilbeck said).
Dilbeck was a missionary as well as a visionary.
The Global thinker said, "We will sign only players under 25, and there will be clauses in their contracts saying they will drink nothing stronger than milk and be in bed by 10 o'clock each night."
Which may be why you never heard of the Global League until just now.