The Yankees are in the World Series for the fourth time in six seasons, and the Dodgers the third time in five. "Fitting," said a man passing my office, "that in baseball's year of greed, the two greediest teams of all should be in the World Series."
Greediest? Or, to strip away the pejorative, the best at a capitalistic enterprise? Edward Bennett Williams, for one, believes baseball is headed for financial and artistic troubles beyond anything seen yet. The dark scenario has big-city teams cornering great talent and dominating have-nots so completely as to drive them out of business.
The Yankees and Dodgers, however rich, cannot exist as a two-team league.
The answer, Williams says, is for baseball to adopt football's revenue-sharing ideas. Those ideas assure financial well-being, he says, and competitive balance.
Utopia comes to baseball, just as it has to the league of football socialists.
"That's why Ed gets mad at me," said George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' owner. "When he starts this revenue-sharing stuff, I raise my arm to him and say, 'Comrade.' "
Steinbrenner laughed kindly, adding, "Ed Williams has been my lawyer because he's a brilliant lawyer. But as a businessman, my answer on the revenue-sharing is I've never known a good lawyer who was a good businessman."
All EBW wants is some of that filthy Yankee money.
Said Steinbrenner, smiling: "He's going to have a hard time getting it . . . This is awfully strange reasoning from a man who owns part of the Redskins, who owns the Baltimore Orioles, who owns his office building, who owns a hotel and who is, if I've ever seen a capitalistic lawyer, a capitalistic lawyer. So Ed, who is my pal, is speaking with forked tongue on this one."
Steinbrenner is nobody's socialistic pal.
Just as Al Davis is nobody's one-for-all, all-for-one buddy.
They are capitalists who think teams are businesses that, well run, will dominate competition. If U.S. Steel hopes Bethlehem Steel drops dead, why, these capitalists say, should the Yankees and Raiders care about the Orioles and Redskins?
They should care, Williams says, because sports is not a cut-throat business operation. "I want to be stronger than the Red Sox," Williams said, "but not much stronger. Or else it's no longer a contest, and when it's not a contest we have lost the sense of battle that makes the games compelling. We have to keep everyone competitive."
Until this sorry season of the strike, figures showed baseball attendance and revenue rose to unprecedented levels. The three previous seasons, free agency made baseball more competitive. More teams finished closer together, with more division champions than ever before.
"But eventually that won't be so," Williams said. "Eventually, teams with the most money will dominate to the detriment of all. And teams with the most money are teams in big cities. Give me intelligent leadership in big cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago -- and I'll beat you every time."
So Williams would bring NFL socialism to baseball. Divvy up loot from all sources: gate receipts, television money, merchandising fees.
Unspoken but understood in Williams' share-the-wealth plan is a cut-the-cost partnership of owners who want stronger control over salaries.
NFL owners conspire to suppress salaries.
Circumstantial evidence is unarguable. Consider Walter Payton. A baseball player of Payton's ability would have the maximum 13 teams offering contracts of the Dave Winfield kind -- $15 million for 10 years. Because football owners agree not to poach, Payton's only offer came from the Bears.
Share-the-wealth socialism had a hand in this, too. Because the NFL teams divvy up revenue, addition of a Payton would make a minimal difference in a team's income. Unlike a Pete Rose who produced $1 million in TV-radio income for the Phillies, the presence of a Payton would mean nothing to, say, the Washington Redskins.
Payton might help win a couple games. But at a cost of two No. 1 draft choices (as compensation) and $1 million a year -- and at the risk of offending your socialistic partners -- winning two games isn't worth it. Especially when winning the Super Bowl produces little more money than going 0-16.
"Make the Super Bowl a winner-take-all game, with $250 million to the winner," said Ed Garvey, the head of the NFL players' union, "and you'll see real competition. The way it is, with shared revenues, there is no economic incentive to win."
Steinbrenner recognizes that on his 19-inch screen.
"Football has taken a path of equality," Steinbrenner said, "and I'm not sure that's good for a sport. It may be good right now for a temporary period. But as I've had many experts from the NFL tell me, right now there is no outstanding, great team in the NFL. And as I sit and watch on Sunday, it all seems pretty much the same.
"I used to love to go watch the Giants and the Cleveland Browns, and the Redskins in their heyday. But now everybody is so equal and so average that everybody is at the same level."
Mediocrity has been manufactured.
Parity has been produced.
Right now, Al Davis is waging an antitrust war to move his Oakland team without consent of the NFL owners. Soon enough, Herschel Walker, or any player denied the right to work where he wants, will sue the NFL over the unconstitutionality of its draft.
The tide is running against pro sports' immunity to antitrust laws, and it may not be long before Al Davis is earning millions from cable TV in Los Angeles. As U.S. Steel doesn't share revenues with Bethlehem, neither will Davis share a penny with NFL owners, nor Steinbrenner with his baseball pals.
Mao once told China's table tennis team, "Regard a Ping-Pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat, and you have won the point for the Fatherland."
Steinbrenner buys Louisville Sluggers, not socialist bats.