Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Fans More Angry about Baseball Salaries Than Those of Other Professional Athletes

Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Fans More Angry about Baseball Salaries Than Those of Other Professional Athletes

Article excerpt

Across the airwaves, where both talk-show hosts and their callers gibber and gab, jibber and jabber, both groups seem extremely unhappy with baseball players, and that's an extremely mild term. Ever since the World Series was wiped out by a labor dispute, fans have been growling, with a residue of meanness lodged deep in their throats, about players being greedy.

Interestingly, fans of football and hockey have shown little of the same attitude, yet nowhere is money more discussed than in football.

Of course baseball players, and all other athletes, are greedy. And so are sports writers, ticket takers, ushers, tool-and-die makers, riveters and those who work on automobile assembly lines or behind supermarket cash registers. It's the American way to want all you can get. If you're Chuck Knight, the Itz Brothers (thank you, Bill McClellan) or John McDonnell, it's easier to show the greed - set up a severance packet and a platinum parachute before you're even hired. If you're Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the president of IBM, it can be arranged so that even if you take a pay cut, of a whole $5,000 out of a salary of $5 million, things still are stacked so that bonus and option money will run your 1996 income from $15.6 million to $20.2 million.

Even baseball players rarely get raises of that amount.

So, why are baseball players such villains?

I think it's a combination of things, largely an emotional response by baseball fans (who tend to be older) to the knowledge that the heroes of their own boyhood have such large feet of clay. The destruction of an idol causes much pain.

To my generation, baseball players were heroes. Sports writers and sports commentators helped maintain that image. Even though most players made a lot more money than most fans, I can remember "days" for retiring players when fans contributed their own money to buy a new car or some other expensive gift. Interestingly, players themselves did very little to interact with fans; I can recall few instances of athletes devoting much time to young fans. The teams, however, were more involved, with knothole gang promotions a major factor in introducing youngsters to the game. Of course, games were mostly in the daytime (I'm talking before the end of World War II) and public transportation was present in every major league city, even if public accommodations were not.

It's difficult to believe that while we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Jackie Robinson in the major leagues, we in St. Louis have not yet marked a similar anniversary for all a team's players to stay in the same hotel, or all a team's fans to drink from the same stadium water fountain.

Today, it's all different. When players learned they would have to turn into ordinary working stiffs to gain the rights that already belonged to the working stiffs who sat in the stands, they unfortunately distanced themselves from fans, and most of them weren't smart enough to close that gap.

Because the problem belongs to the owners, who can run their real companies like the smart, parsimonious, capitalist businessmen they are, but who turn into the same kind of liberals they constantly castigate when it comes to their sports organizations. …

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