Baseball, from Business Battles to Essays by Affectionate Fans

By Charles Fountain. Charles Fountain teaches journalism . | The Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 1993 | Go to article overview

Baseball, from Business Battles to Essays by Affectionate Fans


Charles Fountain. Charles Fountain teaches journalism ., The Christian Science Monitor


COMING APART AT THE SEAMS: HOW BASEBALL OWNERS, PLAYERS, AND TELEVISION EXECUTIVES HAVE LEAD OUR NATIONAL PASTIME TO THE BRINK OF DISASTER By Jack Sands and Peter Gammons, Macmillan, 266 pp., $24.

PLAY BALL: THE LIFE AND TROUBLED TIMES OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL By John Feinstein, Villard, 425 pp., $22.50.

PLAYING HARDBALL: THE HIGH-STAKES BATTLE FOR BASEBALL'S NEW FRANCHISES By David Whitford, Doubleday, 271 pp., $22.50.

BIRTH OF A FAN Edited by Ron Fimrite, Macmillan, 214 pp., $22.

PETER GAMMONS and Jack Sands begin their book "Coming Apart at the Seams: How Baseball Owners, Players, and Television Executives Have Led Our National Pastime to the Brink of Disaster" with a quote from long-ago Giants manager Bill Terry:

"Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it," Terry said upon retiring in 1941. "No business in the world has ever made more money with poorer management. It can survive anything."

Anything, except its own prosperity, perhaps. Sands and Gammons, together with John Feinstein, author of "Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball," and David Whitford, author of "Playing Hardball: The High-Stakes Battle for Baseball's New Franchises," provide a troika of books that show major-league baseball choking on piles of money. It would seem that there is enough money in baseball to fill a stadium to the brim with $1,000 bills; yet somehow there is still not enough to go ar ound.

Sands, a sports lawyer who has represented baseball players for some 20 years, and Gammons, columnist, sports reporter, and one of the best-sourced and most respected writers in the game, claim that baseball is headed for an economic meltdown, and that it is no more than two or three years away. There's plenty of blame to go around, say the authors: Owners who refuse to acknowledge that the players must be their economic partners in the modern game; players who are as selfish and as mercenary as cynical fans imagine them to be; and commissioners Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, and Fay Vincent all come in for a sound whipping.

It is not too late, according to the authors, and they lay out a blueprint for restructuring the game that includes revenue sharing between players and owners, an end to salary arbitration, and a diminishing of the commissioner's powers (should the owners deign to hire another commissioner, that is). These things may or may not come to pass. What seems inevitable in the Sands-Gammons crystal ball are an extra tier of playoffs (television revenues demand it) and - get a firm grip on your hard, narrow seat backs, traditionalists - the demise of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

Feinstein, the best-selling author of books on college basketball ("A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers," 1989) and professional tennis ("Hard Courts: Real Life on the Professional Tennis Tours," 1991), spends far less time on baseball's troubles as he chronicles all aspects of the 1992 season. "Play Ball" covers a lot of ground - spring training, the World Series, business, and the money are never far from the surface. There is a look inside the umpire's world and a de lightful sketch of the Philadelphia Phillies' mascot. Unfortunately, the book suffers for its breadth. Feinstein, a terrific reporter and a polished writer (though a bit too careless with cliches), is able to pack much telling detail into his vignettes. But the book has the feel of a scrapbook of newspaper clippings rather than a seamless story with a theme and a message. …

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