Dismal dog days

This is always a slow time of year, but now, with baseball's labor unrest dominating the news, it's downright depressing.

By King Kaufman
Published July 17, 2002 7:15PM (EDT)

I'm depressed.

We've finished arguing over baseball's All-Star Game, noted and already forgotten who drafted whom in the NBA draft. The NFL won't start its monthlong calendar of meaningless games -- presented for the customers at full price -- for almost three more weeks.

Those of you who think golf is a sport have the British Open this weekend, or perhaps the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game Sunday is your thing. There's always, and I mean always, the Tour de France, about which a co-worker of mine once said, "Are they still going? It took the Nazis less time to get across France."

But for the rest of us, these are the dog days, and this year's dog days are real pooches. In a normal year we'd be watching the baseball trade wire, assessing this team or that one's chances to engage in the wan stretch drives that in the Wild Card era are all baseball has to offer in the way of pennant races. Can the mediocre Reds hang in there with the sort-of-OK Cardinals? Will the Twins, sixth best team in their 14-team league, hang on to their 10-game division lead? The thrills! We'd have one eye on the home run leaders. Alex Rodriguez, the major league leader, is on pace to hit 55 this year, which doesn't excite us in this era of inflated figures. But maybe someone -- Barry Bonds? Sammy Sosa? Lance Berkman? -- will get hot. And maybe we won't someday find out that he was taking steroids.

But this year even that kind of talk is whistling in the graveyard. We know it's pointless, even if it does make us feel a little better. The sports story that will dominate all others until further notice is baseball's labor dispute. We can argue all we want about who's going to make the playoffs. But we all know it's likely there won't be any playoffs.

"Why certainly I'd like to have that fellow who hits a home run every time at bat, who strikes out every opposing batter when he's pitching, who throws strikes to any base or the plate when he's playing outfield and who's always thinking about two innings ahead just what he'll do to baffle the other team," longtime Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh once said. "Any manager would want a guy like that playing for him. The only trouble is to get him to put down his cup of beer and come down out of the stands and do those things."

Now, though, we're wonders of a different kind. We're all becoming geniuses about revenue sharing, salary structure, drug testing, market size and the antitrust exemption. Thirty team owners and 750 players are trying to figure out how to divide up $3.6 billion a year, and it's such a difficult question that they're probably going to have a work stoppage for the ninth time in 30 years.

We all have our opinions on these things. These tend to fall not far from this line of thinking: The owners are rapacious billionaire liars. The players are greedy millionaire prima donna steroid cases. If they could all just ratchet their voracity down to normal, human levels, they could solve baseball's problems in 10 minutes and get on with this season and all future ones with relatively few problems.

If the owners would just open their books, we'd all see that they've been lying about their alleged financial problems and that the major reforms in the game's economic structure that they're after aren't needed. Or the players will see that the owners haven't been lying after all, and will agree to some reforms that would put a limit on the upper end of salaries but keep all of the teams viable. Simple. Everything else -- the worldwide draft, even drug testing -- would be relatively easy to negotiate.

We know, because we're all business experts now, that the players will likely choose Sept. 16 as their strike date. That's because they'd only be putting one paycheck at risk -- we know that they get paid on the 15th and 30th of the month -- and the owners would be under pressure to cut a deal quickly to save the postseason. We also know that if a strike is going to be averted, it'll be averted at the last minute, because that's how these things work. So that means we have two months of this depressing nonsense hanging over our heads.

So it's two months of only half following the Red Sox's quest to unseat the Yankees, barely paying attention to whether the Indians will trade Jim Thome, finding out if the Dodgers are for real, debating whether the Mariners have enough to go all the way this year after their playoff collapse a year ago.

You want greater revenue sharing, she wants mandatory drug testing, that guy over there wants a salary cap. There's a guy three barstools over who couldn't define the word "antitrust" but is unshakable in his belief that baseball's 80-year-old exemption from the Sherman Antitrust Act should be taken away.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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