THE BASEBALL STRIKE: AS BORING AS IT IS STUPID

I must now find a new way to amuse myself. Baseball is gone, never to return--in this season, at least.

What is left? There are so many experts spouting off about the ramifications of the baseball strike, they have worn me to a frazzle.

They come boring in from all angles. There are Ted Koppel and Jeff Greenfield, George Will, Jerome Holtzman, Bob Costas and too many others. Every one, no matter what his walk of life, has become an expert. And not one has anything different to say.

Not one of these instant experts, however, is more abhorrent or supercilious than Larry King of CNN. King wears his ignorance, like his omnipresent on-camera suspenders, as if it were a decoration for valor. The man has always had an overinflated opinion of himself. It is this overriding self-confidence that accounts for his breakneck decisions to get either married, engaged or divorced seemingly as often as the seasons change.

This was the final straw for me and King. I turn on my television set on the final night before the baseball strike and there sits King, staring straight out at me from the tube. If King were sitting on a park bench and staring like that, I would have swiftly called 911 and told them there was a mental patient on the loose. King looked every bit as eccentric as King Alfonso feeding the pigeons down at the State Capitol.

King is wearing a baseball cap with a bird emblem on the front. His suspenders and tie are decorated with baseball players. He shouts at his two guests. The cords stick out from his neck as he leans forward.

"Why can't you tell us right now you will put the strike off until October?" King demands. "Can't you two men decide right now, on Larry King Live, to put it off so the fans can see the finish of the most exciting baseball season in 40 years?" King's voice cracks. In the last political race, he grew accustomed to having important pols on his show. I recall that he never got himself into a lather like this while kissing the rings of important Americans like Ross Perot, Dan Quayle, Robert Dole or Madonna. The camera switches to the faces of Donald Fehr and Dick Ravitch, the chief negotiators for the players' union and the baseball owners, respectively.

I recognize this pair immediately. For two weeks, these charlatans have been appearing together on every talk show possible. They have missed only Geraldo and Oprah. I am sick of them. I have yet to hear either utter a substantive remark.

If they were serious about their work, this pair should be off someplace working out strike details in a sealed room. Ravitch is a smooth operator with a gravelly voice. He is a product of New York City politics who would like to become baseball's commissioner when this is over.

Ravitch mistakenly thinks he knows just the right way to handle King. "Larry, I'm a great fan myself," Ravitch says. "It saddens me, too, that baseball must come to a halt."

Ravitch is the kind of fan who makes $750,000 a year and always ends up in a box seat with a ticket he didn't have to pay for. There was the time when Ravitch was hired by New York City to upgrade the subway system, admittedly an impossible job. In his excellent book Lords of the Realm, John Helyar tells us of Ravitch attending a 1981 World Series game at Yankee Stadium. When he left his seat to get a hot chocolate, Ravitch was recognized by fans who chanted at him:

"What are you going to do about the subways, you fucking bum?"
Now I'm beginning to wonder what he is going to do about the baseball strike. Fehr was a prot‚g‚ of Marvin Miller, who founded the players' union. Fehr was just out of law school in Kansas City when he hooked up with Miller. To me, his appearance has always seemed just a bit tubercular. Fehr once read the World Book Encyclopedia from cover to cover. It is claimed he reads 150 books a year, many of them on scientific matters.

I don't care how much he reads. Fehr doesn't seem forceful enough to run my union.

Probably I have this all wrong. How can anyone consider a group of men who make an average salary of $1.2 million a year union members? I apologize for even asking that question. It is an issue that has already been discussed, ad nauseam.

I remember a press conference in Chicago at which George Meany, the old union war-horse, sat around with reporters. Newspaper publishers hated Meany. The reporters? We loved him.

The subject of the baseball players' union came up. Meany, then in his 70s, had once been a semipro catcher in the Bronx. He was a fan, but he had no use for ballplayers as union men: "You'd never see the day when one of those high-priced bozos would honor a picket line set up around the ballpark by the beer vendors, would you?"

The logic of his remark was inescapable. I think about old George Meany as I watch King pushing all his liberal buttons with Ravitch and Fehr. King is a liberal who makes $1 million a year. Who is he kidding? After a while, Ravitch and Fehr make only perfunctory attempts to answer King's questions. They understand the game he's playing. Besides, it's plain they are talked out. They have no intention of giving their game plans to King. King has two more guests lined up for his second half-hour. The first is Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee franchise and the acting commissioner of baseball. Selig is a figure of fun. He is the son of a Ford dealer, and people in baseball refer to him as Bud Light in recognition of his intellectual capacity.

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