This Friday, Aug. 30, is the date set by the baseball players' union for the first work stoppage since 1994. If the players and owners do not come to a labor agreement by then, major league games will stop. But this strike does not threaten only the rest of this season, but also the future of the game of baseball.
Baseball has still not completely recovered from its last work stoppage, with attendance remaining below 1994 levels. Another strike would cripple the game, alienating fans and emptying ballparks. Moreover, the economic system the game is currently operating under is already destroying itself, and substantive changes are needed.
Currently, there is a great disparity between those teams with money and those teams without money. There are only a handful of teams with enough money to buy the players necessary to compete and win, as evinced by the perennial dominance of the Yankees and Braves. Other teams, such as the Florida Marlins in 1997 and the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, also demonstrate that teams willing to spend big money can win the World Series.
But other teams without the same resources are left out in the cold. Teams like the Royals, Tigers, Expos and Brewers are already out of contention when the season begins, and it is impossible for them to ever contend because they lack the money to do so. Small-market teams playing well, like this year's Twins, are the exceptions that prove the rule--but even the Twins cannot compete in the playoffs with the big boys like the Yankees or Braves with their bloated payrolls.
The owners are to blame for the current bad state of the game, since they are responsible not only for ever-escalating salaries, but also for adding not viable expansions teams and blocking teams from moving to new locales. Owners like George Steinbrenner and players like Alex Rodriguez are not to blame for the game's problems; they are merely doing the best they can under the current system. Steinbrenner has the money available and builds winning teams, doing exactly what he should do. Rodriguez was offered a huge contract and rightly took it. The real problem lies in the structure of the game. Fortunately, the owners are currently trying to fix that structure.
The owners' proposal includes provisions for greater revenue sharing between teams and a luxury tax, which would penalize teams with very large payrolls. Both of these measures will help ensure competitive balance in the game, evening the odds between teams like the Brewers and the Braves. Unfortunately, the players' union is not going along with the owners' proposals. Although the players' union is protecting its own salaries, it does not realize that by taking a hardline position it is shooting itself in the foot.
Both sides need to place a huge emphasis on the fans, who are the reason the players and owners both profit from the game. By threatening to strike, the players are threatening the game fans love and their own livelihood.
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