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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Pro Baseball: No Lockout, No Strike

This autumn, Major League Baseball has a unique opportunity to display to the American public and its sports fans that there is still reason to call baseball its national pastime.

The occasion has nothing to do with the extraordinary record-breaking team and individual accomplishments of this season. Nor does it involve celebrating the completion of the memorable careers of two distinguished future Hall of Famers. In fact, these achievements will be seriously tainted if Major League Baseball overlooks this significant event.

Baseball, its owners and players now have the chance to show unity in negotiating and signing a new collective bargaining agreement immediately following the World Series. A quick settlement between franchise owners and the player’s union would assure us all that baseball will be played come spring. No lockout, and no strike.

Major League Baseball has failed to negotiate any of its eight previous agreements without some kind of work stoppage. And having yet to recover the overall popularity it had prior to the strike of 1994 and ‘95, baseball would forever lose countless supporters if it failed them now. In a time of grief and uncertainty, a joyful release like professional baseball becomes important to public morale.

What Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Player’s Association Director Donald Fehr have done is to keep the issue quiet and out of the press so as not to disturb the present season and playoffs. But with the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement scheduled for the end of October, now is the time to move aggressively to resolution.

Baseball has experienced incredible financial prosperity since the workstoppage of ’94-‘95, with owner revenue increasing by over 200% and player salaries climbing by 61%. But during that period, greed and overreaching have become what to expect from Major League Baseball. Team owners have flourished in large part by manipulating and threatening state and local governments into taxing the public so the owners didn’t have to pay for their own new ballparks.

Baseball, like some other industries, has capitalized on the boom in concentrated wealth over the last several years and changed its operations to cater to the new white-collar luxury market. This is easily exploitable with the business and entertainment tax deduction for luxury seats which allows corporations and wealthy individuals to share 50% of the cost of their exclusive locations with federal taxpayers.

Team owners have discovered that they don’t have to please the average fans anymore to enjoy tremendous profits. Instead of building their new ballparks with sports fans in mind, owners chose to build for their business partners and the corporate executives who gladly shell out big bucks for tax deductible luxury boxes as a nice place to do business. Average fans across the country have learned that going to a baseball game has become either a once a year treat, or a corporate perk.

However, despite the reckless behavior of the baseball industry that has caused the alienation of so many fans, baseball has an important chance to weave itself back into the fabric of this nation. The time has come for Major League Baseball to show some of the character that deserved so much respect from society during World War II. Baseball pulled through and helped to ease the anguish of our country, and some players were even regarded as heroes.

It would be offensive to everyone for baseball’s powers-that-be to even consider a work stoppage this time around. If bickering between the ownersand players were to drag on into the winter, with spring training right around the corner, the tolerance for such selfishness would be nil. Baseball would learn that it can no longer sustain itself while taking the fans for granted.

This is an unmistakable crossroads for Major League Baseball that will define its status in this country for years to come. But to this point, the thought of labor negotiation is being treated like stacks of overdue bills that no one wants to touch, as reflected by Commissioner Selig’s threat to fine any franchise owner $1 million for speaking publicly on the topic. If Selig cannot now find the motivation to begin a dialog to save baseball for millions of loyal fans, then shame on him and the other baseball executives.

Will Major League Baseball pull through this autumn giving us justification to call baseball our national pastime? Or will it turn its back on us again and further disgrace this once celebrated and heroic game?