OCTOBER 24, 1996
During World Series week, the NewsHour takes a look at the ups and downs of baseball -- from the strike in 1994 to Cal Ripken's record breaking streak last year, to his Orioles teamate's appalling spitting incident at the end of the regular season.
ANNOUNCER: Again the two-two--into left field--back at the track--we are tied.(crowd cheering)
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April 1, 1996
Roger Rosenblatt looks at the differences between baseball and basketball.
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Three-two pitch. The Yankees take the lead.
A double switch for the Braves here in the 10th inning as Charlie Hays pops up to the new first baseman--scores--
JIM LEHRER: And that made it eight to six, the final score. Now some assorted curves and other thoughts from sports author John Feinstein and our own historian and baseball fan, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who's currently at work on a book about the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Doris, just about the time you think Major League Baseball deserves to go away or is about to go away, something like that happens. It's going to be here, right?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Historian: (Boston) Oh, absolutely. I mean, that game last night was a classic, fabulous game, where the underdog comes back in the end, where you have this moment in the 10th inning where they keep saying that poor Wade Boggs is so old, and he's the only pinch hitter that's not in the game. They bring him in, and finally, he's the one that gets the walk. He still has a good eye to win the game for the Yankees. So I think that what happens is when you get into a playoff, you get into a World Series, all the distractions that have taken us away from baseball, the strikes, the Albert Bell incidents, the Roberto Alomar incidents are gone. You're really focusing on the game, and what you want are close games where the underdog comes back in the end.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, but the Alomar incident, that's the spitting incident, for people who don't follow baseball. He's the second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, was upset with an umpire's call, spit in the man's face, and didn't really suffer any punishment for it. A lot of people believed that was really going to turn people off to baseball, the way the baseball--the way the game handled that. What do you think about that?
JOHN FEINSTEIN, Sports Author: (Raleigh) Well, Jim, everything is wrong with the people who run baseball, and as Doris says, nothing is wrong with the game of baseball. Tony LaRousa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, always says the game will survive because it's better than all of us. And that's the only reason why baseball's still around, because it has been mishandled since the strike of ‘94, really since Fay Vincent was fired as the last real commissioner in 1992, the only three--there are three certainties now in life--death, taxes, and people who run baseball doing everything wrong, and the Alomar incident, as you say, was another example of this.
He spit in the man's face, after the game was over, he didn't say he was sorry about it. In fact, he brought up the death of the umpire's son as the reason why the umpire was supposedly doing a poor job. And the next day, the president of the American League, Gene Budick, suspended him for all of five games, and it was a suspension that won't even go into effect until next season. So how can people trust the game--the people running the game when things like that happen?
JIM LEHRER: Doris, what was your reaction to that?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, I think it was just a horrible way of handling a situation. What you need in baseball are rules that are followed. And when an umpire is treated that way by a player, he should have been suspended immediately and not allowed to be part of that playoff. It shows exactly what John says. There is not leadership on the top of baseball. There is still huge issues that have to be resolved. We've got to figure out revenue sharing.
One of the scary things is that all the plays, teams that are in play-offs in the World Series are the richest teams. What are you going to do about the small market teams? Are they ever going to be able to compete because they don't have enough money? Baseball's got to face that. They've got to somehow face the question of how do you retain loyalty of players who've been on a team and now they suddenly go to any other team who gives them more money. So if you love a team, you can't give loyalty because your guy might be gone the next day. All of these things need leadership. You need to market their players better. Some of the real heroes, like Ken Griffey, Moe Vaughan up here in Boston is fantastic; he takes people to the symphony, to the ballet. He should be a person that everyone knows. Instead, we concentrate on Albert Bell. No one in baseball is minding the store. We need a strong commissioner.
JIM LEHRER: But, John, you cover--you've written books about basketball, and you've also covered professional football as well, and all the other professional sports. Is the greed factor higher in baseball than it is in the other ones?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: No. I don't think the greed factor is any higher. I mean, all the athletes, all the owners in all sports want to make very nickel that they can, especially the athletes, because their shelf life is so short, but--
JIM LEHRER: On average, why--just for those of us who don't follow professionally, the average baseball has how many years to make it?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Probably in terms of making the big money somewhere between seven and ten years, maybe less. It's even less than pro-football because players get hurt. The average running back lasts in the league only three to four years. But baseball has had, as Doris points out, this terrible leadership void. What they did was they fired their commissioner in 1992, and they made one of the owners the "acting commissioner," Bud Selig. He's been the acting commissioner for life--for four years now he's been the so-called commissioner. He has no power really to do anything without a consensus from the owners. The league presidents are weak.
The players' union fights with the umpires' union. The umpires' union fights with the owners, and it's a vicious circle, so nothing gets done. The point about the marketing is a key one. The only way baseball has marketed itself in the last 20 years is the owners going around saying players are overpaid. It's as if you're running a ballet company, and you say, you know, our dancers are terribly overpaid, but come and pay 50 bucks a pop to watch them anyway. Nobody in their right mind markets their product by putting their product down. That's what the owners have done for 20 years.
JIM LEHRER: And, yet, Doris, the product, what those players do on that field is still something that's a beautiful thing to watch.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, there's no question about that. I mean, last night I happened to be in New York, and I was staying at the hotel. You could hear people in the adjoining rooms yelling when it turned around that the score turned around and the Yankees won. This morning in New York there was this camaraderie among all of us bleary-eyed people who'd stayed up till 1 o'clock to watch this game. You had something to talk about with the people on the elevator, with the cab driver, with the water in the restaurant. There is still something about a game that's well played, when somebody comes back from a deficit like that, when you think it's all lost, that they still come back, that really makes baseball, to my mind, still the most extraordinary sport. And it doesn't mean that you can't love football or other sports. There's enough room in our minds and hearts. Maybe baseball will never be undisputed king it once was before these other sports came in, but it deserves a continuing place, and with the right leadership, it will never go away.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: But, you know what, Jim--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Just to make a--going on what Doris said, there's no question that, that a pennant race, a great World Series game like last night bonds a city, and I can remember 10 years ago when the Mets were in the World Series--were in the playoffs with the Houston Astros, and, and there was no rush hour at 5 o'clock in New York, because everybody was in their office, watching an extra inning game with the Houston Astros, but the Yankees were about as an appealing a team as you could possibly have this year in New York, and their attendance was not very good all season long, and attendance since the strike is still down a net of 13 percent. That's a huge number. There are people--I mean, Doris and I are going to be hooked on baseball no matter what, but there are a lot of people who gave baseball up during the strike and aren't coming back--
JIM LEHRER: And didn't come back.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: --and may never come back.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the TV ratings are down too, Doris. People aren't watching--aren't watching it on television, watching this exciting World Series like they have in the past.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, what I'm not sure about is that two of the games that should have been on the weekends weren't because of the rain last weekend, so maybe if they had been on the weekends, we would have had TV ratings equal to last year. But I think it's true. I think part of the answer is going to be we need urban stadiums that people want to come to. Look what's happened in Cleveland. Look what's happened in Baltimore. When you get--and Colorado--when you get stadiums in the middle of the city that are safe and fabulous to come to, that's part of what we have to do to get people back into the game, but it's just going to take a while. So much was lost a couple of years ago, it's not going to turn around overnight, but it will come back. We'll see.
JIM LEHRER: John, just about the game, itself, one of your colleagues, I mean, fellow sportswriter Dave Anderson of the New York Times made--drew the distinction recently, the thing--marvelous thing about baseball is there's no time limit. The game--as long as there's still one out in the 9th inning, there's still a chance that somebody can pull it out. Do you agree with that, that that's the magic difference about baseball?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Always has been. That's always--last night it was six to nothing, and--but the Yankees still had all their outs left to get back in the ball game. There was no time limit. You cannot go into a stall in baseball. You've got throw that pitch over the plate and give the other team their outs, and that is the magic of baseball, and that's why the--people keep coming back to the game. People came back to the game last year because of Cal Ripken. It reminded us what the game can be at its best because at its best, as Doris says, baseball is still the best game. The problem, as I said, is not with the game. It's with the people running the game. They've got to get a collective bargaining agreement. There still isn't one. And they've got to get a commissioner.
JIM LEHRER: And we've got to go. Thank you both very much.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thank you.