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No joy in Mudville, and no World Series

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 10, 1999


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It was as much an annual fixture on the U.S. landscape as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Come October, baseball would crown a new champion in a World Series.

Then baseball told us to put away our silly fantasies and grow up. It was a business, not a game. And it didn't belong to us. It belonged to them -- the players and the owners who paid them (with our money).

And until they figured out just how to divide the millions of dollars among themselves, come October, we would just have to find something else to do. For the first time in 90 years, we would have to do without the World Series.

America had done without baseball before, with strikes and lockouts during spring training and the season, but they were merely speed bumps on the road to the best-of-seven competition that has produced everything from the perfection of Don Larsen to the lightning bolt home runs of Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter.

On Sept. 14, 1994, the owners and players did what World Wars, an earthquake and the 1919 Chicago White Sox could not do.

They killed the World Series.

Forget the rest of the season, the owners and players told us. There will be no boys of summer, or fall.

"There's an incredible amount of sadness," acting commissioner Bud Selig said. "It's been hard to articulate the poignancy of this moment. There's been failure on so many fronts."

The cancellation was not a surprise. The players had been on strike since Aug. 12 and, with virtually no progress in negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement, the owners decided it was time to pull the plug, cancel the season and the post-season.

They drafted a resolution that was signed by 26 of the 28 teams. Baltimore's Peter Angelos submitted his own statement with slightly different language; Cincinnati's Marge Schott wanted to continue the season with replacement players, as the National Football League had done in 1987.

Basically, the issue was the game's financial system.

The owners, saying changes were needed to save the small-market teams, offered the players 50 percent of the game's total revenues in a system that includes a cap and floor on team salaries.

The players rejected it.

The players proposed a plan that redistributed more revenue from big-market to small-market teams through a taxation system.

The owners rejected it.

Each side blamed the other, of course.

"I think this had to be done," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said, "and I think there is one thing that triggered it. ... The union never believed the solidarity of the owners. They had every reason to believe, because of the past, that everyone would fold. But we didn't and that's due to one person. They misjudged Selig's ability to keep everyone solidified. I'm not blaming the union. They just didn't understand how strong ownership was."

Don Fehr, chief of the players union, had a different take: "From what we've seen from the owners over the past few weeks ... there appeared to be no urgency, no desire to go to any extraordinary lengths to find an agreement."

A. Bartlett Giamatti, the commissioner of baseball who died in September of 1989, once wrote of the game:

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

Until this day, we never knew just how alone, and for how long.


-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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