Players should picket if they want to strike
By Jim Caple
Fine. Go ahead guys. Feel free to go on strike. As union members, you have the right to strike if you deem it necessary. We can handle it. We'll just watch football. And when you finally solve your squabble, we'll let you know whether we're interested in watching you play again.
But there is just one requirement before you ruin everyone's summer again. You can't go on strike unless you hold signs and walk picket lines outside the stadiums. No more of this staying home, playing golf and showing up to union meetings in a limo (as Lou Whitaker did in 1994). I want you guys hitting the pavement
No, walking a picket line is not pleasant but that's what everyone else does when they strike. Autoworkers, teachers, firefighters, truckers, longshoremen, waiters, flight attendants, aeronautic engineers, newspaper reporters -- when they go on strike, they grab a sign and fire up the burn barrel. I still have my picket sign in the trunk of my car as a reminder of the newspaper strike I took part in two winters ago. Not that I really need much reminder of one of the least pleasant periods in my life.
I know what you're saying. We can't picket because there is nothing to set a picket line around. The owners aren't playing games without us.
But you don't need replacement workers to picket. Teachers picket even if no one teaches phonics and arithmetic in their place. You can do it, too. Besides, you never know when the despicable owners might hire some replacements. They did it in spring training 1995 and no union member so much as lifted a finger, let alone a sign, in protest.
Well, we didn't picket then because if we had, the fans would have swarmed us for autographs and it would have become a circus.
You're right. But if you think signing autographs all day would be unpleasant, I suggest you try marching up and down the sidewalk at midnight in a cold rain until your hands turn so numb you can't hold onto the sign and you have to warm them by the burn barrel while wondering whether the strike is going to end before your health benefits run out. Compared to that, I guarantee you that signing a few baseballs would be a pleasure.
Besides, it would do you good to come in contact with the fans and learn how tired of all this we are.
We are tired of players who don't know the difference between Cesar Chavez and Cesar Geronimo lecturing us on labor history. If I hear another player talk about how he's doing this for the future players, I'm going to retch. This isn't the early days of the coal miners. This isn't the Grapes of Wrath. It's not even the 1994 strike. This is simply about the staggeringly rich refusing to acknowledge that there is a real world outside their cherry-paneled clubhouses.
Don't get me wrong. I find the owners a thoroughly miserable and dishonest group. But the fact is, the owners aren't asking for much this time. The only concessions they want are ones you players agreed to last time -- a luxury tax and revenue sharing. All you're doing now is arguing over the proper figures.
Settling for the owners' proposal won't change things much for you, other than giving some poorer teams a slightly better chance to re-sign players. True, it might slow the rise of salaries a percentage or two. But so what? In case you haven't noticed, in today's economy of plunging stock prices, soaring deficits and numbing layoffs, you're not always guaranteed a whopping raise every year. Besides, the average salary is $2.38 million. How much higher does it have to go up before future players are "protected"?
I know, I know. You don't write the checks, you just cash them. If the owners want to pay Alex Rodriguez $252 million, why blame you players? And while baseball is a pastime for the country, it is your livelihood, so to hell with everyone else, you have to do what's right for the union.
Well, that attitude was perfectly acceptable when the owners were getting their revenues from TV networks, advertisers and fans who all had a choice in whether to pay the money. But now the owners are getting the money from taxpayers who had no choice in building the lavish stadiums in which you play. That means you owe an obligation to those taxpayers who are directly subsidizing your salaries.
I'm not saying that compromising with the owners would be what's best for the fans. I'm saying it would be what's best for the union. Salaries are already higher than anyone ever imagined years ago -- as is fan resentment. Strike now and those "future players" you're so concerned about will find themselves playing in front of smaller, less tolerant crowds and drawing salaries from smaller revenue pools. Far from "protecting" the future player, a strike will make things much worse for them.
But if you still think jacking the average salary another $70,000 or so is worth risking the game's future and the neverending wrath of fans, then go ahead and strike. You just better be on a picket line. If the issue isn't important enough for you to do that, it isn't important enough to strike.
And one last thing, I don't want to hear you referring to it as a "work" stoppage, either.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org