A strike warrants a strike

Former sportswriter Scribbly Tate tells of his hunger strike against baseball back in 1972.

Originally Published: August 27, 2002
By Scribby Tate | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Scribbly Tate is a guest columnist who is filling in for Rob Neyer, who is on vacation.

Like the weather, people like to complain about baseball strikes but -- again, just like the weather -- they never do anything about them. I'd like to tell you the story about the time I took matters into my own hands and made those owners and players stand up and take notice!

Lately, people often say to me, "Do you think there's going to be a strike?" to which I am prone to reply, "Have you considered the irony that the word strike is so integral in the playing of baseball and equally integral in the non-playing of it?"

I'm afraid that's as good as it gets for me these days, as I hunker down to endure my ninth baseball labor breakdown. I ran out of clever retorts about five strikes ago, and thus I am mentally bankrupt by the repetitive nature of the whole process.

But such was not always the case. Thirty years ago, I was a much younger man (not young, but younger), and still burned with the fires of righteous indignation at the mere thought of our nation's most precious resource -- baseball -- being torn from our collective bosom like a baby in mid-suckle or a rusty nipple ring.

Oh, you should have seen me then! Stooped, but not so severely. Wrinkled, but not so deeply. Balding, but not so completely. Shuffling, but not so slowly. Yes, I cut quite a figure back in 1972 but -- more important -- my mind was still a-crackle with ideas.

In that year, the cause du jour was a player pension fund. The players wanted a better one and the owners didn't want to cough it up. April Fools Day rolled around, and it became apparent that there would be no baseball. When Opening Day dawned, the ballyards were as empty as the chapel room of a bordello.

This simply would not do. I had been a baseball fan for just over 50 years by then, and the thought of a break in this half-century of continuity was something akin to the Black Plague descending. What could I do to prevent it?

I could issue forth essays, of course, but what good would that do? Better writers than I were sure to do that with little effect. This is meant as no offense to my fellow word-chuckers, but has anything that anybody has written railing against baseball strikes and lockouts over the last three decades done one little bit to prevent or curtail them? I think we know the answer to that. We can claim the pen to be mightier than the sword, but it sure hasn't worked on baseball and its labor problems, and nobody -- so far, at least -- has used a sword to combat the problem.

Aside from that, I was without media affiliation at that time, and thus had no outlet for anything I might have written. I divided my days between the race track and the unemployment office, a magical two-step dance that left me with bountiful free time. It was while in transit between my two habitatoots that I saw a grown man in a diaper and nothing more, wandering Times Square -- as was the fashion for some of the more mentally disenfranchised at the time. It was then that it hit me: what I could do to make the Lords and players of baseball see the light of reason: "Ghandi! Civil disobedience! I'll go on a hunger strike to protest the lack of Major League Baseball."

Since most of my food money was being lost on ill-advised wagers anyway, I figured it was the perfect gambit. What is more, once the owners and players got wind that I -- a senior citizen -- was wasting away, they would feel guilty and commence the season straight away. And then a grateful, baseball-mad public would fete me to any number of congratulatory feasts. My mouth flooded in drooling anticipation of these repasts as I set about making my intentions known to those who would still take my calls in the New York press.

Red Smith of the Times, Dick Young at the Post, Jerry Izenberg across the river at the Newark Star-Ledger &a few of them made a big deal out of what I was trying to do.

"The next time I eat won't be until the two parties come to a mutual agreement," Young quoted me as saying. The Daily News agreed to run a feature called Scribbly Tate's Baseball Hunger Strike Diary. Some excerpts:

Why is it that now I begin to think of how many of Howard Johnson's 31 flavors I can name? Why does the mind do such things? And why must I picture them dripping from cones as I name them?

Would I prefer a hamburg sandwich from a griddle with fried onions, or off the charcoal pit, with blackened lines seared there by the flames of hell?

Steak ... an odd name. Where does it come from? Why are there so many kinds? Rib eye? What a silly thing to call a piece of meat ... meat ... God, I miss it so!

Oh for a Danish! A stale Danish even! Oh, the crusted goodness of a three-day-old strudel!

If I could suck on a leaf of some kind, I would sure feel better. Even a dead leaf.

Didn't I read in my Navy survival manual that you could boil wallpaper and to render the paste and live off of that glue indefinitely?

Day Two &"

Well, my intentions were good, anyway. I was trying to save baseball! That I caved in, and ate two entire pizzas for breakfast on the second day, is beside the point. The players' strike lasted another two weeks, and 80-odd games were lost.

I am still convinced it is a viable tactic. I charge you, Mr. or Ms. Americanski, with picking up the torch I lit so long ago. How long will the owners and players be able to carry on with their silliness whilst your body wastes away on a fetid mattress? Not very, I would venture to guess! As soon as the players go on strike, start a strike of your own. They'll buckle, just you watch.

Chant with me:

No baseball? No food!
No baseball? No food!

Scribbly Tate is 96 years old and, at one time, he covered the Yankees for the long-since defunct daily, the New York Loyal Citizen. These days, he spends his time drafting his memoirs and writing columns which can be found at http://www.robneyer.com, and you may email him at scribtate@aol.com.