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Will the Fans Strike Back?
Here's the transcript from Show 123 of weekly Outside The Lines - Will the Fans Strike Back?
MARK SCHWARZ, GUEST HOST- August 4, 2002. Baseball fans across America are angry.
ANGRY FAN ON TALK RADIO SHOW- Can I just say, I am so sick and tired of baseball and all the people. I am sick of the players, I am sick of Bud Selig, I am sick of Donald Fehr.
SCHWARZ- When millionaires square off against billionaires, the fans don't take sides. They take umbrage.
MARK LORETTA, MILWAUKEE BREWERS PLAYER REPRESENTATIVE- I think the first knee-jerk reaction is that the players are greedy, overpaid crybabies.
BUD SELIG, BASEBALL COMMISSIONER- We shouldn't take that lightly, and above all, we shouldn't take it for granted.
SCHWARZ- Some fans are taking action.
MATT ANDERSON, SPORTS BAR OWNER - We support the fans, and we are showing no baseball today.
SCHWARZ- Eight work stoppages in 30 years, but baseball fans have always come back.
LORETTA- I think there will be a strong backlash. I think that, you know, people would swear off baseball in a lot of cases.
ANGRY FAN- If they go on strike and cheat me of another season of playoffs and the World Series, I will never watch this sport again.
SCHWARZ- Today on Outside The Lines, will the fans strike back?
Last November, we were riveted by the most dramatic World Series in a decade, but just 36 hours after the Diamondbacks became champs, Bud Selig stepped to the plate and knocked the warm and fuzzy out of a fall classic with one word -- Contraction. It didn't help that a pair of former MVPs publicly admitted that they used steroids. An All-Star game with no resolution just made matters worse. Fitting perhaps in a sport where labor and management inevitably find themselves at a stalemate.
Fans may not dig the long ball after all. While the three other major team sports held on to their audience, Major League Baseball attendance has slipped six percent since last season. Has the national pastime managed to lose its nation? If the players strike, will the fans strike back? Off the record, many players will confidently say the fans will come back like they always have.
They ought to watch Dave Revsine's report carefully.
RODNEY KUBIN, CUBS FAN- We were having a party that day, and I was in the living room and we were just chilling out, because it happened to be the first inning and watching the game, and oh my God, it's pretty deep.
PLAY BY PLAY ANNOUNCER- How far is that baby going to go? Out onto the street.
KUBIN- I'm at my bedroom door here, and I hear the ball humming through, and it hit the wall there, and there's the mark. It landed on my bed.
DAVE REVSINE, ESPN CORRESPONDNET- So the tradition is to throw it back, right?
KUBIN- The tradition is to throw it back, and 40,000 people are yelling at me to throw it back, and I gave them an old fake throw and said, no way. I have been here five years, and one ball had come through my window, so it will be on my mantle.
REVSINE - Less than a year ago, Rodney Kubin was living in baseball fan heaven, just over the left field fence from the friendly confines, which gave him one of the most coveted views in sports.
KUBIN- We can see pretty much all of Wrigley Field, except for deep left.
REVSINE- But that all changed this season, when the Cubs, citing security concerns, put up a screen, which obstructs the view from the Waveland Avenue apartment.
KUBIN- It had nothing to do with security. You know, you have to get along with the neighborhood. That screen to me says, "F you, fans."
REVSINE- While Kubin's case may be unusual, his sentiment is not. With the threat of another labor stoppage, baseball fans are lashing out.
ANGRY FAN- Can I just say, I'm so sick and tired of baseball and all the people. I am sick of the players, I am sick of the owners, I am sick of Bud Selig, I am sick of Donald Fehr.
SELIG- Am I sensitive to those feelings? You bet I am, and I'm sorry for them.
REVSINE- Who do you think that the fans will blame if there is a strike?
SELIG- Doesn't matter. Sure, most people today think they'll blame the players, and that's probably true, but it doesn't matter. We're all family in this situation, and therefore there will be enough blame to go around, but it doesn't matter.
CURT SCHILLING, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS- We don't want to strike, and we never -- you know the players, and it's not -- you know, we're not asking for pity or sympathy. Players don't want to strike.
REVSINE- Softball pitcher Don Wadewitz believes the fans need to start playing hardball.
DON WADEWITZ, MLBFANSTRIKE.COM- We're just trying to have the fan be noticed by the players and owners.
REVSINE- The lifelong Brewers fan went on strike himself this week. His website, MLBfanstrike.com, counted down to a national fan boycott on Thursday. It was the second in a series of planned fan walkouts, both of which have gone largely unnoticed. Visitors to the site were urged to join in the cause.
Sports bar owner Matt Anderson is one of those who heeded the call.
ANDERSON- I mean, Don is organizing a fantastic thing. It's about time that the fans step up and really give their opinion to the players and to the owners about how ridiculous baseball is kind of getting.
FAN IN BAR- What's happening here at Matty's, I believe, is a positive thing, and if we can only get more people to follow in the footsteps that are being started here tonight, possibly Major League Baseball would listen.
REVSINE- Wadewitz and his group have pledged to boycott one game for every one the players miss.
WADEWITZ- I mean, the hardest part of not following the Brewers would be Bob Uecker.
BOB UECKER, VOICE OF THE BREWERS- I think we're getting to the point now where we're alienating fans almost on a daily basis because of what's happening with the labor issue.
REVSINE- Bob Uecker sees both sides of the debate. He's a former player and is also a close personal friend of the man who hired him as the Brewers' play-by-play voice, Bud Selig. But he seems to relate best to the fans.
UECKER- It's getting tough to try and convince people that athletes, for the most part, not only baseball, but athletes are having a tough time. I mean, the average salary in baseball is $2.3 million, and you fly on chartered airplanes, you travel first class, you live in first-class hotels. People have a hard time understanding how you can be unhappy and live like that.
REVSINE- John Seiler, an editorial writer for a California newspaper, has stopped trying to understand. He was an avid Tigers fan growing up, but today doesn't recognize a single name in the box score. He confesses to seeing parts of last year's World Series while visiting with relatives who are Diamondbacks' fans. But, other than that, Seiler says he hasn't watched a game since the '94 players strike.
JOHN SEILER, QUIT WATCHING MLB- I just don't think people who cancel the World Series deserve my allegiance. It's just amazing that they are so callus toward the fans nowadays. They just think that no matter what they do, the fans will keep coming back. Well, I know I didn't come back, except briefly last fall, and I know a lot of other people who haven't come back, too.
REVSINE- At the other end of the spectrum is John Franzen, about as dedicated a baseball fan as you'll ever encounter.
How many Brewers games would you say you've seen?
JOHN FRANZEN, BREWERS FAN- With tonight, it's 2,710.
REVSINE- When the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965, it was his face on the front page of the local newspaper, personifying the city's pain.
When the Brewers filled the void five years later, Franzen was back for more, at one point attending 1,090 consecutive home games, in the span of more than 13 seasons.
Do you think the players care?
FRANZEN- I don't really think they care.
REVSINE- You think the owners care?
FRANZEN- I think the owners care more than the players.
REVSINE- In that sentiment, John Franzen is not alone.
WADEWITZ- More fans are probably anti-players in this one than anti-owners, just because the players, they sit there and they come out and they say, hey, this isn't about the money. But, the fact of the matter is is that they're doing bad PR then, because all the fans see is, it's about the money.
SEILER- The players make so much money, I just can't see how they can't show up for a game. I mean, I've never missed a day of work except when I was sick. Why can't they show up and play the game?
LORETTA- I think the first knee-jerk reaction is that the players are greedy, overpaid crybabies. You know. And that's tough, you know, because nobody wants to be painted like that.
REVSINE- Brewers players' representative Mark Loretta fears the impact a strike might have on fans.
LORETTA- I think there will be a strong backlash. I think that, you know, people would swear off baseball in a lot of cases. You know, it's tough to -- you can't really keep kicking somebody repeatedly and then expect them to come back.
REVSINE- Do you believe the fans will come back?
SELIG- Dave, I really -- they always have, but I am very sensitive about that. I am very concerned. Yes, I think they'll probably come back to some degree, but we shouldn't take that lightly and above all, we shouldn't take it for granted.
RICHIE SEXSON, MILWAUKEE BREWERS- Baseball has been forgiving in the past when we've had stoppages and I don't see, you know, why this would be any different.
REVSINE- But there are some fans who say that if baseball continues to treat them like a doormat, this time they won't take it lying down.
ANGRY FAN- If they go on strike and cheat me of another season of playoffs and the World Series, I will never watch this sport again. I promise you right now as I'm on the phone with you today, I will never watch this game again, I will never go to a game. I will never even eat a hot dog, for that matter! I am so sick of the way all they do is argue and bicker and can't figure out that this game is a kids' game, and it's for the fans.
SCHWARZ- Perhaps the fans have never felt more disconnected. Now let's get a players reaction. Joining us, one of the games emerging stars. He made this memorable catch in this year's All-Star game to rob Barry Bonds of a first inning home run. With us, Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter.
Torii, noticed your reaction during that fans radio soundbite. Some of the fans do sound angry. If there's a strike, what makes you think the fans will be back as soon as the players are?
TORII HUNTER, MINNESOTA TWINS- I think they -- you know -- it might take a while, but we don't want a strike. I mean, let's not talk about that because no player, no owner, wants a strike. I mean, we want to go out there, we want to please the fans, and that's our main goal. I mean, if we wanted to strike, I think we would have done it a long time ago. There would have been a work stoppage before spring training, or before the season, and especially the All-Star game wouldn't have been played. But, I mean, we don't want to have a strike. That's why we're prolonging it.
SCHWARZ- Do you think the fans -- Torii, do you think the fans realize that you don't want a strike? Don't you think all they hear about is a possible strike date and they feel it's just a matter of time before you guys walk?
HUNTER- Some fans -- you know, some fans they realize that we don't want a strike, but some fans, you know, they are going to believe what they want to believe, they're going to say what they want to say. And, sometimes when your back's against the wall, all you can do is -- you know -- fight back. And that's what we're doing. But we set a deadline so we can speed up the process. And we're making progress, I heard. And that's a good thing. That's why I really think we're not going to strike.
SCHWARZ- Also joining us this morning is Hall of Fame pitcher and Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning. Jim, how will the fans react if there's a strike or a lockout?
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY- I think they'll stop coming to the ballpark. I think they will quit and completely turn off Major League Baseball, and we'll lose the game as we know it today.
SCHWARZ- Why do you feel that? They didn't boycott baseball very long in 1994. I mean, there have been eight stoppages since 1972 and the fans have always seemed to come back with their tails between their legs eventually.
BUNNING- Well, I think so because they're tired of it. They've had it. Eight for eight is batting 1.000, and a work stoppages, and this time, Major League Baseball players making $2.3 million on an average, and Major League owners, who haven't come up with a solution of sharing revenues and taking free agency and all the things that they gave away in 1976 when Messerschmidt/McNally's arbitration was done, they haven't solved the problem. They're not going to get the players to -- if the players won't accept a salary cap and the owners won't share revenue, the fans will realize that they're not really trying to settle the problems.
SCHWARZ- Well, Jim, in Cooperstown last week, you and 39 other Hall of Famers signed a letter urging the players and the owners both to use a mediator if necessary in order to come to an agreement.
Johnny Bench was one of those who signed the letter, and he recently said -- "It took a long time for people to get over the strike and the lockout in 1994. If there's a strike this time, I'd say we lose half our fans forever." A strong statement. Well, we decided...
BUNNING-I believe he's right.
SCHWARZ- You think that's true? We decided...
SCHWARZ- We decided to take the temperature of baseball fans, too. So, we conducted an ESPN.com poll, and we asked if there is a Major League Baseball work stoppage, I will -- fill in the blank. And the leading answer was "stop following baseball altogether," 41 percent. Torii, only four percent said they would follow the sport with the same loyalty that they always have. What do you think of those numbers?
HUNTER- Four percent of the fans?
SCHWARZ- Only 4 percent of the fans said that if there's a strike, they will follow the game as strongly as they did before.
HUNTER- Oh, man -- I mean, that's not too good, is it? I mean, we just got to go out there and not really think about that. I mean, especially here. We're finally getting like 25 grand -- a night -- I mean, we're getting 25,000 fans a night, and it's starting to get back into it, and if we have a work stoppage right now, that's just going to kill us. But, I mean -- I heard that we're making progress, and hopefully that stays right there.
SCHWARZ- Torii, you say that you can't think about it; the fans are thinking about it. If it happens, will they come back, in your opinion?
HUNTER- It's going to take a while, because in '94 -- we had this strike, and it took a while. It took to where, you know, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, they had the home run race and I think the fans got back into it. And, so we're going to have to have something like that, you know, happen -- and I'm just saying -- you know -- right now, we just don't want to talk about that; that's a bad thing, and we don't want a strike, you know -- we want to go out there, we want to keep playing, we want to have the World Series. The owners or the players don't want a strike; we want to get this deal done.
SCHWARZ- Well, I think there are a lot of fans out there who have seen this before, heard this before and then watched the 1994 World Series go away. Jim Bunning, what do you make of Torii's remarks?
BUNNING- Well, Torii's absolutely right. If either side doesn't decide to settle this thing, then I'll tell you one thing -- if they cancel the playoffs and the World Series, it's over for baseball. Johnny Bench is absolutely right; they'll not get 50 percent. In my opinion, they won't get 10 percent back.
And we're about to open a new ballpark here in Cincinnati. Can you imagine the owners locking the players out -- or the players not agreeing to the contract -- and opening the season with nobody in the stands? At this brand new ballpark. I think it would be tragic.
It's going to be tragic if the players go out, because of these many difficulties over the past 30 years. And it's a shame that two people, or two groups, can't get together in a room and settle on sharing the revenues -- there's plenty of money in baseball, because the players and the owners are both making money. And if they're not, they're cooking their books.
SCHWARZ- We'll talk about how much money there is in baseball when we return.
Also, when we come back, we'll be joined by the president of a fan's group. We'll ask him if today's players are out of touch with the workingman. Barry Bonds' recent comments may indicate the answer is yes.
SCHWARZ- Joining our panel now is Bob May, president and founder of Baseball Fans Unite International. Bob, you heard Richie Sexson during the piece say the fans have always been forgiving, they've always come back. Torii Hunter sort of echoes that. Any reason to believe the fans would come back this time if there's a strike?
BOB MAY, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, BASEBALL FANS UNITE INTERNATIONAL- No, I -- this time it's going to be totally different. You know, last time a World Series was taken away and on August 12 last -- 1994 -- we certainly didn't expect that to happen. It did. It better not happen again.
SCHWARZ- Well, but in what way can the fans really have any kind of impact of any consequence with millionaire players and billionaire owners? They're not even calling you to the negotiating table or returning your calls.
MAY- Well, that's true, but the thing is, is the way we can have an impact is by not showing up at the ballpark.
SCHWARZ- Well, you tried that the other day, August 1st. Torii, did you know that there was a boycott in Major League baseball on Thursday?
HUNTER- Really? No, I didn't know that. I heard that, you know, the fans think we're greedy. You know, and -- we just -- I just want to tell the fans, you know, we're not greedy. We just want to keep what we have, and that's just -- this is something like Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, all those guys -- they fought for us in the past, and we want to fight for those guys in the future. I mean, we just want to keep what we have; we don't want no more or no less. But, it's -- I mean, like I said earlier, you know, fans and other people are going to think what they want to think.
SCHWARZ- Well, we did another poll, Torii, this week. I'm sure you'll be interested in this one -- 43 percent of those responding to our poll said their interest in baseball had declined over the last year. And of those, we asked which reason best describes why your interest has declined. Half -- half -- said it's because of greedy owners and players.
Now, last year the gross revenues in baseball, Torii, were $3.6 billion. Now, do you blame the fans if they think the owners and players might be greedy if they can't agree on how to split $3.6 billion?
HUNTER- I mean, I understand. I mean, I'm with the fans. You know, if I was a fan, I would think the same thing. You know, and -- but somehow we need to get those owners and the union in a room -- one little room -- lock them in there and tell them to get a deal done.
So, if the fans want to think the players are greedy, you know. But I wish it was that easy; it's not that easy. And, like I said, I hate for the strike to happen, I -- you know -- I don't want it to happen, and because we're having a great season here and a lot of players are, you know, finally getting a chance to go to the playoffs over here and the fans are getting back into it. And if we have a strike, that's just going to kill everything. And I'm telling you one thing -- I see a lot of fans with signs saying if you have a strike, we're quitting, we're not coming back.
SCHWARZ- Do you believe them?
HUNTER- Yeah, I see a lot of fans with those signs out there in the stands, and I'm like, man, they're serious. So, we need -- we really need to get something done.
SCHWARZ- Now, Jim Bunning, you were one of the people who formed the Players Union. Normally, players of all generations side with players. Do you and your fellow Hall of Famers who were gathered in Cooperstown -- do you feel that these players are greedy?
BUNNING- Not greedy. But they have a negotiated deal that is a sweetheart deal for the players. And if, in fact, the owners do not share their revenues and the players do not get a salary cap, baseball can't survive. The Yankees can't win the pennant unless they have somebody to play. So, if they don't have the Milwaukee's and the teams in the American League that are struggling to pay salaries, and they don't agree to some kind of cap, and sharing of revenues, and tell -- tell Torii to tell Don Fehr that the salary cap has to go on, and the 100 percent sharing of owners revenues has to come in, and that's just my solution.
There's plenty of other solutions out there, but the fact of the matter is, you can't play somebody if you're on strike, you can't have a playoff if you're on strike, and you kill the greatest game that's ever been invented. And it's killing me because it's my game. And it gave me a chance to do so many things in my life, and I want to make sure that it survives in spite of the owners, currently, and in spite of the players currently.
SCHWARZ- Would you say, Jim, that there was a feeling that the players nowadays have taken this too far, that you don't feel the same kinship that you did with players in your era when you were negotiating about money too?
BUNNING- I don't know because I'm not in the clubhouse. All I can tell you is what it -- the appearance is -- that the players currently are playing the game and they don't really care if they play for Milwaukee or Montreal or Minnesota or the Yankees. They go wherever the highest bidder is. And that's bad for baseball. And if we put a cap on the salaries and made the owners share their revenue, they wouldn't be able to do that.
SCHWARZ- Who do you blame more, Bob May, the players or the owners?
MAY- I blame both sides equally. There's a lack of leadership in baseball right now. There's no long-term vision for baseball right now. And, they've got to get it where there's more competitive balance. I mean, it's like having Major Leagues versus Triple-A or Double-A some nights.
HUNTER- Jim, I understand what you're saying, but I'm sure you played baseball before, so you kind of understand what we're trying to say, we are really trying to keep what we have. I mean, I guess you were one of the guys that fought for me. And I can't believe you're saying that, but I understand where you're saying as far as the fans and everything and the strike. I don't agree with the strike. You know, I think we should get a deal done, but as far as like keeping what we have, I think, I strongly agree with that. And I can't believe you're saying that.
BUNNING- I sat across the table for 12 years, negotiating with the owners. And we tried our best to do the best job without busting baseball, so that you don't kill the goose that's paying you those wonderful salaries you're making right now. You're going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and you're going to drive a lot of the Major League teams out of business, and therefore not as many players are going to have those salaries. And probably the fans are going to stay away.
HUNTER- I agree.
BUNNING- So you're not going to have the great game of baseball as you and I both play it.
SCHWARZ- Is he right, Torii?
HUNTER- I agree. I agree. I mean, baseball can really go downhill if we have a strike. I mean, I agree with Jim Bunning on that, but at the same time, I say we still have to, you know, fight for what we have.
SCHWARZ- Torii, we are out of...
HUNTER- I mean, I'm sure we can work out something as far as like -- we got to give to get, I can tell you that.
SCHWARZ- OK. Torii, we are out of time, we appreciate it. Jim Bunning, Torii Hunter and Bob May, thank you for joining us. More of Outside The Lines as soon as we return.
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