Out of America: Couch potatoes steamed up by baseball's long-running feud

WASHINGTON - At a pinch, I suppose, you could get interested in beach volleyball, indoor bowling, women's college soccer and other prime-time fare currently being peddled by the big US sports networks.

But it's not easy. Such though is the lot of the couch potato in this dismal, deranged American autumn of 1994. There's no baseball, there's no ice-hockey and soon there may be no basketball. Of the Big Four professional sports in this country, only football (the helmeted, shoulder-padded 'spot the ball' variety) is functioning normally.

To have an idea of what's happening - or rather, what's not happening - imagine a late March in Britain. A strike has ended the football season just as it was getting exciting. Another dispute has forced the start of flat racing to be postponed, while county cricketers are mulling over war with their clubs.

Only for the League Championship and the FA Cup final, read the World Series, baseball's tradition-drenched showcase that was due to have started this weekend, but has been cancelled for the first time in 90 years. Where the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression failed, the strike has succeeded. Add to this deprivation the 'lockout' imposed by the hockey owners, plus the possibility that basketball is heading down the same path, and small wonder we sports fans are in such a filthy mood.

And not only the fans are suffering. Some 68 days old as of yesterday, the baseball strike is the longest sports shutdown in the US. The players have lost dollars 230m ( pounds 150m) and the owners dollars 600m, with the prospect of worse to come as lucrative television contracts lapse. Thousands of caterers, ushers and box-office workers are out of a job. Last Friday the White House appointed Bill Usery, an old union hand who served in the Cabinet of President Gerald Ford, to try to broker an agreement. Usery is said to be the deftest labour mediator in the US. But even that may not suffice. 'I don't think Solomon could settle this one,' mused one baseball official. Hockey is a smaller business and its stoppage has lasted only 18 days: even so, a new dollars 155m television deal could be in jeopardy. This is not the place to delve into rights and wrongs, and such complexities as baseball's anti-trust exemption or the relative financial plight of small-market franchises which bedevils both baseball and hockey. Like most people I am fed up with the lot of them: both the baseball players who make an average dollars 1.2m a year; and the feckless owners who bid up salaries to these levels and then complain that they are bankrupting themselves. In all four sports, the bone of contention is a salary cap, a mechanism limiting a club's total payroll. Football players have one and don't like it. Basketball players have had one for years but want to get rid of it.

Hockey players are trying to wriggle out of one. Baseball players say they will rot in hell rather than accept one. Hence the stoppages.

What so maddens the fans is perhaps but the final act in the taming of America's trade unions. For decades now the power of organised labour has been waning. Automation, the explosive and fragmented growth of service industries, the ability to move plants or replace troublesome workers - all have eroded a union's ability to launch and win a protracted strike.

Nor are people very interested. Strikes do occur in the US, but whether they involve West Virginia coalminers, Detroit car workers or the once dreaded Teamsters union, press coverage is minimal. Somehow, the public feels, they don't really matter. Until now. Major league baseball players form arguably the most motivated and powerful union in the land. Their skills are virtually irreplaceable, except in the eyes of the baseball owners.

As matters now stand, the owners sometime this autumn will unilaterally impose the salary cap. They will then prepare for a regular 1995 season with teams composed of minor league players in a bid to break the strike and the union, once and for all. If the minor leaguers cross the picket lines, and fans decide that bad baseball is better than no baseball at all, then the strike - and the union - will be broken, albeit at the cost of poisoning the sport for decades.

Surely Mr Usery can stave off this ultimate lunacy. Meanwhile, back to tenpin bowling and beach volleyball.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee