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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power