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my last season?
a baseball fan's final plea
by bill copeland
5.27.02
sports


An open letter to Donald Fehr, Bud Selig, and all owners and players in Major League Baseball:

This is your last chance.

I have been a baseball fan my whole life. I was raised a baseball fan. I was at the World Series as a 17-month-old. My father swears my first words were, "Reggie Jackson, 3 home runs!" I was raised Jewish; bar mitzvah at 13, confirmation at 16, but my whole life, there have been two holy lands: one in the Bronx and one in Cooperstown. I am considering a move to Boston, but only if I can get the proper cable service that will give me all the Yankee games. I was too young to be hurt by the strike of 1981; I still remember wondering why Babe Ruth didn't play in the postseason that year. By the next year, the start of the Yankees' long swoon, I understood the infield fly rule.

Twelve years later, having survived Stump Merrill and Bobby Meacham, Howie Spira and Ken Phelps, you took my first playoffs away from me. Sure, I got to see the Yanks sweep the A's away in 1981, winning Game 3 13-3, but at that age I couldn't tell Dave Winfield from Ronald Reagan. The Yankees and Expos seemed destined for the 1994 World Series, but none of you seemed happy with your millions of dollars, so the players called a strike and the playoffs were gone.

My generation of Yankees fans had waited our whole lives for this, and we forgave you. Forgiveness never came in Montreal.

What I'm writing to tell you is that I will not forgive again. It appalls me to look at the record books and see 1994: (no World Series) among the list of World Champions. But I figured this could never possibly happen again. No one could be that stupid. No one could be that arrogant. No one could spit in the face of their own industry twice and expect to get away with it.

In 1994, millions of people were angry at you for not caring about the fans. The fans flock to you and pay for your Range Rovers, your steaks, and your penthouses. Is it too much to ask that you respect the wishes of those who support your incredible lifestyle?

Maybe it is. But you have a job that goes beyond the fans, and if you fail again, you will lose the fans. Or at least this one.

You are entrusted with perhaps the most sacred American institution. Baseball is history, and one reason we put up with three hours of bad pitching, ass scratching, and walks to the mound is that it makes us feel in touch with our past. On the night of May 17, 2002, Jason Giambi became the second Yankee to end a game with a grand slam from 3 runs back. In perhaps the greatest game of this baseball season, Giambi repeated a feat only accomplished previously by one of the most revered names in the history of American culture: Babe Ruth.

What sports has over all other forms of entertainment is the ability to do something that can be easily compared to its past. And baseball, above other sports, has a lore that stands out as we look back at the 20th century and even beyond. Sure, the game has changed over the years, but when Giambi can become the first since Ruth to do anything, that is breathtaking. Names like Gordie Howe, Wilt Chamberlain, and Johnny Unitas will never compare to the Bambino. Nor will they compare to Gehrig, Cobb, Hornsby, Young, or Williams as parts of American history. Michael Jordan may be the greatest of all time, but we have seen his greatness and there is little to wonder about. Baseball's lore is what makes its fans so passionate, what makes us revere it like nothing else.

I don't care if you care about the fans' feelings. Your goal is to make money, and I'm fine with that. But you are also in charge of continuing the history of this great game, and you must respect that. If the caretakers of baseball don't care about it, then that will be the end of the baseball's ongoing historical relevance. If you don't respect the game, I won't respect the game. As far as I'll be concerned, Major League Baseball will cease to exist in 2002 without a World Series.

So here is what you need to know: I am a 27-year-old lifetime Yankee fan. My father is going to baseball games in four different cities this year, and one day I intend to do likewise. I love going to Yankee games; they have always been my favorite family outing. I have been to the Stadium for work and family, with friends, and even on dates.

Let's say I have a child in five years. Until then, that's five years of disposable income that I could spend on baseball. Then I'll have a choice; I can put a baseball in my child's crib, or I can put a football in it. I can buy my child a glove for his (or her) third birthday, or I maybe I'll buy his first basketball. I can have posters in his room of Mattingly and Jeter, or I can have posters of Messier and Bure. I can take the family to Cooperstown, or I can take the family anywhere else in the world.

It's your decision.

You robbed us of one World Series. We forgave you. Do it again, and we won't. I won't. I respect the history of the game too much to support it while it's under the care of people who don't. My life has been spent with baseball first, everything else second. It may be time to give everything else a chance.

This is your last chance. Don't blow it.


ABOUT BILL COPELAND

Bill Copeland is six feet tall.

more about bill copeland




COMMENTS

trevor kleiner
5.22.02 @ 10:47a

Did Montreal care even back in '94?

michelle von euw
5.22.02 @ 10:52a

I'd have to argue that it was Cleveland that was destined for the World Series in 1994. That was the whole irony of the strike: that the hapless Indians who hadn't won in decades and the Expos were in first place for the first time in maybe forever were going to be the big postseason showdown.

And, yes, Montreal cared that year: in fact, it was the last time they cared about baseball.

matt morin
5.27.02 @ 11:20p

The fans will always come back. As much as I wish we could teach the owners and players a lesson and have our own boycott, it'll never happen.

And it'll never happen precisely because baseball is so great. If it's not Todd Helton's run for .400 a few years back, it's Barry Bonds hitting 73. Or it's Barry trying to hit 74. Or it's enjoying the Twins and Expos win after almost getting contracted. Or it's Mike Cameron and Shawn Green hitting 4 homers in a game.

Baseball always wins.

adam kraemer
5.28.02 @ 10:58a

But not certain teams/owners, etc.

erik myers
5.28.02 @ 11:53a

You know that if there's a strike and it cancels out the World Series it will only mean one thing: that it was going to be a Red Sox/Cubs Series.

adam kraemer
5.28.02 @ 1:20p

Can I just say 14-5?

michelle von euw
5.28.02 @ 1:41p

Um, feel free to do that. And you can also say 3-2, or 9-8 (11), or 3-1. Meaning a four game split. And absolutely nothing, since it's only May.

adam kraemer
5.28.02 @ 1:50p

Yeah, but point-wise, the Yanks won the series. If only that mattered.

michelle von euw
5.28.02 @ 2:03p

I cracked up at your post, Adam. I think we won the 1986 World Series based on your method.

Not to get back on topic or anything, but Matt, it's generally considered that after the '94 strike, many fans did not return to baseball, that attendence in cities that aren't Boston, New York, Cleveland, St. Louis and San Francisco has remained below pre-strike levels.

We may be enjoying the Expos' success, but Montreal fans sure aren't: they are drawing about 5,000 fans a game. I have friends who paid $5 (about $3 American) for good seats at an Expos game.

matt morin
5.28.02 @ 3:11p

Yeah, but when attendance drops, owners just demand (and usually get) a new stadium - which brings people back out. Look at SF. As soon as the wonderful Pac Bell Park came around, the place has been sold out.

True, some people don't come back after a strike. But most do, albeit after a short pouting period. And the ones that don't return? Their seats are pretty quickly filled.

And Montreal? They're just weird Canadians.

michelle von euw
5.28.02 @ 3:22p

Ah, the economics of a new stadium -- one of my favorite topics. For all the things we can thank Camden Yards for, the perception of new stadium = better attendence numbers is perhaps the worst thing that came from the gorgeous Oriole Park. It's a brief trend, that is helped along in cities like Cleveland and Baltimore with winning teams or Cal Ripken. But the financial gains seen by a new field are definitely short-term, as the many copycat facilities have discovered.

Matt, a good percentage of pre-strike fans have not returned or been replaced, and I stand by my "numbers are still down overall" claims.

What needs to happen for baseball to return to being the sport of the fans? Corporate America needs to lose interest in the sport. Almost everything the owners have done in the past decade or so has been to lure them to the ballpark in order to pay for skyrocketing salaries. The fan base isn't the family of four anymore. It's the FleetBank accounts. The minute that clients don't want to go attend sporting events is when we'll get our sport back.

russ carr
5.28.02 @ 4:07p

Hm. I'm torn on this issue, Michelle, since most of the Cardinals games I attend each season are comp tickets from work. And a good thing, too, with ticket prices continuing to escalate.

A couple of weeks ago, the regular session of the Missouri legislature wrapped up with a budget agreement but no decision regarding state funding or tax incentives for a new ballpark in St. Louis to replace the "aging" Busch Stadium. As a result, the consortium which owns the Redbirds is now entertaining offers from other communities in the metro area regarding the location of a new stadium. Personally, I really liked the proposed new stadium, which would have been similar in style to Oriole Park. And in addition, the plans included dedicated commercial and residential developments, the so-called "Ballpark Village." The team owners, along with the City of St. Louis, chose this plan specifically for its high potential to boost downtown, which has continued to lose business, tourist and resident income.

On the other hand, though, the main reason to build a new ballpark is to increase revenues for the team (ie, the owners). But with the inevitable increase in ticket prices to fund the team and the stadium over the next umpteen years, I fear the owners will price themselves out of the average fan's wallet...since it's cheaper to pay for a month of cable or satellite TV than it is for a family of four to even get nosebleed seats at the ballpark.



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