SHOW: Talk of the Nation (3:00
PM ET) - NPR
July 9, 2002 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Status of Major League
Baseball in the face of possible labor disputes, high ticket prices and other
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm
Doug Fabrizio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.
Tonight the American and
National League face off in the All-Star game in Milwaukee. But baseball's
real battle was played out earlier this week in Chicago, where representatives
of the ball players and owners were in negotiations to avoid a work stoppage.
The last time a labor dispute disrupted baseball was in 1994, when the World
Series was canceled. That work stoppage lasted more than 200 days, and even
had President Clinton calling for mercy. The issues then were revenue sharing
and salary caps. Well, eight years later, little has changed. This year the
players may walk out over the owners' push for parity between teams. Critics
say big spenders, like the New York Yankees, essentially buy their appearances
in the World Series because they can afford to pay huge salaries to the best
players in the free-agent system. They say it leaves poor teams perennially in
There are other clouds hanging
over baseball. Recently, two veteran players admitted that they'd used
steroids and that many other players do, too. Some owners want mandatory drug
testing in baseball, the only major sport that doesn't require it.
On All-Star day, we're talking
baseball. Should the commissioner strive for economic parity between teams to
create an even playing field? Do you feel like the business of baseball takes
you, the fans, into account? And if the play on the field is interrupted this
season, would you be there, as a fan, when play resumes? You can join the
conversation. Our number here in Washington, (800) 989-8255; that's (800)
989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
With us is Harvey Frommer. Mr.
Frommer joins us from the studios of Dartmouth College, where he teaches.
Harvey Frommer has written some 32 books on sports and sports figures,
including Nolan Ryan's biography and "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia." His
latest is a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball," which
is a collaboration with his son, Fred Frommer. This fall, Mr. Frommer is
coming out with "A Yankee Century," which will commemorate the team's
centennial. And he joins us from Hanover, New Hampshire.
And welcome, Mr. Frommer. Thanks
for joining us.
Professor HARVEY FROMMER
(Dartmouth College): Well, welcome to you, too, Doug. It's nice to hear your
FABRIZIO: Let's lay out our
biases on the table. Are we assuming you're a Yankees fan?
Prof. FROMMER: I am not only a
Yankee fan and somebody with a big book on the Yankees coming out in October,
but I resent the fact that the Yankees today are being dragged through the mud
and being bashed as the big bully on the street, buying all these players. The
Minnesota team, for example--its owner has more money than George Steinbrenner
has, and he could be out there spending money, also, and building his team. So
it's really a kind of a stereotypical commentary directed at the Yankees.
In many ways it's a bad time for
baseball. As you said in your introduction, we have the All-Star game tonight,
but we have a lot of negative themes that are prevailing. You had the death of
Ted Williams, a real icon; the death of Darryl Kile; the death of legendary
St. Louis Cardinal announcer Jack Buck. We also have the odd couple, Bud Selig
and Don Fehr, sparring one more time, and I think fans and journalists and
people in general are getting a little tired of it. We have the specter of a
possible strike coming up, which would be the ninth work stoppage in baseball
And I'm sitting here in this
lovely studio in Hanover, New Hampshire, and I'm thinking, 'What would Jackie
Robinson say, or Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?' players who spent their entire
lives with one team, along with many, many others.
And I think this is another item
to throw into the hopper: the lack of loyalty. Maybe free agency has done
this, but the fans root for somebody one day, and then the next day he's on
another team. So I think a lot has to be done to straighten out the whole look
and feel and style and substance of Major League Baseball. I think the game is
America's game, but you have a lot of selfish people who are making it their
game, and not ours.
FABRIZIO: We're talking about
baseball with sports historian Harvey Frommer. When we come back, we'll visit
with former Yankee All-Star Jim Bouton. You can call us: 1 (800) 989-TALK.
We're talking about baseball this hour. Are you a fan? What do you think of
the business of baseball off the field? You can send us an e-mail as well. Our
I'm Doug Fabrizio. It's TALK OF
THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Group: We've got
heart, all you really need is heart. When the odds are saying you'll never
win, that's when the grin should start. We're so happy that we're
laughing--ha, ha, ha--that's the hearty thing to do--ho, ho, ho. So we ain't
been autographing, 'cept to sign an IOU--hoo, hoo, hoo. We got heart, miles
and miles and miles of heart. Oh, it's fine to be a genius, of course, but
keep that old horse before the cart. Who minds them pop bottles flying, the
hisses and boos, the team has been consistent. Yeah, we always lose. But we're
laughing 'cause we've got heart.
FABRIZIO: This is TALK OF THE
NATION. I'm Doug Fabrizio, sitting in for Neal Conan in Washington.
(Soundbite of parody of "Take Me
Out to the Ball Game")
THE REDUCED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY:
(Singing a cappella) We can't watch any ball games. There is a labor dispute.
We miss all the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and scratching and spitting and all
the cork bats, for it's greed, greed, greed by the owners. The players act the
same way. For it's strike, strike; no matter who wins, it's the fans who pay.
FABRIZIO: Well, don't panic. The
players haven't walked out yet, but eight years ago they did, and summer
wasn't the same. That ditty aired on National Public Radio in 1994, performed
by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. And like it or not, we're once again
talking about a possible Major League Baseball strike. Harvey Frommer is
joining us from the studios of Dartmouth College, where he teaches. He's
written some 32 books about sports and players. His latest is a collection of
oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball."
Harvey Frommer, I wanted to just
get your sense, your bet, I guess. Do we have a season left, do you think?
Prof. FROMMER: I would not
really bet on it. Maybe I'm in a minority here, but I don't really see a
season. You have the steroids issue, which--the union is against testing,
whereas individual players are in favor of testing. That's kind of a blind cod
in this whole issue. And then you have these other issues that doesn't seem to
be that much bending on. And I think, just as last time around, back in '94,
there was the problem of trying to get a settlement and then there was a
strike that was decided upon shortly after the All-Star game. So I hope I'm
not too pessimistic, 'cause I'd love to see the season play out.
FABRIZIO: We invite you to join
the discussion. You can give us a call at (8000) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address
Let's take a call from Vicki,
who joins us on the line from Rochester, New York. Vicki, welcome to the
VICKI (Caller): Thank you so
much for having me on. I feel like this comment might be redundant, and Mr.
Frommer made it so aptly before the break, but I think I'm dating myself. I
was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. When they left Brooklyn, my heart was broken. And
I think part of the problem with fans abandoning baseball is the sense that
there is no home team to root for. I think a lot of that has to do with the
owner greed, not necessarily players' greed. But, you know, when players are
traded around, we don't have a team to root for anymore.
Prof. FROMMER: Vicki, I agree
with you totally, and also, Howard Schultz, the man who owns Starbucks, who
also owns the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA--he grew up in Brooklyn in a
family of die-hard Dodger fans. And he said on the day in 1957 that it was
revealed that the franchise was moving to Los Angeles, his father, a taxi
driver, announced to the family that from that day 'We would not mention the
Dodger name in our house. The Dodgers,' he said, 'broke my father's heart, and
had a significant effect on our family.'
VICKI: Yeah. Well...
Prof. FROMMER: And Schultz is
like you, Vicki, and like me and like millions of others--you know, had hearts
broken back then, and it's an indication of how things, you know, still go on
the same way. But I cut you off. Go ahead.
VICKI: No, that's OK. What I was
going to say--that our hearts were broken not just because of the...
Prof. FROMMER: Move?
VICKI: ...absence of our team,
but the Brooklyn Dodgers stood for something. After all, you know, with Jackie
Prof. FROMMER: Right.
VICKI: ...the color barrier, and
people like Roy Campanella and other players who had such dignity and class,
and I don't see that anymore. That was a group of players that we really could
put our souls behind.
Prof. FROMMER: Right. And a
little trivia item that plugs right into that is that not that many people
realize Jackie Robinson was traded at the very end of his career to the hated
New York Giants, and he was told he could fill in any amount for his contract.
He refused to go because he was a Dodger through and through.
Prof. FROMMER: Imagine that
VICKI: No, it wouldn't.
Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.
VICKI: And I think that it's
really owners' greed that has caused this. Of course, the players may be
overpaid, and there are many hardworking people in our country who don't get
the kind of money that they'll ever see. But I lay it at the feet of the
owners. Thank you.
FABRIZIO: Vicki, thanks for the
Prof. FROMMER: Thank you, Vicki.
FABRIZIO: Let's get another
voice in the conversation. Joining us from our New York bureau is Yankee star
Jim Bouton, who pitched in the 1963 All-Star game and the following year won
two games against the Cardinals in the World Series. He wrote the 1969
baseball classic "Ball Four" and the novel "Strike Zone." He's a popular
speaker around the country,
Mr. Bouton, welcome. Thanks for
Mr. JIM BOUTON (Former New York
Yankee): Hi, Doug. Nice to be here.
FABRIZIO: So let me get your
sense. What do you think? What's your bet on the rest of the season, to start?
Mr. BOUTON: Well, first of all,
I think that the problems that you've been talking about on the show,
baseball's problems, are mostly owner-manufactured problems, the solution to
which, in some form or another, is that the players must take less money.
We've been hearing basically four themes over the years. Teams are going to go
bankrupt one day. Of course, baseball may be the only industry in America
which has never had a bankruptcy, not even once. Players aren't loyal--that's
another thing that gets batted around all the time.
But it's the players who want
long-term contacts, and it's the owners who continually put them on short
leashes. They basically say to the players, 'Look, we don't trust our
judgment. We're going to put you on a short leash, and if you don't re-sign
after two or three years, then we'll blame you for not being loyal.' Players
want six-year contracts, eight-year contracts. They want to buy a home in a
community; they want to put their kids in school, make business contacts. It's
the players who want the loyalty and the owners that won't give it to them.
Number three: Small-market teams
never have a chance. Well, when did small-market teams ever have a chance? I
can remember days when Kansas City A's never got out of last place. The St.
Louis Browns never got out of last place. And the only team that ever won,
practically, was the New York Yankees, and you never heard the baseball owners
saying that the economic system needed to be changed because Kansas City never
gets out of last place.
Here now we actually have a
situation where teams with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball--for
example, Minnesota--happens to be leading its division by more than any other
division lead in the American League, with one of the lowest payrolls in
baseball. You could never have had that back in the old days. Oakland
Athletics are in a pennant race. They've got a very low payroll. Meanwhile,
you've got teams with enormous payrolls, like Baltimore. They're out of the
pennant race. Texas--well, they're in last place.
So it's true that the Yankees
have won, but they haven't done it just with money. They've done it with
brains. So I also think...
Prof. FROMMER: Excuse me, Jim...
FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer, go
Prof. FROMMER: You also left out
the Montreal Expos, who are, in fact, owned by Major League Baseball...
Mr. BOUTON: Right.
Prof. FROMMER: ...who, despite
every attempt to destroy them...
Mr. BOUTON: Right.
Prof. FROMMER: ...are really
making a run for it, you know, and trying to move up there.
Mr. BOUTON: Exactly right.
Prof. FROMMER: And they never
get anything. Yep.
Mr. BOUTON: Right. So here
you've got Montreal, who...
Prof. FROMMER: I agree with you.
Mr. BOUTON: ...is supposed to be
so poorly off that it didn't have a chance, now playing far better than the
New York Mets, with one of the largest payrolls in baseball and a huge market.
So it isn't money; it's money and brains, and in the case of...
Prof. FROMMER: Money is a bogus
Mr. BOUTON: Absolutely, it is.
And the fourth one is that the players are greedy, and that's why ticket
prices cost so much at the ballpark. Of course, it's not true; the players do
want to make as much money as they can, but the ticket price has nothing to do
with what the players are making. It has only to do with how much people are
willing to pay at the ballpark, whether they're making, you know, $10 a year
or $10 million a year, if fans are going to pay $65 for a box seat at Yankee
Stadium, that's what they're going to charge for a box seat at Yankee Stadium.
FABRIZIO: So it's what the
market will bear.
Mr. BOUTON: It's exactly what
the market will bear. And I think that fans really need to begin to see the
baseball player-owner battle in a different way. If there is a strike or a
lockout, rather than turn away from it look at it as a new sport. Owners vs.
players. It would be a great chance for people to learn how business works,
learn something about economics. Then we won't be so surprised by what we're
seeing in the business section of the newspaper. We'll learn how the antitrust
laws work, why they're important and why they're necessary and why, since we
don't have them in baseball, we have these kinds of problems all the time.
FABRIZIO: Let's hear from...
Mr. BOUTON: And...
FABRIZIO: Forgive me. Go ahead.
Mr. BOUTON: It's OK. No.
FABRIZIO: Let's hear from
Mr. BOUTON: I've said more than
FABRIZIO: ...who--Todd joins us
on the line now from Cleveland. Todd, welcome to the program.
TODD (Caller): Thank you very
TODD: Appreciate you having me
FABRIZIO: Go ahead.
TODD: I just wanted to comment
real quick. I think free agency has done a couple of different things. Number
one, obviously, as just a general fan, you can't root for the guy because he's
here one year and he's gone the next. But I don't think the players are
totally at fault for that. I mean, you see general managers trading their
players by, you know, May and June, and they're giving up the season by then,
as opposed in years past, you know, they kept the same guys and they played
throughout the entire year trying to win this thing.
Mr. BOUTON: The old days they
used to trade eight guys, nine guys at a time, four guys for six guys. They
had a general manager in Cleveland called Frank "Trader" Lane...
TODD: Right. Sure.
Mr. BOUTON: ...who wasn't happy
if he hadn't traded seven guys before breakfast. The difference was in those
days trades were always positioned as a good thing for the team. The general
manager would announce, 'We've just traded these four guys who are doing
terribly and we're now getting five guys who are going to help us win the
Mr. BOUTON: So it was always
positioned as something good for the fans and they were happy about it. Now
the owner says, 'Oh, we're losing this guy because he's not loyal and we can't
afford to hang onto him'...
Mr. BOUTON: ...blah, blah, blah.
And then the players think...
Prof. FROMMER: Right. Or it's
the way now of dumping your salary, which is another thing that they tell
Mr. BOUTON: Exactly.
Prof. FROMMER: ...you know,
they're out of the pennant race so they have no chance. Like Cleveland getting
rid of a top pitcher because they're allegedly going to be rebuilding...
Mr. BOUTON: Right.
Prof. FROMMER: ...and sending
him to Montreal, which might not even be around next year.
Mr. BOUTON: And while you're on
the subject of Cleveland, by the way, Jim Thome has said exactly what someone
said earlier, that only the older players would have said. Thome has said, 'I
don't want to leave Cleveland. Don't trade me.
Prof. FROMMER: Right. Yeah.
Mr. BOUTON: 'I don't care who
you trade me to.'
Prof. FROMMER: Mm-hmm.
FABRIZIO: Todd, you used to play
TODD: Yeah. Actually I did. I
played three years of independent ball, and I was actually on the Pirate
system for a while. Shoot, I was telling my dad I kind of hoped they do strike
because I'll be tap-dancing over that picket line, if someone would pick me
FABRIZIO: Todd, thanks for the
TODD: Hey, I appreciate it. Have
a good one.
FABRIZIO: You can join the
conversation today: 1 (800) 989-TALK; 1 (800) 8255.
This e-mail comes from Jeff in
Laramie, Wyoming. 'I think if baseball players strike, in its growing
popularity soccer,' he says, 'will step in and take over a portion of the fan
base. Americans need sport and love sport, and this could be the first strike
during a time where baseball has an American opponent.'
Gentlemen, what do you think?
Prof. FROMMER: I say no.
Mr. BOUTON: No commercials in
Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.
Mr. BOUTON: No national TV
Prof. FROMMER: No real scoring
either. It's kind of dull. But that's my opinion.
FABRIZIO: So you don't think
Prof. FROMMER: No.
FABRIZIO: Let me read another
e-mail from Tim. Tim writes, 'I may be disgusted with Major League Baseball,
but that does not mean that I'm going to lose my love of the game. I can see
more baseball in its pure form with the minor leagues and especially the
Northern League. Besides, instead of spending $150 to take the family to the
big Major League games, I can spend a little under 40 bucks and save money as
well with the kids by taking them there. I may be down on the majors but up on
Prof. FROMMER: Well, that I
agree with, not like soccer. You really can have a good time at a Minor League
game and spend less money. It's not the same quality as Major League Baseball,
but if there isn't Major League Baseball, it's a good thing to do.
FABRIZIO: Is that...
Mr. BOUTON: Besides, you can
hear yourself think at a Minor League game. You can't do that at a Major
FABRIZIO: Let me remind you that
you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Joining us on the line now from
Cleveland is Art. Welcome to the program, Art.
ART (Caller): Hi. How are you?
ART: Hey, this is kind of a good
conversation. I'm torn because the capitalist side of me says just what you
said, what the market will bear. And if someone offered me $2 million a year
to do what I do, I doubt I would refuse it. However, the reasonable side of me
says, you know, shame on the fans for paying those ridiculous rates. You can't
afford to take your family to a game anymore. And, you know, what bugs me the
most is if you take, for instance, transportation, which I work in, in this
nation--if transportation were to be taken away, our whole nation shuts down.
If baseball went out of business, we would go on. I mean, it would affect our
economy briefly in little local markets, but people would find other ways to
spend their entertainment dollars. Those prima donnas can keep their game
'cause I'm never gonna go watch another game ever.
Mr. BOUTON: We've got people
building stadiums for these owners, free stadiums.
ART: Yeah. In Cleveland we did
that. And you know what? I voted for it.
Prof. FROMMER: You did?
ART: Oh, yeah.
Prof. FROMMER: What do you think
of the situation of the Indians now, though?
ART: Boy, that's tough. It's
brutal. You know, we're starved for a championship in Cleveland, and, you
know, the chances of us seeing one now or in the near future are pretty--you
know, they're gone. And I don't think the Browns are quite ready to do it
anytime soon. You know, we built them a new stadium as well, so...
Prof. FROMMER: So you feel
ART: Feel betrayed.
FABRIZIO: Well, Art, thanks very
much for the call...
FABRIZIO: ...by the way.
So shouldn't it be something
more, gentlemen, than just about business? I mean, surely it's what the market
will bear, but most of the people talking today are expressing something sort
of higher than that idea of business. Let it being something more than that?
Mr. BOUTON: Well, I don't know,
you know, what they're looking for. I think if you want that old-timey feeling
of a day at the ballpark, then you go to Minor League Baseball. I think you
still have that experience at many ballparks around the country. And, you
know, vote with your shoes. Don't go to the games. When attendance drops,
you'll see the ticket prices drop.
FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer.
Mr. BOUTON: And when you see
attendance really drop, you'll see the owners and players getting together and
solving their differences a lot sooner, and maybe that's about to happen next.
FABRIZIO: Your sense of that,
Prof. FROMMER: Well, in 1993,
the last season before the 232-day strike that wiped out the World Series for
the first time in 90 years, baseball revenue was $1.87 billion, and the
average salary has doubled from $1.17 million at the time of the strike to
$2.38 million this season. So that's all one thing on the side of the--a
strike against the players. On the other side of the coin is a comment by
Cleveland Indians player rep Charles Nagy who said, 'Every year the owners cry
poverty and you look at the industry and it's almost doubled financially,' and
I say, as I said at the outset, a plague on both their houses.
I think what you're alluding to,
Doug, is that there's something about the game that belongs to the people and
not to the players and not to the owners. The game has been around for a very
long time. It's part of the fabric of American culture. And I think perhaps
President Bush, who had been a team owner, should step in and try to form some
kind of a commission and put some fans onto this commission and some former
players and some people who really care about the game because some of these
people who are now batting back and forth playing this high-stakes game of
poker or tennis--they don't really seem to care about the game or the fans;
they just seem to care about their own selfish interests. And I think your
comment, Doug, or at least you're pointing to it, is that it's much more than
a game and it's much more than a business; it's a way of life to millions of
Americans, just a few of whom have called in to tell you that on the air
Mr. BOUTON: Now wait a second.
Players are entitled to make whatever they make in a free market. They
shouldn't have to defend the fact that they're making millions of dollars.
That's just ridiculous. Nobody cares...
Prof. FROMMER: Oh, I'm not
saying they should...
Mr. BOUTON: ...what Jack
Nicholson makes. Why shouldn't Jack Nicholson, in order to bring down ticket
prices at the movie houses, or maybe help out struggling movie companies--why
shouldn't he take a smaller salary?
Prof. FROMMER: Everyone's...
Mr. BOUTON: Players are entitled
to get what--it's the owners who have made the players' salaries an issue. If
they had said to the fans, 'These guys are worth every dime they're getting.
They're the greatest athletes in the world. Come out and watch them play,'
nobody would care how much the players are making.
FABRIZIO: That's Jim Bouton.
Mr. BOUTON: It's the owners have
turned it against the players.
FABRIZIO: Jim Bouton...
Prof. FROMMER: Well, I...
FABRIZIO: ...former Yankee All
Star, is with us. Also Harvey Frommer, a professor of liberal studies at
Dartmouth College. We're talking about Major League Baseball and the players'
dispute over money. Do you believe in baseball's mystique, or has the bloom
come off the rose? You can continue the conversation online. Go to npr.org,
click on the discussion section and scroll down to TALK OF THE NATION.
I'm Doug Fabrizio. It's TALK OF
THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing)
Well, I've got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat and a brand-new pair of shoes.
You know, I think it's time to give this game a ride. Just to hit the ball and
touch 'em all--a moment in the sun. It's a gone and you can tell that one
Oh, put me in, coach. I'm ready
to play today. Look at me. Gotta be centerfield. Yeah!
FABRIZIO: This is TALK OF THE
NATION. I'm Doug Fabrizio, sitting in this week for Neal Conan.
Tomorrow, a look at the
International Criminal Court. We'll examine the new court system and ask why
the United States doesn't want to be part of it.
Today on the program we're
talking about problems in Major League Baseball, problems that could lead to a
players' strike. Our guests this hour: former Yankee pitcher and 1963 All-Star
Jim Bouton. He's the author of the 1969 baseball classic "Ball Four." Harvey
Frommer is with us. He's the author of more than 30 books on sports. His
latest, a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball."
To join the conversation you can
call us at (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. Let's go right
to the phones. From Sacramento, Mark joins us on the line. Mark, welcome to
MARK (Caller): Thanks for having
MARK: This is great. We've got
the pitcher and the professor. And, guys, I think you guys are extremely
knowledgeable about the game. And I love the game. I grew up playing it. I
want my son to play it. And, you know, a big part of your appreciation of the
game is in the history and the romance of the game, but, you know,
unfortunately I think the game has changed so much and our times in America
have changed that we're looking at, you know, football and NASCAR and games of
action. And I think the link that America has in the history and the tradition
of the game is eroding. And unfortunately, you know, what's going to happen
here with the players is going to drive a lot of people from the game. It's
unfortunate. But what are your thoughts on our links to the romantic side of
the game and how this whole changing game is going to affect the way America
FABRIZIO: All right. The most
romantic. Harvey Frommer.
Prof. FROMMER: I look at the NBA
and the NFL and NASCAR and even soccer, as a caller had mentioned before, as
sports that are not only competing, but getting, the American baseball dollar.
And I think if there is another strike, the game will be eroded even further,
and its romance. And the caller is very eloquent.
FABRIZIO: Jim Bouton.
Mr. BOUTON: I think romantic is
whatever you lived with when you were about 15 to 19 years old. So I think
kids today will one day say years from now, 'Remember when they had the World
Series at 1:00 in the morning and we listened to the games under the covers at
night? That was romantic.'
MARK: Well, I mean, the...
Mr. BOUTON: Not now where...
MARK: Yeah. The mystique of the
box score in the papers is gone (technical difficulties) like that. I mean, we
can watch ESPN and watch a play that happened 10 minutes ago, happen, you
know, right in front of our eyes.
Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.
MARK: And the thoughts and the
ideas and the romance of, wow, I wonder how that play unfurled. You look at
the box score and you think about how this game developed and it's gone. You
know, it's sad. I mean, I grew up, you know--I went home in ninth grade to go
watch Bucky Dent hit a dinger and put the Yankees into the playoffs that one
year in '79. And, you know, that kind of stuff is gone and it's sad. I mean,
everyone defines their generation. And, you know, if this is the definition of
this generation, I feel sad 'cause there's a tremendous loss.
FABRIZIO: Mark, we're glad you
MARK: Take care.
FABRIZIO: Thanks very much.
FABRIZIO: This e-mail now. 'As
Major League Baseball argues about revenue sharing and free agency, they
really need to be asking how they can bring young people back to the game.' He
writes, 'Youth leagues are disappearing in urban areas. You need to play or
see baseball to appreciate it. Kids are playing other sports and can't afford
to see baseball in person. Baseball is no longer the national pastime, and
nostalgia has become the national product of Major League Baseball.'
Jim Bouton, you want to respond
Mr. BOUTON: Well, I think that
you have--while the American market may be shrinking for a talent pool for
Major League Baseball, you've got the foreign markets opening up now. You've
got more and more players come from the Latin countries, players coming from
Asia. So I don't think the quality of play has diminished. I think you've
broadened the scope of baseball beyond the American borders, which is where it
has been for so many years. So I think that it just changes the character of
the game a little bit, but I don't think it makes it, you know, any less
FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer.
Prof. FROMMER: And there are
still many, many great American players who are also coming into the game, so
it is a mix and a match. But I think that Major League Baseball could do
something more to reach out to the youth market. They could have, you know,
special days set aside for kids to be going to the game at much-reduced prices
than they have now and other things too numerous to go into. But there would
be much better ways to attract kids to games.
Mr. BOUTON: I think what you
need to do is you need to have a non-uniform day where every kid in America is
encouraged not to wear a baseball uniform and to show up at the field and make
up their own baseball game of running bases or ...(unintelligible) or no
hitting to right field or steady catcher or whatever it takes. You make up
your own game and you distribute Spaldings and stickballs and let the kids go
out there and play little, you know, games and realize you don't have to have
a team. You don't have to have parents, bases, umpires or uniforms to play
baseball. That's what kids think nowadays. And so you drive by a field and
there's no kids playing baseball. Why? Well, there's no parents out there to,
you know, have a real game. So I think you need to get back to the early roots
of baseball, which is just a ball and a stick.
Prof. FROMMER: And in my...
FABRIZIO: Go ahead.
Prof. FROMMER: In my latest
book, "Growing Up Baseball," which you had mentioned, which is an oral history
which I have done with my son, Fred--we have reminiscences from all kinds of
players cutting across different generations and geographical locations. And
they spoke about the romance of the game and also about the fact that they
could just make up their own rules--no hitting to right field, no hitting to
left field, etc.--and that kind of stuff, as Jim alludes to, really has to be
FABRIZIO: Let's take a call now
from San Diego. Melanie joins us on the line. Hi, Melanie.
MELANIE (Caller): Hi. Hi. How
MELANIE: I am from San Diego and
I love baseball. And we are the home of Tony Gwynn.
MELANIE: He is not the
highest-paid--he was not the highest-paid player, but he was a player of
quality and heart and integrity.
Prof. FROMMER: Who stayed with
the same team all the way through.
MELANIE: That's right.
Prof. FROMMER: Right.
MELANIE: And he chose to. And we
also had Walley Joyner here for a while. And, you know, when his contract was
being renewed, he's all, 'Well, you know, I can live on a couple million
dollars. You know, I can live on that.' You know, I don't know how many of the
players actually want to strike? I think there's a lot of players that don't
want to strike and they just want to play ball. You know, I don't know about
the rest of the people out there, but I'm feeling if they're going to go on
strike, don't come back because that's how--I'm fed up with it.
It's like a used-car salesman.
Don't bring me your invoice. Don't tell me how much you paid for it and whine
about it, just give me the deal. Just do your job, you know. And here we have
a perfect example in Tony Gwynn, who's just, you know, all heart. He's set
medals, or records. And, you know, he's sticking to the game. He's now San
Diego State's baseball coach.
MELANIE: Why can't we have more
of those guys?
Prof. FROMMER: And he'll always
be a San Diego Padre.
MELANIE: I'm sorry?
Prof. FROMMER: He'll always be
identified as a Padre...
MELANIE: Yes. And...
Prof. FROMMER: ...Tony Gwynn.
MELANIE: ...why can't we have
more people like that? I mean, do we have players like that, or is the union
taking over for them?
FABRIZIO: Gentlemen, we don't
have much time, so let me ask you to be brief in responding to Melanie. Jim
Mr. BOUTON: Well, I think, as I
said before, players want long-term contracts. They go in there and ask for
them and the owners don't want to give long-term contracts. They were probably
willing to give Tony Gwynn a long-term contract, and that's why he was able
to, or willing to, build a home in the community and get established there.
And then, of course, once that happened he didn't want to leave. But for all
those players who are told to rent rather than buy, and don't send out your
laundry, there are going to be a lot of players moving around.
Prof. FROMMER: Well, Derek...
MELANIE: Do they want to?
Mr. BOUTON: They don't want to.
Prof. FROMMER: Well...
Mr. BOUTON: They want a
Mr. BOUTON: The owners do not
want to give out long-term contracts to players.
MELANIE: You know, I'm pretty
sure Tony's last contract before he retired was only for two years.
FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer, your
Prof. FROMMER: Right. Derek
Jeter has a 10-year contract with the New York Yankees, and he wants to spend
his entire career as a New York Yankee. And Bernie Williams also has a
long-term contract. There are long-term contracts that are given out. And we
started earlier with bashing the Yankees, but Steinbrenner, as an owner, sees
to it that the players who he feel can help his team win are signed to
long-term deals. And really you'd have a feel for the organization and have
the fans plug into them. So I think there can be long-term contracts. It
depends on the owner.
FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer is the
author of more than 30 books on sports and sports figures. His latest, a
collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball." Also with us, Jim
Bouton, All-Star Yankee pitcher and author of the baseball classic "Ball
And, gentlemen, thank you very
much for the time.
Mr. BOUTON: My pleasure.
FABRIZIO: Glad you could be with
Prof. FROMMER: It's my pleasure,
too. And good luck, Jim, too.
Mr. BOUTON: You, too. You, too,
Prof. FROMMER: All right. Take
FABRIZIO: And you're listening
to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.