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Is This Any Way to Run a Business? : Baseball strike: The owners are willing to play chicken with the players, at the expense of the game and fans.

August 28, 1994|LEONARD KOPPETT | Leonard Koppett is a columnist for the Alameda Newspaper Group in Oakland and surrounding towns . He has covered major league baseball in New York and California for 46 years

Man owns fanciest restaurant in town. It's packed at dinner time, the line of people waiting to get in stretches around the block. The more he has raised prices, the more customers he has attracted.

He goes into the kitchen and tells the chef and staff: "Start cooking, we've got another full house. By the way, as of tomorrow I'm going to cut your pay."

"In that case," says the chef, his assistants nodding assent, "we ain't gonna cook nothin' tonight."

"OK, don't," says the owner. "But I'll get even and teach you a lesson. I'll burn down the restaurant."


Isn't that what the baseball club owners will be doing if they let the post-season determination of a champion get wiped out for the first time in the history of the National League (119 years) and the American League (94 years)?

But then, we've already seen how they approach their business.

"Come into my restaurant," urges the owner outside his front door. "My cooks and waiters are overpaid, greedy, disloyal and selfish bums, but come in and enjoy being served by them."

Isn't that the message ball clubs have been sending the public about their players for the last 20 years?

Our restaurateur, having raised menu prices dramatically in recent years while attracting a larger and wealthier clientele, has not neglected to plead poverty.

"You really must come in and try my delicious meals," he says. "Of course, I can't afford to buy fresh vegetables or higher-grade meats because my chef won't accept lower pay--even after I replaced my experienced cooks with inexperienced ones--but come in anyhow."

His problem, you see, is that the other restaurant down the street has a better location, and won't share its profits.

"Any business is entitled to a reasonable return on investment," he explains to the local restaurant critic who wants to know how come the doors are closed. "I paid $100 million for this place, the lease is expensive, food prices have gone up, good help is hard to find and a lot of patrons are settling for TV dinners at home or pizzas that are delivered. Only by cutting payroll can I stay in the black. I'm not trying to get rich, but I'm entitled to stay out of the red, no?"

"But why," asks the critic, "did you decide to pay $100 million for it when the man who sold it to you told you and everyone else in the world that he had acquired it for $20 million and then lost money every year on his investment? Wouldn't you expect to lose money too?"

"Obviously," says the owner, "you understand nothing about business realities."

Meanwhile, with his cooks on strike and no customers, the owner has no revenue, so he stops paying the electricity and garbage-collection bills. The freezer shuts off and all the food in it rots. The uncollected garbage smells up the neighborhood. Since he has laid off his maintenance workers, no one is around to mop up when a leaky pipe causes flooding.

"Since my employees won't work for less," he announces, "and the guy down the street won't give me some of his profits, I have only one alternative. I'll take down my big sign, move to another city where the authorities will be glad to have me, and open my restaurant there."

He's right. The other city will give him tax breaks and a sweetheart lease to occupy an otherwise empty building.

"I hate the idea," he laments, "of leaving the people in this town without a place to eat so that they'll starve to death, but blame it on my stubborn cooks."

Why do I think the abandoned citizens will find some other source of nourishment? As they have in Brooklyn, in Washington, in half of Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia and, for a while when necessary, in Milwaukee, Kansas City and Seattle?

Why do I think this restaurant owner is acting irrationally? Because I know nothing about business realities.

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