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MIKE DOWNEY

Owner Delivers Timely Message

October 09, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

I recently obtained a copy of a formal statement made by August A. Busch Jr., chairman of the board of Anheuser-Busch, Inc., and president of the St. Louis Cardinals, face-to-face to his baseball players, each of whom later received a copy.

I am going to quote lengthily from this pamphlet, partly because of its pertinence, but mostly because I believe Mr. Busch sums up better than I ever could what the American public is feeling. Much has been abridged, but I believe its intent is intact.

"Some of the things that concern me deal with our team specifically and with baseball generally.

"After talking to my staff, I decided to discuss my views with you all and get them off my chest. That's what I'm doing now.

" . . . Since I regard the situation in baseball as unusual--and critical--I don't know any better way to communicate with you than to talk to you face to face as I'm doing now.

"Gentlemen, I don't think there is any secret about the fact that I am not a very good loser. One thing is for sure: I don't like to lose. I don't like to lose in baseball and I don't like to lose in the beer business.

"For that reason, you can well understand that there have been a number of times in the past 17 years when I felt like giving the club away.

" . . . I believe you should know something about the decisions we must make . . . the risks we must take . . . the problems we face, and so on.

"Ballparks and all the things it takes to put a major league team on the field just don't happen. . . . You don't put over 2 million people into a stadium by wishful thinking.

"It takes hundreds of people, working every day, to make it possible for 18 men to play a game of baseball that lasts for about two hours. . . .

"I don't believe it is out of place either to remind you of the large number of civic-minded businessmen and unions in our community who put up over $20 million of their money, and then put their credit and reputations on the line to guarantee an additional $31-million loan from Equitable Life Assurance Society, a loan that will take 30 years to pay off.

" . . . Incidentally, not one of the men, or the organizations, who put up the $20 million will ever live to see a single penny of that money returned to them. . . .

"Times have changed in just a very few years, and people won't go and pay their money where they don't have all the modern conveniences. . . . And, there is another factor. Many professional sports now overlap the baseball season and compete very seriously for the entertainment dollar. . . .

"People are now turning out in droves to watch professional hockey. And millions are packing the football stadiums all over the country.

"But I wonder if we are putting them all in focus these days.

"If you don't already know it, I can tell you now--from the letters, phone calls and conversations we've had recently--that fans are no longer as sure as they were before about their high regard for the game and the players.

"Let's take a good look at the past winter ourselves. What do we see?

"We almost didn't have any season at all.

"Some of our players who ought to be in top condition reported late for spring training.

"Baseball's union representatives made all kinds of derogatory statements about the owners. We suddenly seemed to be your greatest enemies.

"Your representatives threw down all kinds of challenges, threats and ultimatums.

"Some players made statements over radio and television, and to newspapermen, in which they, too, reflected upon the owners. Some of them said that the real problem was that the owners wanted to keep all the radio and television money to themselves, even when they must have known that was far removed from the facts.

"Now, let me make myself very clear. I am not arguing with your right or the right of your representatives to say and do whatever they believe serves yours or their best interests.

"What I am saying--loud and clear--is that I think we ought to give consideration--all of us--to what we have to gain and what we have to lose by these tactics. . . .

"As players, you are entitled to get the best deal you can, and I believe you have. We have the biggest payroll for players in the entire history of baseball.

" . . . I am saying, though, that we are beginning to lose sight of who really has to pay the ultimate bill for your salary and your pension--namely, the fan. And when we do that, I think we do have a problem. It's a problem which should be of mutual concern to all of us. . . .

"True, you deserve to be well paid in accordance with your playing ability. But I must call your attention to the fact of life that you take few, if any, of the great risks involved.

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