Got a note from the Commissioner the other day. Normally, this is the time of year he'd be setting up draft day, the occasion on which the owners who compose the Major Indoor Baseball League select players for the coming season. But the Commish had other news.
"I'm dropping out of MIBL," he wrote. "I'm a burnout victim; not just the strike, but it's been 11 years. . . . The DiMaggios also dropped. If I can help keep it going, I'll do what I can." His message arrived not long after I received word that Al had called. We speak only a couple of times a year. No doubt Al wanted to know whether I wanted to keep my one-ninth share of two Dodgers season tickets.
They tick me off. They disgust me. Not Al and the Commish, but the players and the owners--the whole greedy lot of them. Even now that it looks like we might again have genuine major league baseball, not replacement baseball, they still tick me off.
The eyes glaze over reading about a game played at negotiating tables and in the courts. We Dodger fans would prefer to read about spring training, charting the progress of prospects like Billy Ashley and Chan Ho Park. We fantasy owners would be scouting the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League for the comers we might steal in the late rounds.
The players and the owners, I suspect, underestimate the damage they've done, sowing resentment and apathy. Baseball had never been more popular, never more lucrative. The phenomenon of fantasy baseball, that pleasant escapist pastime, was part of this. As a kid we collected baseball cards. As adults we figured out how to have our own teams--another way that fans, as opposed to feuding millionaires, could lay claim to the game.
Outsiders find it all very silly, but insiders love it. Once a fellow MIBLer declared draft day "the best day of the year." We'd choose teams, inspect rosters and propose trades. Each morning we'd scan the box scores. But then the owners and players took their balls and bats and went home, spoiling our fun.
Across the country, thousands of fantasy leagues have to be in trouble. When it seemed the season might start with replacement players, the owner of the Disgruntled Postal Workers, the '94 MIBL champs, had mused: "Maybe a MIRBL will emerge."
Strike or no strike, the owner of the Naturals was "still in shock" over the Commish's announcement. "What shall we do?" he asked plaintively.
And then there was Al's question to deal with. He returned my call before I finished writing this column--and before the federal judge issued the injunction Friday. If I still wanted my one-ninth share of two season tickets, there was good news. Declining interest had assured us better seating, closer to home on the reserved level. And because of the $54 credit from the three games the strike denied me last season, I only needed to write a check for $106 to claim my one-ninth share for '95. The price would be less, Al said, if the season starts with replacement players. Oh, joy.
With great ambivalence, I told Al I would send the money--and hold my nose as I wrote the check. After more than 30 years of being a Dodgers fan, of listening to Vinny describe the exploits of everyone from Koufax and Wills to Piazza and Mondesi, I wasn't quite ready to walk away. They're my team, our team, but they should understand that loyalty is supposed to work both ways.
If this feud has taken some of the juice out of the business of baseball, if it's deflated some romantic myths, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Fact is, I'm not even sure the Dodgers are my favorite team anymore. And neither are my Ham Fighters. These days, I'm more interested in following the Pirates of the Sherman Oaks Little League, Triple A Division--the first all-girl Little League team.
Last week, I covered their first game, a 13-9 loss to the Phillies. Recently, I received a newsletter about their second game--a come-from-behind 9-8 thriller over the Reds, the Pirates' first victory. Another historic milestone. Here's how Linda Mose, the "team mom," reported the action:
"Bottom of the last inning. Behind four runs. Joanna walked. Katie walked. Beth Ann walked. Then Kathy walked. After Kathy walked, Alex walked. Then Meghan got on base doing something besides walk, but we can't remember what. It was good, though. Then Brittany got hit by the pitched ball and . . .
"THEN ALISON MALLOY SMASHED A BALL PAST THE CENTER FIELDER AND MEGHAN CROSSED THE PLATE TO TIE, AND THEN BRITTANY SCORED THE WINNING RUN PLUS KNOCKING OUT THE OPPOSING CATCHER WHO WASN'T ABLE TO GET UP FOR QUITE SOME TIME!"
If the gloating sounds unsportsmanlike--or, perhaps, unsportswomanlike--be assured that the Reds catcher is OK. And understand that the Pirates were out for vengeance.
In the first inning, some Reds allegedly taunted the Pirates, calling them "a sucky team." In her newsletter, Mose couldn't resist a little dig: "Gosh, Reds, what do you think now?"
The team mom should know better. Her words are sure to fire up the Reds next time they meet.
Once, baseball was just a game. But on the playgrounds, at least, there are no owners, and the players never go on strike.
I wonder . . . is it too late for fantasy Little League?
\o7 Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.\f7