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Memphis Flyer The Ugly Truth

A response to Bob Costas about the current state of major-league baseball.

By George Shadroui

JULY 10, 2000:  An open letter to Bob Costas:

Dear Bob:

Thank you for your recent book, Fair Ball. It is an intelligent, fair, and appropriate response to what is going on in major-league baseball today. Sorry I didn't buy it, but, hey, I think you are doing okay and what are public libraries for anyway, right?

It is quite clear from reading your book that you are deeply distressed. The game you love America's pastime appears broken beyond redemption. As an award-winning sportscaster, you are certainly qualified to make suggestions on how to fix it.

Several of your ideas in particular are worth mentioning:

* A new revenue-sharing system that enables small-market teams to compete more fairly for talent with large-market teams. As you astutely point out, the league is only as good in the long run as its weakest links. And everyone will benefit from a more competitive situation.

* A salary system that better serves the entire league rather than just a few superstars.

* The elimination of the wild-card playoff system, which, you are quite right, dilutes much of the drama of the fall pennant races.

While baseball has confronted serious issues before, you trace the current situation to 1993 when all of those mail carriers, milkmen, and truck drivers were suiting up for their one chance at fame and fortune. It was a farce, but who can blame them? They know how blessed the big leaguers are, even if the big leaguers don't get it. That was also the year the World Series never came.

One paragraph in your book put it all in perspective:

If old timers don't get a break on pensions, if baseball installs a playoff system that cheapens both the regular season and the postseason, if the sport continues to lag in minority hiring, if artificial turf blights the game and shortens careers, if we play in a league where two-thirds of us are consigned to teams that have no real chance to win, all those things are less important than whether Shawn Green can make $12 million instead of $9 million. There's an issue the players will go to war over.

The question that haunts those of us who share your love of sports, Bob, is how did we get here? It is not just baseball that is sick, but the entire travesty we call professional sports. In our rush to embrace amusement at any cost, we are in danger, as Neil Postman put it, of amusing ourselves to death. Not since ancient Rome have games and circuses been given so much emphasis. That was Rome in decline, by the way.

Much as I respect your book, I suspect I am not alone in wondering why I should care. Have you seen the recent statistics on what it costs to take a four-member family to see an NBA basketball game about $250 bucks? Why? Because we have to put Shaq in a mansion or is it 20 mansions? How about the million dollar fees Tiger gets just for showing up. And he complains about someone snapping a picture? What about football players, whose latest uniforms bear a striking similarity to those worn by the referees yep, prison pinstripes.

Do these people care if my children get educated, do their homework, or go to church? Do they worry about the values they impart or the messages they send, or the examples they set? It is a dead culture, Bob, corrupt from top to bottom. There are exceptions that prove the rule, of course, but I dare say most pro sports are as bad as professional wrestling but at least pro wrestling doesn't pretend to have integrity.

So you want to fix baseball? Let's start by looking in the mirror and conceding that we, the fans, are the ones who created this monster, and we are the only ones who can destroy it. My own modest proposal is simple. Quit watching. Quit attending games. Quit paying outrageous prices that enable 20-year-old kids to buy Lear jets and own more possessions than most of us could use in 10 lifetimes. Quit asking for autographs. Quit buying products that bear their names or logos. Kick the habit. Find something else to do.

We will send a simple message: We are not going to feed their outrageous egos or subsidize their ostentatious lifestyles any longer. Maybe then owners and players alike will start to appreciate fans again. Maybe they will quit their silly tirades against the media, without which they would not be millionaires. Maybe they will glimpse reality again. They might even reduce prices so that average folks can actually afford to attend a game more than twice a year. Who knows, Bob, they might even rediscover their own love of the game once they face the real prospect of losing it.

For now, we have to face the ugly truth. From the owners down to the beer man, they care about only one thing it starts with an "m," ends in a "y," and in between it spells numero uno number one, me, myself and mine. M-one-y.

In the meantime, trek on down to your neighborhood school and watch those kids play. Here you may rediscover the beauty, poetry, and passion of sport. After all, it is love of the game that makes it wonderful to behold. Just make sure the kids do their homework afterwards. We wouldn't want to blow sports out of proportion, now would we?

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