- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

As a lifetime Red Sox fan, Bob May undoubtedly equates baseball with frustration. Now he's facing the greatest frustration of all the possibility, even likelihood, of another interruption of horsehide activities next season because of a labor disturbance.
You know what the polite words "labor disturbance" mean in baseball, don't you? They mean, "In your face, fans," which is why May and a few associates founded Baseball Fans Unite International (BFUI) a few months ago.
The current basic agreement between Major League Baseball and the players' union expires Oct. 31, leaving the specter of an eighth strike or lockout since 1972. The sides aren't even talking nowadays, at least not seriously, and another shutdown could be the one that finally reduces the sport to second-rate status.
After all, many former fans remain turned off by the 1994 strike that erased the last 1-1/2 months of that season and the postseason, then delayed the start of business in '95. And if anything like that happens again next spring, there will be no Cal Ripken and no consecutive-game streak to captivate and recapture paying customers.
"If there is another strike, thousands of people will stop caring about baseball," retired businessman May said over the phone from his Dallas home this week. "That means in 20 years, when our generation is old or gone, young people won't care. Baseball is stuck in the muck and mire, but what if we all worked together to pull it out?"
May's grassroots group remains small at the moment, but his vision isn't. "What I'd like to see," he said, "is for [commissioner] Bud Selig, [players' union executive director] Donald Fehr and I to hold up a 10-year working agreement together on Opening Day."
That sounds like a dream, of course, but once baseball was a sport based on dreams.
May and his group fired off a letter recently to Selig, Fehr and media wretches around the country urging that management and labor work together to get a new agreement done before this fall's deadline. For good measure, the letter also went to President Bush and Rep. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who in a former life was a Hall of Fame-to-be pitcher.
There have been other fan advocacy sports groups whose impact was decidedly minimal. Why should this one be any different? Why should Selig, Fehr and others involved suppress their own interests for the good of the game a hackneyed but relevant phrase that too many folks have forgotten?
"Maybe those other efforts failed because their tone was too negative," May suggested. "We want to be conciliatory, not negative or divisive. We're not in this to beat anybody up. Maybe if baseball can get its differences worked out, it could set an example for other sports."
Here are some of the positions endorsed by BFUI:
Meaningful revenue sharing. To even out the competition, all 30 teams should put 50 percent of local broadcast revenues into a pool to be distributed equally among them.
Implement a salary cap plan with a reasonable ceiling and floor, thus standardizing the range of individual player salaries.
Players and owners should establish a formal business partnership to help ensure the long-term health of the game.
The commissioner should be elected jointly [by owners and players] for a limited term of office.
The free agency interval should be reduced from six to four years and arbitration eliminated to provide teams with greater control over their costs.
If a Basic Labor Agreement is not ratified by Feb. 15, 2002, Congress should revoke baseball's [79-year-old] antitrust exemption.
Might all of these positions, or even some, be adopted by a sport that traditionally endorses change with the attitude of someone about to face a Roger Clemens fastball? Probably not, but even the stuffed shirts that are running baseball (into the ground) should acknowledge that something needs to be done. And at least May and his fledgling gang are trying to, er, get the ball rolling.
I don't agree with all their positions, especially the one about owners and players electing a commissioner; I'd like to see a totally independent and powerful czar appointed by the White House or Congress who would tower over Messrs. Selig and everybody else whose selfish concerns threaten the game.
What's more, this president could make an easy and popular choice his old man, the former Yale first baseman, George Herbert Walker Bush.
Or if Bush the elder were unavailable, how about a former player, someone with impeccable credentials who knows the game from the field up? How about Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson or Jim Bunning? How about …
"Yeah," said Bob May, "I think Cal Ripken would make a wonderful commissioner."

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