- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Fifteen major league games are scheduled for Thursday, Aug.1. If Bob May had his way, the paid attendance would be the same at all of them: zero.

May is a retired businessman out of Dallas who last year founded Baseball Fans Unite International with the purpose of saving Major League Baseball from itself. There is reason nowadays to wonder if such a goal is possible, given the lunkheaded lunacy that pervades the game, but May is giving it a good try.

Through BFUI's Web site (www.baseballfansunite.org), he is asking fans to stay away from games Aug.1 in what used to be called droves in other words, to boycott them as a way of shocking the people who are running the game into the ground.

"It's just a one-day thing now, but if it's effective, we could keep it going," May said this week. "The fans should strike before the players do or the owners call a lockout."

As everybody who cares about baseball should know, the ungrand, old game is rushing lickety-split toward its ninth work stoppage since 1972. The collective bargaining agreement between players and owners expired after the 2001 World Series, and in keeping with the game's new tradition, there have been no meaningful negotiations since then.

Thus, before the end of the season, there is likely to be a work stoppage similar to the one in August1994 that erased the postseason and removed the World Series from America's sporting landscape for the first time in 90 years. The players might set a strike date when they meet in Milwaukee at next month's All-Star Game; Sept.3 has been mentioned as a possible S-Day.

The chief villains in this saga are the same: commissioner Bud Selig for the owners, executive director Donald Fehr for the players association. The result is likely to be the same, too: A large reduction in the number of citizens who consider major league baseball a worthwhile endeavor.

"If the fans and the media don't put the pressure on, those clowns are going to do what they always do nothing," said May, who apparently flunked Diplomacy101 at some point and doesn't care. "If there's another stoppage, the fans are going to be angrier than ever. In our polls, 30percent of younger fans say they would be done with baseball."

So far, May and BFUI have received about a thousand responses to polls attempting to ascertain how folks feel about the game. May is scheduled for exposure on several national media outlets in coming weeks, and he expects the pace of voting to accelerate sharply when the word gets out.

Some of the early numbers have been startling, May said. For example, "90 percent of the responses have been from people in the 18-45 age bracket that baseball is trying to target 82 percent say they would support a boycott. And 92 percent say competitive balance is the game's biggest problem, the fact that teams like Kansas City, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Montreal have no real chance to compete because their markets are too small."

Of course, Washington can't compete either because we haven't had a team for these 31 years, just one more way in which baseball cheerfully and thoughtlessly cuts its own throat. Don't ask me how MLB manages to keep its antitrust exemption mirrors, I guess.

If possible, May would like to present Selig and Fehr with the results of BFUI's poll in Milwaukee. Chances are, though, that he won't get anywhere near them. Baseball people always seem to have plenty of security personnel standing between them and logic.

There's no need here to recite the familiar litany of the game's problems, but let's check just one. Everybody oohs and ahhs at the obscene contracts being tendered even journeyman players, partly because baseball has no salary cap as other major professional sports do, Here's how that largesse transferred itself to one family last weekend at Camden Yards.

Three box seats down the first-base line cost $32 each. Lunch, meaning sandwiches and sodas, was another $20. Add the costs of transportation and parking and you're talking about a $125 outlay for a game that was on TV.

I know, there's always the soothing ambience that accompanies our erstwhile national pastime, except that enjoyable days and nights at the ballpark seem to be interrupted every few minutes by rock music, electronic bugle charges and the infernal Wave, an idiotic exercise perpetrated by spectators who don't find the intricacies of the game interesting enough (if they notice them at all).

We can't blame all of this on baseball's unaware owners, who presumably sit in their offices and scratch their, er, heads trying to figure out why attendance is declining for most teams just most of it. And we can't really fault the players, who will take all the dough they can get, just as we would in their spikes. Collectively, though, there should be a way to get out of this mess. There better be a way.

Meanwhile, we owe a vote of thanks to Bob May and BFUI for endorsing such positions as meaningful revenue sharing, a salary cap and a genuine partnership between owners and players for the good of their game, among other planks. At least somebody's trying to right this sinking ship.

So log onto the Internet, complete the BFUI poll and lend whatever support you can to its efforts. The impending Aug.1 boycott would be sort of a last resort for fans, but sadly that might be the only option left us.


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