We Are in an Economic Decline: Somebody Please Tell Baseball!

Jerry BuellContributor IDecember 30, 2008

There were over 500,000 new unemployed Americans in November alone and possible double-digit unemployment by the end of 2009; the Big Three beg for a bailout from Congress; over 250,000 home foreclosures are in progress; billions of dollars in budget cuts in every state of the Union...the list goes on. 

About the only silver lining in the dark clouds is the $1.65 for a gallon of 87 octane.  Americans who have jobs better not lose them; Americans without jobs—good grief, what are they feeling and thinking?!

We arguably are in the toughest economic struggle since before World War II.  And yet there are a lot of people who seem untouched, unaffected and immune to it all.  Home sales are on their way up, slowly.  RV sales incredibly seem to be on a different planet.  And then there are some owners and certain players in Major League Baseball who seem to be living in a time warp.

Who is going to pay the salary of those guys who will be hauling in over $150 million?  Is there really that much money out there?  And why, for crying out loud, doesn't ANYBODY on SportsCenter have the stones to call these owners and players out?! 

Instead, the talk is about who out-maneuvered who, why this team is a better fit for "X" player than that team, and the fans blog to their hearts' content about how happy they are that "Y" is inking the contract, while their child's school is wrestling over budget figures that simply do not add up.

We're in deep, folks...so deep, we need a snorkle and mask.  And as millions of Americans wake up each day wondering how to spread the little bit of butter over the entire loaf of bread, Major League Baseball is lathered in butter, slip-sliding away into a land from which they may not be able to return. 

Baseball successfully recovered from the 1994 strike by endearing itself to the fans it had shunned.  The 1998 home run race seemed to erase the bad memories, only to be cemented by the 73 home runs record in 2003. (Names of players and teams will not be mentioned in a vain attempt to not rip the scab off the gaping wound inflicted by the juicing and lying and corking and unremembering.)

Baseball is timeless.  It has a history...a sound and smell unlike any other game. It is the purest game.  There will always be time to score a run, to double off a runner at 2nd, to "squeeze" out a tie in the top of the 9th, to handcuff the league's best hitter with three peas on the black while the go-ahead run is stranded at 3rd...there is no clock in baseball. 

(Contrary to the movie line, there is crying in baseball.  Just ask the 18-year-old kid who saw his throw to the plate arrive just a hair after the runner...or the parents in the stands as they watched their boys/players collapse to the ground, sheilding their wet eyes from the throbbing mound of opposing celebrants just a few feet away from home.) 

When your football team is down 41 - 14 with 1:37 left to play, it is over.  When the opponent's point guard makes a steal that leads to a lay up to go up by 13 with 25 seconds left, the seats start to empty.  When the puck hits the empty net for a two-goal lead with five seconds left, Elvis is leaving the building.

But baseball...baseball...baseball has no clock.  Being down by eight runs with two outs in the bottom of the 9th is depressing and close to hopeless.  But it is NOT over.  Anything can happen.  I remember, many years ago, listening to my Pirates take a 9-0 lead into the 9th in Candlestick Park, only to agonizingly hear the Giants score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th.

True baseball fans could sit around a table eating pizza after pizza, sharing and recalling story after story, regardless of whether their team has 26 titles, or hasn't seen the playoffs since the infamous meltdown in '92.  True baseball fans don't have to be reminded how great the game is.  People who don't understand baseball—and there are many—just will never get it, just like most Americans think cricket has something to do with chirping.

Why is it so many people who are owners of baseball teams don't get it either?  Don't they see they are drilling a hole in the bottom of the boat?  Every owner—of every team in every sport—better take a step back and look at where this country is headed for the next two years. It is not going to be smooth ride, it is not going to be a pleasant ride; it is going to be tight, very tight. 

Will Yankee Stadium be sold out for Opening Day?  Duh.  Will it still be sold out in mid-July when the Rays have an eight-game lead and the Pinstripes are struggling to stay above .500 while that wealthy line-up of names is struggling to just get along with each other? Will there be team in Pittsburgh two years from now?  How many middle class Joe the Plumbers will be able to afford World Series tickets in October? 

Come on Baseball.  Get a grip!  We have not bottomed-out yet.  This country, the world for that matter, has a long way to go.  And just like it got better three-quarters of a century ago, it will get better again.  But don't be surprised, Mr. Owner, if you have to hang a "FORECLOSURE" sign in front of your stadium.  Maybe that is exactly what it will take.