Rumors of Baseball's Death Greatly Exaggerated
                               by Gene L:yons

                           Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.
                                        --Bill Terry, New York Giants, 1923-41

                           Like many baseball fans, my love of the game predates memory.
                      Between1943 and 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a first baseman named Howie Schultz.
                      Ineligible for military service because he was too tall, Schultz also played in the NBA.
                       A .241 hitter, he hit 24 career home runs. I'm told I used to impersonate Schultz's
                      rarely-witnessed home run trot in my grandmother's living room when we still lived
                      with her after WWII. Evidently Howie went deep during my first visit to Ebbets Field,
                      which I do not recall.

                           My father switched his allegiance from the Dodgers to the New York Giants when
                      manager Leo Durocher changed teams. So my first conscious baseball memory is of Russ
                      Hodges describing Bobby Thompson's playoff-winning 9th inning home run off the
                      unfortunate Ralph Branca in 1951. If I close my eyes, I can still see the Old Man standing
                      in front of the bathroom mirror in a sleeveless undershirt with shaving cream on his face
                      when I burst in whooping that the Giants had won the pennant.

                           That was Willie Mays's rookie season, the idol of my youth. Debating with friends
                      the relative merits of Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, the three Hall of Fame
                      centerfielders who played for New York teams in the Fifties, was how I learned to argue.
                      Incidentally, I was right about that too.

                                The only Proustian moment of my life came about five years ago when I first
                      acquired my biggest best friend, Rusty, a quarter horse. The first time I rode him outside
                      a fence was on a hot afternoon in August. We were trotting along a dusty farm road through
                      a new-mown hay field when I was struck by a wave of feeling so strong it's a wonder
                      I didn't fall off.

                           Like music, scent triggers memory and emotion. I have always loved animals, but suddenly
                      realized it was partly the way horses SMELL that made me unaccountably happy around them.
                      Especially in summer, horses give off a pungent odor of dust, grass, sweat, and, of course,
                      horsehide. That's the smell of baseball. My happiest days as an American boy were spent on
                      standing on the pitcher's mound or scuffling the dirt around third base inhaling the
                      neatsfoot-oil and leather scent of my mitt, with the Old Man on the bench flashing signs.

                           My wife's father George Haynie coached the Little Rock Doughboys. Diane settled for me
                      because she was too young to get Brooks Robinson's attention. Of the million reasons why
                      marrying her was the smartest thing I've ever done, the fact that she still can't understand how
                      the Cubs let Greg Maddux get away ranks high.

                           Given all that, it shouldn't have surprised me that I slept fitfully last Thursday before the
                      Major League Baseball Players Association strike date, and dreamed all night about losing
                      the game. My friend Steve Fehr, part of the negotiating team for the players union, urged me
                      not to panic.  This year would be different. Both sides in baseball's long, acrimonious history
                      of labor disputes understood that they had to settle. After many failures, the owners had given up
                      on breaking the union, and the players knew that the sport's economics needed fixing.

                           Fehr also reminded me that while sports reporting may be marginally less dread-ful than
                      American political journalism, it too features a lot of stylized posturing by people who love to
                      play 'Let's you and him fight.'   Doomsayers on the sports and editorial pages could scarcely
                      conceal their wish that the MBPLA would call a strike so they could keep launching
                      self-righteous Jeremiads.

                            Even though I expected it, the settlement announcement still gave me goosebumps when I
                      saw it on CNN. There was my pal Steve, exhausted from round-the-clock bargaining, sitting on
                      the dias next to Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine. While not a Braves fan, I'm a National League guy.
                      I've probably pulled for or against Glavine 100 times over his 16 year career. What separates a
                      pitcher like him (and Maddux) from the others isn't size, strength or overpowering physical gifts.
                      It's his fine-honed skill, intelligence, determination, and, yes, character.

                           Given that millions are willing to pay to watch Glavine perform, how much SHOULD he earn?
                      After the settlement, a Republican friend asked why I thought his 'Cro-Magnon' friends were
                      privately disappointed that the strike hadn't happened. Mostly envy, I said. Less for the fame or
                      the money than the players's collective ability to stand the normal American order of things on its head.

                           In a country where some Wal-Mart managers felt free to lock employees inside the building
                      and make them work overtime without pay, the success of  the MBPLA can't help but evoke
                      resentment. Everybody else has to suck up, why not them?

                           On Sunday, I watched the Cubs' improbable eighth inning rally against the Cards. As part of
                      my playoff preparations, I also saw exciting ninth-inning comebacks by the Diamondbacks over
                      the Giants and the Oakland A's over Minnesota - all in front of big, roaring crowds. Rumors of
                      the greatest game's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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