With the threatened US baseball strike averted in the bottom of the ninth, fans are relieved but somewhat disillusioned with the national pastime. Is the fierce competition that we enjoy in the ballpark likely to always spill over to negotiations over pay? Or is it simply a reflection of players paying more attention to dollars than sense?
A major sports scandal in Australia last week provides an interesting
benchmark against which to judge the motivations of American baseball
Rugby league fans Down Under also had a gut-wrenching week, following
revelations that the Sydney-based Bulldogs, a team picked by many to win
this year's rugby league championship, had systematically violated the
salary cap. The team had funnelled player payments through third-party
entities and club boosters. It emerged that the club spent nearly a fifth
more on player payments than the system allows.
The players appear to know nothing about these violations, and there is
no suggestion of impropriety beyond the team's management. Yet
"Doggiegate," as the Australians are calling it, has resulted in
the Bulldogs' being stripped of any credit for their successful season to
date, and they have been relegated to the bottom of the league.
With the finals series only two weeks away, this has also robbed the
Bulldogs of any chance of postseason glory.
The reaction of Australia's rugby league players stands in stark
contrast to the position adopted by Major League Baseball players.
Bulldogs players, led by their captain, Steve Price, pleaded to take a pay
cut to comply with the salary cap, in the hope that it offers them a
chance to compete in the postseason.
"It's a shock to us like it is to everybody else," Price said
on Aug. 21, claiming ignorance of the player-pay scandal. "Players
will take pay cuts if we have to."
The 21-year-old Mark O'Meley agreed. "I just love footy," he
said. "I'd be devastated not to play in the finals." He added,
"I'd be prepared to take a pay cut to play in the finals."
By contrast, the threatened baseball strike was intended by the players
union to maximize only their bargaining power. By waiting until the
pennant races and ultimately the World Series were on the line, the
players managed to boost their bargaining power at the possible expense of
In effect, baseball's stars bet that their fans, who ultimately provide
the owners with their profits, care more about the postseason than they
do. Having forced the abandonment of the 1994 World Series, we all knew
this was no empty threat. And the fact that the owners worked furiously to
resolve this dispute by Friday shows that they also understood this.
The response from sports fans in Australia and the United States
reveals the very different effects that the two scandals — player
overpayments and the threatened strike — have had on supporters of the
Bulldogs fans are clearly shocked at the way in which the team's
management behaved, but it says something about the innate sense of fair
play among Australians that an online poll at the club's Web site found
that nearly half of Bulldogs fans surveyed believed that the punishment
meted out to the club was fair.
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