Angry Baseball Fans Plan Own Strike

Lifelong Yankees fan Heather Holdridge won't be watching the Bronx Bombers take on the Cleveland Indians on July 11. If she gets her wish, neither will anyone else.

Holdridge is one of a handful of fans trying to organize a one-day "fan strike" of Major League Baseball that day, to protest what they see as ongoing exploitation of the public by players and owners.

"Baseball is America's pastime," she said. "It holds a special place in American culture, and they're sort of treating it as this toy that the owners and players want to control."

Holdridge helped create a Web site, www.takebackbaseball.com, to spread the word, along with several other fan sites and organizations around the country.

With luck, there will be a "noticeable" dip in attendance on July 11, Holdridge says, but she admits it will be tough to organize enough fans to empty the bleachers.

"I don't think we expect to see a bunch of completely empty ballparks with just crickets and a bunch of guys selling beer," she said.

Is Another Baseball Strike On Deck?

They have a laundry list of complaints about their favorite sport: rapidly increasing ticket prices, the disparity between rich and poor teams, the possibility of contracting and cutting several teams, and most importantly the threat of another players strike.

"The stakes are insanely high," said Don Wadewitz, a program coordinator at Marquette University who created www.MLBFanStrike.com after hearing a sportscaster ask why fans never spoke out about baseball's problems.

"If [the owners and players] sit there and there's a strike and everything seems to be the status quo, I think people are going to stay away, and stay away in droves," he said.

With Major League Baseball operating under an expired collective bargaining agreement for the last six months, a strike or lockout is a distinct possibility this season, though experts differ on how likely a walkout actually is.

MLB and the players' union differ on such key issues as revenue sharing among clubs and the possibility of contracting several teams this year.

History suggests another strike is likely. A strike, work stoppage or lockout has preceded each of the last eight collective bargaining agreements.

Most recently, the 1994 players strike forced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904, and embittered fans for years.

Groups like MLB Fan Strike don't take a position on who is right in the current owner-player feud, but they are adamant that the two sides reach an agreement.

"Really it's both their faults," said Wadewitz.

Dreaming of a Fan Revolution

While trying to be realistic about what their fan organizations can achieve, Wadewitz and others dream of restoring the sport to what they describe as its glory days, when tickets were cheap and a small market club like the Kansas City Royals had a fighting chance against the juggernaut of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

Baseball fans have grumbled about their sport for decades, but Wadewitz insists things have changed. The 1994 strike drastically undermined support for the game, and another strike would do even more damage, he says.

And the Internet has given fans a way to organize and express their discontent, he says.

"If it works I think it shows the power of the Internet to disseminate information to a large mass of people," Wadewitz said.

An allied Web site, WetheFans.com, hopes to attract enough support to create an enormous "fans union" to lobby professional sports to keep prices down and fans happy. So far, the effort has drawn a few hundred supporters, says the site's creator, who goes by the name Commando Dave.

But he is hopeful the effort will succeed.

"On the Internet, anything's possible," he said.

In the short run, it may be difficult to have a significant impact.

Anger Is Real, and Stakes Are High

A July 11 baseball boycott might give angry fans a way to blow off steam, but probably won't achieve much more, says Bruce Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College in Kentucky, who has studied the economics of sports.

"If the powers that be in baseball and the union look at this and take this as evidence that fans are really fed up and really won't stand for another strike, this could be a wake up call," he said. "If they think it's a one time only thing — that it'll blow over — then it's not going to have an effect."

Still, Johnson says the boycott effort reflects a broad and deep sense of anger among baseball fans.

"I think a lot of people are sort of fed up," he said, pointing to various complaints about the sport, such as the $25 million-a-year salary of star shortstop Alex Rodriguez and the recent accusations of rampant steroid use.

Paul Schoofs, an economist and baseball expert at Wisconsin's Ripon College, agrees that fans' patience is wearing thin, but believes the sport is still healthy. He points to relatively strong attendance figures as evidence.

Some complaints — such as high ticket prices — are actually signs that baseball is doing well, he says.

But he believes a strike could change that quickly.

"I think [the owners and players] really should pay attention," he said.

"I think the dissatisfaction sweeping the country is sweeping larger than it was the last time," he said, referring to the 1994 strike.

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