Everybody plays the fool sometimes, but it takes a truly gullible chump to be duped 250 days AFTER the rest of the world gets its wake-up call.
Hello, my name is John, and I am a sap.
When that uneasy armistice in baseball’s Eight Months War was implemented April 2, my head danced with visions of sugar plums and ballplayers eager to gain back the trust of 50 million fallen-away fans.
My sense that the players wanted to put a new spin on their pitch for respect was reinforced in the newspaper, where the standard 1995 spring-training photo shows a cluster of autograph seekers happily crushed against a chain-link fence.
Even last week, when I read a brief wire-service item revealing the grudge Will Clark is keeping toward exreplacement player Rob Wishnevski (the Rangers’ minor-league pitcher crossed the line, as Clark told a Dallas sports-talk show last week, and “will be remembered”), it did little to dampen my perception of the new fan-friendly climate.
“Consider the source,” I said to myself. “Remember, this is Will Clark.”
On the off chance you’re wondering what it’s like to talk to the All-Star first baseman of the Texas Rangers, try this: Go find a tool box. Take out a hammer. Now, hold the head of the hammer at eye level, and say, “Hello, Will, howya doin?” Keep staring at the hammer head, and continue: “Did you have a nice winter? How’s the family? Looking forward to the season?” This approximates the typical give-and-take of a deep conversation with Will Clark.)
Clark’s hostile attitude notwithstanding, I believed those who’ve acquired a fortune playing baseball would pursue the challenge of reconstructing the national pastime with so much energy and enthusiasm that they would have no choice but to bury the hatchet.
In fact, forgiveness seemed like a reasonable avenue for all of us to take. And even though I’d be less inclined to pat Don Fehr’s back than do dishes for Julia Child - or compile the memoirs of Macauley Culkin - I figured, hey, we’re all just creatures on a planet of the sun.
As we speak, Herr Fehr is distributing to every major-league club a blacklist naming the replacement players who signed minor-league contracts. But rather than tell Fehr he needs a big gulp of fresh air, players are clutching his petty tattler sheet as if it were the Magna Carta.
“I look at it this way,” Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell surmised the other day. “These guys were simply there to hurt us.”
Greenwell’s dim-bulbed paranoia comes honestly. He gets his information from Fehr, who assembled the blacklist, he explained, because the players “have a right to know who was trying to take their jobs.”
The obvious function of a blacklist would be to make life miserable for the replacement players who passed the audition, but Fehr denies that.
“We don’t encourage anybody,” he said, “to do anything.”
Why, then, a blacklist? I mean, besides giving Mike Greenwell the ability to recognize his enemies (those in the clubhouse he would acknowledge with a meanspirited profanity) from his friends (those he would acknowledge with a good-natured profanity).
The reason Don Fehr is passing around a blacklist, I’m convinced, is because his Players Association was not content to play a major role in destroying the public’s faith in baseball.
It needs an enemy. Still. It needs somebody tangible to hate, somebody with a first name and a last name. And now that the owners are again signing players’ paychecks, what more convenient enemy than all the guys who used the strike as a chance to revive their broken-down baseball careers?
Unfortunately, in his zeal to name names, Fehr was so consumed he forgot to check for accuracy. Among those on the blacklist is former Florida Marlin Kip Vaughn, who declared himself a replacement player, then changed his mind and stayed home.
It was virtuous of Kip Vaughn to honor the strike. But today, during the cruelest April in the sport’s history, baseball should be beyond finger pointing. The damage has been done; it’s time to move on and rebuild, time to embrace a spirit of amnesty.
Don Fehr may know the meaning of amnesty, but he pronounces it as two splintered words that precisely define his grim little world.
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