SHOW: Talk of the Nation (3:00 PM ET) - NPR

July 9, 2002 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Status of Major League Baseball in the face of possible labor disputes, high ticket prices and other situations

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Doug Fabrizio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan.

Tonight the American and National League face off in the All-Star game in Milwaukee. But baseball's real battle was played out earlier this week in Chicago, where representatives of the ball players and owners were in negotiations to avoid a work stoppage. The last time a labor dispute disrupted baseball was in 1994, when the World Series was canceled. That work stoppage lasted more than 200 days, and even had President Clinton calling for mercy. The issues then were revenue sharing and salary caps. Well, eight years later, little has changed. This year the players may walk out over the owners' push for parity between teams. Critics say big spenders, like the New York Yankees, essentially buy their appearances in the World Series because they can afford to pay huge salaries to the best players in the free-agent system. They say it leaves poor teams perennially in the cellar.

There are other clouds hanging over baseball. Recently, two veteran players admitted that they'd used steroids and that many other players do, too. Some owners want mandatory drug testing in baseball, the only major sport that doesn't require it.

On All-Star day, we're talking baseball. Should the commissioner strive for economic parity between teams to create an even playing field? Do you feel like the business of baseball takes you, the fans, into account? And if the play on the field is interrupted this season, would you be there, as a fan, when play resumes? You can join the conversation. Our number here in Washington, (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

With us is Harvey Frommer. Mr. Frommer joins us from the studios of Dartmouth College, where he teaches. Harvey Frommer has written some 32 books on sports and sports figures, including Nolan Ryan's biography and "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia." His latest is a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball," which is a collaboration with his son, Fred Frommer. This fall, Mr. Frommer is coming out with "A Yankee Century," which will commemorate the team's centennial. And he joins us from Hanover, New Hampshire.

And welcome, Mr. Frommer. Thanks for joining us.

Professor HARVEY FROMMER (Dartmouth College): Well, welcome to you, too, Doug. It's nice to hear your voice.  

FABRIZIO: Let's lay out our biases on the table. Are we assuming you're a Yankees fan?

Prof. FROMMER: I am not only a Yankee fan and somebody with a big book on the Yankees coming out in October, but I resent the fact that the Yankees today are being dragged through the mud and being bashed as the big bully on the street, buying all these players. The Minnesota team, for example--its owner has more money than George Steinbrenner has, and he could be out there spending money, also, and building his team. So it's really a kind of a stereotypical commentary directed at the Yankees.

In many ways it's a bad time for baseball. As you said in your introduction, we have the All-Star game tonight, but we have a lot of negative themes that are prevailing. You had the death of Ted Williams, a real icon; the death of Darryl Kile; the death of legendary St. Louis Cardinal announcer Jack Buck. We also have the odd couple, Bud Selig and Don Fehr, sparring one more time, and I think fans and journalists and people in general are getting a little tired of it. We have the specter of a possible strike coming up, which would be the ninth work stoppage in baseball since 1972.

And I'm sitting here in this lovely studio in Hanover, New Hampshire, and I'm thinking, 'What would Jackie Robinson say, or Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?' players who spent their entire lives with one team, along with many, many others.

And I think this is another item to throw into the hopper: the lack of loyalty. Maybe free agency has done this, but the fans root for somebody one day, and then the next day he's on another team. So I think a lot has to be done to straighten out the whole look and feel and style and substance of Major League Baseball. I think the game is America's game, but you have a lot of selfish people who are making it their game, and not ours.

FABRIZIO: We're talking about baseball with sports historian Harvey Frommer. When we come back, we'll visit with former Yankee All-Star Jim Bouton. You can call us: 1 (800) 989-TALK. We're talking about baseball this hour. Are you a fan? What do you think of the business of baseball off the field? You can send us an e-mail as well. Our address: totn@npr.org.

I'm Doug Fabrizio. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: We've got heart, all you really need is heart. When the odds are saying you'll never win, that's when the grin should start. We're so happy that we're laughing--ha, ha, ha--that's the hearty thing to do--ho, ho, ho. So we ain't been autographing, 'cept to sign an IOU--hoo, hoo, hoo. We got heart, miles and miles and miles of heart. Oh, it's fine to be a genius, of course, but keep that old horse before the cart. Who minds them pop bottles flying, the hisses and boos, the team has been consistent. Yeah, we always lose. But we're laughing 'cause we've got heart.

FABRIZIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Doug Fabrizio, sitting in for Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of parody of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game")

THE REDUCED SHAKESPEARE COMPANY: (Singing a cappella) We can't watch any ball games. There is a labor dispute. We miss all the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and scratching and spitting and all the cork bats, for it's greed, greed, greed by the owners. The players act the same way. For it's strike, strike; no matter who wins, it's the fans who pay.

FABRIZIO: Well, don't panic. The players haven't walked out yet, but eight years ago they did, and summer wasn't the same. That ditty aired on National Public Radio in 1994, performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. And like it or not, we're once again talking about a possible Major League Baseball strike. Harvey Frommer is joining us from the studios of Dartmouth College, where he teaches. He's written some 32 books about sports and players. His latest is a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball."

Harvey Frommer, I wanted to just get your sense, your bet, I guess. Do we have a season left, do you think?

Prof. FROMMER: I would not really bet on it. Maybe I'm in a minority here, but I don't really see a season. You have the steroids issue, which--the union is against testing, whereas individual players are in favor of testing. That's kind of a blind cod in this whole issue. And then you have these other issues that doesn't seem to be that much bending on. And I think, just as last time around, back in '94, there was the problem of trying to get a settlement and then there was a strike that was decided upon shortly after the All-Star game. So I hope I'm not too pessimistic, 'cause I'd love to see the season play out.

FABRIZIO: We invite you to join the discussion. You can give us a call at (8000) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Let's take a call from Vicki, who joins us on the line from Rochester, New York. Vicki, welcome to the program.

VICKI (Caller): Thank you so much for having me on. I feel like this comment might be redundant, and Mr. Frommer made it so aptly before the break, but I think I'm dating myself. I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. When they left Brooklyn, my heart was broken. And I think part of the problem with fans abandoning baseball is the sense that there is no home team to root for. I think a lot of that has to do with the owner greed, not necessarily players' greed. But, you know, when players are traded around, we don't have a team to root for anymore.

Prof. FROMMER: Vicki, I agree with you totally, and also, Howard Schultz, the man who owns Starbucks, who also owns the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA--he grew up in Brooklyn in a family of die-hard Dodger fans. And he said on the day in 1957 that it was revealed that the franchise was moving to Los Angeles, his father, a taxi driver, announced to the family that from that day 'We would not mention the Dodger name in our house. The Dodgers,' he said, 'broke my father's heart, and had a significant effect on our family.'

VICKI: Yeah. Well...

Prof. FROMMER: And Schultz is like you, Vicki, and like me and like millions of others--you know, had hearts broken back then, and it's an indication of how things, you know, still go on the same way. But I cut you off. Go ahead.

VICKI: No, that's OK. What I was going to say--that our hearts were broken not just because of the...

Prof. FROMMER: Move?

VICKI: ...absence of our team, but the Brooklyn Dodgers stood for something. After all, you know, with Jackie Robinson breaking... 

Prof. FROMMER: Right.

VICKI: ...the color barrier, and people like Roy Campanella and other players who had such dignity and class, and I don't see that anymore. That was a group of players that we really could put our souls behind.

Prof. FROMMER: Right. And a little trivia item that plugs right into that is that not that many people realize Jackie Robinson was traded at the very end of his career to the hated New York Giants, and he was told he could fill in any amount for his contract. He refused to go because he was a Dodger through and through.

VICKI: Yeah.

Prof. FROMMER: Imagine that happening today.

VICKI: No, it wouldn't.

Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.

VICKI: And I think that it's really owners' greed that has caused this. Of course, the players may be overpaid, and there are many hardworking people in our country who don't get the kind of money that they'll ever see. But I lay it at the feet of the owners. Thank you.

FABRIZIO: Vicki, thanks for the call.

VICKI: Sure.

Prof. FROMMER: Thank you, Vicki.

FABRIZIO: Let's get another voice in the conversation. Joining us from our New York bureau is Yankee star Jim Bouton, who pitched in the 1963 All-Star game and the following year won two games against the Cardinals in the World Series. He wrote the 1969 baseball classic "Ball Four" and the novel "Strike Zone." He's a popular speaker around the country,

Mr. Bouton, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. JIM BOUTON (Former New York Yankee): Hi, Doug. Nice to be here.

FABRIZIO: So let me get your sense. What do you think? What's your bet on the rest of the season, to start?

Mr. BOUTON: Well, first of all, I think that the problems that you've been talking about on the show, baseball's problems, are mostly owner-manufactured problems, the solution to which, in some form or another, is that the players must take less money. We've been hearing basically four themes over the years. Teams are going to go bankrupt one day. Of course, baseball may be the only industry in America which has never had a bankruptcy, not even once. Players aren't loyal--that's another thing that gets batted around all the time.  

But it's the players who want long-term contacts, and it's the owners who continually put them on short leashes. They basically say to the players, 'Look, we don't trust our judgment. We're going to put you on a short leash, and if you don't re-sign after two or three years, then we'll blame you for not being loyal.' Players want six-year contracts, eight-year contracts. They want to buy a home in a community; they want to put their kids in school, make business contacts. It's the players who want the loyalty and the owners that won't give it to them.

Number three: Small-market teams never have a chance. Well, when did small-market teams ever have a chance? I can remember days when Kansas City A's never got out of last place. The St. Louis Browns never got out of last place. And the only team that ever won, practically, was the New York Yankees, and you never heard the baseball owners saying that the economic system needed to be changed because Kansas City never gets out of last place.

Here now we actually have a situation where teams with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball--for example, Minnesota--happens to be leading its division by more than any other division lead in the American League, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. You could never have had that back in the old days. Oakland Athletics are in a pennant race. They've got a very low payroll. Meanwhile, you've got teams with enormous payrolls, like Baltimore. They're out of the pennant race. Texas--well, they're in last place.

So it's true that the Yankees have won, but they haven't done it just with money. They've done it with brains. So I also think...

Prof. FROMMER: Excuse me, Jim...

FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer, go ahead.

Prof. FROMMER: You also left out the Montreal Expos, who are, in fact, owned by Major League Baseball...

Mr. BOUTON: Right.

Prof. FROMMER: ...who, despite every attempt to destroy them...

Mr. BOUTON: Right.

Prof. FROMMER: ...are really making a run for it, you know, and trying to move up there.

Mr. BOUTON: Exactly right.

Prof. FROMMER: And they never get anything. Yep.

Mr. BOUTON: Right. So here you've got Montreal, who...

Prof. FROMMER: I agree with you.

Mr. BOUTON: ...is supposed to be so poorly off that it didn't have a chance, now playing far better than the New York Mets, with one of the largest payrolls in baseball and a huge market. So it isn't money; it's money and brains, and in the case of...

Prof. FROMMER: Money is a bogus issue.

Mr. BOUTON: Absolutely, it is. And the fourth one is that the players are greedy, and that's why ticket prices cost so much at the ballpark. Of course, it's not true; the players do want to make as much money as they can, but the ticket price has nothing to do with what the players are making. It has only to do with how much people are willing to pay at the ballpark, whether they're making, you know, $10 a year or $10 million a year, if fans are going to pay $65 for a box seat at Yankee Stadium, that's what they're going to charge for a box seat at Yankee Stadium.

FABRIZIO: So it's what the market will bear.

Mr. BOUTON: It's exactly what the market will bear. And I think that fans really need to begin to see the baseball player-owner battle in a different way. If there is a strike or a lockout, rather than turn away from it look at it as a new sport. Owners vs. players. It would be a great chance for people to learn how business works, learn something about economics. Then we won't be so surprised by what we're seeing in the business section of the newspaper. We'll learn how the antitrust laws work, why they're important and why they're necessary and why, since we don't have them in baseball, we have these kinds of problems all the time.

FABRIZIO: Let's hear from...

Mr. BOUTON: And...

FABRIZIO: Forgive me. Go ahead.

Mr. BOUTON: It's OK. No.

FABRIZIO: Let's hear from Todd...

Mr. BOUTON: I've said more than my share.

FABRIZIO: ...who--Todd joins us on the line now from Cleveland. Todd, welcome to the program.  

TODD (Caller): Thank you very much.

FABRIZIO: Sure.

TODD: Appreciate you having me on.

FABRIZIO: Go ahead.

TODD: I just wanted to comment real quick. I think free agency has done a couple of different things. Number one, obviously, as just a general fan, you can't root for the guy because he's here one year and he's gone the next. But I don't think the players are totally at fault for that. I mean, you see general managers trading their players by, you know, May and June, and they're giving up the season by then, as opposed in years past, you know, they kept the same guys and they played throughout the entire year trying to win this thing.

Mr. BOUTON: The old days they used to trade eight guys, nine guys at a time, four guys for six guys. They had a general manager in Cleveland called Frank "Trader" Lane...

TODD: Right. Sure.

Mr. BOUTON: ...who wasn't happy if he hadn't traded seven guys before breakfast. The difference was in those days trades were always positioned as a good thing for the team. The general manager would announce, 'We've just traded these four guys who are doing terribly and we're now getting five guys who are going to help us win the pennant.'

TODD: Sure.

Mr. BOUTON: So it was always positioned as something good for the fans and they were happy about it. Now the owner says, 'Oh, we're losing this guy because he's not loyal and we can't afford to hang onto him'...

TODD: Right.

Mr. BOUTON: ...blah, blah, blah. And then the players think...

Prof. FROMMER: Right. Or it's the way now of dumping your salary, which is another thing that they tell you...

Mr. BOUTON: Exactly.

Prof. FROMMER: ...you know, they're out of the pennant race so they have no chance. Like Cleveland getting rid of a top pitcher because they're allegedly going to be rebuilding...

Mr. BOUTON: Right.

Prof. FROMMER: ...and sending him to Montreal, which might not even be around next year.

Mr. BOUTON: And while you're on the subject of Cleveland, by the way, Jim Thome has said exactly what someone said earlier, that only the older players would have said. Thome has said, 'I don't want to leave Cleveland. Don't trade me.

Prof. FROMMER: Right. Yeah.

Mr. BOUTON: 'I don't care who you trade me to.'

TODD: Right.

Prof. FROMMER: Mm-hmm.

FABRIZIO: Todd, you used to play ball.

TODD: Yeah. Actually I did. I played three years of independent ball, and I was actually on the Pirate system for a while. Shoot, I was telling my dad I kind of hoped they do strike because I'll be tap-dancing over that picket line, if someone would pick me up.

FABRIZIO: Todd, thanks for the call.

TODD: Hey, I appreciate it. Have a good one.

FABRIZIO: You can join the conversation today: 1 (800) 989-TALK; 1 (800) 8255.

This e-mail comes from Jeff in Laramie, Wyoming. 'I think if baseball players strike, in its growing popularity soccer,' he says, 'will step in and take over a portion of the fan base. Americans need sport and love sport, and this could be the first strike during a time where baseball has an American opponent.'

Gentlemen, what do you think?

Prof. FROMMER: I say no.

Mr. BOUTON: No commercials in soccer.

Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.

Mr. BOUTON: No national TV contract.

Prof. FROMMER: No real scoring either. It's kind of dull. But that's my opinion.

FABRIZIO: So you don't think it's likely.

Prof. FROMMER: No.

FABRIZIO: Let me read another e-mail from Tim. Tim writes, 'I may be disgusted with Major League Baseball, but that does not mean that I'm going to lose my love of the game. I can see more baseball in its pure form with the minor leagues and especially the Northern League. Besides, instead of spending $150 to take the family to the big Major League games, I can spend a little under 40 bucks and save money as well with the kids by taking them there. I may be down on the majors but up on the minors.'

Prof. FROMMER: Well, that I agree with, not like soccer. You really can have a good time at a Minor League game and spend less money. It's not the same quality as Major League Baseball, but if there isn't Major League Baseball, it's a good thing to do.

FABRIZIO: Is that...

Mr. BOUTON: Besides, you can hear yourself think at a Minor League game. You can't do that at a Major League game.

FABRIZIO: Let me remind you that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Joining us on the line now from Cleveland is Art. Welcome to the program, Art.

ART (Caller): Hi. How are you?

FABRIZIO: Hi.

ART: Hey, this is kind of a good conversation. I'm torn because the capitalist side of me says just what you said, what the market will bear. And if someone offered me $2 million a year to do what I do, I doubt I would refuse it. However, the reasonable side of me says, you know, shame on the fans for paying those ridiculous rates. You can't afford to take your family to a game anymore. And, you know, what bugs me the most is if you take, for instance, transportation, which I work in, in this nation--if transportation were to be taken away, our whole nation shuts down. If baseball went out of business, we would go on. I mean, it would affect our economy briefly in little local markets, but people would find other ways to spend their entertainment dollars. Those prima donnas can keep their game 'cause I'm never gonna go watch another game ever.

FABRIZIO: Wow.

Mr. BOUTON: We've got people building stadiums for these owners, free stadiums.

ART: Yeah. In Cleveland we did that. And you know what? I voted for it.

Prof. FROMMER: You did?

ART: Oh, yeah.

Prof. FROMMER: What do you think of the situation of the Indians now, though?

ART: Boy, that's tough. It's brutal. You know, we're starved for a championship in Cleveland, and, you know, the chances of us seeing one now or in the near future are pretty--you know, they're gone. And I don't think the Browns are quite ready to do it anytime soon. You know, we built them a new stadium as well, so...

Prof. FROMMER: So you feel betrayed.

ART: Feel betrayed.

FABRIZIO: Well, Art, thanks very much for the call...

ART: Yeah.

FABRIZIO: ...by the way.

So shouldn't it be something more, gentlemen, than just about business? I mean, surely it's what the market will bear, but most of the people talking today are expressing something sort of higher than that idea of business. Let it being something more than that? Jim Bouton.

Mr. BOUTON: Well, I don't know, you know, what they're looking for. I think if you want that old-timey feeling of a day at the ballpark, then you go to Minor League Baseball. I think you still have that experience at many ballparks around the country. And, you know, vote with your shoes. Don't go to the games. When attendance drops, you'll see the ticket prices drop.

FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer.

Mr. BOUTON: And when you see attendance really drop, you'll see the owners and players getting together and solving their differences a lot sooner, and maybe that's about to happen next.

FABRIZIO: Your sense of that, Harvey Frommer.

Prof. FROMMER: Well, in 1993, the last season before the 232-day strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, baseball revenue was $1.87 billion, and the average salary has doubled from $1.17 million at the time of the strike to $2.38 million this season. So that's all one thing on the side of the--a strike against the players. On the other side of the coin is a comment by Cleveland Indians player rep Charles Nagy who said, 'Every year the owners cry poverty and you look at the industry and it's almost doubled financially,' and I say, as I said at the outset, a plague on both their houses.

I think what you're alluding to, Doug, is that there's something about the game that belongs to the people and not to the players and not to the owners. The game has been around for a very long time. It's part of the fabric of American culture. And I think perhaps President Bush, who had been a team owner, should step in and try to form some kind of a commission and put some fans onto this commission and some former players and some people who really care about the game because some of these people who are now batting back and forth playing this high-stakes game of poker or tennis--they don't really seem to care about the game or the fans; they just seem to care about their own selfish interests. And I think your comment, Doug, or at least you're pointing to it, is that it's much more than a game and it's much more than a business; it's a way of life to millions of Americans, just a few of whom have called in to tell you that on the air today.

Mr. BOUTON: Now wait a second. Players are entitled to make whatever they make in a free market. They shouldn't have to defend the fact that they're making millions of dollars. That's just ridiculous. Nobody cares...

Prof. FROMMER: Oh, I'm not saying they should...

Mr. BOUTON: ...what Jack Nicholson makes. Why shouldn't Jack Nicholson, in order to bring down ticket prices at the movie houses, or maybe help out struggling movie companies--why shouldn't he take a smaller salary?

Prof. FROMMER: Everyone's...

Mr. BOUTON: Players are entitled to get what--it's the owners who have made the players' salaries an issue. If they had said to the fans, 'These guys are worth every dime they're getting. They're the greatest athletes in the world. Come out and watch them play,' nobody would care how much the players are making.

FABRIZIO: That's Jim Bouton.

Mr. BOUTON: It's the owners have turned it against the players.

FABRIZIO: Jim Bouton...

Prof. FROMMER: Well, I...

FABRIZIO: ...former Yankee All Star, is with us. Also Harvey Frommer, a professor of liberal studies at Dartmouth College. We're talking about Major League Baseball and the players' dispute over money. Do you believe in baseball's mystique, or has the bloom come off the rose? You can continue the conversation online. Go to npr.org, click on the discussion section and scroll down to TALK OF THE NATION.

I'm Doug Fabrizio. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well, I've got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat and a brand-new pair of shoes. You know, I think it's time to give this game a ride. Just to hit the ball and touch 'em all--a moment in the sun. It's a gone and you can tell that one goodbye.  

Oh, put me in, coach. I'm ready to play today. Look at me. Gotta be centerfield. Yeah!

FABRIZIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Doug Fabrizio, sitting in this week for Neal Conan.

Tomorrow, a look at the International Criminal Court. We'll examine the new court system and ask why the United States doesn't want to be part of it.

Today on the program we're talking about problems in Major League Baseball, problems that could lead to a players' strike. Our guests this hour: former Yankee pitcher and 1963 All-Star Jim Bouton. He's the author of the 1969 baseball classic "Ball Four." Harvey Frommer is with us. He's the author of more than 30 books on sports. His latest, a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball."

To join the conversation you can call us at (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. Let's go right to the phones. From Sacramento, Mark joins us on the line. Mark, welcome to the program.

MARK (Caller): Thanks for having me.

FABRIZIO: Sure.

MARK: This is great. We've got the pitcher and the professor. And, guys, I think you guys are extremely knowledgeable about the game. And I love the game. I grew up playing it. I want my son to play it. And, you know, a big part of your appreciation of the game is in the history and the romance of the game, but, you know, unfortunately I think the game has changed so much and our times in America have changed that we're looking at, you know, football and NASCAR and games of action. And I think the link that America has in the history and the tradition of the game is eroding. And unfortunately, you know, what's going to happen here with the players is going to drive a lot of people from the game. It's unfortunate. But what are your thoughts on our links to the romantic side of the game and how this whole changing game is going to affect the way America views baseball?

FABRIZIO: All right. The most romantic. Harvey Frommer.

Prof. FROMMER: I look at the NBA and the NFL and NASCAR and even soccer, as a caller had mentioned before, as sports that are not only competing, but getting, the American baseball dollar. And I think if there is another strike, the game will be eroded even further, and its romance. And the caller is very eloquent.

FABRIZIO: Jim Bouton.

Mr. BOUTON: I think romantic is whatever you lived with when you were about 15 to 19 years old. So I think kids today will one day say years from now, 'Remember when they had the World Series at 1:00 in the morning and we listened to the games under the covers at night? That was romantic.'

MARK: Well, I mean, the...

Mr. BOUTON: Not now where...

MARK: Yeah. The mystique of the box score in the papers is gone (technical difficulties) like that. I mean, we can watch ESPN and watch a play that happened 10 minutes ago, happen, you know, right in front of our eyes.

Prof. FROMMER: Yeah.

MARK: And the thoughts and the ideas and the romance of, wow, I wonder how that play unfurled. You look at the box score and you think about how this game developed and it's gone. You know, it's sad. I mean, I grew up, you know--I went home in ninth grade to go watch Bucky Dent hit a dinger and put the Yankees into the playoffs that one year in '79. And, you know, that kind of stuff is gone and it's sad. I mean, everyone defines their generation. And, you know, if this is the definition of this generation, I feel sad 'cause there's a tremendous loss.

FABRIZIO: Mark, we're glad you called.

MARK: Take care.

FABRIZIO: Thanks very much.

MARK: Bye-bye.

FABRIZIO: This e-mail now. 'As Major League Baseball argues about revenue sharing and free agency, they really need to be asking how they can bring young people back to the game.' He writes, 'Youth leagues are disappearing in urban areas. You need to play or see baseball to appreciate it. Kids are playing other sports and can't afford to see baseball in person. Baseball is no longer the national pastime, and nostalgia has become the national product of Major League Baseball.'

Jim Bouton, you want to respond to that?

Mr. BOUTON: Well, I think that you have--while the American market may be shrinking for a talent pool for Major League Baseball, you've got the foreign markets opening up now. You've got more and more players come from the Latin countries, players coming from Asia. So I don't think the quality of play has diminished. I think you've broadened the scope of baseball beyond the American borders, which is where it has been for so many years. So I think that it just changes the character of the game a little bit, but I don't think it makes it, you know, any less romantic.

FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer.

Prof. FROMMER: And there are still many, many great American players who are also coming into the game, so it is a mix and a match. But I think that Major League Baseball could do something more to reach out to the youth market. They could have, you know, special days set aside for kids to be going to the game at much-reduced prices than they have now and other things too numerous to go into. But there would be much better ways to attract kids to games.

Mr. BOUTON: I think what you need to do is you need to have a non-uniform day where every kid in America is encouraged not to wear a baseball uniform and to show up at the field and make up their own baseball game of running bases or ...(unintelligible) or no hitting to right field or steady catcher or whatever it takes. You make up your own game and you distribute Spaldings and stickballs and let the kids go out there and play little, you know, games and realize you don't have to have a team. You don't have to have parents, bases, umpires or uniforms to play baseball. That's what kids think nowadays. And so you drive by a field and there's no kids playing baseball. Why? Well, there's no parents out there to, you know, have a real game. So I think you need to get back to the early roots of baseball, which is just a ball and a stick.

FABRIZIO: Melanie...

Prof. FROMMER: And in my...

FABRIZIO: Go ahead.

Prof. FROMMER: In my latest book, "Growing Up Baseball," which you had mentioned, which is an oral history which I have done with my son, Fred--we have reminiscences from all kinds of players cutting across different generations and geographical locations. And they spoke about the romance of the game and also about the fact that they could just make up their own rules--no hitting to right field, no hitting to left field, etc.--and that kind of stuff, as Jim alludes to, really has to be brought back.

FABRIZIO: Let's take a call now from San Diego. Melanie joins us on the line. Hi, Melanie.

MELANIE (Caller): Hi. Hi. How are you?

FABRIZIO: Great.

MELANIE: I am from San Diego and I love baseball. And we are the home of Tony Gwynn.

FABRIZIO: Yeah.

MELANIE: He is not the highest-paid--he was not the highest-paid player, but he was a player of quality and heart and integrity.

Prof. FROMMER: Who stayed with the same team all the way through.

MELANIE: That's right.

Prof. FROMMER: Right.

MELANIE: And he chose to. And we also had Walley Joyner here for a while. And, you know, when his contract was being renewed, he's all, 'Well, you know, I can live on a couple million dollars. You know, I can live on that.' You know, I don't know how many of the players actually want to strike? I think there's a lot of players that don't want to strike and they just want to play ball. You know, I don't know about the rest of the people out there, but I'm feeling if they're going to go on strike, don't come back because that's how--I'm fed up with it.

It's like a used-car salesman. Don't bring me your invoice. Don't tell me how much you paid for it and whine about it, just give me the deal. Just do your job, you know. And here we have a perfect example in Tony Gwynn, who's just, you know, all heart. He's set medals, or records. And, you know, he's sticking to the game. He's now San Diego State's baseball coach.

FABRIZIO: Melanie...

MELANIE: Why can't we have more of those guys?

Prof. FROMMER: And he'll always be a San Diego Padre.

MELANIE: I'm sorry?

Prof. FROMMER: He'll always be identified as a Padre...

MELANIE: Yes. And...

Prof. FROMMER: ...Tony Gwynn.

MELANIE: ...why can't we have more people like that? I mean, do we have players like that, or is the union taking over for them?

FABRIZIO: Gentlemen, we don't have much time, so let me ask you to be brief in responding to Melanie. Jim Bouton.

Mr. BOUTON: Well, I think, as I said before, players want long-term contracts. They go in there and ask for them and the owners don't want to give long-term contracts. They were probably willing to give Tony Gwynn a long-term contract, and that's why he was able to, or willing to, build a home in the community and get established there. And then, of course, once that happened he didn't want to leave. But for all those players who are told to rent rather than buy, and don't send out your laundry, there are going to be a lot of players moving around.

Prof. FROMMER: Well, Derek...

MELANIE: Do they want to?

Mr. BOUTON: They don't want to.

Prof. FROMMER: Well...

Mr. BOUTON: They want a long-term contract.

MELANIE: I...

Mr. BOUTON: The owners do not want to give out long-term contracts to players.

MELANIE: You know, I'm pretty sure Tony's last contract before he retired was only for two years.

FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer, your response.

Prof. FROMMER: Right. Derek Jeter has a 10-year contract with the New York Yankees, and he wants to spend his entire career as a New York Yankee. And Bernie Williams also has a long-term contract. There are long-term contracts that are given out. And we started earlier with bashing the Yankees, but Steinbrenner, as an owner, sees to it that the players who he feel can help his team win are signed to long-term deals. And really you'd have a feel for the organization and have the fans plug into them. So I think there can be long-term contracts. It depends on the owner.

FABRIZIO: Harvey Frommer is the author of more than 30 books on sports and sports figures. His latest, a collection of oral histories called "Growing Up Baseball." Also with us, Jim Bouton, All-Star Yankee pitcher and author of the baseball classic "Ball Four."

And, gentlemen, thank you very much for the time.

Mr. BOUTON: My pleasure.

FABRIZIO: Glad you could be with us.

Prof. FROMMER: It's my pleasure, too. And good luck, Jim, too.

Mr. BOUTON: You, too. You, too, Harvey.

Prof. FROMMER: All right. Take care.

FABRIZIO: And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.