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Sport Sections
Friday, February 16
Schilling: My thoughts on the game

Curt Schilling has won 110 games during his major-league career and pitched in the 1993 World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. The veteran right-hander for the Arizona Diamondbacks offered his thoughts on the state of the game, including his take on baseball's labor situation.

Everything you are about to read, from the first "E" in everything to the "g" that ends my signature at the bottom of this letter is to be interpreted as my opinion only.

I think the best way to get this started is to get something real clear, real fast. As fans you must understand this one very important item: If there is no baseball next year, it will not be because of the players.

Curt Schilling
One of baseball's top pitchers, Curt Schilling led the National League with eight complete games last season.

I was approached by a fan the other day and he asked me, "You guys gonna strike again next year?"

I was dumbfounded to say the least. How is it that fans are looking at the current labor situation as a potential strike by major league baseball players? The question bugged me immensely. Enough so that I got to thinking on how this perception -- a myth, really -- could be stopped cold and fans made to understand what is really happening inside the greatest game on earth.

See, there seems to be a public misconception. I believe a lot of fans think the players don't appreciate the game, or what the game and the fans give us. It's rather easy to take that stance as a fan these days. After all, it's all you read, watch and hear from every media outlet in existence: "So-and-so was arrested at 3 a.m. while driving 90 in a 35 zone, drugs and drug paraphernalia were found inside the car. ... So-and-so was arrested after police responded to a 911 call made by his wife; the charges were domestic abuse."

The problem on our end is if you take 10 stories, and four of them are based on someone breaking the law, 40 percent of your sports news is about criminals and felons. However, these four guys might make up less than 1/10th of one percent of all athletes in the four professional leagues.

Fans want the game fixed, fans want to go through a season or five without hearing the words labor dispute, disparity, lockout or strike. And for what a ballgame costs these days, we think you deserve to have that.

Understand, I am making no excuses for athletes that break the law. Regardless of what we do for a living, if you hit a woman, you should go to jail, no matter your ERA, scoring average or goals allowed. You drink and drive, throw away the key. I don't want that 3 a.m. call one morning concerning my child as a victim because some idiot didn't have the sense to not get behind the wheel after drinking and driving.

We love the game
But the fact of the matter is that this kind of thing comes with the territory. Players sometimes take too long to figure it out, or they're a bit too young to think it matters when they arrive in the big time. I guess I am asking you to trust me: there are a lot more good guys in sports than bad guys -- a lot more. We love the game, we want to play the game. It's really that simple.

I finally came to the conclusion that the fans are only going to know what they read in the papers and online, and what they see on TV. And that barring some invisibility in the media from the players -- individually and collectively -- the fans are going to head into another baseball labor dispute uninformed in addition to being ticked off.

I recently spoke with Al Leiter, and my overriding concern for the next 12 months is this: the players union must be pro-active, not reactive, in the upcoming months. As a union we must step up and make it known to anyone that cares about the game that we as a whole are ready to resolve the issues concerning us and the basic agreement.

It's really very simple: Donald Fehr schedules a press conference at some swank hotel ballroom in New York, every major sports media outlet shows up and Don gets up to the mike and basically says the following:

"As president of the Major League Baseball Players Association I have been instructed by the union members I work for to announce today that the players association will agree to extend the basic agreement for the next 10 years ... yadda yadda yadda."

Now it certainly is not that simple. There are details that need to be worked out, things that need to be adjusted, but the fact of the matter is that we as a union are happy as pigs in mud playing under the basic agreement that exists. Why shouldn't we be? Even though a lot of fans would like to believe that a lot of us are brainless jocks, most of us are not. We know how incredibly fortunate we are to be playing in the era we are -- baseball has never been more popular than it is right now.

The problem is guys that feel this way and talk this way don't make for great sound bites, or good press. No, we live in a time when DWI, DUI, abuse, overdose, addiction and therapy seem to be the headline grabbers. But we also know that the fans are happy -- and unhappy. They're happy in that they are showing up in droves, but they are extremely unhappy with this black cloud looming on the horizon. Fans want the game fixed, fans want to go through a season or five without hearing the words labor dispute, disparity, lockout or strike. And for what a ballgame costs these days, we think you deserve to have that.

Owners must get on the same page
The above scenario would be a real easy way to cut to the chase. See, you -- the fan -- need to know the how's and why's of what is about to happen to this game if the owners can't come to some common ground.

The owners are complaining about economic disparity; you can't call it whining because it does exist. How do we eliminate disparity? Well, the common theme being thrown around is a term called "revenue sharing." Revenue sharing basically means that the owners share all their money. Kind of. See the revenue sharing that has gone on the past couple of years was termed "limited revenue sharing," whereby if you had a really successful team, and you made a lot of money, rules were put in place so you had to give some of that money to teams that weren't as successful as you and/or failed to make as much money as you.

Hey, if the owners don't have a problem with this, I sure don't. But as you can see, and as Donald Fehr predicted a few years ago, it didn't fix anything. Our biggest concern as a players association was in the unknown: What was supposed to happen to the hard-earned money Mr. Steinbrenner made as owner of the Yankees when he shipped it off to the owner of one of the lesser teams? You 'd think that money would be earmarked to help that franchise spend more on it's baseball operations. But the owners wanted us to stay out of that aspect of the deal. They wanted to do whatever they chose to do with it.

On one hand, as a player I really could care less what they did with that money. Heck, they own the team, they could pocket every penny of that money, it's their team for crying out loud. But on the other hand, I do know that both sides are better off if the sport is thriving at the turnstiles and owners are all doing their best to make their teams competitive.

Being a member of the 1992 Phillies was akin to working on a chain gang. Fans would come out to see us out of morbid curiosity. We stunk. But the next season we are being hailed as Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves and we're America's team headed to the World Series to battle the Canadian-based Blue Jays, upside down flag and all. Oh, by the way, we drew over three million people that year.

One side note on all of this, something that has worried me from day one is television. Major League Baseball's current TV deal is almost triple the last deal in guaranteed money from what I understand. Now that's a ton of cash, and in my opinion that's great. My only concern is that this money is guaranteed to the owners whether we play next year or not.

Now, I am simplifying things quite a bit here and in doing so I am not trying to belittle anyone. But the fact of the matter is that we are now hearing our commissioner, former Brewers owner Bud Selig, complain about the horrid lack of competition, and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. You're seeing all kinds of plans being thrown around to assist teams to become more competitive.

What's disturbing to me is reading quotes from baseball people -- and by baseball people I mean scouts, managers and general managers -- and a lot of them are not very enthusiastic about the proposed "draft" for the worst teams in the league to take players from the best teams. How does that help the game? Basically you're being assessed what amounts to a penalty for being good, by doing things right, by winning. If you're a bad team under this proposal then you get the reverse treatment, a gift so to speak, for being bad, for making wrong decisions, for losing.

And fans please don't fool yourself; the game at this level is about one thing -- winning. Everyone loves a good sport, a nice guy, character, integrity and pride. The admiration for those qualities isn't diminished at the level we play, but all of them pale in comparison to the importance of winning. Pennants and World Series championships cure all ills.

Think I'm making this up? Let's take a quick stroll down memory lane. Flash back to April 1991 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Ted Turner's Braves have pretty much been laughed at for the past seven or eight years and April of 1991 was no different. Revenue was a problem, attendance was a major issue, the stands were empty.

Skip ahead about four months to a sold-out Fulton County Stadium. The first-place Braves were playing now and not a seat was available anywhere. And it has remained that way for the better part of the last 10 years. The Braves were one of the "need help to survive" franchises less than a decade ago, but winning cured all of that. No magic formula there, no work stoppage, just good decision-making by the franchise and fan support for a team that won.

I don't care that they've won only one World Series -- the Braves have done it right for a long time. Same goes for the Yankees. Heck, I was part of one of these myself. Being a member of the 1992 Phillies was akin to working on a chain gang. Fans would come out to see us out of morbid curiosity. We stunk. But the next season we are being hailed as Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves and we're America's team headed to the World Series to battle the Canadian-based Blue Jays, upside down flag and all. Oh, by the way, we drew over three million people that year.

You can apply this theory to just about every city in baseball. Remember the Cleveland Indians of the 1970s and '80s? They modeled themselves, in my opinion, after the Braves and are now one of the most respected franchises in sports for the incredible turnaround they've performed.

What does this all mean to the fan? First, I would guess that you really don't care, you just want to see baseball. We owe it to you to make it work. I don't think anyone in the game -- from club presidents to the commissioner to the grounds crew guy would tell you any different. Somehow, some way, this needs to be fixed now.

Making some changes
In the end, this article might ring hollow without me actually putting something in writing as to what I think would help fix the game, top to bottom.

1. Luxury tax. We agreed to this four years ago and we'd do it again I think, but it needs to be meaningful this time around, and needs to have a bigger impact.

2. Eliminate the DH; add a 26th roster spot. I'm not too sure you'd hear the players fight this, though with DHs in place right now you might have to grandfather this one.

3. Total realignment. Not one team here, one team there -- true realignment. Get rid of interleague play. If you want those geographic rivalries so bad, make them a consistent thing. Here's what I'd do:

AL East: Boston, Mets, Yankees, Montreal, Toronto
AL Central: Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City
AL West: Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Colorado
NL East: Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay
NL Central: Cubs, White Sox, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Texas
NL West: Arizona, San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles

  • First thing you do is eliminate millions of dollars in travel, and you have every geographic rivalry you could wish for.

  • Then you add day/night doubleheaders to the schedule, shortening the length of the season.

    4. Tickets for kids. For every weekend game on the schedule teams would be required to offer unsold tickets to kids under a certain age for $1, no exceptions.

    5. Change the playoffs. You have two wild cards per league, playing in a first round best-of-3. The second round pits the best division-winning record vs. the winner of the first round, with the other two division winners facing off in a best of five.

    League Championship Series remains a best-of-7, and by the way, best record between the two teams playing dictates home-field advantage in a series, as it should have been the last hundred years.

    World Series is a best-of-7; home field goes to the team with the best record.

    Again, this is only my opinion. I've spent my entire life in the game of baseball, all 34 years of it as a fan, the last 15 as a player. As they so lovingly state it on ESPN, "It's what I do." I guess my point in all of this is to let you fans know that we players do care. We want to play baseball -- badly. There are examples to the contrary I am sure, and if you wanted to you could say so-and-so is a dog, he just plays for the money.

    But just like we don't categorize you as a group based on the drunken, tank-top wearing beer-bellied heckler that cuts loose with a flurry of sailor language on our mothers when we stink, we'd ask the same in return. We aren't whining, we aren't complaining, we just want to make sure that you know we want to play ball.

    Thanks and God Bless,
    Curt Schilling

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