Fear Not: Baseball Lives

You've got to have hope,

Mustn't sit around and mope

Nothing's half as bad

As it may appear

Wait'll next year - and hope

- A chorus of hapless Washington Senator players in the Broadway musical ``Damn Yankees''

BASEBALL is ending its 1994 season prematurely with no runs and no hits (and no World Series), but plenty of errors. The box score on this baseball strike shows a goose egg in the win column and three losers: the owners, players, and fans.

Many Americans don't follow baseball and never did care what happened in the labor dispute between major league baseball owners and the players' union. They've been joined by fans who think the best way to show their contempt for the greed displayed by both sides is to ignore them: After all, college and pro football are under way and promise exciting seasons.

Other fans will find solace wallowing in Ken Burns's monumental 18 1/2-hour television series ``Baseball,'' which begins Sunday. The Burns extravaganza promises more than nostalgia; it shows how intricately baseball is stitched into the very fabric of American society. The only problem we expect is that it may do its job too well, and we'll find ourselves missing baseball more than ever!

The strike looks capable of extending into the 1995 season. The owners may try to use minor league players as replacements, but it's unclear whether television networks would air these games or if fans would watch them. Eventually, one side will cave in. Look for an All-Star game next July played by authentic all-stars.

Will the first fall without a World Series since 1904 mean the end of baseball? Hardly. From Little Leagues to high schools, from sandlots to the Olympics, at colleges and in the minor leagues, it remains the people's game.

As Negro League player Buck O'Neal says in the new book ``Baseball: An Illustrated History,'' by Mr. Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, ``We've done a whole lot of things to hurt [baseball], but it's a type of thing that you just can't kill it.''

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