BASEBALL is diminished as the national pastime when the love of the game must compete with the love of money.
The prices paid for free-agent players in Major League Baseball have reached new heights, with no end in sight. Some fans may feel baseball itself is striking out. The final strike may have been the Texas Rangers' $250 million deal with shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
Baseball, after all, has a checkered recent history. Fans remember the 1994 players strike that scuttled the World Series. Skyrocketing salaries could collide with the expiration of the players' union contract next year to provoke another millionaire-versus-millionaire labor spectacle.
A longer-term problem is flagging competitiveness. Less profitable teams can't bid for stars like Mr. Rodriguez. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig recommends some profit sharing among teams. But the wealthiest owners balk at that.
Indeed, they can point to a history of dominant teams - notably the Yankees. The fans still came, didn't they? True, but people may be tiring of having only the richest teams in the race - it's too reminiscent of politics.
And what about the kids who look up to pro athletes and provide the fan base of the future? Much of the appeal of pro sports is the fun of watching other people do what we may have dreamed of doing as kids. Bloated salaries, auction-house dealings, and soaring ticket prices make it a little harder to keep those dreams in mind.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society