Why Reagan won't umpire the baseball strike

Murray Weidenbaum, chief adviser to the President on the economy, would very much like to have the baseball strike come to an end. He loves baseball. Furthermore, his beloved St. Louis Cardinals are, for the first time in some while, in the thick of the battle for the pennant. He doesn't want them to miss their chance at winning simply because there are no games to play.

But, as Mr. Weidenbaum told a group of reporters the other day, the President sees no reason to intervene to help bring about a strike settlement.

"Our policy on this strike," he said, "is a good example of the Reagan approach to all such labor-management disputes: hands off. It is part of what our administration wants to make clear: our noninvolvement."

Someone asked: "But isn't national morale at stake here? Doesn't the President have a responsibility to the American people to intervene?"

No, said Mr. Weidenbaum. The President's only responsibility now was to reduce inflation and the expectation of inflation, thus setting a climate that would lessen the pressures bringing about such disputes.

During World War II President Roosevelt made a special effort to keep baseball going, seeing a close connection between these contests and the morale of the American people in general and of the troops in particular.

But now? Even if a war were going on no quick conclusion would be drawn that baseball still was the morale booster of yore. In fact, the President is clearly on the right track in not viewing baseball as all that great a boon to raising the national spirit.

Mr. Reagan, and Mr. Weidenbaum too, obviously see that the blatant commercialism of baseball, by both management and players, has turned it into very much of a business, and a hard-nosed, crass business at that. Yes, there are many good baseball fans yet, including Messrs. Reagan and Weidenbaum. And the large baseball crowds, fed in large part by the TV telecasts which help publicize the sport, bespeak a spectacle that still draws widespread interest.

But underneath the surface lies a new impression: that many people are more tepid in their following of teams and individual players than they used to be. And more and more baseball fans seem completely turned off by what they see as pure and simple greed on the part of both players and owners.

Baseball always has been a business. But that wasn't the paramount public perception in years past. Furthermore, there were public-spirited individuals who bought up baseball teams which, after the modest payroll was met, didn't bring in much of an income.

In the pretelevision era it was used to be felt, too, that baseball players were out there for the fun of it and that the money was secondary. Enos Slaughter played that way. So did all of that St. Louis Cardinal "gas-house" gang of the 1930s. Remember Pepper Martin? And Frank Frisch? And Dizzy Dean?

The closest that modern-day baseball has to Slaughter and Martin is Pete Rose. He clearly enjoys playing. But Rose, too, has his eye on his checkbook.

IF baseball's stars want to ask for millions, let them. If they want to ask for trillions, let them. That's business. And if baseball owners want to forsake fans and move to other cities, let them. That's business.

But don't expect the fans to like all this grasping for money. They, indeed, recognize it as business. But they don't see it as baseball -- at least not the baseball to which they once were so emotionally tied.

So the President is right in not getting involved in trying to bring baseball back to the people. He sees that baseball today simply isn't that much a part of the emotional lives of Americans -- certainly not enough for him to be convinced that he must intervene in the strike in o rder to solve a national morale problem.

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