Play ball!

There are baseball persons and nonbaseball persons, and your true baseball person is not going to stay mad over merely the longest strike in sports history. Yes, the first midseason strike in the major leagues went on for fifty hitless days. But baseball persons can't see the talk of retaliatory boycotts any more than a fly ball in the sun. After all, they have hung on through many years when corporate giantism and paychecks to match have threatened the remembered romance of the "boys of summer," as Roger Kahn described the old Brooklyn Dodgers. When the season resumes with the postponed All-Star Game in Cleveland next Sunday, a little bit of every baseball person will be there.

It is ironic that the unprecedented situation should have occurred just when a conspicuous free enterpriser like Ronald Reagan was at bat in Washington. For the players were striking not to enlarge their turf but to hang onto the relatively free-marketplace rights that they finally won several years ago. The owners -- an apt name -- were trying to cut back a player's ability to negotiate as a free agent by requiring the buying team to provide another player in compensation. The settlement did not go that far but set up a pool from which a club losing a free agent could draw a compensating player.

In a sense the players won by not losing as badly as they could have. Fortunately this is not the way baseball itself works, or the arcane tables of statistics known to every schoolchild baseball person would be even harder to explain to the nonbaseball person.

But how can the whole appeal of baseball be explained anyway? Maybe it is as that quintessential baseball person Mr. Kahn threw up his hands and said:

"You learn to let some mysteries alone, and when you do, you find they sing themselves."

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