One example: Two weeks ago, a 51-year-old New Jersey man wrote a letter to the players that was published in the New York Times. "How could you possibly go on strike now?" he asked. "Look around you. We have corporate America stealing pensions, the economy is weak, people are losing their jobs, our politicians are fighting like cats and dogs, and it appears that you 'boys of summer' have forgotten that we are at war.... Most Americans supported baseball and your careers through good times and bad.... How about some loyalty from you?"
Other appeals have been curiously touching. At the recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown, New York, 41 Hall of Famers signed a letter to Selig and Fehr pleading for the future of the game they love by asking for an impartial mediator to oversee the contract talks. The Rocky Mountain News quoted former Cleveland Indians great Bob Feller as saying another baseball strike would be "more devastating than the Black Sox scandal."
Well, maybe. It's likely that many Americans -- even hard-core baseball fans -- would simply cease to care about the game. Wearied by the decades of indignity heaped upon them by owners and players unable or unwilling to clean up their own mess, the fans might, just might, turn away for good -- or start watching Little League, where the richest contract on the diamond stipulates an ice cream cone when the game is done.
Could baseball really die? It's hard to tell, but just in case, somebody might as well start inquiring whether the body is to be cremated or frozen.
Wonder if the Gambino family ever tried to fix curling. Or if the Columbos had a thing for giant slalom. We'll never know. But last week's charges that a reputed Russian mobster with a sixteen-syllable name took a special interest in the outcome of two figure-skating events at the Salt Lake City Olympics has come as a shock to guardians of the Olympic Flame the world over.
Maybe we should be laughing instead. If Alimzan Tokhtakhounov had enough juice to rig both the pairs and the ice-dancing judges at a quadrennial event already shot through with doping and cheating, more power to him. For all most rational people care, this is like making book on quoits or pulling down a bundle on the Indonesian badminton results. It's the stuff of a Saturday Night Live skit, not of federal indictments. You can bet your triple lutz that the scandal will get even uglier. But the late Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series, must be chuckling into his bankroll over Tokhtakhounov's antics.