For the Love of the Game (Baseball, That Is): Professor Alan Michaels
|Professor Alan Michaels|
Players are juiced. Records are tainted. The Yankees spend too much money and a sports scribes spinning doomsday scenarios about Major League Baseball, closing their eyes and wishing for the sport to return to its good old days. But to Edwin Cooperman Designated Professor Alan Michaels, it is the same stuff, different era.
He has read the columns and blogs, and seen the good and bad of America's pastime, both as a fan on the outside and an employee on the inside. He is not buying what is being sold.
"It is just like parents who look at their kids and say, 'Kids these days,'" Alan says. "Every generation does this. Those same people probably feel music has lost its soul. We grow older. Things change."
He brings up Lawrence Ritter's book "Glory of their Times," a similarly-themed ode to baseball published in 1966, wistfully longing for a return to the 19-teens.
"When were the good old days?" asks Alan. "When it was all white players? The 1960s, when players had no choice in where they could play? The 1950s, when the Yankees dominated and competitive balance was worse than it is today?"
Alan is a New York native and dedicated New York Mets fan whose face cringes slightly when he finds himself giving credit to the New York Yankees. He knows the good, holding onto magical memories of the Mets' triumphs of 1969 and 1986, and he knows the bad, as he was on the team representing the Major League Baseball Players Union in the owner collusion case of the late 1980s.
Showing his lawyer stripes, Alan says the burden of proof is on those who claim the game has lost its soul. While its 130-year history includes many a black mark, current financial success and worldwide popularity, unmatched by any previous period in the sport's history, Alan says, show that the sport is alive and well.
On steroids - "No one is happy about that, but it is not going to destroy baseball," he says. This current 'steroid era,' while bad, is not the sport's greatest sin, compared to racial exclusion, for instance. Flat-out cheating and game-altering changes, such as the building of smaller ballparks, changing the strike zone and the raising and lowering the pitching mound, are part of the sport's lengthy history and likely lie in the future as well, for better or worse. Slowly, but surely, the steroid issue is being dealt with.
On competitive balance - "It isn't a competitive balance problem; it is, if anything, a Yankees problem," he said. While money helps a team be competitive, history is littered with big-money teams that have failed miserably and small-market teams that have attained great success. The deciding factor is management, not money. And, for all the Yankee hate, the team is the best draw in the sport, routinely selling out its road games.
On whether or not today's "fast-paced" life fits baseball's slow, pastoral style - "Life seems faster-paced as you get older. I'm sure our parents felt that way in the 1970s," he says. The Internet information age has been a boon to baseball, providing better access and more outlets for writing and statistics for a sport that has always been driven by the romantic ramblings of writers and the numbers behind the game, which bridge decades and generations.
But Alan has been more than an observer.
He set aside his fandom for the sake of the job in the late 1980s. Having that inside access as counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Union and seeing "the sausage get made," as he puts it, distanced him from the sport, even in the years after the job was done.
The players won $280 million and additional consideration in a settlement of the owners' breach of the collective bargaining agreement, that attempted to rob the players of hundreds of millions of dollars. For Alan, it cast a pall on the sport he loved, but time heals all wounds and Alan sits today in his office next to the autographs of the 1986 Mets, with a cell phone that plays the winning call from the Mets' 1986 16-inning game six triumph over the Houston Astros when it rings.
At the end of the day, baseball has a history, tradition and appeal that, combined with time, trumps even some of its ugliest missteps. "You can't establish a new hometown in your 30s," he says. "A lot of what we love about baseball is that mythology, that propaganda. It has this unbreakable emotional connection in us."