Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Baseball Strike

Even though they set a strike date of August 30th, Major League Baseball players continue to tell just about everybody privately that they’re not going on strike. Certainly the owners are hearing this, and in turn have hardened their position at the bargaining table, trying to effect sweeping reform on the economics of the game.

The players are hearing the public loud and clear; a strike or any kind of work stoppage, and we’re gone. So what’s the truth? That’s always been tough to ferret out when it comes to the players and the owners in baseball. For nearly 100 years the owners kept the players under their thumb, lied consistently about how much money they were making, and laughed all the way to the bank. With the advent of free agency, the players have tipped the scales, grabbing cash and not relenting when the owners cried poverty. And why should they?

The owners devious tactics made them millions on the backs of the players, and for the last 25 years, the players have been getting what you could call pay back. Three times in the ’80’s the owners were found guilty of collusion, trying to hold down salaries by not competing for the top players. There’s plenty of distrust on both sides to go around, enough dislike as well to make a work stoppage a real possibility.

The players have moved toward the owners in some areas, and even made a pre-emptive announcement about steroid testing. Although diluted, the announcement was clearly a public relations move, trying to show that they are willing to listen to public demands.

The strike of 1994 alienated fans by wiping out the end of the season and the World Series. Cal Ripken’s drive to break Lou Gehrig’s record started to bring them back, especially with Ripken’s willingness to stay for hours after each game to greet fans and sign autographs. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s attack on Roger Maris’ home run record recaptured the imagination of fans and seemed to put any labor problems well in the past. Barry Bonds isn’t an embraceable hero, despite his on-field exploits, and he hasn’t charmed the public. In fact, there’s not much that’s embraceable about baseball at all, except the game itself. And if the players and owners can’t come to their senses and make a deal, even the game will seem hollow if they ever return.

I read that Vin Scully requires the producer of Dodgers’ broadcasts to show kids in the stands at every game, whether they watching or ignoring the game. At least they’re there, is Scully’s thinking. But they’re taken by their parents, usually their dads as part of the parent/child bonding process. No kids go to the games by themselves. Baseball doesn’t have a young fan base. After a work stoppage, they’ll have no base at all.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Toughness

After the first week of camp, the Jaguars have a distinctly different feel than in previous years. This team has a little less braggadocio and a little more chippiness than in the past. Without established stars at so many positions, some young players have developed their own personalities and that’s spilled over to the rest of the team.

Damon Gibson is a perfect example. The smallest player on the squad, he’s virtually assured of a roster position because of his punt returning abilities. But without Jimmy Smith in camp, and with Keenan McCardell gone, Gibson has a chance to get plenty of reps at wideout and he’s making the most of them. Gibson’s scuffle in the opening practice with the Saints underscored the team’s willingness to throw away the protocol that used to be enforced and subtly demand some respect, no matter where you are on the depth chart.

At first it was generally considered that the Jaguars needed to start hitting somebody else when a few scuffles broke out in camp. But it seems that it’s the new personality of the Jaguars; short on big talkers, long on doers. Wali Ranier has brought that same attitude to the linebacking corps. Although Rainer, Danny Clark and T.J. Slaughter are penciled in as the starters, it seems like a wide-open competition the way Rainer approaches every practice.

“When people play us,” the veteran said this week, “they’ll leave here saying the Jaguars are a tough team.”

Toughness has always been an issue with the Jaguars, having gotten an early reputation as a “finesse” team. Even though they seemed to have tough guys on the roster, it never manifested itself on the field instilling any kind of fear among other teams. Titans Coach Jeff Fisher has played on that, calling on his team to “take it to the Jaguars” and they’ve been successful at it.

Rainer brings that no-nonsense toughness to the middle, much like T.J. Slaughter and Donovin Darius have in the past. Add Marco Coleman’s professional approach (“I’m just here to play football”) and in the course of a year, the Jaguars have changed their personality.

It’s also good that the responsibility for the team’s personality is no longer dependant on a couple of high salaried players. I never wanted to meet Leon Searcy in a dark alley, unless he was on my side, but he was about the only guy who ever instilled fear in an opponent. The Jaguars have a few of those players now, with more following suit. If it follows through to the regular season, Rainer is right; When teams leave here, they’ll know they were in a game.