Fort Worth It finally happened. The worst four-letter word imaginable in major-league baseball surfaced in print last week.
That would be O-r-z-a. As in Gene Orza, No. 2 man in the players' union.
It could have been F-e-h-r. As in Don Fehr, boss of bosses of the world's most powerful and richest union.
But over the years, it's been common for Orza to deliver the inflammatory comments when it comes to saber rattling. Fehr, you see, attempts to keep himself just above the muck, using a flunky for the hatchet jobs.
So it was no surprise when Orza puckered up his lips and made a hissing sound.
He said, "Strike."
Baseball is a wonderful jock kingdom endeavor, second only to thoroughbred racing on my list of favorite pastimes.
But damn. It is hard, real hard, for even those of us who "want to like baseball (we're supposed to be a vanishing breed anyway) to put up with all the continuing crap this game gives us.
In 1995, after the historic shutdown of 1994, lessons were supposed to have been learned. Never forget. And never let it happen again.
They promised us, didn't they? "Strike" would be strictly what a pitcher wants to throw, and "lockout" would occur only if the clubhouse man lost his door keys. They could never do something like this again to the fans. Baseball loved its fans too much to sin against them in such a cowardly fashion.
With billions of dollars involved, management and union both would cut their mother's throat to gain a larger piece of the greenback pie. It's about the money. It's always about the money. It's not about the fans, or about the game. Hasn't been in decades. The "never again" apologies of '95 were all lies.
Orza had to say it this week. Say "strike." He was just doing his job with this negotiating tactic. The labor agreement reached after the '94 debacle has expired, and negotiations on a new one are basically stalled. Orza wanted us to know the players had to be "protected" by at least discussing a possible strike date for this season.
Orza is an idiot. Fehr is an idiot. But don't mistake me for being pro-management. Bud Selig is also an idiot. Everybody involved on both sides needs a frontal lobotomy.
It is supposed to be a columnist's duty at this point to write something like: "Let 'em strike." Or: "Baseball is dead, and this is last-rites time."
But me, I'll skip the death-watch formalities.
At the moment, nothing really needs to be said by a newspaper stiff.
More telling is how the fans have already been "speaking" this season. Coming in loud and clear. In fact, they beat Orza to his verbal punch.
The fans have been "striking" since Opening Day.
As of last week, attendance in major-league baseball was down a dramatic 5.4 percent. There have been 800,000 fewer butts in seats compared with a year ago, and the deficit is growing by the week.
The leader in this plunge? That's you, Arlington, Texas. The Rangers are down nearly 177,000 fans from a year ago. And, of course, for many seasons, Arlington had been a major-league stronghold in attendance, having the distinction of always outdrawing ineptness on the field.
Many factors are involved in this decline, and it's probably a stretch to say the dark clouds of a labor dispute would rank up there high. But now that Orza has applied the "Sssssssss sound to this season, and with a possible players' strike being mentioned for August, this additional impact will be felt.
The dark side of baseball history threatens a repeat. A strike is at least a possibility by the players. How ironic, however, that the fans may already have beaten them to the exit.