Washington, Aug. 30: America is on edge this weekend. Millions of people stayed up late into last night glued to their television sets or woke up in the early hours of this morning awaiting the big news which will impact every American town from coast to coast.
No, the news has nothing to do with the approaching anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre which shook the world. Nor with the economy which has cut average American savings by a third in less than a year.
The big issue which has made America stand still as it approaches Labour Day, its most celebrated weekend, is a looming strike by men whose average annual salary is — believe it or not — $2.4 million, the equivalent of Rs 12 crore.
The agitators are baseball players, America’s biggest celebrities rivalling Hollywood’s film stars. And they are striking for an increase in pay, although other issues are involved too, such as competitiveness of teams, a luxury tax, revenue sharing and the game’s long-term health.
Baseball is to America what cricket is to India. And the strike threat has shades of similarity to the ongoing stand-off between its cricketers and the International Cricket Council.
The baseball strike is an issue that so concerns Americans that President George W. Bush himself said last week that he would be “furious” if play schedules this weekend are disrupted.
Bush watches baseball regularly and made his personal fortune as a co-owner of Texas Rangers. In 1998, he sold his stake in the baseball team for $16 million.
And yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who is travelling with the President, invoked patriotism and the approaching anniversary of the September 11 attacks to avert a strike.
“The owners and players need to keep in mind not only what a strike would do to the future of baseball, but also what it would to America dur-ing a time of national unity and national spirit,” McClellan said.
The last baseball strike in America was in 1994. Then, President Bill Clinton intervened in the dispute, but McClellan said Bush had no plans to do so this time.
As Americans waited with bated breath, negotiations between players and club owners broke up at 2 am local time on Friday, but resumed two hours later. At the time of going to press they were still continuing.
Meanwhile, players who have assembled at various airports across the US to catch their charter flights to games venues were awaiting word of the negotiations.
Fourteen different baseball games are on schedule for tonight, the first night of the long Labour Day weekend, when pubs with giant TV screens in every town would be full if the dispute is resolved.
Last year, baseball generated revenue totalling $3.5 billion for all those involved in the game, which has become one of the biggest businesses in America.