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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mourning the Death Of a Game's Integrity

Now baseball's longest unbroken streak has ended. It is reckoned not in terms of hits or homers or games, but in years. It can be accurately described in baseball's jargon as 89-for-89.

For the first time since 1904, there will be no World Series in the land. It was in that distant year when President Teddy Roosevelt was trying to stop the Russo-Japanese War, eight years before the Titanic hit the iceberg, that World Series history drew a blank.

For those 89 years the continuity of the World Series was a given in the American character, rooted in the love of the game from generation to generation. But it's a wipeout now that the club owners and the athletes refused to terminate their choke hold on the game.

Baseball has been gasping for a breath for the 35 days since the players struck, walked, on Aug. 12 -- their strategy to beat the specter of a salary cap by the owners in 1995. The consequence: 1994 is fated to join 1904 as a sorry landmark year for baseball, stained by the emptiness at World Series time.

For widely different reasons those two years -- 1904 and 1994 -- are devoid of a World Series. In 1904 it was obstinacy that canceled the postseason game -- John Tomlinson Brush, owner of the New York Giants, did not like Ban Johnson, president of the upstart American League, and refused to play Boston in the World Series.

All of this, despite the fact that the two leagues had reached agreement in 1903 and staged a World Series that year between Boston and Pittsburgh. But Brush never forgave Johnson for invading National League territory with AL franchises.

He and his manager, John McGraw, who also had had his run-ins with Johnson, resisted the urging of the Giants' players, who wanted the World Series money, so 1904 was left as a blank in World Series history.

Oh, yes, the pennant-winning Boston team in 1904 was not the Boston Red Sox. They were the Boston Pilgrims, who operated under that name until they became the Red Stockings in 1907 and the Red Sox two years later.

Under pressure, Brush relented in 1905 and consented to let his pennant-winning team play the Philadelphia A's in the World Series, which has continued ever since. It was the year Christy Mathewson made Series history by pitching three winning games against the A's.

For baseball, the heavy irony now is that it is presenting itself as an ugly, strife-torn business at a time when baseball, the game, is on the brink of receiving probably its greatest salute ever as America's game, its supreme tribute in the century-and-a-half of its history.

This is the upcoming Ken Burns 18-hour TV documentary "Baseball" that exalts the game as a near-religion and passion in the genealogy of America.

It is the season when baseball should be reveling in its recognition as a game that surpasses all others. But this is the year that those in baseball are beset by bitter conflict, by their own choice, mostly the owners' choice with their insistence on introducing the hated "salary cap" factor, diverting fan interest from the most exciting season in many years.

The owners have also introduced new words into baseball's lexicon like "cost certainty," and "cost containment," all of them their whining complaints about their high payrolls, which they created themselves by wildly bidding against each other for the game's talent.

It's the salary cap, though, that has enraged the players and brought about their walkout. They have noted its curse on football payrolls, which has called for lesser-paid players to give back part of their salaries to accommodate the club's signing of more costly players and still stay within the salary-cap limits. In the baseball players' view, the football players were stupid to accept a salary cap and they want none of it.

Their strike was timed, strategically, while they still had more than a half year's pay in their pocket, to counter the threat of a lockout by the owners in 1995 spring training, before the players' paychecks begin and the rent comes due.

They also timed their strike to scare the owners into line for fear of missing their big bundle in playoff and World Series TV revenues. But it didn't work; the owners are toughing it out.

This strike has been festering for seven months, marked by little if any input from Bud Selig, who distanced himself from the whole business and has earned the new title of non-acting acting commissioner. The upshot: no World Series at all. Damn it.