99:1 and a championship season
By the last week of August, the St. Louis Cardinals were dead men walking. Functionally eliminated from the race for the National League Central Division crown, they were also 10 games behind in the competition for the NL wild card berth. I'm not a professional bookmaker, but I'd be willing to bet that those who are would have quoted the team's odds to proceed to the play-offs as no better than 1 in 100.
Last Sunday, the city hosted a parade in honor of its new World Champions. As the festivities progressed toward the stadium along Market Street, it passed before the local encampment of the "Occupy" movement.
"Movement" is probably the wrong descriptive because these folks appear to be intent on going nowhere. They seem to be quite content availing themselves of the limited sanitation facilities at hand and hunkering down in a public space that was never intended for permanent habitation. Just how crapping in a port-a-potty and sleeping on concrete will end corporate greed remains something of a mystery.
This being St. Louis, there have yet been no serious clashes between the "occupiers" and the authorities. In fact, the local encampment decided to join in the celebration of the Cardinals' improbable triumph. After all, if you claim to represent 99 percent of the people -- as the occupiers do -- it's hard to advance a minority opinion and, along the parade route, everybody agreed the Cards were deserving champs and the world was a better place for it.
Surveying the spectacle, it dawned on me that virtually none of the onlookers possessed the talent to play for the team they adored. This obvious fact bothered no one. And everybody seemed to have a great time.
So there you have it: The 99 percent cheered the success of the 1 percent without bitterness or rancor. Those who could paid dearly for the privilege of watching the home games of the series in person. Those who could not simply followed the play-by-play on television or radio but still wanted to turn out to be part of the triumphant moment.
The current Major League minimum salary is $414,500. The median income of a full-time employee in the United States is $39,336. That means that the lowest-paid athlete in the parade will make more than 10 times more money this year than will the typical fan. And the real stars -- the guys who elicited the wildest cheers -- wouldn't even consider lacing their cleats for a meager six-figure income.
Meanwhile, team owners can quite literally afford to buy and sell their well-compensated players. Bill DeWitt Jr. represented ownership and was warmly received by the appreciative crowd.
These facts had to leave the "occupiers" in an awkward position. On the one hand, they've been squatting outside for weeks to protest the wretched excess of the financial elite. On the other, the people they claim to represent have jammed the streets to celebrate the exploits of a bunch of one-percenters.
Their contradictory plight was reminiscent of the tea party demonstrator who wanted to keep the government out of the Medicare program. In fact, tea partiers and occupiers probably have more in common than either group would be comfortable admitting.
Though one side views government as the problem and the other thinks it is -- or at least should be -- the solution, both find themselves attempting to express a vague, ill-defined but genuine discontent with the status quo. Each seeks to attract an audience from a population that harbors little resentment for the prerogatives of wealth but enjoys and expects the benefits of socialism for itself.
Presently, the top 20 percent of the economic ladder owns 85 percent of the nation's wealth while the bottom 40 percent shares a meager 0.3 percent of that pie. Despite the inequality of that distribution, you hear no cries to storm the Bastille. But don't try to tamper with the entitlements the masses have come to expect.
During the debt ceiling crisis, the leadership at AARP hinted that some adjustments to Social Security and Medicare benefits may be necessary to accommodate fiscal reality. Management must have heard from membership because that conciliatory gesture has since been withdrawn, replaced by a televised ad campaign featuring a militant oldster warning politicians that he and 50 million other codgers will be heard from at the polls if anyone tries to reduce their payments.
The situation calls to mind an incident from my early days as a city homicide cop. A veteran detective and I went to dinner at a downtown restaurant. Throughout the meal, he lamented the sorry state of American society. Welfare loafers, tax cheats, mooches feeding at the public trough -- nobody willing to shoulder their fair share of the collective burden.
When we'd finished eating, the waitress presented us with a check. Instead of paying, my companion wrote his badge number on the tab and instructed me to leave a tip. As we left the establishment, I jokingly asked him if eating on the slide didn't make us part of the problem. "Hell no," he replied indignantly, "That's different. I just think people with money should pay for stuff."
At the time, I laughed but it now appears that my old friend's thinking was ahead of its time
M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon. To reach him, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.