Memo to Labor Secretary Robert Reich:

With all due respect, sir, butt out of the baseball negotiations.

That was a nice gesture, dropping by Fenway on Sunday to take the fans' temperature. Hot, aren't they? Maybe it's a good thing you didn't get buttonholed by some vendor or usher or one of the guys who sweep up afterward, the people who need the few extra bucks to put food on the table. Then you would have felt some real heat.That was a nice touch, too, bringing along your 13-year-old son Adam. And telling Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn, "We'll do whatever we can do. I hope we can settle this thing. As Bob Feller said, `Baseball is for kids. Grownups only screw it up.' "

But there have to be more pressing matters back in Washington. It's not like home plate there couldn't use some dusting off. Besides, you wouldn't waste time trying to separate cats and dogs. So why players and owners?

Take our word on this: These guys are natural enemies. They deserve each other. Let them fight.

Let it be long and hard. Let it take place in public. Let it start Friday, and like the bus in "Speed," let it shake, rattle and roll out of control at 55 mph until somebody figures out how to defuse the bomb or the whole thing blows up. If there's no games, we'll learn to make do with suspense where we find it.

You really think you're going to get a serious discussion of issues right now? With these guys? Think again.

While you were pursuing the photo op in Boston, management negotiator Dick Ravitch and union chief Don Fehr were in your backyard, on the set of "Meet The Press" saying the same old things in a new, nastier voice.

We can spare you the executive summary on this one: The owners think the ballplayers are making a billion dollars a year and don't care if their salaries mean pulling the plug on franchises in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and who knows where else. The players think the owners are lying about their trillions and want a return to the plantation politics of yesteryear.

They both think there's going to be a strike.

(One further note on that. You probably missed acting commissioner Bud Selig turning up on CBS. Remember that claim about how 19 of the 28 teams were losing money? Now Bud has whittled the number down. "You can debate the numbers," he said, "but you can't debate a minimum of 12 to 14." We thought that might have been his foot in his mouth until we realized he needed both to backpedal so fast.)

Of course, you're right, plenty of people are going to get hurt.

Yep, a strike now will break a lot of hearts, your 13-year-old son's included. He'll get over it. We'll get over it.

Even the owners and the players will get over it. Eventually. They can't go on forever. But here's hoping that however long that is, it doesn't end until they've roughed each other up - good.