THE STRIKE OF '85: CALLED ON ACCOUNT OF REASONABLENESS
A mere 27 hours passed between the unofficial walkout deadline last week and the triumphant announcement of agreement. It was an eye blink of a baseball strike, wiping out just 25 games, many of which already have been made up. But like a sudden drenching in ice water, it seemed to bring people to their senses. When the settlement was explained in the Grand Ballroom of New York's Sheraton Centre hotel at 10:45 p.m. on Wednesday, there was an air of such harmony that one could hope—perhaps foolishly—that a players' strike might never happen again.
The agreement was the result of reasonable men reaching a reasonable compromise. The owners finally gave up on their stubborn demand for a cap on salaries awarded through arbitration, and the players reluctantly agreed to an increase from two to three years in major league service before they can resort to such arbitration. Both sides found middle ground on the matter of pension money: The players lost their traditional one-third slice of television revenue but still ended up with $32.7 million a year, an increase of $17.2 million over their last contract. The best news about the new contract is that it is for five years, rather than the customary four, giving everyone at least one extra season of labor peace.
As soon as the settlement was announced, commissioner Peter Ueberroth was hailed as Peter the Great by much of the media. But there was also a great deal of speculation as to exactly what role he played. "I had no role," Ueberroth intoned at the news conference. False modesty aside, Ueberroth had made a contribution last February when he persuaded the owners to open their books so that the players could see how serious management's financial troubles supposedly were. "It was the first time we ever had any facts," said Donald Fehr, head of the Players Association. "Nobody is disputing that some clubs have significant financial problems." Lee MacPhail, representing the owners, admitted, "It's possible we wouldn't have had the settlement we did without the books being opened."
Some also gave Ueberroth credit for keeping the two sides talking. Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said, "He has a presence that hangs over the negotiations like the ghost of Banquo." You will recall that Banquo was the general Macbeth ordered murdered and whose ghost came to haunt him.
But the sense of urgency that pervaded the talks was actually provided by the awful memory of the 50-day strike in 1981. And the real hero may have been MacPhail, who, as the AL president at the time, had a major hand in settling the '81 conflict and whose calm and gentlemanly nature won the owners more concessions this time around than did the hard-line stridency of their last negotiator, Ray Grebey. It also won the respect of the players. "Credit should be given to Lee MacPhail for holding his head up and showing no animosity," said the Angels' Doug DeCinces, a member of the players' executive board.
In fact, the deal was struck in a Wednesday morning meeting in MacPhail's spacious Manhattan apartment before Ueberroth even arrived on the scene. MacPhail's living room, according to one of those present, Toronto's player rep. Buck Martinez, was "as long as the difference between a good lead and second base." The time it took to achieve agreement—an hour—was as long as a medium-sized rain delay.
Peter Ueberroth is having labor problems of his own. Employees of both Major League Baseball Productions in New York and Baseball Newsatellite in Stamford, Conn. have been organizing to join the Writers Guild. Some 65 of the 100 employees of those two operations, both of which the commissioner oversees, have signed union cards. But management has been contesting the eligibility of certain personnel in hearings before the National Labor Relations Board.
Last Friday, Bryan Burns, director of baseball's broadcast operations, said that, for economic reasons, the staff would be reduced to about 15 people. Burns claimed MLBP lost more than $1 million in each of the last three years and that baseball would hire outside firms to produce its promos and such shows as This Week in Baseball, The Baseball Bunch and Pennant Chase.
But miffed staffers believe they're getting the thumb because of their union activities. "On the surface, it sounds like union-busting to me," says Dan Ratner, assistant counsel of the Writers Guild, which filed an unfair-labor-practice suit this week against Major League Baseball. Burns insists that Ueberroth, usually the most hands-on of managers, had nothing to do with the decision to cut the staff.
AN UNREMARQUE-ABLE CHOICE
Chicago Cubs manager Jim Frey may know the book on opposing batters better than the ones in his own library. In a recent issue of Die-Hard Cubs Fan Club Newsletter, the club's official publication, Frey lists his favorite foods (Joan Frey's turkey dressing, broccoli, fruit salad, apple pie), entertainer (Frank Sinatra) and actress (Jennifer Jones). The compilation also includes the entry "Book: Ernest Hemingway's All Quiet on the Western Front."
A HORSE OF A DIFFERENT COLA
Star Legend couldn't care less about new Coke vs. Coca-Cola Classic. The 3-year-old pacer, who runs out of Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio prefers Pepsi and isn't about to switch. Last fall the colt began sticking his head over the stall door as the barn crew had dinner. When offered Pepsi, he would gulp it down. But he'd turn up his nose at Coke or any other soft drink. Now he's given a bottle of Pepsi every day, except before races, when it might affect his urine test.
Last month a local TV station gave Star Legend the Pepsi Challenge. He chose Pepsi over new Coke three out of three times. But the test wasn't exactly scientific—the bottles were clearly marked. "I think that's where we cheated," says Jack Howell, Star Legend's owner and breeder. "He read the labels." No way, argues his trainer. Bill Hartman. "I once put Coke in a Pepsi bottle," he says. "He spat it right out."
WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER
There's something about the basketball coaching job at Wake Forest that just wears a guy out. Last month Carl Tacy resigned mysteriously, saying, "I had simply grown weary of battling many of the same problems year after year. I hesitate to use the word burnout, but that's what it was."
One week later Gary Williams of Boston College turned down a Demon Deacon offer. "I felt almost to the point of being physically sick because of the pressure involved in the decision." he said.
Now Xavier of Ohio's Bob Staak has summoned up the fortitude to take the post, though he allows, "It was a difficult decision that was emotionally draining and extremely difficult to make."
Frankly, we're tired just having to read all this.
THE FAMILY THAT WRESTLES TOGETHER
A New York judge is trying to break the stranglehold pro wrestling has on a Staten Island family. Judge Daniel D. Leddy of Staten Island Family Court grappled with the question of what to do with two brothers, aged 13 and 15, who were so influenced by TV wrestling that they called themselves Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper and crashed around the house, practicing body slams, chinlocks and Camel Clutches.
Their mom, a wrestling fan herself, told the court that Rowdy Roddy had addressed her "in a bizarre manner, shaking violently," while describing "the terrible things that he was going to do to me." Rowdy Roddy, she testified, once clamped a sleeper hold on her while she was stir-frying vegetables. It took all of her strength to break the grip.
The judge, with the wisdom of Bobby (The Brain) Heenan, ordered Mom to turn off the pro wrestling shows. He warned that if she allowed her sons to watch any more television wrestling, he would remove either the TV or the kids from the home.
Fehr gave a year on arbitration, while MacPhail (right) gave up on a salary cap.
Ueberroth was a ghostly presence at the sessions.
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
THEY SAID IT
•Barry Switzer, Oklahoma football coach, on why his school has an in-state recruiting edge over Oklahoma State: "OU is easier to spell than OSU."
•Joe Kapp, California football coach, a onetime quarterback for Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant: "The longest dialogue I ever had with Bud was a monologue, and it lasted three words—'Get a haircut.' Once I saw him show emotion—He raised an eyebrow."
•Richard Byrd, rookie defensive lineman for the Houston Oilers, explaining why he joined a group of players who shaved their heads as a sign of solidarity: "I guess it was voluntary. There were 10 guys around me, so I volunteered."