This week a pair of overqualified labor-relations experts are nose to nose over a conference table settling a minor league tempest that blew up in Mexico City during the major league meetings. Among the earth-shaking items on the agenda is a question of whether players' incidental expense money during spring training should be raised from $25 to $45 a week and whether it should be required that baseball-club owners provide free parking at stadiums for players. It is questions like these—and ones involving the minimum pay of major-leaguers—that had club owners and players at each other's throats in Mexico City while charges of "Liar!" turned the air blue.
Representing the baseball players is Marvin J. Miller, a small, dapper man with a pencil mustache and penetrating dark eyes, who was chief economist for the United Steelworkers of America and assistant to Presidents David J. McDonald and I. W. Abel. For the owners there is John J. Gaherin (pronounced Geh-rin), a smooth, professionally pleasant man with a jutting jaw that stops barely short of being pugnacious, who was president of the Publishers' Association of New York City. For negotiating these momentous questions, each receives $50,000 a year. Seldom has so much gone to solving so little.
Considering the jobs these men had before—Miller deeply involved in a series of bitter steel strikes, Gaherin presiding over the merger, strike and death of three New York newspapers (Herald Tribune, Journal-American and World-Telegram and Sun)—what they are doing now must be considered in the nature of child's play. Perhaps that is why they both smile so easily.
They are still smiling in spite of the Mexico City flap, which was caused, according to Miller, by one of baseball's ancient problems, the refusal of baseball-club owners to delegate authority. No one's giving away any of their money.
Baseball had promised Miller better things. It had announced that its Player Relations Committee would negotiate for the leagues. "It turned out," Miller said, "the committee did not."
The sequence of events, he says, went like this. There was a meeting in New York City on November 15. Another was set for the 20th, but Gaherin called Miller to say that it would have to be called off, that discussions needed to be held between the committee and all the club owners in Mexico City. He told Miller there would be a message, setting a date for a meeting, when Miller got to Mexico City. Miller arrived with 20 baseball players, a representative from each club, at a cost to the players of over $10,000. But there was no message. "I called Gaherin," Miller says, "and he said we would have word two days later. Two days later I still hadn't heard. I called again. Gaherin said he was afraid we couldn't meet. I asked if we could meet with the whole owners' group instead and he said no, they were too busy."
That's when Miller called a press conference to denounce the owners for stalling and hinted baseball players would take some sort of action soon.
At first baseball did what it usually does—denied everything. Said Paul Richards, general manager of the Braves: "Somebody is lying. I don't think it's the owners. If this guy continues these tactics I guess we'll just have to get down in the gutter with him." Gaherin merely smiled and said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and his counsel, Bowie Kuhn, smiled and said, "We have agreed not to say anything more."
If there was an agreement, Miller knew nothing of it. "The trouble with them is they have not gotten into the 20th century yet," Miller said. "Normally, a negotiating group gives its committee some authority. The owners have not. They have given their committee instructions on what they will concede. That means if we agree with everything, fine. If there is one thing we don't like, the committee has to go back for more instructions and that's six months."
The issues for negotiation between Miller and Gaherin were put down in a document Miller calls A Statement of Policy and Gaherin calls The July 28, 1967 Statement. No matter what it is called, it is a hodgepodge. It combines relatively important proposals—the lifting of minimum salaries from the present $7,000 to $12,000, a limit on salary cuts of 10% rather than the present 25%—with scrapple, such as prohibiting day doubleheaders after night games (already a widely ignored rule), split doubleheaders, night games on getaway days (another WIR), and one-day stands (and how could Chicago play nine games in Milwaukee if this were adopted?).