The nation got along quite nicely without the national pastime last week, thank you. Taxes were paid, elections won, gangsters shot. It was business as usual, except of course for major league baseball, an enterprise that seemed to be taxing its own dubious instinct for survival.
Despite the players' strike, which forced postponement of all games, a Florida newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, printed a box score for what would have been the Opening Day game between Cincinnati and Houston. All players were shown to have no at bats, no runs, no hits and no RBIs. The symbolism was obvious: baseball had shut itself out, pitched itself a big fat goose egg.
What was particularly poignant in all of this was that the issues that separated management and labor—mismanagement and non-labor?—seemed too intramural to arouse much passion among the paying public. Were the owners, by refusing to enrich an already generous pension plan, really pressing a crown of thorns down upon the brow of labor? Were the players, in their inestimable avarice, really setting out to rob the robber barons? Viewed as a matter either way of the rich getting measurably richer, apathy could be the only response.
The players steadfastly insisted that money was not the issue in their grievance with the owners, but the survival of their association as an effective bargaining agent. The owners, they said, were not out to save money so much as they were intent on humiliating the association and weakening the authority of its executive director, the redoubtable Marvin Miller. Miller has said he did not counsel a strike vote but that when it came he was proud of the fledgling unionists who had the courage to stand up to "the 24 multimillionaires who control this game." The owners replied that they would not be investing more than $5 million in benefits for members of a union they were trying to bust. The players, they said, had been led astray by the Svengali, Miller. And lurking in the shadows, rustling its shroud, was the dread specter of the Curt Flood assault on the reserve clause.
So the sports pages read like financial pages, and the public yawned. Actuarial studies...outside arbitration...cost-of-living increases...available funds...federal mediation.... Is this the language of diversion? What has any of this to do with playing ball? Only the very naive would suggest that professional sports be more sporting than professional, but for the impatient fan enough was enough.
The only noneconomic baseball story of the week was a melancholy one: the funeral of Met manager and former Dodger hero Gil Hodges. Afterward, the Mets showed there was some sentiment—and perhaps a little wisdom—left in the business by hiring as Hodges' successor Yogi Berra. The Mets also completed a trade with Montreal that Hodges initiated—the Mets' Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen and Ken Singleton for Rusty Staub.
Staub himself proved to be a sentimentalist. He was sorry, he said, to be leaving his good friends in Montreal. "I've never been accepted so completely so quickly, not as a ballplayer, but as a person. It's been the best three years of my life." The bodies might be gone, but maybe there was still some soul left in the game.
Where, indeed, were the bodies? Most of the players returned to the cities where they lived or where they hoped eventually to play. Things being what they were last week, they all exercised informally.
Lou Brock of the Cardinals and Luis Aparicio of the Red Sox worked out with their sons—Brock and son in St. Louis, Aparicio and son in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Pete Rose of the Reds worked out with the team from his old high school. Chris Cannizzaro of the Dodgers worked out with the Padres in San Diego, where he lives, and Vada Pinson of the Angels worked out with the A's in Oakland, where he lives.
Mickey Lolich of the Tigers worked out on his motorcycle. Riding through gravel pits and gullies, says Lolich, "is great for the legs."