There is only one thing to be said in favor of the dispute between major league players and management that has delayed spring training and threatens further disruption: the quality of the rhetoric is superior to that of other labor confrontations.
One high-level executive sniffs, "These doggone players have a misguided view of themselves because they've never lived in the real world. Of course, they are going to have to accept some restraints on their movement. And they had better learn quick that if you like scrambled eggs for breakfast, it's not a good idea to eat the chicken."
Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, says, "I'm bewildered. Here these owners are with one hand in a vise and they're yelling at us, 'We're gonna fix you good.' "
Bill Veeck, the very maverick new owner of the Chicago White Sox, says, "We'll get out of this. What it boils down to is: management needs somebody to manage and the players need somebody to pick up the tab." (When Veeck announced he was going to open the White Sox camp to his minor-leaguers, Clark Griffith, vice-president of the Minnesota Twins, remarked, "If we thought this was the act of a rational person, we'd worry about it.")
A general manager talks fervently of the importance of "bringing the players to gaff," forgetting that for the first time ever, the players think they are now in position to bring the owners to gaff.
Charlie Finley says, "The handwriting is on the wall, but these athletes can't read." Or can they?
Yet however good the talk, baseball needs action. It is to be hoped it will come suddenly—as it did in pro basketball last month after similar haggling.
The baseball fuss does not have the smell of a long dispute. The players are eager to go to spring training. And the owners would have to have a severe death wish to continue the torture much longer, partly because all the players are contracted to play this year, which means the teams are committed to pay them.
Here's how the impasse developed. Last year an arbitrator ruled that Los Angeles Pitcher Andy Messersmith was correct in his insistence that he should become a free agent by simply playing out his option year—that one year beyond the length of his contract. Traditionally, management has insisted that a player is bound to a team for life, unless the team decides to trade him, release him or sell him. That is the reserve clause. Owners appealed the decision to a court in Kansas City, where the judge upheld Messersmith. The owners are appealing some more. So there is a chance—a remote one—that at any moment a court could rule in favor of the owners and, presto, everything would be back to square one with the reserve clause intact.
The Messersmith decision means a lot of players could be free next year to make the best deal for themselves with any team they can, after playing out this season as their option year. Players think the whole situation is terrific; management doesn't.