SI Vault
 
AT LAST, SPRING IS SPRUNG
Douglas S. Looney
March 29, 1976
Baseball's unresolved labor dispute caused camps to open 17 days late. The effect of the delay? Not much
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 29, 1976

At Last, Spring Is Sprung

Baseball's unresolved labor dispute caused camps to open 17 days late. The effect of the delay? Not much

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

That sounds plausible, but it may not be quite true. According to high management sources, Kuhn acted only when "he saw baseball's tide going out." That occurred when owners of at least four clubs privately indicated that, rather than operate under the new court rulings, they were prepared to padlock their stadiums this summer and let the fans watch Lassie reruns instead of baseball. The four reportedly were St. Louis, Detroit, San Diego and California. Even though the threat was lessened when two key teams, Los Angeles and the Mets, proved reluctant to take such a drastic step, Kuhn obviously was not keen on it.

Whatever his motivation, Kuhn's action was timely because the owners last week had backed themselves all the way into the right-field corner by hurling down what they called their "best and final" offer. Then Chief Negotiator John Gaherin and his entourage promptly flew back to New York without waiting for an answer from the players. This was evidence anew in support of the observation by Cal Tech Professor Roger Noll, editor of a respected book on the business complexities of sports: "Baseball always seems to defend itself in the most arrogant way possible."

When Miller and the players looked over the' 'best and final" offer, they could not talk for laughing—or fuming—mainly because it was full of provisions that diminished the rights they had recently won. The players ignored the offer and suggested that negotiations continue (perhaps with the help of federal mediation) and that training camps be opened immediately. Kuhn agreed.

How much does all this affect teams in preparing for the season? Not much. The conventional wisdom is that pitchers need at least three weeks to get ready—and they will have it. Everybody else needs only a week or two.

A team such as Cincinnati, which has a set lineup, faces few problems. Stung a bit by the shorter spring will be clubs that are going to rely on young, untested players, and teams with new managers.

One adjustment many clubs may make will be to carry more pitchers during the early season. Boston Manager Darrell Johnson said that instead of bringing nine pitchers north, he will take at least 12. The delay also means that younger players, with the possible exception of pitchers, will get even less of a chance to make the big club.

The effect of the delay on all teams is likely to be more psychological than physical. If negotiations drag on through the season, even more bitter animosities could surface, partly because negotiators tend to say a lot of things during bargaining sessions they do not really mean. One baseball executive contends, "The important thing for management to remember is you can't knock your product [the players] and try to sell it at the same time."

On the day the camps opened, about 150 of baseball's 600 big-league players had not signed contracts. Last year at the same time, there were about 10. But Jerry Kapstein, an attorney who represents about 60 players, expects most of the 150 will sign with their present clubs before the season ends, regardless of how the negotiations go.

Cincinnati President Bob Howsam says, "The most important thing is to get some stability in this game." The Mets' McDonald adds, "Maybe a calmer atmosphere will lead to a more fruitful agreement." And that might be the best result of all from last week's decision to play ball.

1 2