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.