SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
May 12, 1980
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May 12, 1980


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Baseball's stalled labor negotiations were scheduled to resume early this week following a three-week recess. The main stumbling block to reaching a settlement before the players' May 23 strike deadline is a demand by the owners that a team signing a free agent be compelled to compensate the signee's previous club with an active player; at present such compensation consists of no more than a future draft choice. The owners obviously hope that an increase in compensation might curb the frantic bidding for free agents that has helped send player salaries soaring.

Some club executives become quite worked up on the subject of player salaries. Last week Padre President Ballard Smith was quoted in San Diego's Evening Tribune as saying, "I've reached the point where I almost hope they do strike. I think a strike might be the only way to get the players back in touch with reality.... If there is a strike, it will be the players who will have to give in because it won't be the owners. Believe me, we're much better prepared for a long one than they are. You can't satisfy a ballplayer anymore. A lot of these guys make hundreds of thousands of dollars and all they do is complain. They don't care about the game. They don't care about the fans. All they care about is themselves."

With passions running very nearly as high on the players' side of the bargaining table, a welcome note of sobriety was sounded when the Los Angeles Times' respected labor writer, Harry Bernstein, took it upon himself to analyze the baseball dispute. A non-fan who has been writing about the labor movement in the U.S. and abroad for two decades, Bernstein found that baseball's labor-management relations were suffused with "an Alice in Wonderland feeling" that was "difficult to dispel and impossible to duplicate anywhere else in the world." He wrote, "Many of the workers are rich young men, astonishingly famous, who seem to love their jobs most of the time. Their employers are even richer men, with an exception or so, who make money from a wide variety of corporate interests other than baseball, which is economically healthier than it has been in years. With workers and bosses like those in baseball, it's hard to generate much sympathy for either side."

Despite his pox-on-both-their-houses tone, Bernstein came down harder on the owners, who, he pointed out, are the ones offering the big salaries they complain about even though nobody is forcing them to do so. Wrote Bernstein, "It may be hard to believe, but the club owners are giving this message to their employees: 'Please restrain us, stop us from paying you so much money. We can't resist when you ask for multimillion-dollar contracts. And if you don't prevent our foolhardy generosity, we could wreck the whole wonderful business of big league baseball.' " Concluded Bernstein: "In effect, team owners are the first bosses in history to insist that the workers use their union to at least slow their employers' impetuous generosity."

In case anybody's wondering, William Oscar Johnson's story about muskies (page 62) wasn't prompted by the appointment of Senator Edmund Muskie as Secretary of State. But it might be noted that Muskie's surname did originate in a marine setting of sorts, New York's Ellis Island, where his father, an immigrant tailor, arrived from Poland in 1903. When immigration officials had trouble spelling the newcomer's name, Stephen Marciszewski (take that, Zbigniew Brzezinski!), they shortened it to Muskie. And now the second of the tailor's six children is being counted on to bring needed improvement to the conduct of U.S. foreign relations just as a celebrated 19th-century Secretary of State lent a touch of distinction to the troubled administration of Ulysses S. Grant. His name: Hamilton Fish.


Please understand, the Boy Scouts in Jackson, Wyo. didn't mean to get involved with the Oriental aphrodisiac-trade. When they started their unique fund-raising project in the 1950s, it was in purest innocence. It seems that the big elk herds from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks migrate each winter to nearby Jackson Hole, where in the spring the mature bulls drop their antlers. The Scouts found that by getting permission to harvest the antlers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manager of the Jackson Hole elk refuge, they could pick up a modest amount of cash from artisans who used the antlers to make belt buckles, buttons and bolo tie clasps popular with local tourists.

But then, a decade ago, Jackson Hole elk antlers were discovered by discriminating Asians, who attributed to them medicinal, nutritional and, not least, aphrodisiacal properties. The antlers soon were being ground into powder and sprinkled on food in Seoul or sliced into wafers to be brewed into tea in Kyoto. Chinese, Japanese and Korean buyers quickly bid the prices at Jackson's annual antler auction up to astronomical levels. Whereas antlers, which can weigh 10 pounds or more apiece, once fetched 6� a pound, the Scouts last year received more than $6 a pound. The resulting $51,000 take—for nearly four tons of antlers—raised eyebrows among some townspeople, prompting the Scouts to perform a good deed: they donated $31,400 of their windfall to buying feed for the migrating elk.

John Wilbrecht, the Fish and Wildlife official who manages the elk refuge, is quick to point out that the antler harvest does no harm to the animals. "The antlers are deciduous, just like the leaves of trees," he says. "They drop naturally to the ground, where the boys collect them. Once the antlers are shed, rapid re-growth begins immediately. By mid-August the antlers are fully regrown." If Wilbrecht sounds a mite defensive, it's no wonder. In some other places the elk antler trade has resulted in accusations of cruelty to animals; in fact, one of the chief buyers at the Jackson auction stirred up controversy in California by removing "green" horns from elks, a process that is believed to be painful to the animals. California officials recently outlawed the practice, and the entrepreneur has moved the green-horn portion of his business to Texas.

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