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No strike is a real ball
Jim Kaplan
June 02, 1980
A "small miracle" kept the big-leaguers on the field and the fans in the stands
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June 02, 1980

No Strike Is A Real Ball

A "small miracle" kept the big-leaguers on the field and the fans in the stands

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Grebey's reintroduction of the study committee may have been the turning point of the negotiations, but it did not assure an immediate settlement. As late as 9:30 p.m. Miller still believed only a "small miracle" would prevent a strike. The miracle came after repeated private meetings between the two chief negotiators, who took to avoiding the press by using freight elevators while en route to informal one-on-one sessions. When both negotiating teams reconvened, they made more progress in a few hours than in all the previous months of non-negotiation. At 5 a.m. Grebey and Miller walked into the Crystal Room to announce that a settlement had been reached. Even though they withheld details of the agreement, the message was clearly "Play ball!"

The sudden spurt toward agreement caught everyone else off guard. Following an 8-5 victory over the Mets in Shea Stadium, the Houston Astros sat down to a "strike dinner" in the Shea Diamond Club, courtesy of owner John McMullen. At 12:35 a.m., as the players finished eating their steaks, Pitcher Joe Niekro, the player rep, and McMullen placed phone calls to Miller and Kuhn. Miller, apparently optimistic that a settlement was forthcoming, told Niekro the team bus could leave for Philadelphia, where Houston would open a series the next day. Niekro celebrated by kissing the waitresses, and after thanking McMullen, the players departed.

The new compensation clause—or non-clause might be a better description of it—by no means precludes a strike in 1981 or 1982. The 1980 reentry draft will be conducted under the same minimal compensation rules as the 1976-79 drafts. A joint committee composed of two players and two club officials will convene no later than Aug. 1 to begin studying compensation. By Jan. 1, 1981 they must issue a report—or, more likely, two conflicting opinions—outlining their conclusions. The owners and players will then spend 30 days trying to hammer out a final solution. If no agreement is reached, the owners can unilaterally adopt the last compensation proposal they presented in this spring's negotiations or a less restrictive one for the November 1981 free-agent draft. In response, the players have three options: fully accept the owners' version of compensation; accept it only for the 1981 draft if the owners give them the right to strike in 1982; or strike by June 1, 1981.

The possibility that the owners could invoke compensation in 1981 does not greatly disturb the players, who, as Miller points out, can always strike. If it should come to that, Miller is ready to postpone his long-planned 1981 retirement. "I'll make you a pledge. If that's the situation, I'll still be here," he says.

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