Baseball's long-threatened players' strike was put off last week until at least June 5 and perhaps indefinitely after the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel, William Lubbers, issued an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the owners. The relief that everybody felt over the extension of the May 29 strike deadline tended to obscure the seriousness of Lubbers' charge. He accused the owners of failing to bargain in good faith by insisting that the payment of stiffer compensation for free agents was "essential to the economic survival of many major league clubs, while adamantly refusing to produce financial data to support that claim." In other words, the owners were trying to have it both ways in their negotiations—or, rather, non-negotiations—with the players.
Instances of management's crying poor as the dispute over compensation headed toward the strike deadline were, as Lubbers implied, plentiful. There was Commissioner Bowie Kuhn insisting that the financial losses of various clubs already amounted to "many millions of dollars." There was Montreal Expo Chairman Charles Bronfman warning that the owners couldn't give in on compensation because "as an industry, baseball is not healthy." There was Baltimore Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams calling the game's economic problems "dire." There was Minnesota Twins Chairman Calvin Griffith declaring, "Some teams are going to go broke—it's bound to happen." And there was San Francisco Giant owner Bob Lurie saying, "Just wait until one or two teams go under." Yet when Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, demanded that the owners support these claims of impending financial ruin by submitting their books to inspection, a far different tune was heard. Indeed, Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, said, "The clubs' position in bargaining is not, and has not been, motivated by a lack of financial capacity."
Why were the owners so reluctant to open their books? Williams, for one, intimated that he would be glad to do so but was merely going along with the owners' united bargaining position. As for those owners who weren't prepared to let the union nose around in their ledgers, it's conceivable that they were resisting on principle and not because they had anything to hide. It may even be that some of their economic laments were justified. But by refusing to open their books while demanding greater restrictions on free agency, the owners fueled inevitable speculation that they weren't so hard up after all, that they could easily afford the money they'd lavished on free agents and that they were guilty of the very greed that they—and many of the fans—are only too quick to impute exclusively to the players.
There's a new novel in the bookstores called The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn ( Simon and Schuster, $12.95), and as the title suggests, the plot has to do with an effort to redress the never-to-be-forgiven injustice Walter O'Malley inflicted on Brooklynites when he moved his team to Los Angeles in 1958. To publicize the book, David Ritz, the 37-year-old Brooklyn-born author, will appear at a press conference this week in his native borough. A publicist cautions that Ritz will be available for interviews with the New York media only that day because he has to return home right away. It seems that Ritz left Brooklyn at age six when his family moved to New Jersey, has since lived in Italy, South Carolina, Texas and other far-flung places and has made his home for the past four years in—make of this what you will—Los Angeles.
HOT SPOT U.S.A.
Archbald, Pa. (pop. 6,334) is an improbable basketball hotbed. Though it isn't spelled Archibald, as in Nate, it is tiny. What's more, Archbald's sons and daughters have enjoyed extraordinary success in the national Hotshot program co-sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and the NBA, a five-year-old competition open to kids nine to 18, except for those playing on varsity basketball teams. Hotshot participants are given one minute to score points by shooting from any of five "hotspots" marked on one-half of a basketball court. They dribble from one hot-spot to another, picking up points for baskets made based on the difficulty of shots chosen, but losing points for walking, double dribbling and palming. Practice can help a shooter develop a sense of the "hotspots" to choose to attain the highest possible point total.
Archbald's entrants in the Hotshot competition represent, in the initial stages of the eliminations, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which began running local championships three years ago as part of its youth recreation program. Soon thereafter, an Archbald sixth-grader, Joe Reno, beat Mickey Schulke of Bothell, Wash, to win the national title for boys nine to 12, one of six Hotshot categories. The next year Joe lost to Schulke in the finals of the boys 13-15 category, but two other Archbald entrants won national titles, Michael Polito (boys nine-12) and John McGraw (boys 16-18). During this season's finals, which Were held in Chicago and telecast during half-time of the fourth game of the NBA final series between the Celtics and Rockets, Reno met Schulke yet again, defeating him in the boys 13-15 finals, while John McGraw's sister, Diane, won the girls 13-15 title and Joe Reno's sister, Laurie, was runner-up among girls 16 to 18. All told. Archbald kids have taken home five of the last 18 national titles and finished second in two others, a remarkable showing for one small town in a competition that attracts 2.5 million participants across the country.
As this success might suggest, competing in the Hotshot program has become the thing to do in Archbald. Youngsters practice endlessly on playgrounds and in driveways, sometimes shoveling away snow to do so. Inevitably, Joe Reno, Archbald's two-time national champ, is one of their heroes. His secret? "The D-3," he says. That's Hotshot parlance for a spot 15 feet from the basket and just left of the key, worth three points. "If I'm hitting from there, I'll just stay," Joe, now 14, says. Partly because of Joe's success from D-3, other Hotshot competitors across the country now concentrate on that spot, too. But nowhere is Joe's influence greater than at home in Archbald. As Eileen Reno, his mother, says, "I think one reason Archbald has done well in Hotshots is the town's smallness. The kids are close, they practice together and they give each other help. Joe started it off, but now it just seems to keep going."
A HONEY OF A DARLING
Pitcher Ron Darling, Yale's evocatively named All-America (SI, March 30), has informed school officials that he'll probably pass up his senior year of athletic eligibility to turn professional. Darling's junior year was good enough: a 9-4 record, with two saves, complete games in all 12 of his starts, 105 strikeouts in 105 innings and an ERA of 2.14—and a .321 batting average. One of Darling's four losses occurred in his last collegiate pitching appearance, an epic NCAA tournament game in which he held St. John's hitless for 11 innings but lost 1-0 in the 12th when the Redmen's Steve Scafa led off with a single and then stole second, third and, with two outs, home. Baseball's amateur draft will be held on June 8, and Darling is sure to be taken early. The Seattle Mariners, who have the first choice, say he's one of three players they're considering most seriously.