Actually, the players and owners had nearly come to terms the week before. At Moffett's urging, Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan asked the parties to move the talks to Washington. With Donovan attending the four days of discussion at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices, the antagonists were under the gun. "Donovan brought out our bottom line," said DeCinces. The players yielded to two owner demands: that 20% of all major-leaguers could qualify as "premium" free agents requiring professional compensation from the player-proposed pool, and that a team signing a free agent would provide at least one man from its 25-man roster to that pool. The owners had thus junked their long-standing demand for direct compensation, and had adopted a pool concept espoused by the players. The players and owners had never seemed closer together.
But the baseball strike, contrary to some reports, was never an easily negotiable matter of "how much?" It also involved principle. The players were dead set against compromising a free agent's bargaining power, mobility and salary potential. They felt the owners' latest proposal—that teams signing free agents could protect 24 men and non-signing teams 28—would punish teams signing free agents and consequently restrict player mobility.
In part because the owners refused to change the numbers, the Washington talks broke up in a familiar atmosphere of hostility and discord. According to one close observer, the owners stiffened after hearing reports that several players, notably L.A.'s Davey Lopes and Detroit's Dan Schatzeder, were critical of their bargainers. "The owners apparently thought it was their last chance to break the union," said DeCinces. "We were ready to settle when Miller walked out," retorted Grebey. Not so, said Moffett. "Grebey told me and Donovan that they were so far apart—Might-years,' he said—that there was no reason to settle."
As it happened, the players' fervor was revitalized by an act of management. Because the Washington talks had been conducted under a news blackout, many players had been getting their information from reports sent to them by the owners. Urged by DeCinces and Boone, the league player reps, Miller flew to Chicago on Monday and Los Angeles on Wednesday to brief players. The players emerged from their meetings united. "What I said was taken out of context," said Schatzeder. "I made a mistake," said Lopes.
While the players met in Los Angeles Wednesday, the owners held three meetings in New York—one for American League owners, one for National League and one for both. The hard-line approach that had characterized previous owners' meetings had plainly softened. According to one published report, Philadelphia's Ruly Carpenter rose at the joint meeting to advocate a tough stance and was shouted down. Other owners accused Carpenter, who has put the Phillies up for sale, of being a "lame duck." In the American League meeting eight clubs—New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Texas, Chicago, Oakland, California and Seattle—are believed to have pushed for mandatory arbitration, an option previously offered by the players but rejected by the PRC. MacPhail, who had emerged as a key figure in the negotiations, talked them out of the arbitration idea by asserting that settlement was near. He had been holding private conversations with Miller. "I was a kind of messenger boy," says MacPhail. "Anything I did, I did with the knowledge and under the direction of Ray Grebey, and I turned over the information to him immediately afterward." But there would have been no meetings and no messages if Miller had been forced to deal exclusively with Grebey, a man whose word he distrusts.
By Thursday the owners were ready to bargain. Even hard-liner Ed Fitzgerald, chairman of the Brewers' board and the PRC, seemed to be softening his position. Says Milwaukee player rep Ted Simmons, "I felt there was hope when I heard Ed Fitzgerald say something like, 'It's time to get back to baseball.' " Feeling the time was right, Moffett called the parties together. Why? "The owners met, didn't they?" he said. "Check how much blood is on the rug."
The baseball agreement is loaded with trade-offs. The players lost no service time during the strike; without it such players as Ron Guidry, Jerry Mumphrey, Phil Garner, Mike Flanagan, Ken Griffey, Dave Collins and Bobby Grich would have had to wait until the fall of 1982 to become free agents. The owners substantially preserved their definition of premium free agents.
The settlement was also loaded with irony. Under its terms, a team that doesn't sign free agents can protect 26 players from compensation, not the 28 discussed in Washington, an apparent gain for the owners. But the players had actually sought it, because signing teams will protect 24. By leaving only two fewer players unprotected, the players felt the signing team wouldn't be unduly punished. And by acceding to the players' demand for pool compensation, the owners may have won greater competitive balance—a long-standing concern of theirs. Because teams are likely to protect minor-leaguers as well as major-leaguers, five or six players from a 25-man roster could be made available for compensation. Presumably, the better teams will lose them even if they aren't signing any new players—unless they are one of the five possible "conscientious objectors" who choose not to participate in a particular year.
Who "won" the settlement? The owners will get significant compensation for seven, eight or nine free agents a year, a take-away the players had fought. Even DeCinces admitted, "Anytime there's a give-back, you don't win."
But the players achieved a victory of another sort by holding firm in the face of a blatant attempt to vitiate their union. "They were more united at the end of the strike than the beginning," said Steve Greenberg, the son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg and an agent and lawyer who acted as occasional go-between during negotiations. "The owners felt the players wouldn't strike, and if they did, they would buckle under after missing their first paycheck. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago Grebey confided in me, 'Marvin should never have agreed to Attachment Nine. The players won't stay out over it.' Grebey was wrong."