Philadelphia Inquirer - April 2, 1980
Now, this guy has a grievance
By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Maybe the wrong guys are getting ready to go on strike.
The $300,000-a-year players, the $500,000-a-year players, the million dollar-a-year players aren’t going to get any public sympathy by walking on picket lines. But there are loads of professional baseball players who ought to be toting signs that say “Baseball Management Unfair to Labor.”
One of them is named John Poff.
In a few days, Poff will be getting in his car – a Pinto with 103,000 miles on it – and drive to Oklahoma City to start another season of minor league baseball. Three years ago, that would have been a big deal for the Duke grad. Now it’s a raw deal.
Poff has played 2½ seasons of Triple A baseball. A first baseman-outfielder who bats lefthanded, he’s hit for average, and he’s hit for power. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and, at 27, he’s at an age when he’d better get a shot at the big leagues in a hurry.
According to Phillies manager Dallas Green, Poff is good enough to play for several big league clubs. Not as a sub, mind you, but as an everyday player.
“I know in my heart,” Green said, “that John Poff is a lot better baseball player than a lot of guys playing in the major leagues today….”
Poff knows that, too, which is what hurts. After six years of doing the job in the Phillies organization, he’s ready for the majors. But the majors aren’t ready for him.
It doesn’t make Poff feel good to hear Green say, “John Poff can play major league baseball with at least 10 major league baseball teams.” Instead, it angers him and frustrates him, because he happens to be the property of one major league team that he can’t play for.
For John Poff – and he surely isn’t alone – the system stinks. It may be great for the players who get their foot in the big-league doot; after six years in the majors they can sell their talents in the open market. But how about a guy who’ll be 28 in October… and has spent six yers in the minors, tearing up Triple A pitching for 2½ of them… and finds himself getting shipped back for still another year in Oklahoma City because he has the misfortune of being stuck with an organization that can’t find room for him on the big-league level?
Players who aren’t as good as Poff have long-term contracts with big-league clubs. Those clubs may not be very good, but playing for the worst team in the big leagues is a heckuva lot better than playing anywhere in the minors.
“That’s part of the frustration of where we are in baseball today,” Dallas Green said. “It’s totally unfair to the young ballplayer, like a John Poff, who has major league baseball talent, but who is backed up because of the talent he happens to be surrounded with.”
Nice words, but they merely add to the frustration that Poff felt when he was told a few days ago that the Phillies were sending him down once again.
“I’ll tell you,” Green said, “it was not easy to look John Poff in the eye and do what I did.”
Maybe not. But it was no picnic for Poff, either. For most of the next day he debated his next step.
To quit after devoting all that time to the game… to quit after being told by a big-league manager that you’re good enough to start for at least 10 big-league clubs… or not to quit; that was the question John Poff had to answer last weekend.
“I seriously thought of packing it in,” he said. But he didn’t pack it in. He reported to the minor league camp Monday, started for Oklahoma City in an exhibition game that afternoon, and hit a home run in his first at-bat.
“The time to quit baseball is in the fall,” Poff said, “not in the spring.”
Still, the frustration lingers on. The Phillies don’t want him, but they do want something for him, and so far that something is more than anybody is willing to give.
“I’ve had too many good years for them (in the minors) to be screwed like this,” Poff said.
“I’m not upset about the decision they made (that he doesn’t fit into their plans). I’m upset because I’m not sure they did everything they could to get me somewhere else…. I have to wonder, have they made the effort to get me to a big-league team that I made for them to get myself to the big leagues?
“The thing that bothers me most of all is that they made a judgment early in the spring or before that – last fall maybe – that I wasn’t going to make the team. Not only could they have tried to get me some place else, but they could have played me more this spring to give me some exposure. I started four games. The last 10 days I was there (in the big-league camp) I was up once.”
The Phillies have promised to do their best to trade him, a promise Poff hopes fervently that they keep. If they don’t? That’s his tough luck. If they do – as they finally did for infielder Jim Morrison last summer – his baseball career could take the same sharp turn upward that Morrison’s did.
The simple fact is, in his situation, and at his age, he’s at the mercy of the club that owns him, and doesn’t want him, but doesn’t want to give him away.
“I think it’s really regrettable when an organization doesn’t have any use for a player but refused to give him up ‘for nothing,’ as they say, because of their investment,” Poff said. “I think that’s a case where it definitely is wrong to think of a ballplayer as a piece of property, and that’s certainly what they’re doing. They’re saying, ‘Well, we don’t have any use for you, but we’re not giving you up for nothing.’ Why not”
The reason, of course, is obvious. “It’s just a money situation,” Poff acknowledged. “They might want to accommodate me, but they’re going to end up doing the one thing that’s best for them. Those things happen, and it happened to me, and I’m upset about it.”
He has a right to be upset, every bit as much a right as Dallas Green had to decide he didn’t want Poff on the Phillies.
“He was not going to be an everyday ballplayer on this team,” Green said.
Not with Pete Rose at first, he wasn’t. Not with Greg Luzinski in left, he wasn’t. And Poff’s track record shows that he has to play every day to be effective. But that merely underlines the unfairness of the whole business.
It’s nice that the established stars – the Pete Roses, the Reggie Jacksons, the Nolan Ryans – can get rich on free agentry. But it would be much nicer if a player in John Poff’s position could become a free agent, too.
Dallas Green didn’t argue the point. “I think there might come a time – if you add up a player’s age and his longevity with an organization, that type thing – that you could come up with a formula (for free agentry) that’s fair,” the Phillies manager said.
“Let’s face it. The formula now is all for the players that are established. I agree with you, there should be a formula for the young guys, and I don’t know if we’re smart enough to figure one out.
Maybe the Players Association could stop concentrating its efforts on helping the rich get richer long enough to help figure one out.
“I’ve still got to believe in my heart that there’s a place for John Poff somewhere in the big leagues,” Green said, “and I think (Phillies general manager) Paul Owens will work toward that end.”
But if the Phillies don’t get what they want in return, if John Poff is buried in the minor leagues for another summer, a young man who’s good enough to play for “at least 10 major league baseball teams” may never get the opportunity to play for one.
Now that’s something worth striking about.
Players to strike exhibition season
But vote to open April 9
From Inquirer Wire Services
DALLAS – The executive board of the Major League Players Association voted yesterday to cancel the remaining exhibition games but agreed to open the 1980 baseball season on time, delaying a strike until May 23.
Marvin Miller, executive director of the players’ association, announced the decision after two hours of meetings with player representatives.
“The executive board decided unanimously that after today no exhibitions would be played,” Miller said. “In one last good-faith effort to provide the time to try and reach an agreement, the players decided they are willing to open the season and negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement.
“If an agreement is not reached by midnight, May 22, a strike will begin on Friday, May 23,” Miller said.
The decision did not affect exhibition games scheduled last night, but it wiped out 92 games that remained before opening day, April 9.
In New York last night, a spokesman for the owners said that training camps would remain open for players who wish to work out, but because the players will not play in exhibition games, owners will not give them meal money, allowances or hotel costs.
Ray Grebey, director of player relations for major league baseball, announced the owners’ response to the players’ decision. He said:
- “Camps will remain open to those players who wish to work out for the remainder of the spring training period.
- “Players who stay in the spring training camps and work out will be provided the usual transportation with their club to the city in which they open the season.
- “Since the individual player contract requires that players will appear in scheduled exhibition games and since the players have announced they will not appear in such games, meal money, allowances and hotel costs will not be paid.
- “All players will be required to be in playing condition on opening day consistent with the terms of the basic agreement. Players determined to be out of condition will not be permitted to play until they are in shape.”
Ken Moffet, a federal mediator who entered the talks Sunday at Palm Springs, Calif., yesterday called both sides to a negotiating session tomorrow at New York.
All major league owners are prohibited by Moffett from discussing negotiations under threat of a $500,000 fine.
The players’ committed picked May 23 as the deadline because by that point in the season, teams are taking fewer off-days and many schools are no longer in session. Also, that is the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. Another factor is that by May 23, younger players will have received several paychecks and have had time to save money.
“We’re trying to make a move that will show we’re interested in negotiating in good faith,” said Jon Matlack, Texas Rangers player representative. “We’re opening the season on time because we care about the fans.
“We’re cutting off their (owners’) best revenue days and also showing the fans we want to play. We’re telling the owners we want to play, but they are determined to force us to strike. They have even taken out some sort of strike insurance, and they’ve refused to negotiate.”
By planning no more exhibition games, players will hurt the owners immediately. For instance, this weekend the Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels and San Diego Padres were to begin a five-game set of exhibition games in California, where officials had hoped for crowds of more than 45,000 a day.
The California Angels reportedly pay their entire spring-training expenses from receipts of this series alone.
Yesterday’s decision came after 20 weeks of what Miller described as fruitless negotiations between the two sides. “Their (management’s) strategy has been to provoke a strike and to portray themselves as the wounded party,” Miller said. “Owner demands, not player proposals, have bogged down our meetings. We have spent 95 percent of our time on two owner proposals – salary scales and free-agent compensation.”
The owners withdrew their salary scale demand two weeks ago but have remained adamant about getting players to agree to a compensation clause attached to free agentry.
The players’ decision came eight years to the day and in the same city where players initiated the only general strike to date in major league history. That 1972 walkout over pension and health benefits lasted 13 days and caused 86 games to be postponed.
Miller and Grebey, representing management, have been trying to construct a new basic agreement to replace the one that expired Dec. 31, 1979. The old basic agreement outlined general working conditions for the players and included the revolutionary free-agent provisions that permit veteran players to move from one team to another.
Owners have demanded a compensation clause allowing teams that lose free-agent players to receive replacements from clubs who sign those players.
Miller and the players’ association have bitterly opposed any such compensation, fearing that it would restrict the marketplace.
The owners reportedly have assembled a war chest of $3.5 million made up of 2 percent of their 1979 gate receipts. In addition, according to Miller, there is a strike insurance policy that would pay the 26 clubs $1 million a day after the first two weeks of any strike. That would produce $40,000 income daily to help clubs offset the loss of gate and television receipts. Over the course of a season, that could result in nearly $6 million per club.
Stranded in Cocoa, confused Phillies sit and wait
By Jason Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
COCOA, Fla. – Doug Bird and Greg Gross sat at the bar of the Holiday Inn in a remote section of Cocoa last night, wondering what comes next.
“Nobody,” Gross said, “has told us anything.”
For the Phillies, there could have been no worse, or more confusing, day to begin a players’ strike than yesterday.
They were stuck last night in a motel more than three hours away from Pompano Beach, where they had lost to the Texas Rangers yesterday afternoon, 4-1.
They were stranded nearly three hours from Clearwater, their home base.
They had come to this sleepy town to play a game today that will not be played.
And nobody, pending a 9 a.m. meeting today between the players and Dallas Green, was telling them how they even would get back.
“I hope,” Bird said, “we don’t have to walk.”
The word from the players’ association meeting in Dallas, calling for an immediate boycott of spring training games and setting a subsequent May 23 strike date, did not reach the Phillies until they had stepped off the bus after the long ride to Pompano.
As they waited and wondered last night, they still knew very few details. And until they got them, nobody knew what to do next.
Most players said they planned to head back to Clearwater and work out, at least temporarily. But a few, such as Bird, said they couldn’t afford to do that if they weren’t getting paid.
“I’ve got a $1,600-a-month place on the beach,” Bird said. “No way I can pay them $1,600 a month if I’m not getting paid (expense money). I’ll just go home to Fort Myers (Fla.) and work out at a junior college there.
The Phillies had spent the day lost in thought about the strike anyway. It was clear that they had brought their bats and gloves, but not their minds, to Pompano Beach yesterday.
“Nobody’s got their mind on the game of baseball right now, other than the bullbleep part of it,” Green said after the Phillies minueted through their fifth loss in a row. “They’re certainly not on the execution part of it anyway.”
It was suggested to Green that some guys were semi-going through the motions out there.
“I wouldn’t even say ‘semi,’” Green said.
The real game, it was apparent, was being played in Dallas, where the executive board of the players association was setting that strike date.
The Phillies, at an informal meeting Saturday, had come out 70 percent to 30 percent in favor of an immediate strike, said Greg Luzinski.
“But I’d have to say leadership (especially the players’ chief negotiator, Marvin Miller) wants to go late,” Luzinski said.
That, it seems, is the reason for the compromise stand the players reached yesterday. This way they can go early and go late.
“I like it,” Gross said. “One, it shows them we’re not afraid to go out. Two, it’s an opportunity to try and get some movement toward a settlement before Opening Day. And three, it gives them another date before guys will walk out again.”
The major sentiment, in many cases for economic reasons, of those who had supported an immediate walkout was to miss as few games as possible.
“If we go now,” Mike Schmidt said before yesterday’s game, “there’s still a lot of time in the next 8 to 10 days to work something out. That gives us a chance to play the full 162-game season. There’s a lot of incentive clauses around. A lot of people have got to play 162 games.”
Luzinski said he had talked last week with Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter and gotten the impression that the owners have been trying to lure the players into starting the season.
“He’s almost saying, ‘I hope you guys vote for going late.’” Luzinski said. “It’s like he’s not even worried about that. There must be some reason for it. That’s one of the reasons I’m for going early.
“My whole thing against going late is, if we go late, there’s nothing to protect the owners from back 5 or 10 percent of the gate and building an even bigger strike fund.”
Before they left Pompano, players, coaches and Green all spoke hopefully of getting this resolved, one way or the other, yesterday. But now that the ultimate strike date has been put off until May, has yesterday’s decision really resolved anything?
“I think if we wait it would come down to the same thing we’re going through now, only during the season,” Luzinski said. “The beginning of the season everything will be OK. But then, as the date comes closer, it will be the same feeling as we’re having during spring training. It will be always on our mind again.
So supervised spring training, 1980, ended in a lonely motel in Cocoa. And with Dallas Green dejectedly wishing that the whole thing was just some April Fool’s joke that would go away.
“It’s unfair to what we’re trying to do here,” Green said after the game, dejected over the way a strike had obviously distracted his players into a losing streak. “Obviously, we can’t do two things at once.”
NOTES: Green now has to make decision on his final six roster cuts without the benefit of any more games. But one of the guys he will heavily consider keeping is rookie righthander Scott Munninghoff. Munninghoff threw two shutout innings yesterday before the rain stopped the game in the top of the eighth inning.