Philadelphia Inquirer - April 6, 1980

Doubt burdens players, owners, but spiral must stop

 

Allen Lewis on baseball

 

It’s not unusual in a dispute between labor and management, but one of the prime problems in the current baseball squabble is credibility.  Each side doubts the other.

 

The players feel the owners are making exorbitant profits, and the owners feel they are headed for financial ruin if changes aren’t made.

 

Bob Boone, the Phillies catcher who is the National League player representative, points to the recent sale of the Mets, a last-place team, for an all-time record price of $21.1 million.

 

“You don’t think the buyers didn’t go in there and look at the books before they paid that kind of money, do you?” Boone says.  “They paid that much because they think it is a good business proposition.”

 

Speaking for management is Dick Wagner, the president for the Reds, the most successful big league team in the 1970s in terms of victories and titles and one with an average attendance for the decade of well over two million.

 

Says Wagner:  “It can all go down the drain, and it will, too, if the owners continue to spend like they have.  You’ll believe it when a team goes into receivership.  The other owners will believe it when they take their team into a town and there’s nobody to play.

 

“Do you realize there are clubs in trouble right now?  I could tell you several clubs that are up for sale.  This kind of inflation has got to stop.  Something’s got to give.  When a single ballplayer is making more than an entire scouting staff or entire front office, well, it won’t go on forever.

 

The average fan might be more sympathetic to the players’ cause if the players were doing more for the young players.  For instance, the Players Association has historically given only lip service to their minimum-salary proposals (currently a disgraceful $21,000 with only $25,000 proposed by the owners for 1980).  And the big leaguers have never done anything to better the lot of the young players in the minors.

 

NOTES:  Carney Lansford, the Angels’ fine young third baseman, is one of five brothers.  Phil is a third baseman in the Blue Jays’ system; Jody is a first baseman in the Padres’ system; Gary, a 6-foot, 8-inch, 240-pound, 18-year-old hasn’t been drafted, and the oldest, Ernie, was a pitcher but hurt his arm in Connie Mack League play in California….  Rangers outfielder Richie Zisk, whose runs-batted-in and home-run totals have slipped in each of the last two years, is hoping to bounce back now that off-season tests discovered that he was suffering from a blood disease.  “It left me weak, tired, and I went into such mental depression that I seriously considered undergoing psychological help,” he said….  The most exciting rookie in the Red Sox camp this spring was infielder Dave Stapleton.  Manager Don Zimmer says Stapleton “reminds you a lot of (Brewers coach) Harvey Kueen.  He was also a straight-up hitter like this kid.”…  George Scott is a victim of the times.  The first baseman, who played for the Red Sox, Royals and Yankees last year, became a free agent Nov. 1.  He was ready to sign with the Rangers, but decided at the last moment to demand more money.  Now 36 and in great shape at 212 pounds, he spend the spring in Florida begging for a job, with no takers.

 

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The answer to last week’s Trivia Question:  The most runs batted in by two members of the same team both playing in their first major league season is 240.  In 1939, Ted Williams batted in 145 runs, Jim Tabor 95 for the Red Sox.  Scott Jacoby of Merion was first with the correct answer.

 

 

This week’s question:  Name the last major league player to reach base more than 310 times in one season on hits and walks. 

Phils grind it out for 4 hours

 

Green is encouraged by Christenson’s performance

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

CLEARWATER, Fla. – If ever there was a day when the Phillies players might have reconsidered their vote to strike, yesterday was it.

 

Dallas Green pushed them out yesterday morning for one of his famed “simulated games.”  And it eventually became apparent why they are simulated.

 

Real games end.  This one seemed as if it never would.

 

When Green finally called it off after four titanic hours, Bake McBride was refusing to chase base hits to right field, and Manny Trillo appeared ready to jump to the Venezuelan League.  Even Larry Bowa was willingly getting picked off first.

 

“First time I ever got five hits and had a bad day,” said Bowa.  “I was 5-for-26.”

 

Green carefully explained later that the marathon was not some sinister form of strike retaliation.  It was not even an attempt to define the noted Green catchwords, “Grind it out.”

 

“We just had to stretch the players out somehow,” he said.  “I know today was rough on the players.  But I told them beforehand this wasn’t a punishment day.  I just had to get my pitchers ready, and I appreciated them going after it.”

 

Green used five pitchers – Steve Carlton, Dick Ruthven, Larry Christenson, Dickie Noles and Scott Munninghoff.  The most encouraging sight was Christenson’s throwing 85 pitches without showing any effects of the line drive Jason Thompson slammed off his leg March 20.

 

“I don’t feel it at all when I throw,” Christenson said afterward.  “Just when I get a line drive back up the middle I feel it”

 

It was Christenson’s second actual pitching effort since the injury.  The first was a four-inning test last Monday against a Triple A team.

 

He hopes to get one more before the team leaves for Philadelphia on Wednesday.  And Green now feels safe in starting him next Sunday at the Vet against Montreal.

 

“I don’t think I’m ready to go nine innings, but I don’t think anybody is,” Christenson said.  “I should be ready as much as anybody.”

 

“This strike isn’t what I needed.  It wasn’t what anybody needed.  But we did it.”

 

When Thompson smoked that shot off the side of his knee in Lakeland, it looked like yet another traumatic episode for Christenson’s jam-packed medical history.

 

He could play the permanent role of patient in that forthcoming soap opera, “Phillip Marone, M.D.”  He has had it all – elbow surgery, numerous groin pulls, chronic back trouble.

 

“Yeah, ‘snake-bit,’ I’ve heard that,” he said.  “Injury-prone… black clouds… I hear that all the time.  I can’t help that.  It was all just a matter of circumstances.”

 

A good break

 

And the Thompson gunner incident, in retrospect, looks more like a good break than a bad one, especially considering that Christenson never saw the ball coming.

 

“I was lucky,” Christenson said.  “It could have hit an inch over and shattered my kneecap.  Or it could have hit me in the shin and broke my leg.  Or it could have hit me in the head, and I’d be dead.

 

“Maybe,” he said, “they’ll let me pitch behind a screen this year.”

 

Not likely.  But Green will certainly be inclined to let him pitch without one if he looks anything like the guy who was 19-6 for the 1977 Phillies or 13-14, 3.24 for the ’78 division winners.

 

Last season was Christenson’s lost year, from the moment he became the Evel Knievel of the bicycle caravan to the final groin pull in September.  He finished 5-10, 4.50, and spent the off-season having a bone spur taken off his collarbone and almost getting traded in the winter meetings.

 

Never in shape

 

“I was just never in good shape last year,” said Christenson, who heads into his sixth big-league season at age 26.  “I was in such great shape on that bicycle caravan, too.  I peddled like I’d never peddled before.

 

“Right before I pulled the groin muscle (in July), I felt I was going good again.  But after I came back, my shoulder really bothered me where the spur was.  It was so big I could pick it up with my finger.  It kept getting bigger and sharper.  I knew I needed to have it removed.”

 

Christenson was so determined to make up for last year that he was the first player in Clearwater.  On Feb. 1, he and coach Billy DeMars opened up the complex, a month and three days before everybody else reported.

 

“Because of that, the injury really didn’t set me back that much,” Christenson said.  “It hurt for a while.  It’s still a little sore.  But basically, this is the best I’ve felt.  I feel fine.  I’m just tired of sitting around.”

 

 

NOTES:  Ruthven continues to be wild and to get hit, and Green continues to keep an optimistic front.  “He threw all right to me,” the manager said.  “He still throws one pitch super, then a couple not so good, then another super, then a couple more not so good.  He’s still searching a bit, but I think it will come.”…  Ruthven and Carlton threw 100 pitches each….  Munninghoff worked the final two innings.  In the last one, Green had him face all eight starters.  The result: seven ground balls and a strikeout….  Still no takers for Doug Bird, Rawly Eastwick or Mike Anderson.  Anderson will go to Oklahoma City if no one in the big leagues wants him.  The hangup on dealing Eastwick and Bird appears to be their large guaranteed contracts…  Ramon Aviles Fan Club take note – Channel 17 will televise a game today (1:30 p.m.) featuring Oklahoma City playing the Minor League Camp All-Stars….  The Phillies will hold a free public workout at the Vet at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The wrong people strike

 

By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor

 

CLEARWATER, Fla. – This is the ultimate irony.  The $100.000-a-year-and-up ball players are on strike, the $1,000-a-month minor leaguers aren’t.

 

The guys with the big contracts have refused to play any exhibition baseball games this final week of spring training.  But the minor leaguers, engaged in a never-ending scuffle to make ends meet, are going about their business, eating their hot dogs and hamburgers, playing their games.

 

In this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, surely this is one of the crazier things of all.  The players who appear to have it made are striking.  The players who are at the mercy of management, who get the crumbs the big boys leave behind, are working.

 

It may come as a shock to many of the striking big leaguers, but the young kids – the ones they say they’re trying to help – don’t seem to understand or appreciate what’s going on in the land of the millionaires any more than the public does.

 

How can young men – some of them college grads, many with families – who are making $1,000 a month or less (for the 4½-month minor league season) understand?

 

Expensive promotion

 

How can a first baseman in the Phillies organization who lost money last year as a result of a promotion from Double A to Triple A understand?

 

How can any of the single kids in minor league camps trying to survive on $8.30 a day (covering meals and laundry) in this high-priced resort area understand?  How can the married kids who have to make $17.30 a day cover room and board for themselves and their wives during spring training understand?

 

Not very easily.

 

They might understand, though, if the major leaguers took time to publicly clamor for higher wages, more meal money, better playing conditions for the kids on the farm.

 

“You get down here, they put you in a hotel, they give you $8 a day to live on,” said Dan Larson, a former Houston pitcher who is now assigned to the Phillies’ Triple A Oklahoma City club.  “I don’t know anybody who can live on $8 a day down here.

No issue is made

 

“The major leaguers have been through the minors; they know what it’s like, but you just don’t hear them talk about it.  I’m sure they’re sympathetic toward minor league players, but not to the extent they’re going to make an issue about it.”

 

And yet this is one issue that man on the street could understand and support.  Professional baseball has become incredibly top-heavy.  The established big leaguers get more – often far more – than they’re worth.  The minor leaguers get next to nothing.

 

“No pension,” said Gary Beare, a 12-1 pitcher in Oklahoma City in ’79 who is going back to Oklahoma City in ’80.  “I have to buy my own shoes, my own equipment.”

 

“You spend five years in the minor leagues and then you’re released, where are you?” Larson asked.  “In another profession you’d probably be working toward a pension, you’d probably have gained a little bit financially.  But in (minor league) baseball you don’t have anything.  It can even cost you money to play.”

 

Conditions are bad

 

“You have to feel sorry for the kids coming up,” Dodgers coach Danny Ozark said.  “They’ve got to buy their own damn shoes, their own gloves.  Major league players get all the shoes, all the gloves they want for nothing.  Yet here’s a kid that’s maybe making $600 a month and he’s got to pay.  The minor leagues are a place where you really got to go through the mill.”

 

And the conditions in that mill keep getting harsher.  The more the big leaguers demand – and get – the more, it seems, management takes it out on the minor leaguers.  The kids can’t fight back… and nobody is bothering to fight for them.

 

Some of the stories are downright outrageous.

 

“How about Lenny Matuszek?”  former Phillie Jim Morrison, now second baseman for the Chicago White Sox, was saying.  “Last year he’s playing in Reading (Double A).  They send him to Oklahoma City (Triple A), and it costs him hundreds of dollars.  Now you show me where the justice is.  They ask for so much loyalty, and they give you none in return.  Go ahead, ask Lenny about it.”

 

Matuszek, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman, has a wife and a young daughter.  They were with him in Reading last season when the big promotion to Oklahoma City came through.  The celebration was short-lived.

 

Moving was an expensive proposition.  “The U-Haul truck alone cost $300,” Matuszek said.  “Going to Oklahoma City cost me $500 to $600.  We’re still in a hole because of it.”

 

All Matuszek got from management for the move from Double A to Triple A was a one-way plane ticket for himself.  For all the club cared, his wife and daughter could have hitch-hiked.

 

And that wasn’t all.  A year ago the Phillies called Matuszek and suggested he could further his career by coming down to spring training a month early.

 

“How can you say no?” wondered Matuszek.

 

So he said yes, although they couldn’t help him out financially, and he had to quit his winter job to do it.  “I had to borrow $1,000 from my family to get through that,” he said.  “And all I got out of it was a broken nose (when a ground ball took a bad hop).”

 

But he’s still here, still figuring out ways to survive on a minor-league salary, still dreaming of the day he might finally step on a big-league field.  “Just to get in a big-league camp as a non-roster player, I’d give anything,” he said.

 

That’s the plus side of the minor leagues.  The enthusiasm is still there.  A young man like Lenny Matuszek endures hardship upon hardship and keeps plugging, keeps dreaming.  Then he looks up and sees the guys who have made it go on strike.  Can you really expect him to be sympathetic?

 

“These guys want five-year contracts,” he said.  “A year after getting them they want to renegotiate.  I can’t understand it.”

 

And yet, with it all, the game often seems more enjoyable in the minors these days than in the majors.  People thing I’m crazy when I tell them I’d rather watch the kids in Reading or Oklahoma City than the big leaguers in Philadelphia, but it’s true.  There’s a camaraderie in the minors, an atmosphere that no longer exists in the majors.  Up there, the business of baseball has taken over.  Down here, the game of baseball is still the thing.

 

The players notice it, too.

 

“I had more fun in Triple-A than in the big leagues, to tell you the truth,” Dan Larson said.  “In 1978, when I played in Charleston (W. Va.) and we won the International League, I enjoyed it day in, day out.  That was the best year I ever had, the highlight of my career as far as having an overall good feeling.  I didn’t get the same feeling in the majors.”

 

In the minors, the players are more apt to be themselves.  In the majors, with all those big salaries, big crowds, big headlines, there’s a tendency to play a role.

 

“I think a lot about personalities when I’m up in the majors and around guys like that,” Larson said.  “They’re all showmen, I guess.  Everybody’s got his own act.  Minor leaguers really aren’t that way.  Everybody goes out there and plays.  You’ve got nobody to act for down there.”

 

 

They’ve got nothing to do but try to pay their bills and play baseball while, in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours, the millionaires go out on strike.