Wilmington News Journal - April 6, 1980

In this game only 1 strike and ‘yer’ out


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, Fla. – It started out as a friendly discussion with Greg Luzinski over baseball players' salaries and ended in a not-so-friendly debate.


"Dave Kingman is writing a column for a Chicago paper this spring," the Phillies' left fielder said. "Know what his first one was about? How overpaid reporters are. and he's right. All you guys have to do is go to baseball games, watch the action, then write a story. And you get paid for it!"


"But not very much," I said. "You spill more money a year than I make."


"Yeah, but you can't hit 30 home runs a year."


"The stats say you hit just 18 last year. Where do you get the 30 from?" I said, coming back strong. But that did it. Now, Luzinski was getting hot.


I asked him how a guy working 8 to 5 on an assembly line should sympathize with players, like Greg Luzinski, who are making over $400,000 a year and striking.


"But we're special," said the Bull. "We have God-given talent. Not very many people can do what we do."


The argument continued, but I was wasting my time. It was a no-win situation, much like the one the owners of major-league baseball teams are in today.


If Luzinski thinks he is worth his huge salary for playing baseball, how can he say reporters are overpaid? There is no comparison.


Luzinski, however, did make one important point. He said the public is really misinformed about the current strike of spring-training exhibition games and the threat of one at midnight May 22.


"Most of the fans think we're all asking for more money," he said. "That, of course, is not true. Money is not the real issue; it's really the free-agent thing."


The owners want more compensation than a mere No. 1 amateur draft choice when they lose a major-league player. Marvin Miller, executive director of the players association, says no way, so negotiations have stalled.


In the end, however, the current basic agreement does make it possible for players such as Luzinski to become free agents and earn millions of dollars. That makes the strike technically a money issue.


With this black cloud hanging over baseball, the 1980 season will open this week all across the country.


But won't the eagerly awaited openers have an empty ring to them? Won't the fans at Veterans Stadium, who should have renewed interest in the Phillies, be cautious?


The Phils, for example, might vault out to a quick lead in the National League East, then pack it in come midnight May 22. How can fans build up legitimate interest with that thought in mind.


"If we don't have an agreement by May 22, we're gone," said shortstop Larry Bowa. "I don't care if I'm hitting .040 or .800."


I will be pleasantly surprised if there is not a strike. The owners, who have been burned both by themselves and the players association, are determined not to budge on the compensation issue.


And it doesn't appear Marvin Miller will budge.


"The owners have paid high salaries for free agents," said catcher Bob Boone, the National League player representative. "Sometimes they haven't shown common sense. So, they're saying not that if they can't use common sense, we can't have our rights."


What's going on between the two sides now is no longer an argument. It's more of a fight to the death. But in this fight, there are no good guys. Everybody is wearing a black hat. You don't know whether to boo the players or the owners. So, you boo both.


George Steinbrenner, whose money-spending antics with the Yankees helped create this problem, lives in nearby Tampa. He was talking about his views on the subject the other day.


"It really doesn't make a helluva lot of difference if they strike or not, not in the big picture of things. The hostages are still in Iran, the Russians are invading their neighbors, inflation is unchecked, interest rates are going up daily, there is unemployment, all these problems our president is trying his best to solve.


"So, in a list such as that, a baseball players' strike clearly is at the bottom of the list in importance. If they are silly enough to strike, let them strike. There are more important things to be thinking about."


Right on.


Obviously, the players are the villains in this farce. All the fans see are those huge salaries – an average of nearly $150,000 a year – and they consider the strikers spoiled and ungrateful.


After all, can a guy earning a mere $15,000 a year who's having trouble paying his bills sympathize with somebody who is making $150,000 and complaining?


No way. But wait a minute.


If somebody offered that guy whose making $15,000 a $50,000 raise, would he take it? Sure.


So, that's where we're coming from. Despite what Luzinski says, the players' salaries are sickening. Hell, the world's greatest educators, the world's greatest surgeons, the world's greatest "reporters" don't earn that much.


But if it were offered them, they would take it.


I guess the bottom line is I can live without baseball and millions, of others can, too.


It's up to the players and the owners to decide whether that will happen.


Wake me when it's over.