Philadelphia Inquirer - May 23, 1980

Eerie silence settles over major league baseball

 

‘It just doesn’t seem real.  It really doesn’t.’

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

They are known as the boys of summer. But that is a misnomer, really.

 

Summer may well have known the men of baseball. But they have never known summer. Their summers always started with a bat and ball and ended with a stadium to use them in.

 

"Sheesh, this is my 38th year in baseball," said Phillies coach Billy DeMars. "I've never had a summer. I don't really know what the hell summer is like."

 

He leaned against the batting cage, a daily ritual of the only way of life he has known.

 

"It's hard to comprehend not having baseball for me," DeMars said. "It just doesn't seem real. It really doesn't."

 

But today it will, perhaps. Today, barring some last-minute miracle at the bargaining table, Billy DeMars will wake up and not have a ballpark to go to. That's what a baseball strike means to him. It's not a work stoppage. It's a life stoppage.

 

Billy DeMars is only a coach. Nobody has told him anything. But at least somebody will, eventually.

 

If you're a player on strike, however, you're on your own. The Major League Players Association has had just one piece of advice for its 650 constituents this week – don't plan on participating in organized workouts.

 

There will be no settlement now, the players maintain, without some time before the games resume to get back into shape. So anything anybody does between now and a settlement is of his own design, at his own risk.

 

"Hell, I'm not gonna do anything," said Larry Bowa, who left for Clearwater, Fla., and a date with a TV commercial yesterday. "I was gonna work out, but what's the sense of working out if you get hurt? If we get hurt, we don't get paid when we come back.

 

"I'm just going to Florida to get away from everything. It's impossible to concentrate on whatever you're trying to do around here. That's why I've gotta get out. I'll go crazy sitting around here."

 

There are 25 guys, 25 different plans for the future.

 

"I'll stay in shape," said Pete Rose, one guy who won't have to worry about working for a living. "I think I'm gonna have an advantage in a strike. Why? I'll work out harder than most guys.

 

"It's really hard to work out on your own. But I've had some tough situations before where I've had to do it. The 75 World Series it rained a whole week in Boston. It was tough to stay in shape then, but I worked hard and won the MVP award. I've done it in the 72 strike, the 74 lockout. You have to make a commitment to stay in shape."

 

Other guys will worry more about filling their time – and their wallets.

 

"I do off-season work for a meat company, Hillshire Farms," Greg Luzinski said. "They told me I could work for them. I'd do public-relations work, visit their plants, go to meat shows. What do they have at meat shows? Meat."

 

"I could probably get a job with my American Motors dealership in Florida," Mike Schmidt said. "Or I could pay myself to work in my garden, I guess."

 

"I'll just go and relax, that's all," said Manny Trillo, whose family is overflowing with Venezuelan oil money. "I've got no money problems. I think I could survive it."

 

"I think I'm going to go over to the local high school and work out," Randy Lerch said. "I know the coach over there. I'll throw some batting practice and stuff. But if it goes long-range, I'm gonna be getting a job somewhere, I know that. I've got a buddy who works in landscaping. I'd probably go to work for him."

 

Lerch is a pitcher, and he is 0-6. To him, every day on strike is just another day without a win.

 

"I hope if there's a strike, maybe the season won't count," he said, chuckling half-seriously.

 

Tug McGraw read that Dallas Green is planning to work on his garden during the strike.

 

"I'm gonna have a contest with Dallas to see who's got the best onions," McGraw said. "We'll know when the strike's over by who has the worst breath."

 

McGraw said he hasn't made many plans beyond that. He probably will pitch batting practice at his son's high school, work out on the Nautilus equipment, get back to the children's books he is writing. And one more thing – "I'll probably eat," he said, patting his stomach.

 

Greg Gross, who signed a big contract over the winter and has some security, plans simply to "stay at home. I'll just spend time with my kids, that's all. I'll just try and enjoy being with my family – the things I miss most when I'm away from them."

 

To get his hitting stroke back, Gross will set up his personal batting tee, break out a bunch of tennis balls and start hacking.

 

Del Unser had planned to bring his family in from California in two weeks. Now he doesn't know whether they should come. He may need to work if the strike gets lengthy, but he has to decide whether that work would be in his brother's medical office or as a real-estate broker.

 

"I'd like to just go out golfing, but I can't afford that," Unser said. "Nobody wants to hear that, I know, because I'm a high-paid, overpaid ballplayer."

 

The guys who stand to have it the hardest during a strike, the rookies, will have to find jobs if the strike lasts awhile. But they will go along, because they understand that they stand to gain the most, eventually.

 

"We're the ones who have to worry immediately about taking care of our families," said Keith Moreland, who plans to head for Texas and relax temporarily. "But I can accept that. Everybody's got to sacrifice.

 

"If you're a young player and you're not behind it, you're foolish. I'm 100 percent behind the association. We're the reason the older guys are doing what they're doing. They're doing it for us."

 

Then there are guys with almost nothing to gain, such as Ramon Aviles. He is 28, a rookie, a player who never will be a big-bucks free agent. Had things happened differently, he might be back in the minors, playing and getting paid. "I got caught in the middle," Aviles said. "But if I have a vote, I have to vote for the strike. I'm in better shape than most guys. I don't have any bills to pay right now. Both my houses are paid for. I'll be all right."

 

Then there are coaches, guys who now will get paid to coach a lot of empty lockers. Nobody feels more helpless than they do. They all have been in the game 20 years or more. What will they do now? Most have no idea.

 

"I really have no thoughts on it at all right now," third-base coach Lee Elia said. "A summer without baseball? I can't comprehend it. Do I have any hobbies? Yeah. Baseball."

 

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Bobby Wine said. "I can't believe this is really happening. I hate to see it happen, but there's nothing I can do. I don't have a vote, so there's no point in getting mad about it."

 

"We're really stuck in the middle," DeMars said. "But we've always been stuck. When you're a coach, you just do what you're told and keep your mouth shut. We don't know from anything."

 

They are all heading into a vast unknown, wondering when this gets solved, how this gets solved, if this gets solved. They are stuck – everybody is stuck – stuck in a timeless world. Without baseball.

 

 

"A summer without baseball?" Lerch sighed. "Damn, that's hard to fathom."

Eerie silence settles over major league baseball

 

With all the chaos, where’s the commish?

 

By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor

 

The Phillies scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night, pulled out a dramatic 9-8 victory over the Reds, and when it was over they returned to a clubhouse that should have been vibrating with the sounds winners make. But no. There was silence where there should have been noise. There was frustration where there should have been joy.

 

"It's, eerie," coach Billy DeMars said in the half-whisper everybody seemed to be talking in on this night. "You just stand here, and you know something's wrong."

 

The strike, that's what was wrong. The prospect of the 1980 baseball season ending – at least temporarily – in May, that's what was wrong. Here was a clubhouse loaded with players who wanted to play, getting paid exceptionally well by an owner who wanted them to play. Here was a sport drawing better than it had ever drawn before and players getting paid more than they had ever been paid before. And, with Memorial Day weekend looming, big-league baseball was going to grind to a stop.  That's what was wrong.

 

Marvin Miller, the players' man, had advised his people not to work out until the strike was settled, even if that meant rusting away hundreds of miles from the nearest big-league ballpark. "If I work out and get hurt and the strike's settled and we come back and I can't play, I don't get paid," Larry Bowa explained. "So it would be foolish to work out."

 

Ray Grebey, the owners' man, had advised his people not to let their players work out in their ballparks, not to let them remove club-owned equipment from the clubhouse.

 

"All the bats are gone," Bowa said. "They took 'em away...." He nodded toward an equipment room grown suddenly bare. "That whole bat rack used to be filled."

 

"I tried to take some bats," Dickie Noles said. "They jumped all over me."

 

Players instructed not to work out, owners instructed not to let their players have equipment with which to work out. That was the state of big-league baseball as it moved into the Enlightened Eighties. Everything was topsy-turvy. Everything was wrong.

 

"Has it sunk in yet that this might have been your last game for some time?" a man asked Pete Rose, and the Phillies' first baseman slowly shook his head.

 

"No," he replied. "Not really. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I still ain't goin' for it. I still don't believe it."

 

But then, you couldn't expect a Pete Rose or a Larry Bowa or a Billy DeMars, or any of these lifelong baseball people, to believe what was happening. After all, it wasn't as if there had been no warning. It wasn't as if the men charged with solving the problem didn't have enough time to think of something, anything, to prevent a midseason strike. Four years ago, when the last basic agreement was signed, baseball men were talking openly about the possibility of a labor-management deadlock in 1980. And now it was 1980, and what had they done about it?

 

"I'm glad I don't take as many off days as those guys (the negotiators) do," Pete Rose said. "I wouldn't have 3,000 hits. I'd have about 800 probably."

 

A funny line, but nobody laughed. This was no night for laughter. It would take more than a ninth-inning victory or a good line by Pete Rose to make anybody laugh in this clubhouse on this night.

 

The whole thing was just so dad-blamed wrong!

 

But enough of the negative stuff. Enough of the Ray Grebeys and the Marvin Millers. Enough of the claims and counter-claims. Surely, there had to be somebody who deserved a few kind words on this bleakest of nights, somebody whose valor, above and beyond the call of duty, was worthy of recognition.

 

Ah, the commissioner. Why not say something nice about the commissioner?

 

It seemed like such a good idea that I fell genuinely sad when I couldn't think of anything nice to say about the commissioner.

 

There had to be something. "Think, man, think," I found myself saying.

 

So I thought. Let's see. What has Bowie Kuhn given us? World Series night games in mid-October, games that sometimes don't end until midnight.... A grip on the game so firm that under his guidance the two major leagues don't even play under the same set of rules anymore.... And now, the ultimate achievement, the game's first midseason strike.

 

There was only one thing to do: Get somebody else, somebody on the inside, to tell us all the wonderful things that the commissioner had accomplished so they could be dutifully revealed to the public, within space limitations, of course.

 

What luck! Dick Wagner, president of the Reds, was at the Vet.

 

"Say, Dick, what do you think of the role the commissioner has played?"

 

"If you're talking about commissioner Kuhn," he said, "I have no comment about commissioner Kuhn."

 

Turned out, that was about the strongest vote of confidence the commish got.

 

Through all of this he has 'maintained such a low profile that you'd think he's practicing to be a groundhog, or maybe an incumbent president running for re-election. Bowie Kuhn has turned the commissioner's office into baseball's version of the Rose Garden.

 

That leads to two possible conclusions: The commissioner's office is totally without power, totally incapable of dealing with the game's most meaningful problem, or the man occupying that office is a singles hitter in a home-run hitter's game.

 

The truth, no doubt, is a combination of both.

 

"What is the commissioner of baseball supposed to be doing?" Jim Bunning asked rhetorically. "Look out for the best interests of baseball, right? Well, if you don't have enough intelligence to call the management side together and say, 'These are the alternatives....' I think he had to do something, he had to grab everybody.... He's like President Carter. He's inept. It's sad. To me, this is like the administration in Washington saying if you want to combat inflation a recession is inevitable. Kuhn is saying, in effect, a baseball strike is inevitable. That's a lot of bull. It isn't inevitable unless nobody does anything."

 

For the record, Bunning, a Republican state senator from Kentucky who was one of the key men in the formation of the Players Association and the hiring of Marvin Miller, thought Kuhn's appointment as commissioner was a disaster from Day One.

 

"(If I were Kuhn) I would call Marvin and tell him to come in," the former all-star pitcher said, "and I'd say, ‘I know you have to save face. I know if you don't strike you've lost face. So go ahead, strike until Monday, then come back and this is what the settlement will be." I would back off on compensation. I would accept the last players' offer and set up a study committee for the next" two years because this is in the best interests of baseball. I think he's got to order it. He's got to tell them (the owners) to do it, not try to convince them to do it. He's got to say, 'This is the settlement I've hammered out. You live with it for the next two years. You've lived with it for the last four years.'"  

 

Instead, with all the warning," all the time to forestall a strike, we have reached this sad point: Memorial Day weekend about to begin and Larry Bowa is in Florida (where he plans to stay after taping a TV commercial yesterday), Pete Rose is in limbo, the fans – those who aren't too fed up to stop caring – are in shock.

 

"If the strike starts," Bunning said yesterday afternoon, "it's going to go, I believe, a minimum of six weeks. I think it'll be July before anybody does anything.... I would never have voted to strike. Somehow, the tail is wagging the dog. When I was in, the players dictated policy to Marvin Miller. I think the vote (nearly unanimous in favor of a strike) indicates that he is in control of the players….

 

"I always thought two sides, at least two intelligent sides, could sit down and work something out."

 

Did Bunning think that a prolonged strike might signal the end of Kuhn's reign as commissioner?

 

"That," he replied, "would be hoping for too much."

 

 

Just thought I'd ask, Jim. At times like this, you always look for a silver lining.