Philadelphia Inquirer - March 31, 1980

A strike that nobody wants

 

By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor

 

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A rainy Sunday morning, but it was still business as usual. The bus was being loaded for the trip to Bradenton. Larry Bowa was in the batting cage, taking his cuts, oblivious to the weather. Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter was wandering through the clubhouse, exchanging small talk with his players.

 

Greg Luzinski spotted Carpenter, walked up to him, pointed to the owner's pocket – the one with the wallet in it – and said jokingly, "Don't be afraid to unzip it." Carpenter's answer, also made in jest, was unprintable. They both laughed.

 

It could have been any day, any spring... except for the dark cloud hanging over this training camp and 25 others... a dark cloud that had nothing to do with the weather.

 

This is the spring in which nobody is sure whether there's going to be big league baseball.

 

It's a worrisome thing for the men in this clubhouse, so much so that only a man with Tug McGraw's finely tuned sense of humor would look for the humorous side.

 

"Well," the bullpen veteran said, "I've been living on relief all my life; maybe now I'm going to have to try the real thing."

 

Increasingly grim

 

A funny line, but the laughter on this morning seemed forced. The possibility of a baseball strike, maybe a long baseball strike, had grown too great, the moment of decision too close. For baseball people – for players, for managers, for owners, for fans – the situation was becoming increasingly grim.

 

The other day, Minnesota manager Gene Mauch stood behind a batting cage in Tampa talking about the dark cloud that has been hanging over everybody's spring training.

 

"It's the most distasteful thing that's happened in my time in baseball," he said. "It just makes me ill...."

 

Mauch is not alone. The real problem, from the standpoint of baseball people, is that those who stand to lose the most no longer feel that they're in a position to control their destinies. Labor negotiators are calling the shots; Ray Grebey and Marvin Miller are deciding the fates of the Ruly Carpenters, the Gene Mauchs, the Tug McGraws.

 

Yesterday, Carpenter, a few of his players and a couple of writers sat in the Phillies clubhouse and talked about a situation that has reached the critical stage.

 

'Hired guns'

 

"You as a player and me as an owner, we could sit down and settle this," Carpenter said to McGraw. "We have the most to lose, but we have very little to say. We've turned our authority over to 'hired guns.'

 

"You ask my why you can't do this or why you can't do that (to resolve the dispute)," Carpenter said. "There's always some rule of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) or something we have to work under. There ought to be a different setup for us. This is a unique situation... this isn't the Teamsters one-on-one with a trucking company."

 

And yet it's being handled that way, in Carpenter's view, and it's eating him up.

 

"Don't you think if five responsible owners and five responsible player reps got together for two hours without Miller and without Grebey, you'd probably accomplish more than has been accomplished? I sincerely believe that.

 

Opening the books

 

"Marvin and Grebey can't say a lot of things to each other over the negotiating table, especially about finances," Carpenter said. "If you, claim inability to pay, you've got to open up your books. I personally don't care. But there are a few owners who don't want their books opened up....

 

"These two guys (McGraw and Randy Lerch, who happened to be sitting there) have every reason to believe what they read. I would think the same thing if I were a player and didn't know what was on the other side of the fence. You look at attendance records, TV contracts, what the Mets were sold for (more than $21 million) and you think, 'Great, they're making millions.' But that is not true in any way, shape or form. I've see the industry figures. I know exactly where baseball stands…."

 

Where it stands right now is in a mess. And here they sit, all of them, waiting for tomorrow's word from Dallas, where the player reps are scheduled to meet, the strike nobody wants looming ever closer.

 

 

"Look," Carpenter said, "they (McGraw, Lerch and the rest of the players) respect Miller and what he's done. We respect what Grebey's trying to do. But they're still 'hired guns'. They can walk away from this thing, both of them... They can walk away when this thing's over and who's left to pick up the pieces? These two (the players) and me."

Strike’s just a matter of when, Boone says

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

BRADENTON, Fla. – You're supposed to stand around batting cages and debate nitty-gritty stuff. You know: Was Seth Morehead's palm ball tougher than Bob Purkey's? How tall is Harry Chappas really?

 

But nowadays, it seems, the last thing anybody talks about around batting cages is baseball. If you had listened to the conversation before yesterday's Phillies-Pirates exhibition game, you would have sworn that the Phillies had just signed George Meany.

 

Actually, it was only Bob Boone standing there making small talk. But instead of talking about whether Dick Ruthven could throw a strike, all Boone had on his mind was whether Ruthven – and everybody else in baseball – would go out on strike.

 

"All it boils down to now is when," Boone said. "We don't have a contract proposal from the other side. Marvin (Miller) can't walk into our meeting and say, 'Sign here, fellows.' There's nothing we can look at and say, 'Do we want to sign or do we not want to sign? ' So there's nothing left to establish except when."

 

Tomorrow, the executive board of the Players Association will meet at Dallas to decide when a strike would begin. Boone, the National League player representative, and Larry Bowa, the Phillies' team rep, will represent the Phillies there.

 

The Phils held an informal meeting Saturday to discuss their strike options. The Pirates held one yesterday. Although neither Boone nor Pirates player rep Phil Garner would talk about what was said, there appears to be sentiment for a walkout beginning as early as Wednesday.

 

For a long time, the strike seemed a very distant, almost unreal thing. All you could see were the familiar trappings of spring training – Bobby Wine hitting fungoes, pitchers running in the outfield (well, some of them anyway), Luis Aguayo winning the Who's That Guy Award. A strike was just an invisible menace, like some rainstorm forecast for next weekend.

 

But now it may be only a day away. Here the Phillies have labored through their most comprehensive, most demanding spring training program in years. And instead of concluding it with a fast start in April, they may well conclude it with no start at all.

 

"I try not to think about it," said manager Dallas Green, "because it will hurt us. It will hurt us as a team.

 

"But I just feel you can't cross those bridges till you come to them. If you spend time thinking about those things, you don't get any work done. Those things I can't control. Therefore, why worry about them?"

 

What Green worries about is whether Dick Ruthven will be ready to pitch come the second week of April. Ruthven worked five innings yesterday in the Phillies' rain-shortened, S½-inning, 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh.

 

The last two were scoreless. The first three were not, making nine straight innings in which Ruthven had allowed at least one run.

 

But Green continues not to be discouraged. That's because Ruthven's problems appear related more to lack of rhythm and touch than to the soundness of his arm.

 

"He was much better today," Green said. "He had a better feel of the breaking ball, I thought. He felt much better about it, anyhow, and so did I. A day like this (constant rain) isn't a real good judge of a pitcher like him because ne needs to have a good feel."

 

"The ball was coming in pretty good," Boone said in his non-labor role as Ruthven's catcher. "But it didn't have a lot of movement on it, and he doesn't have that good inside-outside groove yet that he had before. And the way this team swings the bats, if you keep the ball around the plate, they're going to hit some if you're not able to hit your spots."

 

Willie Stargell (batting a mere.444 this spring) singled in two runs off Ruthven in the first. John Candelaria, who also pitched four shutout innings, singled in another run in the second. And singles by Dave Parker, Stargell and Bill Madlock (spring average:.480) made it 4-0 in the third.

 

The Phillies’ one run was supplied by Ramon Aviles, who was cut a week ago but made the trip because of Bud Harrelson's groin pull. Aviles lined a wind-aided homer off the scoreboard in left-center in the fifth.

 

"It's funny," Aviles said. "I told some of the guys, 'What do you think they'd do if I hit a home run today? '"

 

Well, they couldn't bring him back even if they wanted to. There's a rule against it. But outside of Aviles, the Phils got only two more hits, both by the heretofore-struggling Manny Trillo.

 

The Phillies now have lost three straight and got only nine hits in two TV games this weekend. Green attributed it to "a flat stage" and wrote it off to too much work.

 

But then, there is also all that strike talk to make it seem as though this is training for nothing. And that can't be very inspiring.

 

 

NOTES: Trillo got his spring average up to a fearsome.194, ending a 1-for-14 streak. When Green installed him in the No. 2 spot, Trillo got the idea that he should hit to right field all the time, and it messed up his stroke. He looked better after a week in the Billy DeMars Batting Clinic. Trillo, however, wouldn't announce that he was cured. "If I swing the bat good tomorrow, I'll say I've got it back," he said.... Larry Christenson will pitch for Oklahoma City in a Triple A exhibition today, his first action in 10 days.... Christenson, Harrelson, Ruthven, Boone and Nino Espinosa will not make the three-day trip to Florida's east coast that starts today. Steve Carlton opposes Ron Guidry and the Yankees tonight in Fort Lauderdale.