Los Angeles — While there are no reports of striking ballplayers getting so far into debt that they have become collector's items, for most of them time away from the diamond hangs heavy.
Some are fighting the layoff by taking mini vacations with the wife and kids or engaging in regular practice sessions with teammates who live close by. Others, who own farms or small businesses, are driving tractors (Gaylord Perry of Atlanta) or selling auto parts over the counter (Jay Johnstone of Los angeles).
Catcher Brian Downing of the California Angels, who has a pitching machine in his backyard and a garage full of weightlifting equipment, has gained back most of the pounds he lost earlier in the season because of an injury.
Downing, like most of his colleagues, is upset about the lack of progress being made in the baseball strike. In fact, if he were sure the season wouldn't resume, he would probably go out and get a job.
First baseman Richie Hebner of the Detroit Tigers, whose position often calls for him to dig balls out of the dirt, is now digging graves for his father, who is in charge of a large cemetery in the Boston area. Since Hebner has been doing this for several years during the off-season, only the weather has changed for him.
Although the situation of Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers may not be typical of most managers, since he has so many friends in show business, Lasorda has been making the rounds of Hollywood talk shows.
There is also a chance that Tommy will make another appearance on the TV show "Fantasy Island," only this time everyone should be able to guess his fantasy in advance. Lasorda has also been scouting teams in the L.A. farm system with Dodger general manager Al Campanis.
In the meantime, Campanis has been checking out reports that three of his players, Fernando Valenzuela, outfielder Pedro Guerrero, and shortstop Pepe Frias, may have played briefly in the Mexican League. If this can be proved, all three players would be guilty of breach of contract, meaning the Dodgers would have the right to fine them.
Some players have actually profited from the strike, such as outfielder Mitchell Page of the Oakland A's. Page, who was sent down to the A's farm club at Tacoma just before the strike, will continue to collect his major league salary, although playing in the minors. Several other ex-big leaguers, including Ed Figueroa (who won 20 games for the Yankees just a couple of years ago) and Dickie Noles and Warren Brusstar (both of whom were pitching for the Phillies in the World Series last fall), also happened to be in the minors at the time of the strike and thus can continue playing and getting paid. And major league umpires, according to reports, are being paid for the first 45 days of the strike.
One thing all players have to worry about now is the possible cancellation of the 1981 All-Star Game, which is scheduled for Cleveland's vast Municipal Stadium on July 14. More than $2 million of the money generated by the All-Star Game each year is earmarked for the players' pension fund. If the strike continues, the owners would not be liable for that figure this year.
Should the All-Star Game not be played on July 14 because of the strike, it would probably be rescheduled for July 30.
"However, we're still proceeding on the assumption that the strike will be over at that time," a spokesman for the Indians told both wire services. "There are definitely some alternatives, and the most likely would be July 30, although players would have to fly in and out of Cleveland on the same day in order to rejoin their teams for their next game."
Rumors continue to swirl around the baseball strike, the latest being that Ray Grebey, the legal counsel for the owners, and Marvin Miller, executive director of the players' association, are meeting in private.
There have also been reports that the strike will end Aug. 1. This would allow two things to happen: The owners would have collected the bulk of their $ 50 million in strike insurance and there would still be enough time for each team to play a 100- game schedule.
Interviewed by the Sporting News, Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey said: "I don't think the compensation issue is worth interrupting what might have been the finest season in baseball history. Free agency as it stands now has done three things. One, the game is more popular; two, there is more profit being made; and, three, there is an equality of teams in the standings. There is no need for more compensation."