Strike-deserted major league stadiums: everyone comes out a loser
Anaheim, Calif. — While major league baseball's stalled labor negotiations between owners and players over free agent compensation hung like a fly ball suspended by some crazy time machine, I visited an empty Anaheim Stadium, home of the California Angels. But the feeling I got probably would have been the same at any of baseball's 26 big league parks.
Those security guards who were on duty looked bored and lonesome; the empty seats inside resembled rows of plastic soldiers; peanuts and Crackerjacks remained in their containers; souvenir stands were bolted shut. Above that spot in the Angels' dugout where first baseman Rod Carew generally sits, I discovered a single stick of gum, still in its wrapper.
At field level an aerating machine was punching holes in the grass, occupying the time of two groundskeepers. High above in the front office, members of the publicity staff were constantly answering telephones. The callers were always the same -- fans either wanting to know when the strike would end or offering some speedy solution.
Nobody wins a strike, the saying goes, and that certainly seems true in this case.
With the average major league salary at $163,000 for a 162-game season, the loss averages out to a little more than $1,000 a game per player during the strike, plus meal money of $37.50 a day while on the road. However, players with million-dollar- a-year contracts like Dave Parker of the Pittsburgh Pirates , Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees, and Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros will forfeit approximately $6,172.84 for every game that is canceled.
The clubs are protected for a while via strike insurance plus a special fund they've built up for this eventuality, but in time they too would begin to feel the inch.
The big losers, though, are the fans, many fo whom couldn't care les about salaries and compensation but who don't like the idea of their "national pastime" being disrupted.
Larry Larsen, a California real estate dealer who had planned to attend 25 big league games this year and has already seen five, told me:
"I don't really understand the free agent issue and I wonder if all of the players do either. With owners and players earning so much money today I can't understand why they can't come to some agreement. Baseball, like a lot of things, is a habit. If the game isn't available, people are going to look elsewhere for their entertainment, and maybe they won't come back."
Some fans even plan their vacations around the home team's schedule, and for them, of course, there is no turning back. Also, most clubs don't plan to do anything about refunds, including advance ticket sales and season ticket sales, until the end of the strike. This means that the owners will continue to draw interest off what is basically the fans' money.
Speculation as to when this strike will end was everywhere. However, in Washington D.C., Edward Bennett Williams, famed trial lawyer and chairman of the board of the Baltimore Orioles, said he thought president Reagan should intervene and stop the strke. But the general consensus seemed to be that if an agreement wasn't reached by the end of the week, this disagreement probably would last at least until Aug. 7.
Said Boston Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans: "The owners are asking us to surrender benefits that have been given us by the courts, and we're not going to do that. One of the reasons salaries are so high is because owners Gene Autry of the California Angels, George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, and Ted Turner of the Altanta Braves keep giving players thousands of dollars more than they are worth. Well, that's not our fault. I see a long strike because the players are united and stubborn, and because the owners are stupid.* They're crazy not to let us keep what we already have."
Anticipating the possiblility of a strike and unwilling to budge on the issue of free agent compensation, the owners at the start of the 1980 season began assessing themselves 2 percent of their gate receipts. It is estimated that they now have a war chest of $15 million.
In addition the owners also purchased $50 million in strike insurance at a cost of $2 million to themselves, but which does not take effect until 153 games of the league's regular schedule have been canceled.
So for 13 days (the time it would take all 26 major league clubs to play approximately 153 games) the owners will rely on the $15 million to cover their expenses.
After that, according to reports, the $50 million in outside insurance would become effective, with $100,000 per scheduled league game being divided equally among the nonplaying ball clubs. The strike insurance probably would run out about Aug. 7.
"since player payrolls and expenses account of about 60 percent of a team's operating budget," one team's traveling secretary told me, "I feel pretty sure that the owners might actually make money between now and Aug. 7. I understand the umpires signed an agreement last year that continues their salaries through any strike. While most clubs have already laid off between 1,00 and 2,000 part-time workers (like ushers, security men, parking lot attendants, concessionaires) I'm sure that regular employees have nothing to fear."
Placing the blame for this strike exactly where it belongs is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Although owners make huge profits from ticket sales, TV and radio revenue, concession and souvenir sales, what other business do you know where the average salary of 600-plus employees is $163,000 for six months.
Most professional athletes, and particularly baseball players, do not live in the real world. They have agents to handle their financial dealings; clubhouse personnel to clean their uniforms, shine their shoes, and order their bats; and traveling secretaries to arrange air and ground transportation, book hotel reservations, and provide them with meal money.
Said one former player who is now a big league pitching coach: "Most ball players are like little kids. I know, because I was like that myself when I was a player. If this strike goes beyond three days, most of them won't know what to do with themselves. They'll be fighting with their wives, upset with their kids, and bored to death. How many days in a row can you play golf -- especially if your mind is somewhere else?"
Interviewed here where his Boston team had been scheduled to play over the weekend, Red Sox elder statesman Carl Yastrzemski told me: "I don't want to strike and i know a lot of players in baseball who feel the same way. Since free agent compensation is the only issue that has to be settled, I can't understand how two groups of men can't come to a decision. If a compromise is the only way that they can work things out, then that's what they ought to do."
asked from a physical standpoint what players would have the most trouble staying sharp during a prolonged strike, former Yankee manger Bob Lemon (now a baseball scout) replied:
"Well, a pitcher, if he can find an experienced catcher to work with, can throw every day on the sidelines and at least keep his rhythm. But players who have to get friends to throw batting practice for them or hit against a pitching machine, aren't going to find things that easy. In fact once the strike ends I think you'll find the pitchers holding a big edge over the hitters of a while."
The funniest line of the disagreement probably came from Johnny Carson when he said that although the Chicago Cubs game was canceled, the team "scored its usual number of runs!"