On March 6, The Washington Post carried 63 words spoken by Harry Dalton general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
A career baseball man for 30 years, one of the architects of the Baltimore Oriole system that is a dazzling gem in the game's crown, Dalton said he was worried by the prospect of a strike May 29.
"I hope that management is really looking for a compromise and not a 'victory,"" Dalton said. "But I'm not certain that's the case. I hope that we are not about to witness another macho test of wills. From what I hear, the players association is genuinely looking for a compromise, if we'll just give them something that they can accept without losing too much face."
For saying those 63 words, Dalton has been fined $50,000 by committee of five baseball executives whose duty is to keep all of baseball management in line.
That's $793.65 a word.
Leaving aside the unconstitutionality of fining a man for what he says, the committee's censorship is preposterous for what it says about the mentality of the Lords of Baseball.
Rather than risk an open, free discussion of the game's problems, baseball's highmuckety-mucks are so insecure on the strength of their position they need to threaten their own kind with fines of up to $500,000 if they so much as disagree in public.
Dalton didn't even disagree. His words were harmless. Read them again, if you will. He didn't say baseball is being greedy. He didn't say Bowie Kuhn is full of resin. He didn't say the owners are a gang of unreconstructed planation massahs looking to bring back slavery.
Had he said all that, a lot of people would be applauded Harry Dalton's insight. But he chose to be temperate structed plantation massahs looking to bring back slavery.
Had he said all that, a lot of people would have applauded Harry Dalton's insight. But he chose to be temperate in hopes a lowering of voices would cause sweet reason to settle upon the Lords. By advocating compromise instead of baseball's set-in-concrete refusal to consider the players association's offers for partial compensation, Dalton stood out as proof that someone in management had been to class the day they taught common sense.
For his temperance and good common sense, Dalton has been fined $793.65 a word.
A $50,000 fine for harmless words is an overreaction that not only is unconstitutional but proff positive that the words are so close to terrible truth that the game's grand pooh-bahs can not stand it. It's obvious the owners are not interested in preventing a strike.
Their interest is in provoking a strike. Also, the owners, by fining Dalton, are sending the players a message that this time they really mean business; there will be no backing at the eleventh hour this May as there was a year ago when they deferred final settlement a year.
The owners' desire for a strike is so passionate that they ordered every team to kick in money to buy strike insurance worth a reported $50 million. With the insurance, they can sustain the injury of a strike for a while -- maybe not for long, but long enough to put the players through a test of wills. m
The owners' clear intention, in any test of wills, is to break the power of the players' union. They believe the players' self interest will overpower any sense of common good. They believe the average salary $150,000 is so good the players will not strike out of fear of losing even a week's pay.
All this is conjecture, mind you, because the threat of a $500,000 fine has closed the months of management people. But how else are we to think of a strike that will happen because the owners have insisted on fighting a battle they already have lost in court?
Slavery was abolished in baseball in 1975 when a federal arbiter, Peter Seitz, declared pitcher Andy Messersmith a free agent, ruling that baseball had no legal right to bind a player to one team forever. From that day on, every player had precedent on his side if, upon the expiration of his contract, he wanted to bargain with all 26 big-league teams. Abolished was the reserve clause that had bound a player to one team eternally.
Such was the cry of doom from the owners that the players did them a favor back then. Instead of insisting upon the total freedom they had won from Seitz -- knowing that freemarket anarchy would result -- the players in their 1976 contract with the owners worked out a compromise.The players would become free agents only after six years in the big leagues and then could bargain with only 13 of the 26 teams.
Such an arrangement has enriched baseball. In the five years of limited free agency, the game has set attendance records annually. Reggie Jackson at $600,000 a year and Pete Rose at $800,000 were such bargains that Dave Winfield makes $1 million. And baseball is yet the best consumer buy in sports, the average ticket under $4, the turnstiles whirring daily.
Sing me nome of your sad songs, Bowie. Sing me not of poverty and failing franchises. All the owners want, by provoking a strike, is to break the players' union thereby reduce the salaries of the gifted entertainers who put on the show.
Just as the owners doom when the reserve clause was found illegal, now they cry doom because players leave as free agents. So the owners want compensation in the form of players to replace the department free agents.
The players, again bending farther than necessary, are willing to adopt some form of compensation for those teams losing superstars. The players have offered a plan that would send a team's 16th-best player as compensation for a defined "premium" free agent. With players Sal Bando and Bob Boone, the Mets' general manager, Frank Cashen, and Dalton submitted recommendations on the definition of "premium" players.
Such a compromise accomplishes two things. It ensures freedom of movement (more valuable compensation, as demanded in pro football, stifles movement). And it does give something of value, a major league player, to the team losing an important player.
The such recommendations of goodsense compromise, the owners have now answered loudly and clearly.
They don't want to hear them. And if they do hear them, it will cost you $793.65 a word.