Owners and players have been fussing at one another in sports long enough for these truths to be self-evident.
Given the chance, both are equally greedy.
Many owners tend not to play fair with collective-bargaining agreements.
Players are more reasonable; they almost always yield first -- and suffer most from a strike. They always need an assist from some force outside sports.
Owners who have made fortunes in other businesses tend not to trust their judgment in sports. They demand a reward for idiocy.
A strike has almost no long-term negative effect on a sport.
The last point assumes that the sport already has wide appeal, that somebody beyond curved-stick manufacturers and wreck chasers care deeply for it. A long strike might destroy pro hockey, but vast numbers of people would assume the attitude John McKay did upon learning economics had killed another college sport:
"I didn't know Vermont played football until they dropped it."
So we should not pay too much attention to the gloom and doom salesmen of baseball, the ones who insist the game as we know it will be beyond repair if men earning an average of about $170,000 per year refuse to work Friday.
The owners and players never have been more prosperous, which is why a reasonable person finds it almost impossible to believe this latest strike threat to baseball will not either be settled or postponed. But if reasonable men dominated baseball, its basic labor problems would have been solved at least two generations ago, before Bowie Kuhn was a tot.
Last night, the general counsel of a reasonable body, the National Labor Relations Board, judged the owners to have bargained unfairly. It may provide the heavy hitting necessary to force the owners into their baseball equivalent of a rock and a hard place: either open sacred financial records or settle on the players' terms.
For a change, the salves are attacking the plantation.
If there is a strike, regardless of the length, when it ends the true believer will be back in the park for the first pitch. He might vow otherwise, try to put a curse as well as a good cursing on both sides. But he will return, grumbling but probably in ever-increasing numbers, to underwrite what gives him more leisure-time pleasure than anything else legal and moral.
The enduring fascination with the business of sport is the insecurity of so many owners. For the most part, they are bright, strong-willed men who have thrived on their wits in open-market competition. They did not need a monopoly, the draft rights to the brightest collegiate minds to make their fortunes.
These men ought to want as few constraints as possible, as many chances to outslicker their peers for the best players.Instead, they cannot tolerate competition, and if a player wants to switch teams they want another in return, somebody already judged skilled.
The owners' logic defies belief.
"We (the Orioles) are a prime example of what you can do (under a system where a team gets nothing more than a second-round draft choice by losing a player to free agency)," said Doug DeCinces, the American League player representative."But they used us in the negotiations as an example of a team completely stripped, that had no future players."
The players must have snickered at that team error.
"Snickered?" DeCinces said. "We stood up and laughed. I said: 'Are you kidding? We won 100 games this year and another 100 the next couple of years.' I said: 'You tell me we're not gonna be one of the more powerful teams for the next couple of years.'"
The Orioles probably lost as many fine players as any team during free agency. They have survived it better than anyone, proving in the process that sound baseball judgment prevails no matter what the system. Some other teams, the Cubs for instance, could look at a herd of goats and insist one of them could play third base.
With one of the three extra second-round draft picks they earned for losing free agents the year before, the Orioles in 1978 selected Cal Ripken Jr., now regarded as a prospect of near-limitless potential.
"They (the owners) come back and say not that many (commpensation draft picks) are proving out," DeCinces said."We're saying: "Sorry. Not that many make it anyway.' If you really look at it, how many ballplayers make it? Five out of every 100 guys who sign a pro contract ever get up here and put a uniform on."
And so on. The owners plead poverty, yet until now have refused to allow anyone neutral to glimpse at their balance sheets. The players look at a proposal that on the surface appears attractive and remember that their NFL counterparts signed a contract that seemed fair four years ago and has been almost totally abused by the owners.
Of about 275 players who played out their options in the NFL during that agreement, just one (Norm Thompson) used the system as it was devised. As a means of keeping salaries to a minimum, the NFL owners scream "too much compensation" every time a John Dutton wants to move. Having watched that football folly, the baseball players ae wary of owners bearing more than what already exists.
Some who have watched the labor movement in sports are convinced the baseball owners made a smart tactical move last year by settling all issues but one, compensation. By narrowing the focus so much, they hope to create as much disruption as possible if the players stike.
As they have in every negotiation since Peter Seitz ruled five years ago they were free once their contracts expired, the players have offered a compromise. The owners have rejected it. If a strike comes, they are hoping a player's early enthusiasm would be dashed when he thinks to himself: "You mean I'm losing all this money over whether a team gets the 18th- or 24th-best player, or whatever, for me if I become a free agent?"
The Yankees' Dave Winfield admits a strike would cost him nearly $10,000 per game, that he would lose as much in two weeks as his mother, in audio-visual education in St. Paul, Minn., makes in about five years. Without him at this point last season, the Yanks led the American League East. With him this year, they trail the poor little Birds.