They walked around the clubhouse Thursday night trying to joke about the situation. They didn't know if there would be a strike. They didn't know, if the strike started, how long it would last. They didn't even know how they were going to get from Seattle to Baltimore.
And so, the Baltimore Orioles did the only thing they could. "We kidded about it," Ken Singleton said. "Really, that was all you could do.We walked around congratulating each other on good seasons, talking about what the 'final standings' would say in the morning. We tried to laugh about it."
But when they woke yesterday morning in Seattle, hours after their 8-2 Thursday night loss to the Mariners, and found that speculation had become fact and that the major league strike was on, few of the Orioles felt much like laughing.
"it's a sad thing for a lot of people who love baseball," said Singleton, who was batting .339. "It's sad for the players, the fans, a lot of people.
"But I think most of us are glad it's finally come to a head. This thing's been dragged out and postponed for a long time. Now, we've got to round everybody up, get them back to the bargaining table and try to find a solution.
"The only way this thing is going to end, though, is for the owners to be a little less stubborn and stop thinking we're going to take the compensation that they want us to."
Even though the battle lines are now clearly drawn, Oriole management made travel arrangements for the players to return to Baltimore today. Players will pay their own fares but they will travel together and won't have to deal with reservations and all the other normal headaches of air travel.
General Manager Hank Peters saw no reason to be vindictive.
"Someday we're going to have this unfortunate situation behind us and we're going to be operating again as a baseball team," Peters said. "I didn't see the sense in rupturing what is such a fine relationship we have within this club by not at least helping out the players with arrangements we normally make for them, just to prove a point or stick it to them."
Player representative Mark Belanger, who flew to New York yesterday to join the talks, gave his teammates instructions not to work out in groups. Seeing groups of five, six or seven players together might make management think they were panting to come back, he said.
"It's okay for one guy to throw to another guy," Belanger said. "But we don't want a group going to a college field to work out. There's no telling how long the strike will last. But if the players are working out every day, the owners will never get serious about the negotiations. They'll think that because the players are out and working, they're anxious to get back."
All over the country, players on the road were heading home. By noon yesterday, it was obvious there would be no baseball this weekend and people began talking about alternatives.
"I'm going fishing," said Carl Yastremski of the Boston Red Sox. "That's all I can do."
And, if this were the end of the season, would it be the end of the 41-year-old Yastrzemski's career? "Absolutely not," he said. "I'm planning on being in spring training, regardless. I've still got the timing and the coordination. I'm not ready to quit."
Most players felt like Singelton, sad that a walkout had not been averted, but almost relieved that something was finally going to happen.
"It's lousy for us because we're off to such a great start," Phillie shortstop Larry Bowa said. "You hate to stop playing when you're winning. But we gotta get this thing resolved. We gotta let the owners know we mean business.
"What would make me back down? If they told me baseball might cease to exist, I might be willing to back down some. But it's not at that point yet, not nearly at that point."
Even with talks broken off until next week, there was still optimism that a quick solution would be found. "I hope now everybody will just get real serious," Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey said, "and get this thing over with before it gets way out of hand."
The strike affected more than players.
Ushers and ticket takers at Pittsburgh's Three River Stadium ratified a new contract, only to find they had no game to work.
TV and ratio stations began scrambling.NBC-TV, with no "Game of the Week" to televise today, announced it would carry a strike update and offer highlights of the 1975 World Series, focusing on Game 6. ABC-TV said it would go with a rerun of the TV movie "Elvis" in place of Monday Night Baseball.
In Baltimore, WFBR-Radio has made arrangements to broadcast Rochester Red Wing game beginning Tuesday, Rochester being the Orioles Triple-A affiliate, and ESPN, the cable network, is planning to show four minor-league game featuring the Tidewater Tides and the Columbus Clippers. WTOP-Radio, which broadcasts the Orioles' games in Washington, is considering taking the Red Wing games, but also has given thought to broadcasting Alexandria Dukes games.
"I'd love to see us do the Dukes' games," broadcaster Phil Wood said. "It would give them a shot in the arm and would give me a chance to be a baseball play-by-play man."
The Houston Astros came up with a novel idea, having broadcaster Gene Elston put together re-creations of old games, including the club's 1962 debut.
But all the scrambling, all the rhetoric could not wipe out the bottom line: major league baseball was shut down.
"A lot of people are being punished by this," Singleton said. "It's just a rotten thing."