Shirley Povich informed The Washington Post today that he has accepted a job offer from the New York Times. The Post said it expected the Times to give it Red Smith as compensation. The Times, instead, offered Dave Anderson and the executive sports editor. The issue very likely will go to arbitration. . .
In a related matter, Washington-area law firms announced that in order to keep Bungle and Bungle from going out of business they would give it draft rights to the top three Harvard and Yale graduates for the next two years. B&B said it would choose the best students available, regardless of what a graduate's major might be. . .
The more anyone with a mind relates the business of sport to the reality of business the more absurd it becomes. Which means that if the baseball strike was not so distressing, like a dear friend suddenly gone, it would be humor of the highest order. The nation could laugh the owners into submission.
To put the players' dilemma in its best perspective, let's twist things a bit this morning. The players want you to put yourself in their position: someone with unique skills in a job that generates unknown millions annually and whose career very likely will end before age 35.
That leads to a snag: salary. It is almost impossible for most baseball fans to relate to anyone with an average income of $170,000 a year. Lots of us would not mind scooping a few grounders and watching Earl Weaver's tantrums for free. Some of us imagine ourselves hitting at least .250, given some of the rag-arms masquerading as major-league pitchers. Those with pitching fantasies know in their hearts they could keep such as Mark Belanger off base regularly.
A better way to describe why Belanger is striking is to apply the rules the owners want to impose on him on us. If a Belanger decides he wants to work somewhere else, for more money or whatever, the owners insist his new team must give his former team somebody -- or some body -- in return.
Assume that was the situation in every other profession. You, the computer whiz stifled at the moment, would not be able to change jobs in your field without whoever hires you giving up someone nearly your peer. If the real world acted that way, there would be little incentive for businesses to compete for bright people. All it does is keep wages as low as possible.
The problem here, why more fans seem to side with the owners than the players, is that we realize sport is a unique business. And also fun. It is difficult, if not quite impossible, to imagine a man living our dreams to be genuinely troubled.
Also, we know what most owners in every sport covet -- compensation and a draft -- actually works at the level we have experienced. A choose-up-sides playground game, where freckle-faced Billy Martins run their fists up a bat and the smallest kid is picked last and told to get lost in right field, is a rudimentary draft.
A lopsided game is fun for only one team, and very often ends if the competition is not made more equal. To keep the losers from walking off the field in disgust when the score approaches infinity-to-zero after their slugger is suddenly forced home to clean his room, the winners often surrender a heavy hitter. If a new player arrives, the sides usually are changed to reflect his ability.
This is compensation.
The instincts of our youth tell us some sort of compensation is necessary for as many fans as possible to enjoy pro sport at the highest level. If it were not so, if the NFL and major-league baseball operated under the same rules as other businesses, there might only be five top-flight pro football teams and seven major-league franchises.
The inefficient would go the way of the mom-and-pop grocery across the street from Safeway. The Dallas Cowboys would thrive; the New Orleans Saints would not survive.
So equality, for some system that encourages it, seems fair. Cities that have spent public money for lavish playpens should not be denied a sport that gives so many so much pleasure. And if the lives of some players are inconvenienced, well that also happens outside sport. Think of the NBA as one company with 22 branch offices, Dick Motta told players bothered by being traded. Guys in other businesses get transferred all the time.
Why don't the players compromise a bit?Why don't they realize that even sports is an imperfect world, that as grown men they ought to live by a system that worked for them when they were kids, that if they push free-agency too far some teams might well go out of business and there will be fewer jobs?
One reason is that the baseball players always have yielded. They bargained away much of the total freedom they gained five years ago. By striking, they are showing it must stop somewhere. They also have looked at the NFL and come to the conclusion that owners don't play fair.
The NFL owners and players agreed to a form of free-agent compensation that seemed agreeable to both sides. Then the owners simply refused to bid for the free agents. When just one player has changed teams under the system, when such as Too Tall Jones and Vince Ferragamo have been stymied by it, the smell of conspiracy becomes too vivid to ignore.
The average NFL salary is about $100,000 less than the average major-league baseball salary. Is it any wonder that the baseball players listen to what their owners say won't happen, remember what has happened to their football brothers and cry: "We've already bent; we won't break."
There is a maverick among the baseball owners, Edward Bennett Williams, who promises to be persuasive during future negotiations. That is in character, for Williams ran counter to NFL policy when he was operating the Redskins for Jack Kent Cooke.
It was the Redskins who signed one of the first free agents, Pat Fischer, in 1968. Who would not give up what the Redskins did to the Cardinals, choices in the second and third round of the draft, for such a spirited and durable player?
In 1976, it was possible to sign free agents in the NFL without compensation, and the Redskins grabbed John Riggins, Jean Fugett and Calvin Hill.
Now Williams is seen as that rare baseball owner, a man willing to concede some rights to the players. There are some practical reasons for his stance. A quick settlement is more vital to him than nearly every other owner. And he knows that his Orioles probably will cope best with whatever rules are established.