Bill Veeck says baseball has out-done itself this time.
"This strike is the weirdest situation in the history of baseball," the former owner of the White Sox, Indians and Browns told a group of listeners at an Alexandria Grandstand Managers Club dinner last night.
"We baseball people have never been known for our intelligence, legitimacy or honesty. But for two groups of millionaires to be bickering over what amounts to hourly wages is ridiculous. I wish a plague on both houses."
Veeck, 67, a master storyteller, had been guzzling beer and firing oneliners at the 100 or so guests for more than an hour. After dinner, however, his discussion turned serious.
"If I seem distraught, I am," he said. "This baseball strike doesn't have to continue another day. Egos are involved here, not reason. Marvin Miller (executive director of the players association) has never lost one and Ray Grebey (the owners' chief negotiator) has never won one. A pox on both sides.
"The strike is wrong. The people who pay the freight are being wronged. This strike, if it goes another week, will become very bitter . . . maybe last until August. And that would be very unfortunate."
Veeck said he didn't mean to get rolling with such hard talk. But he said he is upset that baseball has reached the stage where "an agent is more important than a good second baseman."
He calmed himself by talking of Leroy (Satchel) Paige -- "the greatest performer that ever walked out on a baseball diamond" -- and retelling his favorite stories from decades gone.
Veeck admitted there was one thing he wanted to do, but never accomplished as an owner.
"You know, I always wanted to bring a woman into major league baseball," he began. "I was talking to Leroy one day during the early 1940s and he said, 'Bill, there's a woman who is so good that I can't strike her out. She hits everything.' But I just couldn't sign Babe Didrikson. The time never seemed to be right.
"That was two weeks before she had ever picked up a golf club. It was only two years later when she won her first golf tournament. I should have signed her."
But no matter what subject Veeck touched, conversation always went back to the strike.
He's a junkie who has gone about a week without a fix. The feeling is killing him.
"Go and watch minor league baseball," he urged, "where the competitors are not so sophisticated and not so stuffy. How unfair to deprive such a large group of people of such a small pleasure (seeing baseball) which they actually pay for."