Edward Bennett Williams was one of the last baseball owners to leave their showdown meeting here tonight and one of the few with anything substantive to say. Baseball junkies will be depressed. t
"We had a full meeting, a full expression of views," Williams began. "I had an opportunity to express all of my views. That is what I asked for; I received that opportunity. . .
"I have spent my whole life in contest-living, and one lesson has become embedded very deeply. I have learned to win with humility and to lose with grace.I have nothing more to say."
His looks said he had lost, that he had given his most eloquent pitch against lunacy and struck out. In the lobby of the Citicorp Center, he stopped long enough for those few dozen words. Most of his other colleagues, the hardliners, even fellow maverick Eddie Chiles of the Rangers, appeared at one of the least productive press conferences in memory.
Williams did not try to hide from anybody. Nor did he mask his feelings with cheery expressions, as did such as the White Sox' Eddie Einhorn, or the silent, thumbs-up move of the Tigers' John Fetzer, who mumbled something that sounded like "no, not really" just to show us he still was alive.
This was the 28th inning of Strikeball, the high-stakes game played by millionaire owners and players rich beyond the dreams of their youth -- and determined not to leave a legacy of bargaining away most of the freedom outsiders had given them over the years.
Publicly, most owners sounded more militant after the three-hour meeting than before.
"The games are over," Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter said. "Basically, here's our offer. Let's go."
Through the press, he was trying to reach the players before both sides resume negotiations Friday afternoon. A reasonable man, federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett, made what undoubtedly is another reasonable proposal to both sides earlier today.
Who will listen? Who will bend?
If few can understand why the owners would provoke a strike in times of such prosperity, nearly everyone can understand the grounds for a solution. As in any divorce settlement, the equitable finding is one that makes both parties cry ouch, that leaves both hurt but neither penniless or humiliated. A neutral third party decides such matters.
Where is Bowie Kuhn?
Tonight, Kuhn was the one major force at the owners' meeting who ducked away at the end. Which is appropriate, for while his public posture is as spokesman "for all of baseball" his public action nearly always favors those who hired him and who can fire him: the owners.
If the commissioner had the "best interest of baseball" at heart and the courage to enforce it as he did against Charles O. Finley six years ago, Strikeball would have ended quite some time ago. The game would be thriving, as it has during free agency, perhaps some sort of fair settlement would have been concluded by now.
A strong commissioner would not have been judge and jury in this matter. His role would have been bully. Somehow, he would have forced both sides to accept arbitration, that since they are so set in their opinions only somebody distant and neutral could offer a proper judgment.
Owners do not trust any outsider with a mind. Not since they agreed that Peter Seitz was acceptable as an arbitrator five years ago and he opened the free-agent floodgates. Their idea of somebody unbiased is Bowie Kuhn.
When he was driving Finley out of baseball, Kuhn was aghast at compensation. The commissioner denied the former A's owner the right to sell three of his best players (Vida Blue to the Yankees, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox) before losing them to free agency.
Now Kuhn embraces compensation as a cornerstore of baseball.
In truth, Kuhn has taken far too much criticism during the strike. He is one-sided, because he is paid to be. When the players underwrite half his salary, they will get half his consideration. He is as powerful and as helpless as the owners want.
At the moment, he is a non-factor.
The postmeeting theme tonight was unity.
"Totally unified," said Einhorn.
"I've never seen such unity," said Carpenter.
"I think every owner had to come away encouraged," said Mets' General Manager Frank Cashen.
"You just had to be encouraged," Cashen said. "You could not be intelligent if you were not encouraged."
Anyone intelligent has long since decided fools are running wild in baseball. The immediate reaction after tonight is that the owners, Williams to the contrary, are going to fight at least another month, or until their strike insurance runs out.
So the only games in baseball are the ones behind closed doors. But much of Washington already can take heart. For them, strike or no strike, the baseball season would end early next week, when the Redskins report to training camp.