The dawn was breaking over Central Park in New York City on the morning the baseball strike began. Dick Moss, the former general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, sipped vodka and remembered the strike of 1972. It had lasted 13 days and was, he said, a rite of passgae for the players.
"It was the first time, it was kind of exciting," he said. "This is different. This is something that's got to be done. Now, we'll see if they stick together.
And, that, he said when the strike ended 49 days later, "was really the issue." Not free-agent compensation, "but whether the players would fall apart."
To say that the owners did is misleading because they were never really unified. The strike that Jerry Reinsdorf, the co-owner of the Chicago White Sox, called "inane, insane, and asinine," ended when enough owners insisted upon it.
They realized, finally that baseball was close to committing suicide. "We stopped the homorrhaging," he said. "We sutured what could have been a mortal wound."
This season was going, going, almost gone and if it had gone, 1982 might well have disappeared with it. "The calendar was our deadline," said Eddie Chiles, owner of the Texas Rangers.
There would have been no incentive to talk during the winter. Baseball would have gone into the deep freeze. So it wasn't surprising that when a photographer asked Doug DeCinces of the Orioles to pose in an "I survived the 1981 baseball strike" T-shirt on day 35, he refused. Survival was very much in doubt.
Based on interviews with several sources -- some directly involved in the negotiations and others close to them on both sides -- it is possible to reconstruct the last frenetic week of the strike and how it ended.
On July 23, the talks were in Washington and appeared to be finally moving. Suddenly, like the elevator that almost sent federal mediator Kenneth E. Moffett through the roof of the Federal mediation and Conciliation Service, they stalled. Everything broke down.
Hopes once again were dashed. The optimism that the strike would be settled came because "several dissident owners were told that management was going to make a proposal that was very, very close to the players' postion and that they would have to buy into it," one source said.
There are those in management who still believe that was the case: that the pooled compensation settlement the players agreed to is just about what they rejected as being direct compensation a week ago.
The players disagreed. "They weren't close last Thursday but they were moving," one source said.
When the negotiations broke off, Moffett was asked what happened. "Maybe it had something to do wih (Dave) Lopes and (Champ) Summers," he replied, referring to the players who had publicly criticized the union. The implication was that the signs of weakness had given management further resolve to carry on the fight.
"They hear one guy and multiply it by 10," said Mark Belanger, player representative of the Orioles.
When the expected settlement failed to materialize, a group of eight American League owenrs led by Williams asked for a league meeting. The telegrams asking ro a meeting last Monday went out late on the afternoon of July 24. The board of directors of the Player Relations Committee responded by calling a meeting of the 26 owners for Wednesday, in what one source said was an attempt to "suffocate the American League."
The idea in calling the American League meeting was to give the dissidents a forum in which they had the most clout.Moffett said, "I give him (Williams) credit. Calling the meeting forced a settlement to be made as early as it was."
Chiles said, "It triggered the whole thing. It was the best thing that's happened in baseball for a long time."
Before the owners could meet, the players met in Chicago. Miller had been considering holding an executive board meeting for some time. The press blackout in Washington made it a necessity. The players needed to inform their representatives about the developments and, as one source close to the organization said, "to determine whether there was any weakening. The meeting reinforced our feeling that the players were solid."
In case the point was lost on the owners, Miller scheduled the first of the players' regional meetings in Los Angeles on Wednesday, where the greatest concentration of players -- including Lopes -- could be reached.
"It was close," said one source close to the players association, but "they (the owners) finally believed the players were willing to shut it down if they had to."
But, sources said, the most significant event last Monday was a conversation between Miller and American League President Lee MacPhail. It was, sources said, a substantive discussion of the issues, in which they talked about where the players could go in the negotiations.
Wednesday morning, representatives of eight American League clubs met secretly in New York and agreed, for different reasons, to "try to get the others to submit the whole thing to binding arbitration," Chiles said.
But when they got to the American League meeting, sources say, McaPhail asked for more time to get a negotiated settlement. "'Trust me,' he said," one source recalled. "He got those favoring arbitration to back off."
Some sources say there was an explicit deadline given for reaching the settlement; others say none was necessary and none was given. "I think it was clear that enough owners were upset, they were told to make a deal," one source said. "I'm inclined to believe it was 24-36 hours because that's how fast they did it."
The end came fast. Negotiations were scheduled to be resumed at the Doral Inn in New York at 2 p.m. Thursday. Miller and Grebey were no shows. Sixteen hours later, there was a settlement.
The Doral Inn, on Lexington Avenue, faces the back of the Waldorf Astoria. The hoi polloi gathered there: foreign students, stewardesses, federal mediators and self-help therapy groups like "Lifespring" and "The Self Realization Fellowship."
The night the strike began, a large poster with the face of a woman resembling the Mona Lisa announced that "The Teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda" were being imparted in the ballroom adjacent to the press room.
As reporters waited to hear whether the strike was on, refugees from the seminar mingled with the television crews looking for Reggie Jackson. The teachings are "just like est but less aggressive," a student named Joe explained. "They're nicer to you."
Just then a woman named Debbie fled the seminar, wailing: "If only they could be more open."
Reporters knew how she felt. Baseball negotiators should have been forced to enroll in the Self-Realization Fellowship: they had trouble relating. The communications gap -- between the parties, between some owners and their bargaining team, and during the blackout in Washington, between players and their bargaining team -- was a central reason for the strike's length.
The owners, of course, could not speak publicly because of the gag order, which threatened fines of $50,000 to $500,000. Chiles, the owner of the Western Corporation, an oil company, didn't flinch and didn't keep particularly quiet. "It is a mistake to try to do something like that," Chiles said. "It's kind of un-American."
For the most part, the gag order worked. Owners, who were forbidden to be directly involved in the negotiations, whispered sweet nothings to reporters who floated their ideas.
Once a member of the players' bargaining team called a reporter to ask if the players were supposed to be getting a signal from an owner's statement in a story.
Often the rhetoric was inflamed. One day after a particularly long and particularly useless bargaining session, Moffett was asked what they had done upstairs. "Well," he said, "they spent the first hour asking each other: Why did you say that to The New York Times, why did you say that to The Post."
Grebey's attitude toward the press was unequivocal: he felt there was too much coverage, that reporters were used by the union to spread the word to its members. He wondered aloud how so many reporters could follow the baseball talks and so few the air traffic controllers.
He often appeared cautious, defensive around the press. And, after awhile, began issuing statements at press conferences, instead of answering questions. One day, reading a prepared statement, he quoted himself as saying "Grebey said."
As tough a negotiator as he is, Grebey was never going to win the public relations battle.
The communications gap between the two sides was much more serious and due in large part due to mistrust. "There was so much deep-rooted animosity, anger, pride and envy at the table that, when added to the avarice ever present, it became an absolute impediment to an early disposition," Williams said.
The players did not like Ray Grebey; Grebey made it clear that he felt they shouldn't be part of the negotiations. Rusty Staub, the player representative of the New York Mets and a frequent participant in the negotiations, said, "There were a lot of us who would have liked five minutes alone in a padded room with him."
But Marvin Miller, executive director of the players association, refused to meet alone with him. "Marvin distrusted Grebey because he had been burned by him," one source close to the players association said. "That made some things that normally occur in negotiations impossible. Private meetings where understandings might come."
Thursday morning, when Grebey called to ask for the private meetings that resulted in the settlement, Miller initially refused. "I was skeptical till I got there," he said. He only agreed after MacPhail was included, along with Don Fehr, general counsel of the players association.
At 6 a.m. Friday, when the deal was finally set, Moffett was asked if the animosity was gone: "Check the rug," he said. "See how much blood's on the rug where they met."
"It was like watching somebody bleeding to death," Williams said, "You had to stop the bleeding."
Now that they have, he said, "The wounds will heal fast."
"What about the settlement?" Roy Eisenhardt, the president of the Oakland A's, was asked the day the strike ended.
"It's not very important to me what the deal was," he said, "just that there was a deal."
Type A, Type B, premium, ranking, and all other kinds of free agents seem remote. As remote as the Phillie pennants adorning the bench of the Philadelphia judges who heard the failed umpires' suit; the press conference held in court by U.S. District Judge Henry F. Werker, who, done with baseball, took on Bo Derek and her Tarzan movie; as remote as Moffet's mother calling him in the stalled elevator to make sure he was okay.