Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams left baseball's three-ring-circus winter meeting this evening with mixed emotions.
Williams was surprised but pleased with baseball's ownership for voting him onto the sport's eight-man Executive Council, the advisory board to help the commissioner. This group has vague but significant powers and has traditionally included the sport's savviest influence brokers.
"I feel good about it because the Executive Council are the guys who sort of seem to run things," said Williams, who is fond of running things.
On the other hand, Williams flew out of Florida disgusted at the Orioles' inability to swing a three-cornered, 13-player deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs that would have shaken these meetings. The key player in the trades, as far as the Orioles were concerned, was St. Louis shortstop Garry Templeton. The deal was whisker-close on Wednesday night, but failed this morning and is now dead, with the Cardinals pulling out.
The Cardinals then turned around and all but completed a trade with San Diego that would send Templeton, Sixto Lezcano and reliever Mark Littell to the Padres for flashy shortstop Ozzie Smith and promising pitcher Steve Mura. Only part of the trade -- Lezcano for Mura -- was announced. The rest is expected to be announced later.
"As far as I know," said Oriole General Manager Hank Peters, "they've made that deal and are just checking technicalities of the contracts."
The heart of the Orioles' proposed three-way trade would have been a four-for-four deal with the Cardinals. The Orioles would have sent Sammy Stewart, outfielder Mark Corey, AAA speedster John Shelby and either Bob Bonner or Lenn Sakata to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano, left-hander Bob Shirley and outfielder Gene Roof.
However, before the Cardinals would make such a deal, they were determined to get what Whitey Herzog, their general manager and manager, called "an experienced shortstop" to replace Templeton. Sakata and Bonner, although decent insurance, terrified the Cardinals as potential starters.
The Orioles, always aware of that problem, tried desperately to put together a deal with the Cubs to get Ivan DeJesus, the shortstop the Cardinals wanted. Baltimore offered the Cubs Doug DeCinces, Al Bumbry and Steve Stone for DeJesus and either Doug Bird or Lee Smith (both big right-handed relievers).
Dallas Green, the Cubs' new general manager, told the Orioles the deal was fair, but that Chicago had decided to go for youth, something Baltimore was not offering.
The Orioles' Plan A collapsed at 11 this morning when Herzog called and said that, because the Cardinals had not been able to come up with the shortstop they wanted, they couldn't complete their eight-man deal with the Orioles.
Baltimore's Plan B died when the Cubs' Green backed away from the five-man deal that would have brought DeJesus to Baltimore. If the Orioles could have gotten DeJesus, they would have restructured their big trade with the Cardinals, sending DeJesus and, probably, Stewart to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano and a couple of decent throw-ins.
Meanwhile, Baltimore is discussing a trade involving DeCinces for outfielder Dan Ford of the California Angels. "That one's on all burners right now," said an Oriole source.
Nonetheless, the one player that the Orioles came to Florida to get -- the spectacularly gifted and troubled Templeton, whom they think one day will waltz into the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits and several Golden Gloves -- now seems lost to them.
Most of the real action here was almost too subtle to attract attention. The hottest item to come out of the day's league meetings was a decision to make double-earflap helmets mandatory for all major league players. That momentous decision will have to get past a vote of the players, who may well prefer a snazzy appearance to greater safety and veto the proposal.
In another apparent victory for baseball moderates, Texas owner Eddie Chiles replaced Minnesota's Clark Griffith on the staunchly conservative Player Relations Committee, run by hard-liner Ray Grebey. Through baseball's 1981 strike, Williams and Chiles were the two most outspoken critics of the management establishment. Now they're part of it.
Two interpretations can be made of the inclusion of Williams and Chiles near the top of baseball's power structure. One is that the so-called Young Turks who have come into ownership in the past three seasons finally have made inroads into the structure of the game. The other: in a brilliant political ploy, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Grebey have done a masterful job of muffling their harshest critics by giving them a taste of insignificant influence.
Chiles was shocked at suddenly finding himself arm in arm with Grebey on the PRC. "When I heard two weeks ago that a nominating committee had put my name forward (to replace Griffith), I could hardly answer," said Chiles.
Chiles spoke cordially about Grebey, but did say pointedly, "I think gag rules are un-American." Owners were threatened with fines for speaking out in opposition to positions taken by the Grebey-run PRC during last summer's player strike.
Williams' position on the Executive Council runs for four years, which could carry through the next expected labor showdown in 1984. "It's nice that Mr. Williams' abilities are going to be put to use," said Peters. "The American League has a lot of new ownership and I think it's increased influence showed today."
The only other tremors today came from the meetings between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Ron Guidry's agent, John Schneider. "We are prepared to talk all night if the Yankees are serious," said Schneider, who has maintained he is determined to leave these meetings with a memorandum agreement with some team by Friday night.
Nonetheless, the overall impression left by these meetings is that baseball, once again, has preferred to work on its suntan rather than work on its problems.
Not one word came out of today's league and joint-league meetings about the status of committee proposals concerning three-division play in 1983, with the introduction of wild-card playoff teams in each league. Also, the vast problem of how to restructure baseball's handling of future local-vs.-national television revenues -- the whole problem, in other words, of the arrival of cable TV -- was completely sidestepped.