The Great Baseball Strike of 1985 began at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. At 12:15 p.m. Wednesday -- 75 minutes after Peter Ueberroth had, for the first time, joined the negotiations -- the commissioner's office announced a tentative agreement to end The Great Baseball Strike of 1985.
Total elapsed time of The Great Baseball Strike of 1985: 16 hours and change. (Roughly twice as long as The Great George Bush Presidency of 1985.)
Had you flown Pan's Am flight 817, leaving New York City at 5:55 p.m. Tuesday on its way to Australia, you would have landed in Sydney at 8 a.m. Thursday.
And completely missed The Great Baseball Strike of 1985.
"Hi. I'm a Mets fan and, normally, I'd be at the ball park. But I flew here to Australia because a baseball strike's coming up, and I thought I'd have lots of time to kill before they settled."
"They settled, mate."
"It's over. You were a bit past Hawaii when it happened. Thanks for coming. Have a good flight back."
Now what can we surmise about a 16-hour 45-minute strike?
How strongly, how enthusiastically, how passionately could both sides have felt about their respective positions if they were able to reach an agreement in less time than it takes for paint on your living room ceiling to dry? Talk about quick folds. What did Lee MacPhail and Donald Fehr do before they became labor negotiators? Play the accordion? (Lady of Spain, I adore you . . . )
The owners probably wanted to see if the players had the nerve to strike.
The players probably struck to show the owners that they did.
But neither side was wild about being out.
Who won, the players or the owners?
That's tough to say. The prevailing opinion is, the players. But the owners didn't give anything back -- they just failed to reach their goals. Both sides got less money than they sought. The owners gained a year's grace on arbitration, a give-back by the union. The players averted an arbitration salary cap.
The fans won -- even the silly ones who swore to strike back by boycotting an amount of games equal to the number of strike days. If their home teams played doubleheaders yesterday, they're back already.
But the biggest winner of all is Ueberroth.
As Freddie Prinze used to say, "Looooooking goooooood."
As good as Ueberroth would have looked had there not been a strike at all, he looks even better now, having waded into the breach like John Wayne, given both sides a thanks-I-needed-that slap in the face, and walked out 75 minutes later, wiping the dirt off his hands, to announce an end to this foolishness.
And then, as the spotlight hit him flush in his baby blues, protesting, "I had no role" in the settlement. (Sort of like The Duke saying, "Shucks, ma'am, it wasn't nothin'.")
Even if Ueberroth, in fact, had no role, even if the deal was done before he got anywhere near MacPhail's apartment, where the final negotiations took place, who's going to believe that now?
The man's timing was impeccable.
For months, like his passive predecessor, Bowie Kuhn, he said he wouldn't get involved. Then, two Sundays ago he stepped into a phone booth near Cooperstown and came out wearing a "Fan's Man" cape, and vowing, "I'll make a commitment to baseball fans . . . We can't allow these negotiators to fail."
As the strike deadline neared, he borrowed a strategem often used by Ronald Reagan, going public to sell his plan. Over the heads of the negotiators, straight to the people. You could argue that he sandbagged the process, but publicly he was seen as neither pro-owner nor pro-player. He was pro bono. And even as he was being rebuffed by the adversaries, he urged them to keep talking. Then, like a vision he danced across the porch as the radio played, and sports fans, that's all she wrote. The Ueberroth Mystique, that he's cut from a better cloth than the rest of the rack, remained intact.
The man who did what no one had ever done before, find a way to make money on the Olympics, not just money but big, huge, incredible money on an Olympics that only had one of the top three seeds in a three-team draw, had just done it again: Strike? Get out of here, you knuckleheads. And I mean it.
What's the worst you can say about him? That's he's an opportunist? That he covets not just the spotlight, but the most flattering angle during his life as a photo op? That something about his style makes you vaguely uneasy, that you fear that he's manufactured and disingenuous, clever by half, perhaps?
Say it, and right now it will sound like sour grapes.
The fans have to love him. He didn't fiddle as baseball burned.
The owners can't hate him. His drug-test initiative, however misguided and theatrical (to say nothing of its infringement on civil liberties), was surely to their liking. And isn't it under Ueberroth's stewardship that these owners seem to have come to be viewed sympathetically by the public, a condition that a few years ago was unthinkable?
The players can't hate him. He repeatedly has tilted toward labor in these negotiations. No one can fairly call him, as they did Kuhn, the owners' puppet.
Without question, Ueberroth has come away looking like an effective manager.
And a winner.
Everyone loves a winner.
Everyone wants a winner on their team.
Which is why Peter Ueberroth often is talked about up on Capitol Hill as a promising candidate. Governor? Senator? How high is up?
It shouldn't surprise you that both parties want him.
A person needs some fancy footwork to walk both sides of the street. So far, Ueberroth looks like Fred Astaire.