Ron Fairly shot 80," Los Angeles Dodgers President Walter O'Malley said as he sauntered off the last green of his new nine-hole golf course at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., "and I had 115. But I took five bucks from him. It's all a matter of being the better negotiator."
That, and having a partner who shot 87—which O'Malley didn't mention.
Sandy Koufax had a partner, too. Despite the fact that his winning percentage over the past three years was .795 (70-18) compared to Don Drysdale's .571 (60-45) under precisely the same conditions, Koufax had voted Drysdale an even share in a corporation that might be called Horizons Unlimited.
And they had found a negotiator. Perhaps Hollywood Agent-Attorney-Organizer J. William Hayes had found them, but last week the distinction was becoming academic. K&D were standing pat on their demand for a three-year contract that would give them a communal $1 million; Dodger management remained intractable on all of the four issues involved. And, gradually, the population of the little other world of baseball was beginning to accept the outlandish, enormous possibility that the most famous, highest-paid and greatest lefty-righty entry in the history of pitching might not throw a ball in anger this year—or ever again. There was a hard core of traditionalists who refused to believe that K&D would not come out to play, but it was diminishing, interview by interview, denial by denial.
Everyman's mind boggled at a his-and-his reluctance to play games for the $95,000 (righty) and $110,000 (lefty) that K&D would certainly receive if they dissolved their corporation and reaffirmed their love for team and game by approaching the negotiations table in the best traditions of the good old National Pastime—alone, unarmed and unadvised.
Everyman's mind reeled at the top-to-bottom tremors that would shake the National League if "the boys," as O'Malley calls them stood firm in their resolve to make movies, tour Japan and follow the several other opulent nonathletic avenues they—through their agent—suggest are open to them. Try this for openers: the most amazin' chapter in the short and flaky history of the Mets might be one in which the World Champion Dodgers opened the door for their escape from the cellar.
Remote, verily, but not preposterous. The Dodgers are virtually an un-team without Drysdale and Koufax, who started 83 of their games and won 49 of their 97 victories last year. They hop-step-and-jumped to the pennant with a collective batting average of .245, the lowest for any National League champion since it became the fashion to pay baseball players. Everyman would not break down the gates to see Maury Wills ($75,000) steal bases for a team five runs behind. "Not unless everyone of us hit 30 points higher," said First Baseman Wes Parker (.238). "And that might not do it."
It is understandable that Everyman cannot understand. In the Depression, when he was feeding a family of faces on 20 bucks a week, he may have rooted earnestly for Hubbell to get his twenty-two five, but 166,666.66 is the kind of number he sees in the space-shot stories. It was not his kind of thinking that brought about this fabulous impasse. It was, to some extent, Hollywood thinking.
In the spring of 1961, just before he became a winning pitcher, Sandy Koufax noted somewhat sadly that he had not seen much of Everyman since the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Doris Day replaced Hilda Chester and her cowbell. Mickey Rooney, armed only with a bugle, did his best to replace the Dodger Sym-Phony. Walter Winchell prowled the press box, showing the special cops the gun he would draw if the Comrats ever became brave enough to come after him. In Ebbets Field it was a big deal if Joey Giardello showed up. And he wasn't even the champ.
The small talk was big. If William Holden lived into the 21st century the checks from The Bridge on the River Kwai would keep on rolling in. Frank Sinatra, after leaving the ball park in the seventh inning of a 1-1 tie, might tap out the Bank of America in a head-to-head poker game. Milton Berle would be getting $60,000 a year for 15 more years for not being Mr. Television anymore. Talents of much lesser magnitude were rolling in the stuff, and how did they do it? Agents, baby. Even if you can count that high yourself, it's easier to have an agent do it. Shake any tree on Sunset Boulevard and three agents fall off. And anybody Leo doesn't know Danny Kaye does. You're an entertainer, aren't you? Well, what the hell.
Both Drysdale and Koufax are quite bright young men who can think for themselves, and there is no issue of right and wrong here, for two reasons. First, baseball salaries are and always have been so capriciously predicated on performance and seniority ("drawing power" is a recent concept), that $166,666.66 may well be the proper pittance for a Sandy Koufax. So, by the same standards, may $80,000. Secondly, baseball's legal-fiscal structure has been multifariously unfair for half a century and will continue to be so if possible. Maybe a shake of the foundation is in order.
What has happened is an interplanetary collision. Planet Baseball, in which the performers, with notable exceptions, have never learned an effective method of getting their equitable share of the box office, has bumped into Planet Show Biz, in which a star is a star and sometimes the show won't go on without him. If The Beatles don't like the price they don't make the picture, and no Reserve Clause makes them sit out the season. The business of baseball is a game, in which the team is greater than any of its parts. But any two of its parts? No two players—not Ruth and Gehrig, Mize and Medwick, Hubbell and Ott—had ever enjoyed a greater sine que non position than K&D with the 1965 Dodgers. The show could go on, but what kind of show would it be? Bill Giles, Houston publicity man, lamented extravagantly that their absence would cost the Astros $200,000.
"I admire the boys' strategy," said O'Malley, the old negotiator, "and we can't do without them, even for a little while. We're lacking too much. But we can't give in to them. There are too many agents hanging around Hollywood looking for clients."
Agentry was No. 1 on O'Malley's list of objections to the K&D proposition, or at least it was the first one he mentioned. The others, "all of about equal importance," were:
2) "The entry. Next year you might have a dozen entries, or one 23-man entry. There's nothing wrong with unionism, but that's the wrong way. I think a sophisticated union would be good for the players." Did he think a union could ever be sophisticated enough to set a scale salary for a switch-hitting second baseman who batted .278 but had a little trouble with the double play? "No," O'Malley said.
3) "The three-year contract. It's possible we might change our policy and give a three-year contract. It might be all right for a kid like Jim Lefebvre. But if you did it you wouldn't start with veterans." Not, anyway, a veteran with Koufax' medical history. Baseball law allows a maximum 25% cut each year. A flare-up of Sandy's traumatic arthritis or a recurrence of the circulatory problem that almost ended his career in 1962 might leave the Dodgers in the position of paying more than Willie Mays gets to a pitcher who couldn't pitch.
4) The money. "I told Sandy he's talking about very cheap dollars. I don't know what he made altogether during the winter, but they say it was $110,000 for the book and $40,000 for the magazine rights, so he must be in a higher bracket than I am. I don't think it's the money they're interested in as much as the prestige. It's like Gleason making a movie. You know he doesn't need the money."
It was suggested to O'Malley that he was negotiating a test case on behalf of all baseball owners—that, for example, his relations with Pittsburgh Pirate Owner John Galbreath might be less cordial if K&D prevailed and Roberto Clemente and Bob Veale called at Galbreath's office with their partnership papers next winter. "We've had enough calls from other people," O'Malley admitted. "Nobody wants it to happen."
Could it happen to a team with a less formidable tandem than the Dodgers? "It could happen to any team," said General Manager E. J. (Buzzie) Bavasi. "Kansas City has nothing, right? Well, what would they have without Wyatt and Campaneris?"
What would happen, Bavasi was asked, if K&D dismissed their agent, settled for one-year contracts and agreed to split the money down the middle, say $97,500 each? "No good," he said. "Believe me, it's no fun for me to tell Drysdale that Koufax is the better pitcher, but I had to do it. The entry has to be broken up, and Koufax has to get more money. Then if he wants to write his own check to Drysdale, that's his business."
If the boys are on location with Paramount when the season opens, they're going to miss a touching part of Lefty Faces Life, a long-run tearjerker that began at Vero Beach on or about March 1. That was when Harold (Lefty) Phillips, the pitching coach, was instructed to proceed on the assumption that K&D would not pitch in 1966. Lefty hurt his pitching arm in his first year of professional ball and had to labor in the vineyards as a scout. He made himself useful—he found Don Drysdale in one vineyard—until last year, at 46, he got to the big leagues. It was fun while it lasted.
"Well, Osteen should win 20," Lefty said when asked how he might deploy his troops. "Podres could be good for a dozen. If Joe Moeller put it all together he could win 15.... We should have more hitting, too." Sure should.
Apart from the Mets, Lefty was asked, to what other staffs in the National League would his be superior? "I think we could be better than Houston," he began. "And the Cubs—well, the Cubs have three pretty good pitchers.... But our hitting has got to be better."
Got to be, Lefty. Got to be.