A QUESTION OF CONTROL
One of the most troubling legacies of the baseball strike is the lingering feeling that, during such a critical moment in major league history, the game's owners weren't in full control of their business. The owners left the handling of the dispute to chief negotiator Ray Grebey and other hired guns who badly underestimated the resolve of the Major League Baseball Players Association, found it only too easy to mislead the owners about the progress of the talks and displayed an appalling sense of public relations. Astonishingly, throughout the strike and to this very day, baseball's management has never publicly and officially explained why it was demanding greater compensation for the loss of free agents, which was the central issue in the dispute. The reason, of course, was the desire to put a lid on player salaries, but for legal and tactical reasons the owners, or at least their mouthpieces, chose not to say so. By not coming clean about their real motives, or indeed, suggesting any other convincing rationale, they left the impression that they were willing to incur a 50-day strike for reasons they couldn't even pinpoint.
A further sign that baseball's bosses don't have a firm grip on the game is the split-season format they devised once the strike ended. Instead of simply resuming the season, which would have been the wisest course, they chose to gimmick things up in hopes of hyping interest and generating extra playoff revenue. So they divided the season into two halves and decreed that divisional playoffs be held between the winners of each half. They further decided that if the same team wins both halves, it wouldn't receive a bye but would have to meet the team in its division with the second-best overall record in a glorious, revenue-producing, interest-generating, keep-an-eye-on-those-TV-ratings playoff. As everybody quickly realized, that raised the possibility a team might be able to get into the playoffs by deliberately losing (SCORECARD, Aug. 17). Thus it was that baseball found itself in an unseemly uproar last week when Chicago White Sox Manager Tony LaRussa and several of his players conceded that they might be tempted to dump or forfeit a late-season, four-game series with the Oakland A's. The A's were the American League West's first-half winner. If the A's were battling, say, Kansas City for the second-half title, and if Chicago had the second-best overall record, well, the surest way for the White Sox to get into the playoffs would be to thwart the Royals by letting Oakland win. St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog flatly said his team would lie down and play dead in similar circumstances in the National League East. Obviously there was a moral dilemma. Expressions of concern were heard, justifiably, about the integrity of the game.
With talk of tanked baseball games fouling the late-summer air, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and other baseball officials mercifully announced that the split-season format would somehow be amended to eliminate the possibility that teams might find it in their best interests to intentionally lose games. Still, it was hard to understand how baseball's brass could have gotten into such a pickle in the first place. Bob Fishel, assistant to American League President Lee MacPhail, implied that the owners didn't fully realize their split-season format contained such competitive land mines, adding, "The whole thing was probably done too fast." But Cincinnati Reds President Dick Wagner, one of three National League bosses who voted against the plan, said he and others raised the matter at the meeting at which the split-season plan was adopted.
August 23, 1981
Whatever the culpability of the owners, it remains a mystery why Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn't immediately speak up against the scheme. What is Kuhn's role, anyway? He was practically invisible during the strike, claiming to be powerless in the area of labor relations. To be sure, Kuhn has occasionally taken actions supposedly intended to protect baseball's integrity, but such measures have always been highly selective. For example, he recently ordered Baltimore Designated Hitter Terry Crowley to give up a public-relations job at Timonium racetrack but has scrupulously taken a see-no-evil approach to Yankee Boss George Steinbrenner's ownership of a racetrack, Tampa Bay Downs. Apparently intoxicated by the prospect of lucrative playoff revenues, Kuhn similarly elected to close his eyes to the dangers inherent in the current split-season concept. Belatedly eliminating those dangers, welcome though such a step certainly would be, will do little to dispel the suspicion that, with the owners lamentably out of touch with what's going on, the national pastime isn't in the best of hands.
No, the owners weren't the only ones who came up with a dubious scheme for salvaging the strike-ravaged baseball season. Listen to the one advanced, tongue perhaps slightly in cheek, by Mark Nusbaum, a columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Writing on July 7, in the midst of the strike, Nusbaum suggested that once the season was resumed, the major leagues should adopt "Texas rules," under which each batter starts out with a 3-2 count. Nusbaum explained that this would accelerate play so that teams could work in doubleheaders or even triple-headers each night, enabling games lost on account of the strike to be made up quickly enough to allow the full 162-game schedule to be completed.
Preposterous? Of course. But Nusbaum didn't just pull the idea out of thin air. He made his proposal only after heavy rain had caused a 49-team, double-elimination softball tournament in Topeka to fall so hopelessly behind schedule that officials adopted a modified version of Texas rules, in which each batter started with a 2-2 count. The scheme couldn't have worked better. Most of the games lasted less than 30 minutes, with some half innings being concluded in under a minute. The use of straight Texas rules—so called because they supposedly were devised to speed up play in an overcrowded softball league in that state—presumably would achieve even more dramatic results. What's more, Nusbaum insisted, they might even produce some good baseball. By starting each batter with a 3-2 count, he argued, "It would be power against power, the Gossage fastball against the Brett long ball."
Well, if you're going to insist on making a travesty of the sport...Texas rules, anyone?
In a recent story on the growing popularity of personalized automobile license plates, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Supreme Court Justice-designate Sandra Day O'Connor sports a plate reading JUEZA, which is Spanish for female judge, and that a certain pharmacist has one that says IFILRXS, which is license-platese for I Fill Prescriptions. One other motorist in the Post's survey who noted his occupation—if you can call it that—on his license plate was the happy soul who chose this inscription: 10SBUM. Figure that one out yourself.
U.S. District Court Judge Harry Pregerson declared a mistrial last week in the NFL antitrust case and ordered that a new trial begin in his Los Angeles courtroom on Sept. 21. The mistrial was called after the 10-member jury was unable to reach a verdict during 13 days of often bitter deliberations. The jury was split 8-2 in favor of the L.A. Coliseum and the Oakland Raiders, who were suing the NFL, and some members of the majority accused, one of the two holdouts, a retired plastics manufacturer named Thomas Gelker, of having been hopelessly biased against the plaintiffs. Gelker came under an even harsher light when it was learned that he was a first cousin of Bruce Gelker, a former owner of the now-defunct World Football League's Portland Storm. Like the other jurors, he had disavowed any extensive knowledge of or connection with pro football.
Gelker told reporters that he had simply forgotten about his cousin's onetime involvement in the WFL, and he denied having any bias. But Joseph Alioto, the Raiders' attorney, already upset by accusations that an NFL security officer had tried to contact at least one juror during the trial, demanded that the U.S. Attorney investigate possible improprieties involving the jury. Alioto derisively called Gelker "the artichoke from Anaheim"—artichoke being Alioto's term for an intransigent juror—and said, "We won the fight fairly and got robbed in the decision." Raider Managing General Partner Al Davis, whose effort to move his team to Los Angeles against the will of the rest of the NFL was the subject of the suit, said of Gelker's role on the jury, "I think it was an obstruction of justice. I'd go so far as to say it was a plant." Davis implied that the NFL had somehow been responsible for getting Gelker on the jury.
The frustration that prompted Davis' startling accusation—if not the accusation itself—was forgivable. The Raiders had already spent $1.5 million in legal fees on the suit and are presumably less well equipped than the NFL to incur the expense of further litigation, a fact not lost on a lawyer on the NFL side, who told SI's Paul Zimmerman: "There's a limit to how far the Raiders can go. Al has limited partners. He only owns 25% of the team. A series of mistrials can cut off his oil supply."
The NFL has further reason to be hopeful. Wayne Valley, a former partner of Davis' with the Raiders, was scheduled to be a star witness for the NFL in the first trial but was scratched because of illness. There's a chance he may testify in the new trial. Nevertheless, the 8-2 vote in Davis' favor was a close call, and there's no guarantee the NFL will be so lucky the next time around. In the coming days Pregerson may well renew his past efforts to arrange an out-of-court settlement. It might behoove both sides in the increasingly nasty dispute to heed his plea.
NEXT THEY'LL TRY TO TIE COBB
Be it noted that on Monday, Aug. 10, the night Philadelphia's Pete Rose got his 3,631st hit to break Stan Musial's National League career record, the nine starting batsmen for Oakland in a 6-2 loss to Minnesota collected seven hits to raise their combined career total to 3,191. The A's and Phillies could conceivably meet in the World Series, by which time those selfsame nine Oakland players may well have pulled to within 100 hits or so of Pete. Keep plugging, boys.
Xs, Os AND ZZZZZs
Los Angeles radio station KMPC, the hometown outlet of the Rams, conducts a live, early-morning telephone interview with Coach Ray Malavasi on the day following each game. At 7:20 a.m. last Tuesday a KMPC producer phoned Malavasi at home, chatted with him and then, after putting him on hold, turned him over to an interviewer, Robert W. Morgan, who intended to talk to Malavasi about the Rams' 34-21 exhibition loss the night before to the New England Patriots. But when Morgan, on the air, greeted Malavasi, there was silence at the other end. Morgan tried again. The faint but unmistakable sound of snoring could be heard. Malavasi had fallen asleep.
Morgan reacted with considerable aplomb. Instead of hanging up, he proceeded to "interview" the Ram coach. The exchange went something like this:
Morgan: What about Haden getting intercepted four times last night, coach?
Morgan: You sure had trouble with your defense, didn't you?
Morgan continued to milk the situation, as Malavasi snoozed on. Only after Morgan hung up did Malavasi awaken. He later confessed, unnecessarily, "I was tired."
MONTREAL'S TARNISHED MILLIONAIRES
Owing to the just-settled Canadian postal strike, some Americans may have experienced difficulty getting the news out of Montreal, where the Alouettes, the Canadian Football League team with all the highly paid, big-name U.S. stars, have been taking their bosses, which is French for lumps. Linebacker Tom Cousineau, the 1979 No. 1 NFL draft pick from Ohio State, who had never missed a game because of injury in his career, has been sidelined on and off with various shoulder and elbow ailments. David Over-street, the ex-Oklahoma running back who was picked No. 1 in the 1981 draft by the Miami Dolphins, has committed nine fumbles in the Alouettes' six games, four of them in one half. He's now known as David Overpaid. Defensive End Keith Gary, also of Oklahoma, Pittsburgh's No. 1 1981 pick, has been only a so-so performer. Billy (White Shoes) Johnson, late of the Houston Oilers, ranks a disappointing 14th in the CFL in pass receiving and 11th in punt returns. Ex-Chicago Bear Receiver James Scott has generally played well, but he reported to the Als late and the other day he dropped a perfect pass from Vince Ferragamo. Ah, yes, Ferragamo. The Los Angeles Rams' onetime golden boy has shown ability to move the ball, only to goof up in crucial situations. Apparently having difficulty adjusting to the CFL's 12-man defenses, the Als' $400,000-a-year quarterback has been intercepted a dozen times, tops in the league.
The Alouettes' record? With the CFL season nearing the halfway mark, the team referred to, alternately, as the Montreal Millionaires or NFL North has a 1-5 record, the lone victory being a 23-22 squeaker over the winless Toronto Argonauts. All but one of the defeats have been lopsided, including a 48-8 drubbing by the undefeated British Columbia Lions and, most recently, a 58-2 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the worst beating in Alouette history. The Als have scored the fewest points (104) and allowed the most (237) in the CFL. Although the Alouettes could get better and, in any case, will probably make the CFL's Eastern Conference playoffs—three of the conference's four clubs qualify, and hapless Toronto will likely be odd team out—the team's free-spending new owner, Nelson Skalbania, can be forgiven for wondering whether he has been getting his money's worth. And Coach Joe Scannella can rue his buoyant preseason words: "This looks like it's going to be a fun year."
THEY SAID IT
•Norm Van Brocklin, former NFL quarterback and coach and now a pecan farmer in Social Circle, Ga., describing the brain surgery he underwent two years ago: "It was a brain transplant. I got a sportswriter's brain so I could be sure I had one that hadn't been used."
•Carl Mauck, Houston Oiler center, discussing the problem of adjusting to new Quarterback Gifford Nielsen, who succeeds the freer-spirited Ken Stabler: "In the huddle, I can't get used to the smell of milk shakes on Gifford's breath."