TRICK OR TREAT?
Reflections on the Great NFL Strike of 1982:
•As of last weekend, the central issue in the impasse continued to be the NFL Players Association's demand for a wage scale that would mean higher pay for defensive linemen and other spear carriers, but lower pay for such glamorous types as quarterbacks and running backs. Whether the NFL's star system should be thus undermined was an issue addressed by John C. Weistart, a professor of law at Duke specializing in sports law, who said, "When you go to a rock concert, you don't go for the drummer—you go to see the big star. You're willing to pay more to see the star—you want to see Linda Ronstadt perform." But Weistart conceded that a wage scale makes more sense in football than in baseball or basketball "because there are more players in football, like interior linemen, whose worth can't be directly measured by point production. In basketball or baseball, virtually all the players have the opportunity to score."
•The NFL Management Council was still hoping that more star players would break ranks with NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey over the wage-scale issue. The owners had, so far anyway, seriously miscalculated on this score. Most big-name players had gone along with the strike because of what one of them, Terry Bradshaw, characterized as a desire for "team unity." That's a sentiment, of course, that owners would ordinarily applaud. Another usually laudable factor contributing to the impasse was competitive zeal on both sides. As Jack Getman, a specialist in labor law at Yale, observed, "Strikes in sport are so bitter because the people involved are competitive by nature. That makes the negotiating tougher. They aren't as willing to compromise."
October 17, 1982
•There continued to be talk—by both sides—about the possibility of unilaterally playing football games. Some NFL owners advocated opening camps to union dissidents and free agents in hopes of resuming the season even without a settlement, but others reportedly felt that this could further unify the striking players and, if few of them answered the call, result in a public relations debacle. Because of fear of injuries and legal haggling with the NFL, the NFLPA meanwhile had trouble getting its proposed strike league off the ground. If the NFLPA could create a league with stable team rosters and geographically rooted "franchises" with which fans could identify, it might hope to throw a scare into the NFL. Such teams would lack the tradition of, say, the Chicago Bears, but tradition is less important in football than in baseball. In football, the spectacle of the game itself is of paramount importance, and a strike league could conceivably provide that. An intriguing historical precedent: In 1919, Hollywood's three biggest stars, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, dissatisfied with their share of the revenues from their movies, founded their own film distribution company, United Artists, which became an industry giant.
•The possibility loomed ever larger that the 1982 season might be wiped out. The strike began on Sept. 21, and each team already had lost three games from its 16-game schedule. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said that teams must play at least 13 games for a "credible" season, while Dallas Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm, chairman of the NFL's competition committee, spoke of a 12-game minimum. Accepting the 12-game figure, the number of regular-season games NFL teams played from 1947 to 1960, and taking into account that two canceled games could be made up between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, the latest date on which play could be resumed would be Sunday, Nov. 7. To allow a week or so for players to get back into shape, the strike would have to end by Oct. 31. Mark it on your calendar. Halloween.
•In spite of everything, a settlement still seemed possible. On Sunday the two sides agreed to accept the services of a mediator, obviously a positive development. "The fact that both sides are beginning to visualize the strike costing them the season could be a great spur to negotiate," said Yale's Getman. "The players are scared, the owners are scared, the fans are mad. There may be a push now to try out new ideas. That often happens just when things look bleakest. What you have to look for is meetings between the union and its members, or between [Management Council Executive Director Jack] Donlan and the owners. That's the sign that new ideas are being sold. Right now things look grim, but I wouldn't be that stunned if there were a breakthrough and then round-the-clock negotiations to settle the strike."
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Candace Dunlap, a 40-year-old mother of two in Santa Fe, N. Mex., is a former Chicagoan who catches the Cubs on cable TV. Recently she wrote a letter to Harry Caray, the veteran broadcaster who is now doing Cubs games, in which she complained about his excitable on-air style. She was surprised when Caray returned her missive with his comments scrawled in longhand in the margins. Dunlap's letter, with Caray's replies in italics and brackets:
"I called the Cubs' public relations office last week to complain about you and feel it only fair [nice of you to be so fair!!] to follow up my call with a letter so you are aware of one viewer's (make that ex-viewer) [we will miss you] opinion of the way in which you announce the Chicago Cubs.... You constantly seize upon every opportunity to gossip and impart down-home chitchat which couldn't be more boring or irrelevant [in your humble opinion!!].... Your screaming, shrill delivery of every Cub play is also unnecessary and ruins trying to follow the game. So, it is with you, as with Howard Cosell [He does pretty good or is success what really annoys you!!], a frequent retreat to watching a game with no sound [could you please write that way].... You are equally odious and unprofessional [I wonder what you are!! Maybe a dried up old prune!!!].... The Atlanta Braves...have the best announcers [you are finally right—Skip Caray is my son!!!] in the business. You could take lessons from them. Sincerely, Candace E. Dunlap [I pay two alimonies each month to women like you!!! Luv & Kisses]
Dunlap and Caray were asked last week about this edifying exchange, which concluded with Caray's admonition to "Buzz off, old lady!" Dunlap said she was amused by Caray's annotated response to her letter, although she also felt he presented a "glimpse of himself" that was rather unfavorable. Caray found Dunlap's letter "vitriolic" but said, "I get a lot of fun out of answering letters, writing between the lines and making funny comments. That's the best way to answer, point by point. I never get mad at anything anybody writes. When they write negative things, I try to reply tongue-in-cheek." He added, "I always reply in longhand because it's more personalized."
By happy coincidence, last week's big surge on the New York Stock Exchange, during which the Dow Jones industrial average shot up 79.11 points in some of the heaviest trading in history, coincided with the first annual Wall Street Run, a five-km. race on Wednesday through lower Manhattan's financial district. All of which seemed to justify the nickname that the sponsors came up with for that event: The Running of the Bulls.
HAIL THE ISLANDERS
The Commonwealth Games, which ended last week in Brisbane, Australia, attracted athletes from 50 nations, including a two-member national team representing the battle-scarred Falkland Islands. Perhaps fittingly, Tony Pettersson and Gerald Cheek were in Brisbane as shooters, although it was paradoxical that because of the war earlier this year in their remote archipelago, they hadn't been able to prepare properly for their events. After invading the Falklands in April, Argentine forces had confiscated their weapons. When the British liberated the islands 11 weeks later, Pettersson and Cheek hoped to resume their accustomed Sunday-morning shoots with their mates at the Falkland Islands Gun Club in Port Stanley, but that proved impossible because plastic mines, a legacy of the occupation, were still embedded in the firing range.
Pettersson and Cheek eventually traveled to England, where they practiced for the Games for six weeks. Considerably less than world-class in ability, they placed 33rd in Brisbane in a field of 34 in small-bore-rifle team competition and also finished far back in the individual small-bore event. But the two Falklanders received a stirring ovation during the opening ceremonies and were mobbed by well-wishers and TV and newspaper interviewers. Though he found all the commotion "a bit embarrassing," Pettersson was comforted that, as he put it, "This was not of our doing."
There was quite a fuss over the way Kansas City Outfielder Willie Wilson sewed up the 1982 American League batting title. First, Royal Manager Dick Howser kept Wilson on the bench for the season-ending game against Oakland in hopes of preserving his lead over Milwaukee Brewer Shortstop Robin Yount. Then, in order to determine whether Wilson needed to pinch-hit in the ninth inning in an attempt to win the title, Howser and A's Manager Billy Martin resorted to various stalling tactics for seven minutes while waiting for word on how Yount was doing in his game in Baltimore. As things turned out, it wasn't necessary for Wilson to pinch-hit, and he edged out Yount, .3316 to .3307. Some critics argued that Wilson should have played instead of "backing" into the batting title. Others said that by stalling, Howser and Martin had somehow sought to rig the batting title. The concern in either case was that Wilson's batting championship had been tainted.
These objections missed the point. Statistical integrity is important in baseball, but there are more important things. The 24,488 fans in Royals Stadium had every right to expect managers and players to try their hardest to win, and by leaving a healthy Wilson on the bench, Howser was trying just a little less hard than he should have. By contriving to allow a rival hitter of Wilson's abilities to get into the lineup, Martin wasn't quite doing his best to win, either. In other words, it was the game—which, incidentally, the Royals lost 6-3—and not Wilson's batting title that was tainted by the Howser-Martin machinations.
CAN YOU DIAGRAM THAT, COACH?
Clemson Quarterback Homer Jordan had been held out of a 24-6 win over Kentucky a week earlier by order of University President Bill Atchley because of an investigation into possible booster involvement in Jordan's purchase of a 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, but he was back in the starting lineup for Saturday's 48-0 win over Virginia. Asked why Jordan had been sidelined and then reinstated, Tiger Coach Danny Ford replied, "I don't know if I could answer that one. They just didn't have all the facts that they needed to have at this time last week, and I think they got all the facts they need now. There was a technicality, the way you read something. I don't know, I really don't. And I don't want you to say I don't know 'cause that sounds like I don't know. And I'm supposed to know."
One objective of the striking NFL players was to narrow the salary gap between themselves and their counterparts in big league baseball and the NBA. O.K., but aren't those athletes grossly overpaid? A lot of people think so, of course, but few approach the subject from the point of view of Lois DeBakey, a professor of scientific communication at Baylor College of Medicine. In a barrage of speeches and articles that falls just short of being a crusade, DeBakey, the sister of the Houston heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, insists for some reason on comparing athletes' salaries with those of doctors.
"The constant beefing about the 'high cost of health care'...is puzzling in light of our mute acquiescence in the high cost of entertainment," DeBakey wrote earlier this year in the Houston Chronicle. "Is entertainment more vital than health? The fan who willingly shells out $50 to watch a ball game will grumble loud and long about a $50 fee for medical care. Yet the average annual income of physicians is only about $70,000, whereas the average annual salary of major league baseball players is a preposterous $250,000."
Hold it right there. First, the average incomes of doctors and big leaguers are actually $93,000 and $185,000, respectively. Second, the figure DeBakey uses for physicians' income covers semiretired part-time doctors as well as young doctors in the process of building a practice; if she had used only "major league" doctors, the average income would have been far higher. Conversely, few minor league players earn much more than $15,000. As for why even major league ballplayers should, on the average, earn more than physicians, this can be largely explained by supply and demand. Supply: There are 650 major-leaguers vs. roughly 400,000 doctors in full-time practice. Demand: Whereas a physician may typically see 25 patients a day, a player can perform in front of millions on TV and in the ball park. Also, while doctors are generally at the top of the pay scale in the health industry, baseball players often receive a surprisingly small slice of their sport's pie. Compare Steve Garvey's $333,000 salary, for example, with the $12 million or so in profits reaped annually by Dodger President Peter O'Malley and his family. All this is in addition to the brief career spans and high risk of injuries usually invoked in defense of athletes' huge salaries.
There are two important lessons to be learned here. First, when considering whether pro athletes are overpaid, it's best to forget doctors. And it's only fair to remember the owners.
THEY SAID IT
•Byron Walker, world champion steer wrestler, expressing the hope that a rodeo in which he was appearing in Dallas would make local football fans forget the NFL strike: "After all, we're the only cowboys in town making a living."
•Steven Barry, 32-year-old plasterer from Cardiff, Wales, who won the 30-km. walk in the Commonwealth Games in 2:10:16, when asked how he intended to celebrate: "I'll get plastered."
•Kelly Paris, St. Louis Cardinal third baseman, after scoring the winning run in his first major league game, a 6-5, 13-inning victory over the Dodgers: "I'd have to say that looking back, this is the high point of my career."