Baseball Strike Settled; Play to Resume Today : Strong Ueberroth Role Indicated in Five-Year Agreement Reached by Owners and Players
The baseball strike was settled Wednesday only a day after it began. A full schedule of major league games will be played today, including some double-headers to make up for some of the games lost.
The break came in the uptown Manhattan apartment of the club owners’ chief negotiator, Lee MacPhail, when he abandoned the owners’ hitherto tenacious insistence on putting a salary cap on arbitration awards to the players.
The players in return agreed to accept, beginning in 1987, a delay in eligibility for salary arbitration from two years of service to three years.
Peter Ueberroth, the commissioner of baseball, was present at MacPhail’s apartment when MacPhail and Donald Fehr, players’ union leader, reached agreement, and it was Ueberroth who announced it.
Although both MacPhail and Fehr said they had made the concessions on their own without pressure from Ueberroth, the commissioner had indicated several times privately that he would step in forcefully to resolve the situation had they not acted.
On Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time Ueberroth declared privately that if there was no settlement within 15 hours he would act. The commissioner walked into MacPhail’s apartment to preside over the final settlement at 11 a.m. Wednesday, exactly 15 hours after making that vow.
But weeks before, Ueberroth had dealt a serious blow to the owners’ salary limit proposal by telling hundreds of major league players in a series of clubhouse meetings that he was opposed to such a cap. Since Ueberroth was hired by the owners, his demonstration that on this key issue he was independent of them was reported to be an important factor in their eventually abandoning the idea.
Wednesday night, in discussing the settlement, MacPhail said he was “sorry we couldn’t do a little bit better job for the clubs” on making a start at improving what he said was their overall poor financial situation.
Some owners were reported to be bitter at this. One unnamed owner was quoted as saying Ueberroth had “double crossed” those who employed him. Another remarked that at one point in the negotiations in recent days, Ueberroth had simply told the owners “that this was the deal” they had to accept.
If the owners seemed disappointed with the final package, the union seemed pleased. The entire staff of the union’s New York headquarters, plus a few players who were present, applauded as its terms were read at a crowded news conference.
Ueberroth, for his part, gave full credit to the negotiating skills and integrity of MacPhail and Fehr. “They found a path and did their job,” he remarked.
At another point, Ueberroth said with a straight face, “I had no role.”
During most of the news conference, the commissioner stood to one side, a slight smile on his face. There were signs, meanwhile, that his strong advocacy of the fans’ opposition to the strike, his statements that he would not allow a strike and his encouragement of the negotiating process had enhanced his reputation as a strong commissioner.
Main Terms of Pact
These were the main announced terms of the settlement:
--The new agreement will last five seasons rather than the three of the previous agreement, which was reached after the 50-day strike of 1981.
--The players’ annual minimum salary will go from the present $40,000 to $60,000. (Most players receive far more than the minimum. The average salary of the 650 major league players this year is $363,000).
--Minor League minimum salaries will be $20,000 a year.
--The owners’ average contribution to the players’ pension fund will increase from the annual $15.5 million to an average annual $32.7 million. But the percentage of the clubs’ national television money going to player pensions will drop from 33% in the last contract to 18% in this one, due to a recent huge increase in TV revenues.
New Criteria Planned
--In addition to the rollback in eligibility for salary arbitration in 1987, new criteria will be adopted for the arbitrators that will prevent an award from being made on the basis of comparison with salaries of the most highly paid free agents. This should restrain the size of some arbitration awards.
--There will be no draft of free agents and therefore all teams will be able to negotiate as they wish with all free agents. And there will no longer be compensation in the form of a professional player for the signing of a free agent.
As for the games missed by the strike, those not made up by double- headers today will be made up later. If the makeup game is played on an off day, the players will be fully compensated for that day, whereas if it is part of a double-header, the player will be paid a half day’s wages for the additional game. So the most pay that any player could be docked for missing games on Tuesday and Wednesday would be one day’s pay, and it is conceivable that a player could lose no pay as a result of the strike.
The news conference formally announcing the settlement was delayed for more than 5 1/2 hours after its original scheduled time because the lawyers for the two sides were drafting the complicated contract language.
This gave rise to some speculation that the “tentative settlement” that Ueberroth announced about 1 p.m. might be coming unglued. But both sides denied that was ever the case.
A visit in midafternoon to union headquarters found the owners and union negotiators eating a delicatessen lunch and mixing amiably together. One of the marks of the nearly nine months of negotiations was that there was seldom any rancor between the two sides.