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Butler’s Persistent Here, Too

Brett Butler--center fielder, labor leader--came to work Thursday morning in shirt and tie, carrying his suit coat. He looked as purposeful as Jimmy Hoffa in a plant full of truck drivers. High noon was approaching, and he and his fellow union organizers did not intend to blink.

“They’re trying to push our hot button, trying to get us to go out,” Butler, the player representative of the Dodgers, said emphatically after spreading the word to his colleagues that their strike date would remain Aug. 12, as scheduled, and not be nudged forward in response to management’s withholding of pension funds.

Butler took a conference call with the union’s executive director, Donald Fehr, then strode into an anteroom behind the Dodger clubhouse with pitcher Orel Hershiser in lockstep, tagging along for moral support.

“Nothing surprises me . . . what the owners do. We have to look at the under-mindedness (sic) of this,” Butler said flatly, revealing neither anger nor relief.

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“What was the real reason for them doing this? Was it to cause us to strike? Because you’re sitting here thinking, and fans are sitting there thinking, ‘The players are striking.’ And, you know, ‘It’s the players’ fault.’ Well, we’re here to tell you that the owners tried to push us out.”

But the union stood firm.

Butler set his square jaw. He said with conviction: “We’re as strong a union as you’re going to find in the country.”

It was a beautiful day for baseball, and the Dodgers and San Diego Padres stayed and played. They waited for their marching orders until a little past 11 a.m., when Fehr confirmed that despite what he described as an “irresponsible and provocative” attempt by the owners to hasten a walkout, America’s ballplaying union would not be double-dared into the picket lines. Around the home team’s clubhouse, gallows humor abounded. Dodger third baseman Tim Wallach wore a shirt that read: “Shut Up and Play.” On a chalkboard where a clubhouse attendant had written the words, PACK YOUR BAGS AND BATS, so as to notify the players that their scheduled trip would proceed as usual, someone else had scribbled a joking addendum: SEE YOU NEXT SPRING.

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In the manager’s office, Tom Lasorda watched Fehr’s pronouncement on cable TV.

“Who was it that said the only thing we have to fear is Fehr himself?” Lasorda asked. “Good line.”

His first-place team could be on strike one week from today, perhaps never to return to Dodger Stadium until 1995.

Lasorda listened intently as Fehr said, “It keeps coming back to a basic question. Why in the world are the owners doing this? What do they hope to accomplish? I don’t really have an answer to that, unless it is to force a strike as soon as possible.”

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Lasorda snickered. He said, “Why don’t the owners just hand over the money to guys threatening to go on strike? There’s a funny question. Why do you think ?”

Outdoors near the batting cage, Dodger outfielder Cory Snyder said it was understandable why the players were upset.

“We’re talking now about money (that was) supposed to go to the pension and welfare fund,” Snyder said. “This is money for people who already did their work, people who are counting on that money.”

By noon, busloads of children from 136 day camps throughout California began to fill the stands. It is summertime and baseball business as usual. Young pitchers Doug Brocail, Bryce Florie and Jeff Tabaka of the Padres signed autographs by the bunches. Shagging flies, Billy Bean flipped baseballs into the right-field stands while Trevor Hoffman entertained fans by collapsing into a heap after being struck by a fungo-batted baseball, pretending to be mortally wounded.

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The players are trying to keep spirits up, including their own.

But Butler knows their strike has merely been averted, not aborted. It won’t be over until the fatcats sing. It won’t be over until management and labor can come to some form of mutual consent, until players whose indignation ranged “from one extreme to the other” over the past 48 hours can somehow compromise enough to call this walkout to a halt.

Butler never wanted to be in this position. He only wanted to be in center field.

The Dodger player rep did most of the talking, Hershiser sticking close but mainly back-patting.

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“I’m managing,” Hershiser said.

Passing by Butler’s locker, Bill Russell, a Dodger coach, tried to ease some of the stress Butler was clearly under.

“Brett Fehr!” Russell called him. “Brett Fehr!”

Butler smiled, wanly.

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He returned to the serious matter at hand and said: “Peter O’Malley pays us a sum of money, a great sum of money, to perform, and we intend to live up to those obligations like nothing else has happened. In a good-faith negotiation, we can still have this thing done by the 12th.

“But there’s one thing that is clear--the players are unified.”

O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers, was not present on what could have been the team’s final day. He was in Managua, Nicaragua, attending an amateur baseball tournament.

One week from today, amateur baseball could be all there is. That and minor league ball. But no minor leaguers would have the nerve to play in their place, of this the major leaguers are sure. Brett Butler, labor leader, will tolerate no scabs.

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“I was in the minor leagues in 1981, and they asked me in Richmond, Virginia, would I go to the big leagues to take the place of the players that were (not) there. And my comment then was, ‘They’re there to help me.’ Now I’m on the other side of the fence and I’m 37 years old and on the latter part of my career. And the fact of the matter is, they tried to break us then and they’re trying to break us now.

“They won’t.”


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