June 12, 1981. A Friday without baseball.
This was the first of 57 days without baseball as a result of the 1981 MLB strike. The work stoppage came after years of fighting over the effects of free agency that had started in the mid-70s. This the first post in a three-week series on the 1981 strike.
Free agency initially worked much like it does today. After six years of MLB experience, a player was eligible to sign with any team. Teams received compensation for a lost free agent in the form of an amateur draft choice. The owners, of course, wanted more in return to drive down the price of free agents. They proposed a system where the team that signed a free agent had to put 25 players into a pool for the free agent's previous team to choose from. The players argued that a player pool for compensation would severely limit a free agent's value. Eventually they offered that teams only put four players from their 40-man roster into the pool, but the owners refused to budge. The players union was led by Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr. The MLB commissioner at the time was Bowie Kuhn.
Despite 18 months of on-and-off negotiations, the two sides have never come close in their positions on compensation that should be given to a team that loses a so-called premium player who becomes a free agent and moves to another club. The owners insist that a team losing the free agent receive another player in compensation from the team that signs him. The players association contends that this would severely restrict free agents' movement and bargaining power.
At the time of the strike, players were torn on whether it was the appropriate action. Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella commented, "I'll tell you the truth, I don't want a strike. I'm 38 years old this year. Free agency is going to do me no good whatsoever. But I'm a loyal member of the organization. I'll go out with the majority." Pete Rose supported the strike: "When you stop and think what Marvin Miller has done for the players over the last 10 or 15 years, you could put a gun to my head and I wouldn't do anything against the union. But maybe there's a compromise somewhere in the compensation situation.''
Lastly, Mets manager Joe Torre enjoyed his Friday off by almost going out to eat. "On Friday night, I called home and asked my wife if she wanted to go out to dinner. The only time you have Friday night off during the baseball season is on Good Friday or when it rains. We decided to stay home, but we don't get to do that very often, either.''