July 5, 1981 – Face The Nation with George Steinbrenner – Sunday Extra – Baseball Strike – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
The Baseball Strike of 1981 – the year you found out all about the Minor leagues, the non-season, the Summer that wasn’t.
The 1981 Major League Baseball strike was the first work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1972 Major League Baseball strike that resulted in regular season games being cancelled. Overall, it was the fourth work stoppage since 1972, but actions in 1973, 1976, and 1980 did not result in any regular season games being cancelled. The strike began on June 12 and forced the cancellation of 713 games (or 38 percent of the Major League schedule) in the middle of the regular season. The two sides reached an agreement on July 31, and play resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game, with regular season play resuming one day later.
An estimated US$146 million was lost in player salaries, ticket sales, broadcast revenues, and concession revenues. The players lost $4 million a week in salaries while the owners suffered a total loss of $72 million.
Although the strike was called by the players, many sportswriters and even fans placed most of the blame on the owners. Sports Illustrated reflected this particular opinion with the cover headline “Strike! The Walkout the Owners Provoked.” One of the reasons the owners doled out such hefty contracts from 1978–1981 (43 players each negotiated contracts worth over $1 million during this period) was that they were afraid of losing disgruntled stars in the free agency reentry draft. So the owners paid their players the so-called new going rate in order to keep them from going elsewhere.
Jim Palmer observed the impact of arbitrators on the strike. “They [the owners] wanted an end to binding arbitration where the player picks a salary number (a high one) and the owners pick a number (yes, a low one) and the arbitrator has to choose one number or the other and nothing in between. So, since the owners kept paying more and more to mediocre players, the averages kept going up and the arbitrators looked at the averages and usually went with the player’s number, which raised the average some more.” He cited as an example of this trend Ed Farmer, an “okay player” who got his salary raised from $70,000 in 1980 to $495,000 in 1981 after an arbitrator sided with him. “The averages keep climbing.”
Palmer also noted the owners’ desire to save money. “They said they just didn’t have any more money…fast-forward thirteen years and the highest paid players in the game, guys like Cal Ripken Jr. and Kirby Puckett, are now making $6 million a year. Ten times what I made. Where do you suppose the owners who didn’t have any more money got that extra $5 million? Lotto?” He faulted both sides for the strike. “The players said it was about freedom. The owners said it was about fairness. The bottom line was it was about the bottom line.”
Reporters used Strat-O-Matic to simulate the delayed 1981 All-Star game inside Cleveland Stadium, with the scoreboard displaying the game’s progress; the Strat-O-Matic set went to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some newspapers used Strat-O-Matic to simulate other canceled games during the strike.
As a reminder of that dubious year in Sports, here is a broadcast of Face The Nation featuring George Steinbrenner and Sunday Extra featuring a roundtable discussion on the Strike and the impact on fans and the game in general.