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NUMBERS HAVE CHANGED SINCE 1981 STRIKE

SHARE NUMBERS HAVE CHANGED SINCE 1981 STRIKE

When major league baseball players went on strike in 1981, part of the settlement that ended the seven-week walkout raised minimum salaries in the final year of the agreement.

To $40,000.Times have changed. The minimum salary now is $109,000 and the union wants that bumped to at least $175,000 in the next deal. The average salary was just under $186,000 in 1981, compared to nearly $1.2 million now.

Major league players have set a strike deadline for Friday, if no agreement is reached. The major point of debate is the owners' demand for a salary cap, similar to ones in the NBA and the NFL.

In 1981, the issue was compensation, a system allowing teams to replace free agents signing with other clubs. Management believed players would not walk over that. When they did, the sport was shut down for 50 days with 712 games lost.

"It was a million-dollar strike over a 10-cent issue," said Ray Grebey, then chief negotiator for the owners.

The union saw it differently, viewing compensation as an attempt to restrict the marketplace and a frontal attack on the players.

"The issue could have been anything," said Marvin Miller, who was executive director of the players association then. "Compensation, spring training expenses, anything. They were determined it would be a full-blown test of the players' willpower."

Ironically, within two years, professional player compensation was dropped and now teams losing a ranking free agent receive an amateur draft choice.

When the 1981 strike hit on June 12, some clubs were convinced it wouldn't last long. In Atlanta, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda tried to keep his team together, renting a hotel suite and letting the players know they could use it. Pitcher Jerry Reuss, outfielder Jay Johnstone and catcher Mike Sciosia accepted the offer, ran up a $700 room service bill and signed Lasorda's name.

Gary Carter was the All-Star catcher for the Montreal Expos that summer. "More than anything, the strike was disappointing to all of us," he said. "We all wanted to play ball. I was in the prime of my career. The Expos were a good team."

The strike was the longest in major-league history but came to a sudden halt. Management had a $50 million strike-insurance policy. When the fund was exhausted, the strike was settled.

"The biggest thing was the the owners' strike fund," Carter said. "That was the main reason the strike lasted as long as it did. Once it ran out, we were back."

Baseball returned for the All-Star game at Cleveland, almost a month later than scheduled. Carter hit two home runs and was the MVP in a 5-4 National League victory before a crowd of 72,086, the largest in All-Star history. The Expos went on to win a divisional playoff with Philadelphia before losing the league playoff series to Los Angeles.

"It was a strange scenario the way it worked out with the split season," Carter said. "St. Louis and Cincinnati had the best records but with the split the season wasn't reflected in the playoffs. The funny thing is the Expos are in first now and it looks like another strike year."

Carter said the players were united in 1981 and he thinks they will be this time as well. "We stood tall," he said. "We were able to get what they have. Why should they have to give it back?"