If you’re not old enough to drink (legally), you’ve never experienced anything but blissful baseball labor peace — 21 seasons of rainouts and cold weather posing the biggest threats to a fixed schedule.
But the 22 years before that were a little different — five strikes, three lockouts and seemingly as much Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr as Yankees and Red Sox. Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the very shortest of those disputes — so short, that Friday will be 30 years since the end of it.
If the strikes of 1981 and 1994 ruined seasons, the strike of 1985 didn’t even ruin the middle of the week. In honor of the walkout that time has forgotten, let’s take an intentional walk down memory lane, back to the not-so-simpler times of August 1985.
— Of baseball’s eight work stoppages between 1972 and 1994, four were in-season. Of those four, only the 1985 strike didn’t cost MLB any games. All 25 contests that were missed on a Tuesday and Wednesday in the first week of August were made up by the end of the season. No fuss, no muss.
— The central issues were how much money owners were contributing to the players’ pension fund and the fact they were trying to negotiate a cap on salary arbitration awards. According to Fortune, baseball claimed 18 of 26 teams lost money the previous season while the players countered that the average salary rose only 10 percent that year — to $363,000 — instead of increasing by 30 percent as it had in 1982. All you need to do to figure out who kept winning these disputes is look at the average salary for 2015: $4.25 million. Or, if you want the gory details, owners agreed to drop the cap idea, contribute $33 million to the pension fund in the next three years and $39 million in 1989 and bump the players’ minimum salary from $40,000 to $60,000. (For comparison sake, the median U.S. household income at the time was $23,618, and a big portion of that apparently was going toward a gallon of milk, which isn’t much more expensive today.)
— The new labor agreement lasted five years and came as Commissioner Peter Ueberroth declared at 8 ET p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, that he would act if there were no settlement within 15 hours. Exactly 15 hours later, at 11 a.m. Wednesday, there was an agreement. Ueberroth had angered some of the owners who hired him by telling players earlier that he didn’t agree with the idea of a cap, and that may have made his threat to act convince the owners to buckle.
— If you were thinking players were willing to give up two days’ salary to make their point, think again. That, too, was negotiated. From the the Los Angeles Times:
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.
— A CBS/New York Times poll indicated that 43 percent of fans thought owners were right in the dispute, compared to only 25 percent that backed the players. This marked a shift from the 1981 strike, when public sentiment was with the players. Gone forever were the days players represented the common man, and that might have something to do with why the series of strikes and lockouts stopped after the devastating 1994 strike that wiped the World Series. Fans were losing tolerance for millionaire players breaking up seasons to get even richer, and both sides knew it.
— Later, labor wars were, in part, fought over large-market/small-market balance, but a look at the 1985 final standings shows a startlingly similar competitive situation to the one playing out in 2015. The four 1985 division winners — Blue Jays, Royals, Dodgers and Cardinals — are again at the top of the standings today, with the exception of the Jays, who are in second place. The biggest difference this season is none of these teams will be getting a two-day break this week — paid, of course.