1981 Major League Baseball strike
The 1981 Major League Baseball strike was the fourth work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1972 Major League Baseball strike. 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.
The strike deadline
The Executive Board of the Major League Baseball Players Association voted unanimously to strike on May 29 due to the unresolved issue of free agent compensation. The deadline was extended briefly, however, after the Players' Association's unfair labor complaint was heard by the National Labor Relations Board.
Reasons for the strike
The strike was called in response to the owners wanting to win back the prerogatives over the players. The owners had already lost at the bargaining table and in the courts on the issue of the free agency draft. At issue during the seven-week-long negotiations was the owners demanding compensation for losing a free agent player to another team. The compensation in question was a player who was selected from the signing team's roster (not including 12 "protected" players). The players maintained that any form of compensation would undermine the value of free agency.
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 because 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.
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.
The strike ends
On July 31, 1981, a compromise was reached. In the settlement, teams that lost a "premium" free agent could be compensated by drawing from a pool of players left unprotected from all of the clubs rather than just the signing club. Players agree to restricting free agency to players with six or more years of major league service. The settlement gave the owners a limited victory on the compensation issue.
Reportedly, the negotiations were so bitter that when a settlement was finally reached, Players Association representative Marvin Miller and the owners' negotiator Ray Grebey refused to pose with each other for the traditional "peace ceremony" photograph.
The All-Star Game
Major League Baseball resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. The All-Star Game, which was originally scheduled to be held on July 14, now served as a prelude to play resuming on August 10. The National League beat the American League 5-4.
When play resumed, attendance dropped in 17 of 24 cities and television ratings slumped sharply. Despite the disgruntled fans, the All-Star Game, which was played on a Sunday instead of the usual Tuesday, had its largest attendance (72,086), due to the large seating capacity of Municipal Stadium.
The split-season format
Due to the two-month strike, the owners tried to create an equitable solution. So on August 6, the owners decided to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series. It was the first time that Major League Baseball used a split-season format since 1892.
The split-season idea as put into practice (although garnering the league more playoff revenue) seemed to cheapen the results of the regular season. As first proposed, if a team won its division in both halves of the season, then it would play the team with the second best record overall (first and second half). A sportswriter pointed out that the arrangement would give a team with a good overall record an incentive to lose games against the first-half winner to help a division rival win both halves. On August 20, Major League Baseball revised the rules so that if a team won both halves of the season, it would face the second season runner-up instead.
Facing a playoff no matter their finish in the second half, the first-half winners lacked incentive (as opposed to the minor leagues, where if the same team did win both halves it was given a bye into the next round) to repeat, and finished the second-half of the season with a composite record of only three games above .500. To make matters worse, the Cincinnati Reds (National League West) and St. Louis Cardinals (National League East) each failed to make the playoffs. This was despite the fact that they had the two best full-season records in the National League that season (and thus would have won their divisions under normal circumstances), though the Cardinals would receive some vindication the following year when they won the 1982 World Series. In contrast to the Reds' and Cardinals' bad luck, the Kansas City Royals made the postseason despite owning the fourth-best full-season record in their division and posting a losing record overall (50–53). Notably, the format allowed the second-half National League East champion Montreal Expos to make the playoffs, the only time the Expos franchise would make the postseason in their 36-year stay in Montreal and their only postseason appearance of any kind until 2012, long after the team became the Washington Nationals.
- 1981 in baseball
- 1972 Major League Baseball strike
- 1985 Major League Baseball strike
- 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike
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