Balls, Strikes, and Holdouts
Before Curt Flood, Donn Clendenon, Ken Harrelson, Bobby Tolan, Jim Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and Dave McNally, there were two ballplayers -- Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale -- who received little or no credit for the eventual rise in major league baseball salaries.
It was no coincidence that the players hired Marvin Miller as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association for $50,000 a year, effective July 1, 1966. In the aftermath of the Koufax and Drysdale holdouts that spring, the players realized they were dealing from a position of weakness rather than strength.
Koufax and Drysdale weren't the only holdouts on the Dodgers that year. Maury Wills held out as well although, unlike his teammates, he went it alone.
The following article dated Thursday, March 10, 1966 is from my Dad's archives. In the "Best of George Lederer," I bring you another anniversary special -- this one from 39 years ago to the day.
IN SAME CLASS WITH RUTH
Wills Set to Sign for $80,000 Up
By GEORGE LEDERER
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- A comparison between Maury Wills and Babe Ruth no longer is as far off base as a normal lead by the Dodger captain.
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General Manager Buzzie Bavasi placed the banjo-hitting shortstop in the Babe's category Wednesday when he announced that Wills "will make as much this season as Ruth ever made."
Ruth reached his peak salary of $80,000 after hitting 60 home runs for the Yankees in 1927. Wills, with a total of 49 homers in nine minor and seven major league seasons, will equal it this weekend.
As long as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale are holdouts, only Willie Mays ($125,000) and Mickey Mantle ($100,000) have better contracts than Wills will be offered tonight or Friday.
"I don't expect any trouble," said Bavasi. "If I did, I wouldn't have invited Maury to come here. When we talked during the winter, we were talking in terms of $75,000. We're not far apart."
Bavasi tendered his invitation in a telephone call late Thursday night. "We did not discuss salary," said Bavasi. "We'll do that when he gets here."
The problem was in how to get here.
Wills said he was ready to check into the O'Malley Hilton this evening, but Bavasi had some reservations other than a room.
"He wanted to fly down on our plane with the Stadium Club group," said Bavasi. "But I told him not to. There'll be some reporters aboard and I don't think Maury should be bothered by a lot of questions."
For the sake of privacy, Bavasi was willing to spend an extra $100 and suggested a commercial flight. "His arrival will depend upon what flights are available. He'll be here either tonight or Friday."
Bavasi, for the first time, also disclosed Wills' 1965 contract at $60,000, about $8,000 more than appeared in print.
Wills' demand of $100,000 "or whatever Koufax and Drysdale are getting" was treated lightly by Bavasi.
"I'm sure Wills was as shocked as we were when he found out what Sandy and Don are asking. If he wants what they're getting, that means he wants nothing."
DIS AND DATA--Al Ferrara hit the first home run of three intrasquad games and also singled twice in a losing cause as the Danny Ozarks defeated the Preston Gomezes, 4-3...Ferrara homered against winning pitcher Don Sutton with the bases empty in the fourth inning...the two teams combined for 20 hits, eight more than in the first two games that failed to produce an earned run...Nate Oliver continued his strong bid for the second base job with a double and two singles for the losers...His .455 average (5-for-11) tops the regulars...Despite the first sign of power, the Ozarks used a squeeze bunt for the winning margin in the seventh inning...Hector Valle doubled, advanced on an infield hit and scored on Tommy Dean's safe bunt...Dean also tripled, as did Jim Marshall of the Ozarks. Marshall added a single and a walk in his most productive afternoon...Ron Fairly doubled and singled.
Claude Osteen started for the Ozarks, allowing one run on four hits in three innings...Howie Reed gave up three hits and a run in three innings for the losers...The loss was charged to rookie Bill Singer...Ron Perranoski makes his debut in another intrasquad game today...Lou Johnson flew home to visit his 14-year-old son, Don, who is seriously ill in UCLA medical center...Denny Lemaster, Ken Johnson and Hank Fisher are the Braves' pitchers for Saturday's exhibition opener with the Dodgers at West Palm Beach...Singer, Nick Willhite and Thad Tillotson go for the Dodgers...Strictly for laughs, the secretary of the Los Angeles Bartenders' Union called Walter O'Malley Wednesday and said his organization would picket Dodger Stadium unless Drysdale settles a dispute with employees at his "Dugout" restaurant in Van Nuys...Drysdale's bartenders are seeking an increase of 18 cents an hour.
Two days earlier, my Dad wrote the following bulletin as an aside to his daily story:
STRIKE 'TOO' AT BIG D'S EATERY
The tigers have turned on their trainer at Don Drysdale's restaurant in Van Nuys. Drysdale, as the world knows, is holding out with Sandy Koufax for a joint million-dollar, three-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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An official of the AFL-CIO Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union announced Tuesday that employees of Drysdale's restaurant have received strike sanction from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, adding that "if Don can 'strike' for his contract, so can his employees."
As it turned out, Wills did not sign with the Dodgers that day. The headline to my Dad's article two days later read: "Wills Balks at 'Final Offer,' Won't Join Club in Florida." Dad wrote a follow-up piece on Monday, March 14, suggesting that Wills and Bavasi had agreed on a compromise of $78,000 -- a figure that "might reach $80,000 with fringe benefits."
Two days later, the headline to my father's daily article was as follows: "Maury in Tune at $75,000." Bavasi told Dad, "He will sign for $75,000 but with a great year he can make from $5,000 to $10,000 more."
Wills had perhaps the worst season of his career to that point (.273/.314/.308 with only 38 SB in 62 attempts) and was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after jumping the team without permission when the Dodgers were in Japan for an exhibition tour following their World Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles. He returned in 1969 and finished his career as a Dodger in 1972.
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Update: Attention Dodger fans...Former All-Baseball colleague Jon Weisman has moved his superb Dodger Thoughts to the brand new Baseball Toaster website, effective today. Be sure to bookmark both locations and make them a part of your daily reading.