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On This Date in Sports August 6, 1985: The 48-hour Strike

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For the third time, the Major League Baseball players go on strike during a season. With the memories of the two-month strike in 1981 still fresh, there are worries the end of the season could be in jeopardy. The issues were arbitration and player benefits. As the players walked out, negotiations continued. With Commissioner Pete Ueberroth playing a pivotal role, a settlement was quickly reached one day into the strike allowing the season to resume after two days. 

The labor strife that was behind the 1985 strike had been brewing for two decades, from when Marvin Miller, a former representative of US Steel Workers, became head of the MLB Players’ Association in 1966. Upon negotiating baseball’s first collective bargaining agreement, the power the owners had over the players began to disappear. Supporting Curt Flood’s battle, Miller was able to get binding arbitration following the first in-season strike in 1972. 

The battles continued as an arbitrator led to the start of free agency in 1976. Free Agency, through the labor wars into a new direction as owners hoped to control rising contracts by creating a punitive compensation for each player signed. At the time, free agents were in a draft, and teams could claim a player and negotiate. These rules were at the heart of the 1981 strike that last 50 days and created a split season.

Heading into the 1985 labor battle, both compensation and free agency were settled issues as the punitive compensation rule was eliminated, and players were given more reign to negotiate with any teams. Owners instead focused on arbitration seeking a cap on arbitration claims. At the time, new CBAs needed a simple majority to be ratified by the owners, and Commissioner Peter Ueberroth went into negotiations looking for a fair deal for both sides rather than acting as an agent for the owners. 

The old collective bargaining agreement had expired after the 1984 season, the players and owners were in negotiations all season settling past issues without delay. However, by August, the Players set August 5th as a deadline and called for a strike when the pension benefits and arbitration issues remained unsettled. 

As baseball shut down on August 6th Peter Ueberroth and chief negotiator Lee MacPhail remained in contact with Donald Fehr, who was working on the player’s behalf. As all games scheduled on August 6th were wiped out, the sides began to make headway. Early on August 7th, a deal began to come together, as the strike ended in less than 48 hours. While the games on August 7th also were wiped out, it was quickly determined any game lost during the strike would be made up. Only two days and 25 games were lost, making it easy to reschedule the lost games. 

The owners were unable to get a cap on arbitration claims, though players agreed to add a year to arbitration eligibility from two to three years. However, it would only be for players whose career began after 1985. Players got a pension increase and an increase in minimum salary from $40,000 to $60,000. 

There was labor peace, but many owners were unhappy, many directed their anger toward Peter Ueberroth, whom they felt compromised their position in the labor dispute. This would plant the first seeds in what would become the nuclear winter of 1994 when the Playoffs and World Series were canceled. 

After being unable to cap arbitration and getting more flexible free agency, the owners agreed among each other not to sign players with other teams. Over the next three offseasons, some of baseball's best stars had a difficult time finding offers on the open market. This collusion ran afoul of the CBA and would cost the owners millions when Ueberroth uncovered it. It also drove a greater wedge between the owners and players. 

In 1988 as Peter Ueberroth’s first term as commissioner was set to expire, owners began to move to make a change with Bart Giamatti taking over before the 1989 season. Giamatti would serve just six months as commissioner before suffering a fatal heart attack. There would be a lockout before the 1990 season, that the owners again felt undercut by Commissioner Fay Vincent. This would lead them to build a war chest as they began to entrench themselves in 1994, eventually firing Vincent and putting Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, in command in 1992.