Most books on a baseball year concentrate on a single legendary team (1927 Yankees, 1954 Giants). Katz, mayor of Cooperstown, New York (The Kansas City A's and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s, 2007), gives multiple teams equal time while devoting half of this delightful, opinionated history to the strike that upset everyone but enshrined the free agent system that has produced spectacular salaries for even mediocre players.
The 1981 season also produced an oddball split season, the first since 1892. With the 1975 demise of the reserve clause, player salaries skyrocketed. By 1980, elite players earned over $1 million per year, minuscule compared to the numbers today but alarming to owners at the time. Katz brilliantly describes the bitter, fruitless, yearlong negotiations aimed at determining a team’s compensation for the loss of a free agent player. Despite the book’s title, the seven-week 1981 strike did not save baseball but produced a complex compensation package that has long since been superseded by even more complex packages. The author shows little sympathy for the rich but mostly clueless owners who underestimated the intelligence of their players. Readers will enjoy Katz’s account of their antics as much as his traditional chronicle of the 1981 season(s). It was the year when a portly Mexican rookie Los Angeles Dodger, Fernando Valenzuela, debuted with eight straight complete game victories. Nolan Ryan broke the all-time no-hit record by pitching his fifth, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner continued his abusive treatment of players and coaches, which was not improved by the team’s loss in the last Yankee-Dodger World Series.
A superior addition to the venerable genre of baseball season accounts.