How the baseball strike hits a rookie pitcher
Picther Dave Stewart of the Los Angeles dodgers is not your typical major leaguer out on strike over baseball's free-agent compensation rule. His basic salary is nowhere near the major league average of $163,000, although this doesn't really reflect the lower figures earned by most players with five or fewer years of experience.
Stewart is a 24-year- old rookie with a wife, a four-year-old son, a rental apartment in West L.A., and two monthly car payments. He reportedly makes the major league minimum of $32,500.
About a year ago Dave had just come off a road trip with the dodger's Alburquerque farm team that ended against the Giants in Phoenix. He was 7- 9, with an earned-run average of slightly more than four a game, and he was struggling. But by the end of the season he led the Pacific Coast League in innings pitched (202) and starts (29), and finished tied for the league high in victories with 15.
Were the Los Angeles Dodgers parent organization and its scouts impressed with Stewart? Of course they were. The Dodgers took Dave to spring training back in March and he made the team on the strength of a fast ball that either moves up and in or up and away from the hitters.
"I can't tell myself how my fast ball is going to break when I throw it, but it always has some kind of movement, and so far has been my 'out' pitch in the big leagues," the 6 ft., 2 in. Stewart explained. "I know this: So far a lot of hitters have had a lot of trouble getting a piece of it."
For Dave, who was out of options with the dodgers this season (meaning management couldn't have sent him back to the minors without the risk of losing him to another team), 1981 was to have been his big year, and in a way it has been.He was 3-1 working out of the bullpen, with a 0.53 earned-run average and 10 strikouts in 11 innings of pitching.
Asked what his personal feeings were when the players walked out on management June 12 and he had to find another job or dip into his meager savings , Stewart replied:
"Naturally I didn't like it. I was just beginning to get somewhere at the major league level and I didn't want that interrupted. But I can't say that I didn't know for a long time before that a strike might happen, and in that way I was prepared. I also voted for the strike, because I think a man should support his union, especially if that is what the majority wants."
"To be honest with you, it bothered me a lot more at the end of the 1979 season after I felt I pitched well with Albuquerque and the Dodgers didn't put me on their major league roster," he continued. "I let it get to me mentally, and I think that probably explains why I started so poorly with Albuquerque the following season, although I finished up OK."
How are Stewart and his wife, Vanessa, coping with the strike financially? "Fortunately just before the walkout started I met a Dodger fan who owns a metal fastener business in California, who offered me a job if I needed one," Dave Said."I'm doing some public relations work for the owner of the company, but I'm also stocking and packaging nuts and bolts. I won't tell you how much I'm getting, because I don't want to upset anyone at the plant who might be making less. But it's nothing like my baseball salary, and I don't want to say what that is, either.
"Before the strike my wife, who works as a receptionist for a data processing firm, and I were able to save regularly, not a lot, but regularly. Now we're not putting anything away, but at least we haven't had to dig into our savings yet. Most of our money goes for food, rent, gasoline, and paying to send our son to summer school. We don't have people in socially anymore, but the big thing is that we don't go dancing every weekend like we did."
Since the strike Stewart says that neither he nor his wife has made a major purchase and that they haven't turned on their air conditioner even once, although part of that stems from a feeling Dave has that air conditioners are bad for a pitcher's arm.
Questioned as to how much he actually knows about the owners' side of the baseball strike, Stewart replied: "I have to admit that I don't know much about it, and I think that's true of most players. It's not that our player representatives haven't explained it to us, and before the strike we were getting progress bulletins every week in the mail. They were signed by all 26 major league player representatives and Marvin Miller [executive director of the Players Association]. But I don't really understand the owners' side of it."
"You know a lot of people think, because the strike vote was taken by a show of hands, that players were afraid to speak out against it," he said. "Well, I happen to know that there were some on every club who didn't want it and said so. But in the end, they voted with the majority. My personal feeling is that the strike won't end until both sides are willing to compromise."
How has Stewart been keeping himself in shape?
"Bobby Castillo [another Dodger pitcher] and myself work out with a semipro team named the Redbirds for at least an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays," Dave said. "We take turns pitching simulated nine-inning game, with our catcher calling balls and strikes.
"So far I don't feel I've lost that much physically. In fact, I think most players who have been working out regularly could play right now if the strike should suddenly end."
Looking back on himself this year, how would Stewart, who bears a resemblance to former St. Louis pitcher bob Gibson, rate his progress?
"Even though I've pitched well, I still think I've got a lot to learn," he said. "I know you have to throw strikes to win in the majors, and I have been doing that. But I also know the good hitters, the second time they see you, have a way of adjusting to rookie pitchers.
"So I know I've got to do some things differently, too. Right now the strike is preventing from me from accomplishing that. Like everyone else, I just wish they'd get the thing over with."