December 26, 1982
His pal, Ken Moffett, had just been named the new executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Jack Donlan, who is the owners’ man in football, sent him a telegram.”So you finally picked a side, albeit the wrong one,” it read. “No more circling the issues. Now you are one. The New York Road Runners are ready. Heinekens is diverting extra shipments from Washington to New York.”After 21 years at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, 12 as a runner, two mediating baseball’s version of Love’s Labor Lost, Moffett was named earlier in the month to succeed Marvin J. Miller, the only executive director the association ever had. This is like replacing John L. Lewis. “Like Yaz following Ted Williams,” Moffett says.Moffett never could hit. Way back when, he was a lefty pitcher who once said, “My fast ball shoulda’ been arrested for loitering.”

Obviously, the player representatives and the members of the pension committee, who voted, 30-0, to confirm him, were impressed by Moffett. Many got to know him during the baseball negotiations and knew they could talk to him.

After the strike ended, they exchanged Christmas cards. Last winter, some of the players on the negotiating committee threw a party for Moffett and his general counsel, Nancy Broff. “They presented me with a plaque with a picture of all the people on the negotiating team,” Moffett said.

After the strike, they also presented him with a request. They wanted a list of six candidates who could replace Miller, who had decided to retire after 16 years with the union. Moffett did not submit his own name. “Someone he recommended was one of the top candidates,” said Mark Belanger, a member of the pension committee. “He could have recommended a dog.”

During the summer, Moffett said, a few players called asking if he’d be interested in the job. In August, Miller called at the behest of the players to ask him to consider placing himself in nomination. “I ducked it,” he said.

The situation at FMCS, where he had been acting director since January 1981 and director by recess appointment since January 1982, began to deteriorate. The Reagan administration, which had given him the appointment because it was legally necessary for him to carry out the RIFs they requested, selected Kay McMurray to become permanent director.

McMurray’s first action, Moffett said, was to fire Broff. “I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have a large bearing on my decision,” Moffett said. “It was a very upsetting thing for me. The way it was handled, I thought we both deserved better treatment. I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but we held that agency together with baling wire. We reduced the budget 25 percent over two years and the first thing they do is fire my lawyer because she was a Democrat.”

So, the attentions of the baseball players became increasingly enticing. “I was being seduced,” Moffett said.

When Moffett’s selection was announced, one of the first questions baseball people asked was how difficult it would be for him to make the transition from a neutral to an advocate. “No problem,” Moffett said. “Maybe they want someone who can figure out the puzzle how to avoid cataclysmic disputes. I’ve been doing it for 21 years.”

Donlan, who switched from FMCS to management, said, “The major difference is once an agreement is finished, the mediator walks away. The parties have to live with it. That’s where he’ll find the biggest change.”

One of the issues confronting him will be pending litigation over broadcast rights, whether the players have a “right to publicity”–that means the owners cannot negotiate with the networks without their consent. Also pending will be the conspiracy free agent hearing scheduled to go before an arbitrator next month. The players allege that the owners conspired to hold down salaries of the 1981-82 free agents.

Advocacy runs in Moffett’s family. His father was the president of the United Mine Workers, District 50, a 250,000-member union where Moffett got his start in 1958 as a field representative. That also was his last union job. His grandfather was a local president.

Belanger says the players concluded, “It’s impossible for someone in management to turn to labor but not that hard for a neutral to go to labor because a neutral, in my opinion, is usually for the employe.”

There was widespread feeling among management (usually expressed off the record) during the strike that Moffett was not as neutral as he should have been. Afterward, there were stories circulated and sometimes printed that he was campaigning for Miller’s job, which Moffett vehemently denied. At the time, friends say, he was quite happy running the agency.

Edward Bennett Williams, owner of the Orioles, said, “I don’t want to doom him by saying too many nice things about him.”

In many ways, Moffett is the logical successor to Miller, who, Moffett says, “did one of the best jobs in labor relations in the country during the last 16 years.”

Free agency is Miller’s monument. “I think it will be very difficult for anyone to follow in Marvin’s footsteps,” Broff said.

True, said Tom Donahue of the AFL-CIO, but “Moffett brings his own shoes, his jogging shoes, with him.”

Belanger sees important similarities between Moffett and Miller: rapport with players, the refusal to be impulsive, the willingness to listen.

Part of Moffett’s appeal was his credentials, contacts and administrative experience. Another part was the laconic, “who, me?” sense of humor that goes along with his aging (not aged) jock resume. He is a 10-kilometer man, whose greatest funk was recent surgery to remove bone spurs on his right heel. “That was one of the questions we asked,” Belanger said. ” ‘Why do you run?’ He said, ‘That’s my time. I’m alone. I think. I get organized. I care about my body and my appearance and I feel good.’ I thought it was a hell of an answer.”

The hardest part of the transition may be leaving Washington, his three children and his running partners. “He’s single, he’s a mover and shaker. He and New York should get along just fine,” said Donlan. “Of course, I’ll try to help.”