Split Season: 1981 by Jeff Katz (2015)
Split Season: 1981
by Jeff Katz
Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
I graduated high school and started college in 1994. There was also no World Series that year. To a baseball fan, it was the highest crime that could be committed, and the owners and players were equally at fault. Both groups were greedy, manipulative, and unappreciative of the high status they were given in society. At that time, I knew little about baseball history. I was aware there had been a strike in 1981, but did not know the issues that caused it, the people involved in the negotiations, or the ramifications it had on the season. I was just a little boy in 1981, and had never even been to a major league baseball game. I was blissfully unaware of the great players that were nearly within walking distance of my house.
Labor issues are never a pleasant subject to think about. Both sides of such disagreements have valid points, but neither are willing to budge or compromise too much. In 1981, over the issue of compensation for players lost to free agency, the owners forced the players to strike. Jeff Katz, the mayor of Cooperstown, relives the events of that year—both on the field and at the negotiation table—in Split Season: 1981. Fernando Valenzuela, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Billy Martin were some of the most memorable characters on the diamond; Doug DeCinces, Bob Boone, Mark Belanger, and Steve Rogers (along with Marvin Miller) were the major players that went up against Ray Gerbey, Bowie Kuhn, and the owners behind the scenes.
Split Season: 1981 is a very detailed account, nearly to a fault. The sections dealing with the strike negotiations are tedious at times, and I found it difficult to stay focused on the words on the page. The chapters are long; the 336-page book is divided into ten chapters. Had it been broken up a bit more, it could have made some of the negotiation passages more palatable. Overall, though, Split Season: 1981 is a good historical account (though certainly written in favor of the players) of one of the most controversial and unique years in baseball history.