STAMFORD, Conn. – During the height of negotiations during the baseball players’ strike in 1981, union leader Marvin Miller asked Stamford’s Ray Grebey for a sudden session. Miller knew that Grebey, negotiator for baseball’s owners, had a prior commitment that day to attend his son’s college graduation in Ohio.
Grebey, who died Aug. 28 at the age of 85, handled both responsibilities. He met with Miller, and then he took a plane chartered by former Pirates owner Dan Galbreath and arrived at Kenyon College to see his son, Bud, receive his degree.
“First and foremost, he was dedicated to his family,’’ Bud Grebey said. “If my Dad had to run to that graduation, he would’ve been there. He had to fulfill his legal role. But he was not going to miss his son’s college graduation.”
Ray Grebey was caught at perhaps the most critical intersection in baseball history. He represented the owners in the strike that began that June and shut down the game for two months. The sticking point was free agency compensation. The owners sought compensation for players who left their teams as free agents. The players felt any compensation would restrict player movement.
A compromise was eventually reached, but negotiations were bitter. After the agreement, Grebey and Miller refused to pose together for the traditional “peace” picture. During the strike, Grebey also was also bothered by the media’s intrusion on his family space in Stamford.
“I think he deliberately made a separation between his family and his professional life,’’ Bud said. “He was two completely different people. When people tried to break through that role, he was offended. He wanted to protect the privacy of his family, especially his wife, more than anything else.”
The common perspective of the strike is that the owners, and Grebey, were the losers. Grebey’s hand, however, was compromised by a group of owners who did not stand together. They had taken out insurance for revenue lost before the strike. Near the end of the strike, the owners became divided when the insurance money was running out.
“He knew he was the point person for a band of competitors, the owners, that were really trying to defeat each other,’’ Bud said. “He knew full well what he was getting into. Was he battle scarred and bruised? Yes. But baseball also took care of him for the rest of his life. The experiences he had were priceless. Was he bitter about it? Absolutely not. He felt he did the best he could under the circumstances.”
Grebey’s career in labor relations began with Inland Steel, and he later moved to General Electric. He also directed labor relations at Pan American World Airlines. After the baseball strike, he kept a lower public profile. Unlike Miller, who played the media throughout his career, Grebey was much more restrained.
“If you were to approach him and ask him stories, he’d tell you,’’ Bud said. “But he didn’t boast about it. He’d talk to you for hours. But he was not somebody to solicit publicity. He didn’t go out of his way to trash anybody. He carried the bag for a bunch of multimillionaires and tried to advance a unified position. He wasn’t one that was going to go out of his way and speak negatively about anybody.”
Even with the high-profile, high-stress job as a labor negotiator, Grebey made his family his priority. He married his wife, Marilyn, 61 years ago. He is also survived by his daughters, Nancy and Chris, and two grandchildren.
“I was blessed with a terrific relationship with my father,’’ Bud said. “He was a friend, a role model, and a father. In this day and age, that’s somewhat unique. I wish everybody could have a relationship with their dad like I had with mine.”