DRUG CLAUSE CONTROVERSY : Talks Center on Russell's Contract Today

Times Staff Writer

Players and owners will resume negotiations today in New York on a new collective bargaining agreement for major-league baseball, and the first item on the agenda will be the drug-testing clause in the contract of Dodger shortstop Bill Russell.

Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., said Monday that there could be no progress in the talks until the rationale for that clause was clarified, and Eugene Orza, associate general counsel for the players' union, echoed that sentiment.

Under pressure last week from the union, the Dodgers deleted a similar clause from the contracts of outfielder Mike Marshall and five other Dodger players. But Dodger owner Peter O'Malley has insisted that such a clause remain in the case of Russell, who signed a two-year contract last November. O'Malley also said last Friday that he reserved the option of inserting mandatory drug-testing provisions in other players' contracts "on a case-by-case basis."

Fehr said Monday: "If they try to do that, they've got a war on their hands."

Orza said the Dodgers are taking the position that, because Russell signed a long-term guaranteed contract, the club was empowered to negotiate additional terms, such as requiring drug tests on demand.

The union contends, however, that even if Russell refused to take the drug test, the team would be prohibited by last summer's joint drug agreement--which provides for specific procedures to be followed for players with suspected drug problems--from releasing him. "When we asked (the owners' Player Relations Committee) about that last week, they said, 'That's a good question, we'll have to get back to you on that,' " Orza said.

"We (the union) don't understand how this clause can be valid in the context of the joint drug agreement," Orza said.

Dodger officials had no comment Monday, other than reiterating, as O'Malley had said last Friday, that Russell's contract would remain as is.

Russell, in the process of moving from his home in Broken Arrow, Okla., to a suburb of Tulsa, was not available for comment.

Russell's Boston-based agent, Steve Freyer, said: "We haven't been advised by the players' association or the Dodgers or anybody else on (the fate of) the clause. We can't guess what's going to happen. We're just going to let events take their course."

According to a source knowledgeable about the negotiations between Russell and the Dodgers, the player had no objections to the insertion of the clause in the contract. "He didn't inform the players' association about the clause because it didn't occur to him to do so. He didn't think it was a major point," the source said.

The Dodgers brought up the drug-testing clause, the source said, "at the 11th hour and 59th minute. (Dodger lawyer) Bob Walker said he wanted Russell to note the guaranteed language, that it contained something on drugs and on alternative service, i.e., if he got hurt they could use him in another capacity.

"He had more problem with the alternative service clause. He didn't have a problem with the drug clause, no problem at all.

Asked if the Dodgers had an ulterior motive in requiring the clause from Russell, considered one of the most clean-living players, the source said: "I don't think they're that Machiavellian. They just decided that (drug-testing) was something they wanted to do, and wanted to do with everybody. It was probably something done relatively innocently."

Fehr said that the union was eager to determine how the rest of he clubs stood on the idea of drug-testing clauses in multi-year contracts. "We want to know whether the clubs are now going to feel free to follow the Dodgers' lead and try to put mandatory testing into multi-year contracts," he said.

"If the answer is yes, we are going to have a real problem going forward with these talks. If the answer is no, and the Dodgers stand alone, with just such a clause in Russell's contract, then maybe the question is finesseable. Possibly, we could pursue litigation against the Dodgers on the Russell matter while the talks proceed."

Management's chief negotiator, Lee MacPhail, said Monday that he thought the drug issue would no longer be a problem, in the contract talks, although he added: "That doesn't depend on our side."

Times Staff Writer Kenneth Reich also contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World