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MacPhail Letter to Owners Brings Rebuttal From Orza

Associated Press

While declining to criticize the man, the Major League Players Assn. has taken issue with some of the substance of a letter in which outgoing Player Relations Committee President Lee MacPhail urged major league clubs to use self-restraint in signing players to big contracts.

“Lee is at the end of a long and, I would say, very distinguished career in baseball,” Eugene Orza, legal counsel to the players’ union, said Friday. “It would be very unseemly to criticize him at this time. But, of course, sincerity and accuracy are not always synonymous.”

In a five-page letter dated Oct. 16 and sent to each of 26 owners, MacPhail cited statistics regarding baseball’s financial state. There were 62 free agents on the market this week.

“The clubs have done some ridiculous things over the years,” said MacPhail, whose retirement becomes effective Dec. 31, “but they are still free to make their own decisions.”

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MacPhail’s letter said that player-performance declines for those with multiyear contracts and that players spend more time on the disabled list after signing long-term contracts.

“I noticed he makes a connection between long-term contracts and player performance,” Orza said of the letter. “But all you have to do when that argument comes up is remember how George Brett (of the Kansas City Royals) played in the playoffs and World Series.”

Orza also said it might be “reading too much into the letter” to accuse MacPhail of trying to instigate collusion among owners in an attempt to restrict the movement of free agents or the size of their contracts.

A few other points raised in MacPhail’s letter which came to light Friday:

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--Clubs now owe $45 million-$50 million to players who have been released or are now longer active.

--Baseball’s benefit plan, which costs more than $32 million annually, gives a player with 10 years at age 62 an income of $90,000 a year.

--Clubs are paying high prices to avoid going through the salary arbitration process.

“I notice he said in the (letter) that clubs pay high prices to avoid going to arbitration,” Orza said. “I guess that means . . . the clubs would rather pay high prices because an even higher price would be the result of a neutral analysis (by an arbitrator) of that player’s value to a franchise.”

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