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Ueberroth Plan Prompts More Questions Than It Answers

Times Staff Writer

It has been almost five weeks since Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth ended his investigation into last summer’s Pittsburgh drug trials by announcing penalties of varying degrees for 23 players.

Eleven were suspended conditionally for the 1986 season, but all have said they will accept the stipulations that will allow them to play this year.

Is that it? Case closed? Nothing more to say?

Of course not.

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What are the specifics concerning implementation of the penalties? How are they to be verified and monitored? When will the players and their agents be given the details? What’s going on here?

Was Ueberroth’s announcement Feb. 28 just a smoke screen, devoid of any real desire--or mechanics--for implementation?

The commissioner’s office maintains that an announcement is imminent, that Ueberroth will address the specifics and reveal his overall drug program before the season starts.

The season will start Monday, meaning that Ueberroth apparently is taking it down to the very deadline that he gave the penalized players to respond to his disciplinary stipulations.

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The Times, pursuing the specifics, recently requested an interview with Ueberroth. There was no response.

Was he simply not ready to answer the questions or was this another indication that he prefers the national spotlight of mass media conferences, rather than less theatrical one-on-one interviews?

The most important questions are these:

--Who will select or approve the appropriate drug-prevention facilities or programs to which the penalized players must contribute either 10% or 5% of their 1986 base salaries?

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--Can those contributions be made in installments, through payroll deduction, or must they be lump-sum payments?

--Will the contributions be tax-deductible, as charitable donations? If so, the players can actually profit from the penalties at the expense of other taxpayers.

--What is the deadline for payments?

--Is the public to be informed as to which programs the players are contributing their time and money?

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--Who will monitor the community service involvement? Some players must contribute 100 hours each of the next two years to community service, and some others must contribute 50 hours this year.

--Must that involvement adhere to a regular schedule or can a player pick and choose his hours?

--Where and how frequently will the random drug testing be done on those players required to submit to such tests?

--Considering that the year’s suspension will be immediately imposed on any of the penalized players who test positive, will test records be made public? If they are not, how will anyone know that testing is actually being done?

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--Does the current arbitration hearing with the Major League Players Assn. affect either the conditional suspensions or the overall drug proposal? The union is charging that the owners violated the collective bargaining agreement by refusing to guarantee contracts unless they included a testing clause.

The three-day hearing is scheduled to end in New York today. A ruling by arbitrator Tom Roberts is not expected for another week.

Richard Levin, who works for the commissioner as baseball’s director of news, said Wednesday that he expected Ueberroth to make the announcement before the season starts and that he had no knowledge of its being delayed pending an arbitration ruling.

Attorney Tom Reich, who represents several of the penalized players, said he knows of no one who has received working details of how the penalties will be implemented.

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He added, however, that he and other agents have had several discussions with Ueberroth concerning the testing and community service, and that Ueberroth continues to stress rehabilitation rather than punishment, and to emphasize the need for confidentiality.

Reich said it was his understanding that the arbitrator’s ruling could affect the commissioner’s ability to impose an overall plan designed around random testing, but he wasn’t specific.

Ueberroth, meanwhile, has already said that an expanded testing program will be administered by Dr. Tony Daly of Los Angeles under the direction of the commissioner’s office, rather than by the clubs.

It’s what he has not said in regard to his previously announced penalties that seems intriguing.

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Will the cynics be right? Will that February announcement prove to be more style than substance? There will soon be an answer. Or will there?


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