San Diego Padre players decided not to boycott Saturday’s doubleheader with the Montreal Expos and instead asked the Padre front office to “reinstate Rich Gossage immediately.”
Gossage--who had continually criticized his bosses this season and was thus suspended without pay for the remainder of the season on Friday--will meet with team president Ballard Smith on Monday in San Diego. Gossage said Saturday: “My goal is to play again this year.”
Smith said Friday that Gossage might never again play in San Diego unless he stops berating the front office in the newspapers. Smith also asked that Gossage publicly apologize for his unkind words about owner Joan Kroc--whose late husband, Ray Kroc, founded McDonald’s. (“She’s poisoning the world with her hamburgers,” Gossage had said.)
Gossage, asked if he would take the necessary measures to appease Smith, said: “I’m not going to comment on anything regarding that.”
Gene Orza, general counsel of the Major League Players Assn., spoke for Gossage instead and said: “I will want to talk to Jerry Kapstein (one of Gossage’s agents) after Monday’s meeting. But I don’t see a situation where our grievance can be avoided unless he (Smith) reinstates him without loss of pay. But I’m not too sanguine about Ballard reinstating him on Monday because he’s the type of person that gets his feet set in concrete. We’ll file a grievance and ask for an expedited decision.
“I just feel fairly certain Ballard will take the position that the suspension stands. And we’ll fight it. He (Gossage) will get his full pay for the balance of the season.”
Smith, asked what it would take for Gossage to be reinstated, said: “I won’t comment.”
So, as of Saturday, the suspension stood--amid rumors of a player boycott. Some Padres had considered not playing, but pitcher Andy Hawkins--a close friend of Gossage’s--said: “We thought about that (a boycott), but it has to have the support of the total team to be a strong statement. If you walk out, you have to do it as a whole group. But even if we did, the problem would be worse. It (a boycott) was an option, but doing it could’ve really destroyed the situation totally. Goose knows how we feel.”
Gossage originally had planned to ignore the suspension and show up to play Saturday, but Orza told him Friday night that “there’s no sense in causing a confrontation.” So Gossage stayed at a hotel (though phone calls to his room during the doubleheader went unanswered) while his teammates had a 40-minute meeting in the clubhouse training room.
Player representative Dave Dravecky emerged and read the following team statement:
“Yesterday (Friday), in an unprecedented action, the organization suspended Rich Gossage because Rich said what he believes. Some of us may not agree with what Rich said. Some of us may agree with this, but not the way he said it. But all of us agree that he has the right to say what he believes, particularly when baseball virtually demands that players make themselves available to the press and answer its questions and particularly when the comments are offered only in response to what previously has been said and done by the club. This action by the organization represents only the latest in a series of public distractions the club has caused. We by no means offer this as an excuse for our performance as a team in 1986. It further detracts from the one goal all Padres players share--to play winning baseball at a level which hopefully brings a championship to the people of San Diego. We call upon the organization to reinstate Rich Gossage immediately.”
Orza had spoken with many of the players and was pleased with their action.
“I’m glad the players didn’t do anything too rash. . . . Some players were outrageously upset and didn’t want to play, but we convinced them to think about it, that it wouldn’t help their situation or Goose’s situation.
“Listen, there’s a mess in that clubhouse for a reason--there are sanctimonious people operating this club,” Orza said. “There’s a sense of moral superiority those people (Smith and Kroc) have. They get up on their soap boxes and maintain they’re better human beings, that their points of view are those that everyone should have. . . . They think they’re good and others are bad, and it’s all a crock of baloney.”
Orza was referring to Smith’s clubhouse beer ban in June, to Smith’s statement last week that the team would offer only one-year contracts because there is no drug plan, to Smith’s claim that he will not sign free agents who have a history of drug trouble.
Gossage reacted negatively to each of these. After the beer ban, Gossage called Smith “spineless and gutless.” And last week, he said: “I’d rather have a guy like George (Steinbrenner), who wants to win every game, than have the guy we have here (Smith), who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t care. He (Smith) cares more about our citizenship than winning. He wants choirboys. . . .”
The players generally disagreed with Gossage’s methods of communication, and they decided to go about it differently. Dravecky called Smith on Saturday to read the team statement to him.
“I thought the statement was appropriate,” Smith said. “And I told Dave I appreciated him calling me, and we talked about our common goals--and that’s to win. I didn’t suspect the players would be happy about this (the suspension), but my concern was the public attacks.”
Some players would not comment Saturday, but a few did.
Said Hawkins: “First of all, Goose is fine emotionally. Nothing will crush him. That man is a pillar of strength. . . . (But) what this all got down to was that they (the Padre front office) are tired of getting their noses rubbed in the mistakes they’ve made all year long. They shot down one of the leaders (Gossage) in the hope that it would shut the rest of us up. I’m sure there are 25 other owners around baseball watching to see what happens. It’s a very important time. This is depressing, real depressing. It’s just a real indication of where our organization is headed. It says it’s committed to winning, but action speaks louder than words. They’re giving one-year contracts and virtually cutting off (General Manager) Jack McKeon at the knees in terms of signing free agents. They’ve scared off a potential impact player in Tim Raines, and now he (Smith) takes our stopper out of the bullpen. And he tries telling us he’s dedicated to winning. I don’t know how anyone can believe it.
“The philosophies he (Gossage) stated and the problems he talked about reflect a lot of people’s opinions (on the team). He kind of went about it in a hard way, but basically what he said made a lot of sense. He’s a team leader and he felt like he had an obligation to speak up for the rest of us. People have ragged on owners before . . . but this organization is just fed up with having their nosed rubbed in all the mistakes they’ve made. That’s as truthful as I can get.”
Said Steve Garvey: “Obviously, the biggest concern is the abuse of the First Amendment right of free speech. That’s the prime focus of this incident. Our concern is with freedom of speech. This could be a precedent-setting situation. . . . Obviously, this is quite a serious situation. His (Gossage’s) rights have been taken away. . . . Anyone whose rights have been taken away, you have to feel for him.”
And Jerry Royster: “All we want to do is play and win. That’s all we’re saying. We wish there weren’t as many problems (with the team) as there are right now. But it’s their (Kroc and Smith’s) team and they do what they want to do. We’re not trying to stop them. We just wish it wouldn’t happen. We’re not making demands of anybody.”
Said Orza: “Baseball wants players to cooperate with the media. And baseball can’t demand that players answer questions yet also ask them to answer them the right way. You can’t tell them what to think.”
Royster, normally very cooperative with the media, said: “This, it makes it difficult for us to talk to you. We can’t say what we feel, seems like. It doesn’t come down to us against them (the front office). It’s us against you (the media).”