Padres May Have Misjudged and Mishandled Hoyt

LaMarr Hoyt, that dastardly villain, is sitting home in South Carolina these days. He draws one of the top salaries on the Padre payroll, and yet he gets his check without shedding a drop of sweat.

Unfair? It would seem to be ludicrously so.

After all, Hoyt spent 38 days in a federal prison earlier this year after pleading guilty to two counts of misdemeanor possession of controlled substances.

How could the Padres possibly be paying this guy?


They are paying LaMarr Hoyt because arbitrator George Nicolau, ruling on a grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Assn., told them to pay him . . . just as he told Commissioner Peter Ueberroth that his one-year suspension of Hoyt was to be reduced to 60 days.

The initial reaction to The Nicolau Ruling was that perhaps the arbitrator himself should be tested for controlled substances . . . or maybe sanity.

How could he make such a ruling?

As it turned out, he could make such a ruling because he was dealing with facts rather than perceptions. It was his chore to take L’Affaire Hoyt out of the gray and into the black and white.

Nicolau accomplished this in a 46-page report, the gist of which is that Hoyt is more of a sympathetic figure with deep problems than a criminal brashly beating the system.

Indeed, Nicolau’s report suggested that the Padres handled Hoyt in a shallow, insensitive and unenlightened manner and that Ueberroth handled the suspension inconsistently with previous cases, perhaps because he too was unenlightened.

In essence, it seemed to me, each of the authority figures--Ueberroth and Ballard Smith, then the Padres’ president--involved in the scenario dealt with Hoyt as though recreational cocaine was the drug in question. Instead, the drugs were Valium and propoxyphene, a muscle relaxant and pain killer.

One segment of Nicolau’s report sheds particular light on how he came to understand the Padres’ approach to handling Hoyt. It came during a discussion of a report from Dr. Thomas Rodgers, a San Diego psychiatrist who examined Hoyt.

Smith, according to the Nicolau report, had a conversation with a doctor friend at a dinner party. Nicolau called it a “ ‘social gathering’ generalized conceptual discussion” . . . and suggested the Hoyt situation deserved more serious consideration.

“Smith . . . asked a physician friend at a dinner what a sleep disorder and the use of Valium might mean, to which his friend replied, ‘Cocaine,’ ” Nicolau wrote. “It’s plain that Smith used this ‘diagnosis’ as a basis for not changing his mind about (releasing) Hoyt. But there is not a sliver of evidence in this report that Hoyt used cocaine at any time during his major league career.”

The specter of cocaine manifested itself as well in Nicolau’s discussion of the one-year suspension imposed by Ueberroth. The closest parallels he could find, in terms of punishment, involved the players involved in the Pittsburgh trials and the Kansas City Royals who served terms in prison. All were involved in cocaine.

“An examination of their facts and holdings fully demonstrates the unparalleled and unjustifiable severity of Hoyt’s discipline,” Nicolau wrote.

What’s more, Nicolau used words such as absurd, incongruous and unfair to describe arguments put forth by the commissioner’s representatives.

Clearly, George Nicolau considers Hoyt to be much more of a victim than a perpetrator.

Conceding that Hoyt had broken the law--and Hoyt concedes that he broke the law--Nicolau was able to consider mitigating factors the man in the street could not have known . . . but Smith did and Ueberroth should have.

The results of Rodgers’ examination of Hoyt, which Smith had last Dec. 2, are pivotal here.

Rodgers, according to Nicolau, cited Hoyt’s “low self-esteem . . . “chronic” and “intractable insomnia” . . . and “injured shoulder.”

Throughout the Nicolau report, the Padres come off as being uninformed at best and insensitive at worst . . . and maybe a bit ignorant.

It was revealed in Nicolau’s document, for example, that Hoyt actually called for help when he filled out a questionnaire before his 1986 preseason physical examination at Scripps Clinic. According to Nicolau, it reports that Hoyt said he was taking Valium and Restoril . . . and answered “yes” when asked on the form if there was any problem associated with the use of the listed drugs that he would like to discuss with a physician.

“Smith testified that no one ever gave him this information,” Nicolau wrote, “and, it would appear . . . that the Scripps doctors . . . simply ignored Hoyt’s responses . . . “

Incredibly, the physical examination, according to the report, came during a period of time when the Padres were trying to decide how to deal with Hoyt after incidents with both U.S. Customs and the San Diego police.

When Hoyt got out of Hazelden, Nicolau’s report indicates the Padres dropped the ball once again. So much has been said about how the organization is compassionate and supportive, yet it didn’t seem to act on its own claims.

“As far as this Record reveals,” Nicolau wrote, “there was no after-care program.” The emphasis on the word “was” came from Nicolau, who underlined it.

Indeed, the emphasis and implication throughout was that LaMarr Hoyt was a troubled and probably naive man dealing on his own with personal anxieties. This was not a carefree individual flaunting cocaine--and the law--at parties and in parking lots.

A most unique case needed to be handled in a unique manner. Because it wasn’t, LaMarr Hoyt is getting a paycheck he undoubtedly wishes he was earning.