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Ueberroth, Padres Come Under Fire : Arbitrator’s Report Cites Mishandling of Hoyt Drug Case

Times Staff Writer

Arbitrator George Nicolau’s recent decision to rescind the San Diego Padres’ release of former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher LaMarr Hoyt--meanwhile reducing his one-year baseball suspension to 60 days--was based upon charges that, in Hoyt’s case, the drug programs administered by the Padres and Commissioner Peter Ueberroth were misguided, inconsistent, and unfair.

The 46-page confidential report, dated June 16 and obtained by The Times, painted a portrait not of a street drug user, but of a former star with a failing right arm and failing marriage whose biggest problem was the stress that kept him from sleeping.

Nicolau, chairman of a New York arbitration panel, ruled that the 32-year-old Hoyt, whose troubles with tranquilizers culminated in a 38-day prison sentence last winter, was wrongly disciplined by the Padres as a substance abuser when, in fact, he was a medication misuser. The report said the Padres wrongly placed Hoyt under the league’s toughest drug-offender policy--two strikes and you’re out--when Hoyt’s circumstances should have dictated otherwise.

It claimed San Diego, which attempted to terminate Hoyt’s three-year, $3.2-million contract two days after he entered jail Jan. 5, was “impervious to its share of the blame for the culminating events of Oct. 28,” when Hoyt was arrested attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States with nearly 500 pills concealed in his trousers. More than 300 were Valium, the rest were muscle relaxants.

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“San Diego did not carefully weight all the facts as just cause requires,” the report stated. “It simply decided, irrespective of the circumstances, that its unwritten policy, as interpreted by (Ex-Padre President Ballard) Smith, would prevail.”

The report cited several major Padre indiscretions, beginning seven months before Hoyt’s arrest, in March of 1986, when they sent Hoyt to Hazelden, a Minnesota drug treatment center heavily funded by Padre owner Joan Kroc. Hazelden specializes in those who have problems with illegal drugs; Hoyt’s only previous substance problems were with Valium, a legal drug when obtained by prescription for medical use.

According to testimony, in a pre-spring training physical examination during that time, Hoyt had even admitted he was taking Valium and wanted to speak to a doctor about it. The Padres did not respond.

After Hoyt spent the full 28 days at the Minnesota facility, San Diego psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Rodgers, who is cited throughout Nicolau’s report, concluded Hazelden was the “wrong place” for him, and that the ensuing Hazelden report was “gross,” “uniformed” and an “injustice.”

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The Nicolau report also admonished snap judgments by Smith, who conceded in his testimony that it was an after-dinner discussion with a doctor friend that led him to believe Hoyt was on cocaine, and that he had no idea the problem involved a sleeping disorder.

The report concluded: “There is not a sliver of evidence . . . that Hoyt used cocaine at any time during his major league career. Nor is there any evidence that he sold, distributed or facilitated the distribution of drugs of any kind.”

Nicolau also was critical of Ueberroth, charging that the commissioner did not follow precedent set by decisions involving the Kansas City problems of 1983 and the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985.

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

Nicolau admonished Ueberroth for not giving Hoyt an alternative to suspension or meeting with him face-to-face to discuss the matter, both options that were available to the players in the Pittsburgh trials. He also charged that Ueberroth did not recognize the precedent set by Bowie Kuhn, who agreed to review the year-long suspensions of Kansas City’s Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens and Jerry Martin in 1983, eventually reinstating all three players.

“Significant disparity of treatment also creates uncertainity in the administration . . . at a time when the need is for an integrated, consistent and rational system,” Nicolau warned.

Ueberroth would not comment on the report, saying through news director Rich Levin: “The commissioner’s office does not make it a practice to comment on the decisions of arbitrators.”

There was also no comment from the Padre front office. Hoyt has refused comment since leaving jail.

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Nicolau’s ruling was in response to two Players’ Assn. grievances filed after the Padres waived Hoyt and after Ueberroth handed down his suspension.

The ruling and accompanying report, based on 463 pages of testimony and released to club presidents by the owners’ Player Relations Committee, not only made Hoyt $2.95 million richer (his contract minus the 60-day suspension) but has influenced three teams to seek his services.

Hoyt’s agent, Ron Shapiro, met with the Atlanta Braves on Monday, will meet with the Baltimore Orioles either today or Thursday, and will finish the week with a meeting with the Toronto Blue Jays.

By the start of next week, although at a minor league level, Hoyt could be back in baseball. For a prorated amount of baseball’s minimum $62,500 contract--a team will owe him just $31,250 if he signs at the All-Star Break, for example--teams are willing to take a chance on Hoyt.

“We aren’t fearful of helping people, as long as they know they must first help themselves,” Baltimore General Manager Hank Peters said. “And there’s no question but that the guy can pitch.”

“The guy is dominating,” said Toronto General Manager Pat Gillick. “And do you know him?”

According to Nicolau’s report, neither the Padres nor major league baseball knew him and, worse yet, did not take the time to find out.

With the Chicago White Sox in 1983, Hoyt won the Cy Young Award by going 24-10 with a 3.66 earned-run average. The next season, both his weight and ERA ballooned (260 pounds, 4.47) and in the winter of 1984 he was traded to the Padres. Despite a late-season diagnosis of rotator cuff tendinitis, he performed well in 1985, going 16-8 with a 3.47 ERA.

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By then, however, the problems already had started. According to Nicolau’s report, psychiatrist Rodgers determined that the 30-year-old pitcher became “obsessed” with his sore arm.

On Feb. 5, 1986, with Hoyt’s sore arm persisting, the pitcher visited Dr. Samuel Shannon in Hoyt’s hometown of Columbia, S.C. He had not seen Shannon in eight years, but confided in him about an impending divorce and “excess stress” and requested medication. Shannon warned him of the difficulties associated with the drug, then prescribed 24 Valium (no refills) and 24 other sleeping pills.

Upon his return to San Diego, according to the report, Hoyt shared the pills with his wife, Sylvia, who also was under stress. The pills lasted five days. On Feb. 10, when prescriptions ran out, instead of going to a local physician, Hoyt drove the 17 miles to Tijuana, Mexico, to obtain more.

When he tried to come home, Hoyt was detained at the San Ysidro border crossing by customs agents for possession of marijuana and Valium tablets and Quaaludes. The pills were disposed of without analysis, Hoyt paid a $600 fine and was released.

But a U.S. Customs official called the Padres. A few days later, Smith, telling his staff to keep it quiet, met with Hoyt. According to Smith’s testimony, he reiterated the club’s policy of extending assistance to employees on an initial drug involvement, but ending employment upon a second involvement. He told Hoyt he had used his first and last chance.

Eight days later, Hoyt was in trouble again. Shortly after midnight, he was stopped on a San Diego street by police after driving through a red light. Hoyt was arrested for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana and a switch-blade knife. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of public nuisance, was placed on three years’ probation, and paid $375 in fines.

It was after this that he was sent to Hazelden. He stayed there a month, returning to spring training on March 27. According to Nicolau’s report, “There was no after-care program. By all accounts, Hoyt was left on his own.”

Then in a poor season, he went 8-11 with a 5.15 ERA. On Oct. 28, trying to walk back across the border from Mexico with 500 pills stuffed in his pants and socks. He was formally charged with possession of Valium tablets and propoxyphene, a painkiller. Through a plea-bargain, the charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Before sentencing, U.S. Magistrate Roger Curtis McKee examined a report completed by Rodgers, the psychiatrist. The report explained Hoyt’s “intractable” insomnia due to recent stresses, and the compounding of the problems through the “aggressive, isolative and sometimes abusive treatment program” at Hazelden. Rodgers report determined that on Oct. 28 Hoyt was smuggling pills to “medically treat himself.”

The report contributed to a sentencing of 45 days, 15 days less than the minimum 60 days as foreseen in the plea-bargain.

Yet Smith testified that he never shared the report, and obtained the opinion that Hoyt’s problem was with cocaine after speaking with a doctor friend at a dinner.

According to Nicolau: “Smith asked what conclusions could be drawn about a person who talked about a sleep disorder and had large quantities of Valium. His friend, who had treated players for cocaine abuse, told him, ‘It was very common for people that were using cocaine to use large quantities of Valium in an effort to come down.’

Hearing that, Smith decided there was no basis for distinguishing Hoyt’s case.”

Smith was so convinced, according to testimony, that he did not read the court transcript in which Judge McKee reduced Hoyt’s sentence because of the other factors. He had already made up his mind and, two days after the start of Hoyt’s jail term, one week before the Padres would have to start paying LaMarr Hoyt for the 1987 season, they released him.


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