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Leaked Documents Suggest Collusion : Players’ Union Briefing Says Ueberroth Urged Baseball Information Trading

From Staff and Wire Reports

Baseball management, including Mike Port, general manager of the Angels, consulted each other on dealings and contract negotiations with free agents between the 1986 and 1987 seasons, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The information, including testimony, was cited in a 2-volume, 182-page confidential brief filed March 22 by the Major League Baseball Players Assn. in its second collusion case, expected to be decided by arbitrator George Nicolau sometime this month.

At issue in the case is the owners’ conduct during the winter of 1986-87, when Doyle Alexander, Bob Boone, Andre Dawson, Rich Gedman, Ron Guidry, Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Lance Parrish were among the free agents who challenged the owners’ solidarity. Their lack of success as free agents led the players’ union to file a grievance that charged the owners with violating the collective bargaining agreement by acting in concert to restrict free-agent movement.

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Although baseball executives deny acting in concert, the briefing traces a pattern of information trading at the urging of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth in an attempt to hold down spiraling player salaries.

“Be honest with each other, exchange information,” Ueberroth is quoted as telling general managers at a meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., during November, 1986.

Barry Rona, executive director of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, accused the union of leaking the brief to give “a distorted, one-sided version of the case.”

In a statement Monday, Rona called the alleged union leak “reprehensible and unforgiveable . . . commonplace and predictable.” He said the Player Relations Committee would confine its comments to its own brief. He defended Ueberroth’s actions, however, saying they were consistent with the collective bargaining agreement.

Rich Levin, a spokesman for the commissioner’s office, said Ueberroth would let Rona’s statement speak for him.

Port, contacted at his home Monday evening, also challenged the timing of the information.

“I find it interesting that the brief would become available previous to a decision,” Port said. “It is inappropriate to be made available, and it is inappropriate for me to make a comment.”

Darrell Christian, sports editor of Associated Press, told The Times Monday that his reporters got the brief from a confidential source. “It was not a plant,” he said. “We have been pursuing this for some time. It was not a deliberate leak.”

Copies of the brief were distributed by the union to players involved in the case, their agents and members of the union’s executive board. The brief contained portions of meeting minutes and notes of baseball officials that showed:

--At a meeting on Feb. 26, 1987, Ueberroth requested and received updates from teams on their player negotiations.

--Chicago White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf sent the Detroit Tigers and Ueberroth copies of his correspondence with Jack Morris’ agent.

--Port discussed Tim Raines with the Montreal Expos, the team Raines re-signed with after testing the free-agent market.

--Sandy Alderson, Oakland Athletics vice president, telephoned Port immediately after catcher Bob Boone contacted Alderson.

--Andy MacPhail, Minnesota Twins general manager, telephoned the Baltimore Orioles and asked for thoughts on how much pitcher Ron Guidry was worth.

--Bill Giles, Philadelphia Phillies owner, wrote down numbers next to Andre Dawson’s name on Jan. 28, 1987, which matched the contract offered to Dawson by the Chicago Cubs five weeks later. The notation was “5-700 Dawson.” Dawson, who made $1.5 million with the Montreal Expos the year before, was paid $500,000 by the Cubs for 1987 with bonuses that raised him to $700,000. Giles dismissed it as coincidence, telling Associated Press: “It was probably what I was thinking what the (player was) worth, but I really don’t know.”

--The Boston Red Sox advised all major league clubs on Jan. 9, 1987, that they intended to try to re-sign catcher Rich Gedman when they could resume negotiations on May 1. (Under the rules of the 1985 agreement, free agents are ineligible to sign with their former clubs from Jan. 8 to April 30. The period begins Dec. 7 if a player’s former club does not offer the option of salary arbitration.)

--Ueberroth or Rona asked in September, 1986, that clubs advise the commissioner’s office if they intended to offer players contracts for more than three years.

Port said his colleagues discuss players as a matter of policy.

“In view of the number of conversations we have at any point at any time, any number of players will come up,” Port said. He added that such conversations are appropriate proceedings for a general manager.

Alderson said he called Port regarding Boone out of professional courtesy.

In regards to Raines, an Expo memo to Bill Stoneman, assistant general manager, said Port talked with Murray Cook, Montreal general manager, after talking with agent Tom Reich.

” . . . Mike (Port) advised Murray (Cook) that in a conversation with Tom Reich, Tom told him that Tim Raines wanted to leave and mentioned it several times as if orchestrating it for our benefit,” the memo said.

The union’s brief was culled from 8,346 transcript pages of 39 days of closed-door testimony by 49 witnesses in 1987 and 1988, and 330 exhibits. The players’ union is trying to prove that owners conspired against signing free agents after the 1986 season. The union contends in its brief that all offers to free agents were orchestrated by the clubs.

Rona has steadfastly denied the conspiracy charges, saying that owners have been reacting individually to baseball’s changing economic conditions.

Arbitrator Thomas Roberts ruled last Sept. 21 that owners conspired to limit free-agent movement after the 1985 season. He made seven players free agents last January and currently is holding hearings on monetary damages and other remedies.

Notes taken by David Montgomery, executive vice president of the Phillies, show that owners discussed player relations again at a meeting in Newport Beach Sept. 23-24, 1986. Montgomery’s notes contained the following:

“PRC and Financial Restraint--Does the free agents’ case affect the way that our thinking goes on player signing policies. Answer No--every club has their own policy on the length of contract. No club has a signing policy extending longer than 3 years. The commissioner would like to be advised if any club has a different policy.”

Ueberroth later testified and denied making those statements, according to the union brief. But Giles, Montgomery’s boss in Philadelphia, testified that either Ueberroth or Rona wanted to be informed if any club decided to sign players to contracts longer than three years.

Two months later, the general managers met in Scottsdale, Ariz. According to the notes of Tom Grieve, Texas Rangers general manager: Pat Gillick, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, spoke of “clubs working together better, fewer dumb financial decisions--fewer multiyear contracts.”

Grieve later testified about what he thought Gillick meant. “I don’t believe he said anything as to, you know, as to why another club does care or should care, but it’s obvious that if one team makes dumb financial decisions, that it does affect other teams also,” Grieve said.

That, according to Grieve’s notes, was when Ueberroth told clubs to be open with each other and share information.


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