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San Diego Now Home to Hurst : After One Simple Change, He Signs for $5.25 Million

Times Staff Writer

Officials of the San Diego Padres, for whom little has come easy, spent the wee hours of Thursday morning in negotiation and worked out a contract with Bruce Hurst, a Boston Red Sox free-agent pitcher.

At 3 a.m., EST, Thursday, the red-eyed Padre management team finally changed a simple contract clause, and Hurst agreed to a 3-year deal worth $5.25 million, with incentives that could increase it to $5.6 million.

The Padres hope that the acquisition of Hurst, combined with the earlier acquisitions of slugger Jack Clark and pitcher Walt Terrell, will move last season’s third-place team into the role of preseason favorites in the National League’s West Division.

“I’d say the odds are pretty good on us for next year, wouldn’t you?” owner Joan Kroc said in a rare interview.

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Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn figures the odds are better than pretty good.

“This makes us the team to be reckoned with right off,” said the 2-time defending batting champion. “Before we ever touch a bat or pick up a ball, you’ve now got to look at us and say, ‘Serious contenders.’ ”

In his first interview as a Padre, Hurst said simply: “I’m not a savior. I just want to be a cog in a machine. I just want to pitch for the Padres as long and hard as I can.”

As a 2-time All-Star and one of baseball’s best left-handers, Hurst was one of the most attractive free agents this winter and certainly one of the toughest to court. He had spent his entire 13-year career in the Red Sox organization, logging an 88-73 record with a 4.23 earned-run average.

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Last season was his best, 18-6 with a 3.66 ERA.

So how did the Padres get him?

He said he essentially chose the team for the three reasons many choose a house--location, location and location. The parents and families of both Hurst and his wife, Holly, live about 500 miles northeast of San Diego near St. George, Utah.

“The only obstacle we had was that we weren’t as close to Utah as San Diego,” Boston General Manager Lou Gorman said.

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“There’s truth in that,” said Hurst, 30. “It was tough leaving Boston. I’ve got a lot of friends there. It’s a big part of me. But blood is thicker than water. And I wanted to be where we could raise our children near our families and home.”

Of course, he said he also wanted to go where he could win, and he said that the Padres persuaded him that they could. Even so, it was a deal long in the making, and one that almost fell through.

Hurst had quietly agreed to it at baseball’s winter meetings here Wednesday morning, but it was suddenly called off Wednesday afternoon when Dick Freeman, the Padres’ interim president changed a clause in the contract pertaining to Hurst’s pay during possible labor problems in 1990.

Details were finally worked out when Freeman, in a series of late phone calls, persuaded Padre owner Joan Kroc and club lawyers to change the offending clause.

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Before the Padres could announce the deal Thursday morning, they learned that they had already lost the free-agent pitcher Hurst was going to replace. Andy Hawkins, who has spent his entire 11-year career with the Padres, signed a 3-year, $3.6-million deal with the New York Yankees. Hawkins was 14-11 with a 3.35 ERA for the Padres in 1988, and overall was 60-58 with a 3.84 ERA.

As late as 11 p.m. Wednesday, Freeman was considering giving up on Hurst.

Earlier Wednesday, Freeman had been advised by Kroc’s attorneys to change the contract language so that Hurst would likely not be paid in case the owners decided to lock out the players should they strike in 1990.

Hurst’s agent, Nick Lampros, was angered by the change and insisted on a more liberal lockout clause, increasing Hurst’s chances of payment during a work stoppage.

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“So all talking stopped,” Lampros said. “We were going to get up in the morning and take a look at the teams interested in us (Padres, Red Sox, Angels) and maybe pursue other avenues.”

But about midnight, Jack McKeon, the Padres’ manager and general manager, talked with Freeman. He suggested that Freeman give the negotiations one more try before leaving. Freeman said he had been considering just that.

“I didn’t want to leave without one more shot at it,” Freeman said.

So McKeon spent the next 90 minutes talking with Kroc and a lawyer and, about 1:30 a.m., he finally persuaded them to return to the original clause. He then called Lampros.

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“I was surprised they changed the contract so quick for us,” Lampros said. “I guess the organization is really committed to winning.”

The Padres have baseball’s only staff with 5 starters who last season pitched at least 200 innings each. Its combined 1988 record was 70-54 with a 3.61 ERA.

The Padres’ rotation could be: right-hander Eric Show, 16-11 with a 3.26 ERA in 1988; left-hander Hurst, 18-6 and 3.66; right-hander Ed Whitson, 13-11 and 3.77; left-hander Dennis Rasmussen, 16-10 and 3.43, and right-hander Terrell, 7-16 and 3.97.

“No question, the best staff I’ve ever had,” said McKeon, who has spent 30 years around pitchers. “I could have won a pennant on some of my clubs with this staff.”

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