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Hershiser Gets 3-Year, $7.9-Million Contract : Dodgers and Their Ace Reach Accord Without Arbitration

Times Staff Writer

Not long after the start of Thursday morning’s arbitration hearing was delayed to allow negotiations to continue, pitcher Orel Hershiser reached agreement with the Dodgers on a three-year, $7.9-million contract.

The package includes a $1.1-million signing bonus and salaries of $2.4 million in 1989, $1.6 million in 1990 and $2.8 million in 1991.

The $7.9-million contract is the largest in baseball history, excluding those that include long-term deferments and real estate provisions.

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Hershiser’s average annual salary of $2.63 million, including the prorated signing bonus, is also the largest, edging the $2.5 million that Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens will receive from the three-year, $7.5-million contract he agreed to Wednesday.

Hershiser, who made $1.1 million in 1988, could also become the first player to receive $3 million for one season, earning $3.1 million on a prorated basis in 1991. He was seeking a 1989 salary of $2.425 million in arbitration and the Dodgers had filed at $2 million, both figures being arbitration records.

The hearing was averted when the sides agreed on a compromise involving the 1990 lockout language, which Hershiser and his attorney, Robert Fraley, described as the principal stumbling block throughout negotiations.

In the new contract, Hershiser, who wanted his 1990 salary guaranteed in the event of an owners’ lockout, seemed to make the pivotal compromise by accepting the Dodgers’ language. He will not be paid during a work stoppage by either the players or clubs as a response to the collective bargaining negotiations.

Hershiser agreed to that provision after the Dodgers increased the amount of the signing bonus, decreased the money at stake in 1990 and increased the total package to a figure that Fraley said was “close to what we always had in mind.”

Fraley added: “It’s structured properly now. We took the heat off 1990.”

The Dodgers apparently wanted Hershiser to accept a smaller signing bonus and a provision that would have allowed an arbitrator to decide if he should be paid in the event of a lockout.

The clubs call that neutral language, but Fraley cited an arbitrator’s ruling against the players in the 1981 work stoppage and said: “It’s not neutral at all. There’s strong precedent for believing we couldn’t have won in arbitration.”

Thursday’s arbitration was scheduled to begin at an airport area hotel at 9:30. An agreement was reached at about 10:30, after Fraley and Bob Walker, the Dodgers’ attorney, re-opened their talks at 9 and asked arbitrator Stephen Goldberg to delay the hearing.

The apparent impetus for continuing the negotiations stemmed from a nine-hour meeting between Fraley, Walker and Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, that began early Wednesday afternoon.

The New York Mets’ signing of Dwight Gooden to a three-year, $6.7-million contract and the signing of Clemens on Wednesday generated significant movement in the talks, Claire said.

“You’re talking about two of the premier pitchers in baseball,” Claire said of Clemens and Hershiser. “You can’t have one signing without an impact on the other.

“The Red Sox were buying out one year of free agency (the third year of Clemens’ contract) and we were buying out two.”

Hershiser, who was eligible for free agency when the 1989 season ended, said it was a possibility he would have had to consider. His hope, however, was to stay with the Dodgers.

“In a negotiation like this, you try to take the sentiment out,” he said. “You try to do what’s best for your family and yourself. It’s all business. I understand that.

“Now I can get back to feeling warm and goosey about being a Dodger. It’s a fantastic feeling to have it out of the way. I can concentrate on baseball. I don’t have to worry about free agency.”

Hershiser was 23-8 in 1988, ended the regular season with a record 59 straight scoreless innings, and had a 3-0 record with a save in postseason play when he was voted most valuable player of both the NL playoffs and World Series.

Asked if he will face greater pressure because of the new contract, Hershiser shook his head and said he has been asked that question ever since he hit the $1-million mark and thinks he supplied a definitive response amid the pressure of 1988.

“I’m not predicting anything except a top effort,” he said. “I give the same effort every time I put the uniform on. I’ve never equated a pay stub with effort.”

Asked, too, if he thought his image has changed, if he was surprised by the criticism from fans and some writers, Hershiser said: “Surprised, no. Unhappy, sure. No one likes to be criticized. I’d like to be able to sit every one down in my living room and explain my motivation.

“Some might call it greed, but I feel I’m the same person I’ve always been. I can’t control how people feel and I’m not worried about it.

“I mean, I received a standing ovation at the public workout, so not everyone thinks of it as greed. We’re entertainers in the same sense that Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen are, but the fact that they get $50,000 every time they sing a song doesn’t get the exposure we do. And every time they negotiate a contract it isn’t regarded as a sentimental attack on a team and city.”

Claire called Hershiser’s signing historic and said his career is important in the context of Dodger history because it shows what a low draft choice can do through hard work and the pursuit of excellence.

Asked about the record numbers, club owner Peter O'Malley said he doesn’t know how long the trend could continue but added: “We’re obviously pleased to have signed Orel or we wouldn’t have offered the $7.9 million. He’s the best pitcher in the game and we look for his consistency to continue.”

Did he contribute to the settlement?

O'Malley said he was in New York Wednesday night and spoke with Claire on the phone from midnight to 2:30.

“I contributed enough to help get him signed, but Fred and Bob Walker deserve the credit,” O'Malley said after arriving at the team’s training base in Vero Beach, Fla., Thursday.

Manager Tom Lasorda, also in Vero Beach, said he was happy to have the situation resolved.

“I’ll treat Orel the same as when he was making $300 a month,” Lasorda said.

Said Dodger broadcaster Don Drysdale: “I’m just glad I don’t have to pay his taxes.”

Hershiser said he will work out at Dodger Stadium today, then fly to Vero Beach Sunday.

He said he expects to be treated the same as he always has by his teammates. And why not? He has helped to take baseball’s salary structure to new heights.

Times staff writer Gordon Edes, in Vero Beach, Fla., contributed to this story.

OREL HERSHISER’S SALARIES, STATISTICS Year-by-year salaries and statistics for Orel Hershiser, who Thursday became the highest-paid baseball player in baseball history, agreeing to a $7.9-million, three-year contract with the Dodgers. Salaries were obtained by The Associated Press from player and management sources. Salaries for 1989, 1990 and 1991 include prorated share of $1.1-million signing bonus:

YR SALARY IP W-L SO ERA 1983 $36,000 8 0-0 5 3.38 1984 $47,000 182 2/3 11-8 150 2.66 1985 $212,000 239 2/3 19-3 157 2.03 1986 $1,000,000 231 1/3 14-14 153 3.85 1987 $800,000 264 2/3 16-16 190 3.06 1988 $1,100,000 267 23-8 178 2.26 1989 $2,766,667 1990 $1,966,667 1991 $3,166,667

IP W-L SO ERA Reg. Season Totals 1200 1/3 83-49 833 2.77 Playoff Totals 40 2-0 20 2.03 World Series Totals 18 2-0 17 1.00


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