The final minutes of Bert Blyleven's contractual limbo found Angel Vice President Mike Port bouncing from one practice field to another Monday morning, searching for a tall, bearded right-hander wearing No. 28 on his back.
"Now when you want to sign him, you can't find him," Port quipped as he hustled to yet another diamond on the Angels' training complex.
Finally, Port found his man. Then they found common ground. Moments later, putting grievances and counter-grievances behind them, Blyleven and the Angels agreed to a contract that will pay Blyleven about $1.1 million in 1989, while giving the club the option of re-signing him for 1990.
Thus, the quiet controversy of the Angels' off-season reached resolution. Overshadowed by the defection of Bob Boone, the pursuit of Nolan Ryan and Bruce Hurst, and the appeasement of Wally Joyner, Blyleven and the Angels remained at odds over salary since his Nov. 3 trade from the Minnesota Twins, each side going as far as filing a grievance against the other.
The dispute evolved once Port attempted to cut Blyleven's salary 20% from 1988--the maximum allowed under baseball's collective bargaining agreement--and involved two different interpretations of what that final sum might be.
In 1986, Blyleven signed a two-year contract extension with the Twins, calling for $2.95 million in addition to the $650,000 he earned in 1986. That's a three-year package of $3.6 million, or an average of $1.2 million per season.
The Angels wanted to cut Blyleven 20% of $1.2 million, tendering him a 1989 contract of $960,000. Blyleven and his agent, Dick Moss, argued instead for a 20% cut of the two-year extension--an average of $1.475 million per season--which would translate into a $1.18 million salary for Blyleven in 1989.
So, Blyleven and Moss filed a grievance. Port countered by tendering Blyleven a second contract worth $1.18 million, but accompanied the offer with a counter-grievance. The intent: Let an arbitrator study both grievances and choose his own figure.
"That was the worst-case scenario," Port said. "Bert would be pitching for us on a one-year contract, at whichever amount was decided upon by an arbitrator."
Arbitration was averted Monday when Blyleven settled for $1.1 million. That's more than the $1 million he netted in 1988, when he finished 10-17 with a 5.43 earned-run average, but less than the $1.2 million he averaged during his final three years with Minnesota.
"I feel like I got a raise," Blyleven said. "I'm very happy with it."
And about those grievances?
Grievances, what grievances?
"I don't think we ever had that much difficulty or that much space between the us," Port said. "All along, we knew Bert would pitch in Anaheim and be happy to do so, and the club would be happy to have him on our staff.
"There were some questions, but there was never really any (major obstacle). It was something about nothing, in hindsight.
Said Blyleven: "We really didn't have too many discussions with Mike Port during the winter. My agent, Dick Moss, was involved in a lot of arbitration cases, so there wasn't much communication.
"I didn't think there was a problem. I'd like to end my career in Anaheim and this contract is a step in that direction."
Four days into spring camp and already the Angels are down two pitchers. After the loss of Joe Johnson with an Achilles' tendon injury, non-roster invitee Mark Clear left camp Monday complaining of pain in his right elbow, the same condition that sidelined him for most of 1988 with Milwaukee. He will receive treatment at home, but will not likely return to the Angels this spring. "That's very doubtful," Mike Port said. "It's the same symptomology he had before. There were no secrets; we knew the risks. He had it in Milwaukee and it started up again right now. He just didn't feel he could keep throwing through it." To fill Clear's vacancy, the Angels will invite minor-league pitcher Gary Buckles to camp. Buckles was 14-3 with a 2.94 earned-run average at Class-A Quad Cities last season. . . . Technicalities, technicalities: Although rules prohibit position players from working out before Wednesday, third baseman Jack Howell and outfielder Marcus Lawton were in uniform along with pitchers and catchers Monday. Deadpanned Port: "They can't be here, so I think we're going to have to release Jack Howell." Actually, position players can report early, providing they are rehabilitating an injury, such as second baseman Mark McLemore. Thinking on his feet, Angel publicity director Tim Mead came up with this rationale for Howell's presence: "He's here for medical reasons, too. Hemorrhoids." . . . Along with Bert Blyleven, relief pitcher Vance Lovelace also agreed to terms with the Angels, bringing the club's number of unsigned players to 14.