The scene was Atlanta, the first week of December, 1988. The San Diego Padres were about to join baseball's elite by signing free-agent pitcher Bruce Hurst.
A three-year contract had been agreed upon. The Padres had even inserted a clause that would guarantee Hurst payment in the event of a lockout by baseball owners in 1990.
But shortly before the Padres' announcement, in a meeting of baseball's angry owners in a hotel ballroom, Padre President Dick Freeman was told Hurst's lockout clause was bad. One by one, owners stood up and announced that paying the players during a lockout would be economic suicide.
A shaken Freeman quickly phoned Nick Lampros, Hurst's agent, and said Hurst could not be paid during a lockout. Lampros said that the deal was off. A confused Freeman was preparing to leave Atlanta when Padre General Manager Jack McKeon stepped in.
"You go home without Bruce Hurst," McKeon warned Freeman, "and they will string you up and parade you down Main Street."
After an all-night negotiating session, Freeman relented. Hurst was given a Padre contract that would pay him during a lockout.
Today, with a possible lockout 10 days away, Hurst has reason to celebrate. And a survey of the league's agents and general managers reveals that he is not alone:
--Twenty-two players would be paid full salaries because of lockout clauses.
--Another 16 players would be paid full salaries, according to lawyers, because they signed contracts that contained no lockout clauses. Most of those contracts were long-term deals signed before 1988, in a time when a strike by players--not a lockout--seemed to loom in 1990.
The owners drew the line after Hurst's signing, and in the past year have only offered contracts that do not guarantee wages during a lockout. But thanks to their agents, 123 players received signing bonuses totaling $53.5 million to offset the possible salary loss.
Unlike players with guaranteed salaries, these players don't have to wait until Opening Day to begin receiving their money. And in many cases, the 1990 salary is much less than the salary for the ensuing contract years, further minimizing player loss.
"The players were staring down the gun barrel and realized they could do one of two things," said Tom Reich, whose firm manages 51 players. "Get the good clause, or get up-front cash and stagger the salary. We did what we had to do."
In all, 161 players will receive large sums of money in 1990, a number that represents 26% of the 624 players who will be on the opening day rosters. And the players association has established an emergency fund that would pay the average player as much as $60,000, depending on his years of service.
"Quite simply, the owners have outsmarted themselves," agent Dick Moss said. "A lockout is going to cost them a lot of money."
Said John Schuerholz, general manager of the Kansas City Royals: "Nobody was fooled, nobody was tricked, we all knew what the players were doing in negotiating these kinds of contracts with these kinds of bonuses. But once one free agent received it, all of the players wanted it, and if you weren't offering it, you couldn't successfully negotiate with them.
"The trend began to steamroll and, while the clubs were smart enough to recognize it, there was nothing we could do to stop it."
Even if there is a lockout, 37 players will make at least $1 million in 1989. Only 24 will lose as much as $1 million.
If the season is wiped out, the highest-paid player would be the Dodgers' Eddie Murray, who will receive $2.7 million under a contract signed in 1985. Playing in no games, he could still receive $200,000 more than he received last season, when he was the only National League player to appear in every game.
The 16 older contracts include guaranteed payment to a retired player, the Atlanta Braves' Bruce Sutter; to a player who has been released twice in two years, the San Francisco Giants' Dan Quisenberry; and to a player who missed all of 1989 because of an injury, the New York Yankees' Dave Winfield. The only thing they have in common, according to several lawyers and general managers, is that their contracts are secure.
"We have studied these older contracts and, while a contract is guaranteed against a zillion things, it says nothing about a lockout," said Barry Axelrod, whose five clients include the Angels' Wally Joyner.
"It mentions a strike, but not a lockout. So if the owners don't let them play, we assume they would have to pay them."
Said John Boggs, agent for Padre Tony Gwynn, who is guaranteed $1 million under an old contract: "We have the best possible lockout language--no language. If they lock you out without mentioning a lockout, they have to pay you. Hey, if the old contract was so strong, how come the owners changed them?"
Said Charles O'Connor, director of the Player Relations Committee: "Those are hypothetical and legal questions and I won't talk about them."
At least one general manager agrees that the answers are not easy.
"It is pointless to try and guess which of these guys will be paid, because it will all have to be slugged out by the lawyers," said Andy MacPhail, general manager of the Minnesota Twins.
"You can bet if there is a work stoppage, the entire industry will need an arbitrator. In my mind, the only people who are guaranteed payment are the ones where it specifically says in the contract that you will be paid."
Sixteen such contracts exist, another list that prominently features the Dodgers. While they could not control Murray's contract, they chose not to control the contracts of Kirk Gibson, Jay Howell and former Dodgers Mike Marshall and Alejandro Pena, all of whom will be paid.
"The word was, the Dodgers were just giving it away," one agent said.
Most baseball people agree that the trend in guaranteed lockout payments started with the Dodgers, during their negotiations in the winter of 1988 with Gibson. The Dodgers approached Doug Baldwin, Gibson's agent, and asked for language that would protect the club during a lockout. The word "lockout" stunned Baldwin.
"We said, 'You want what?" Baldwin said. "It was the first I had ever heard of such a thing. I had to find out what it was all about. Then we decided, if it was important enough for them to have it their way, it was important enough for us to have it the other way. So we drafted some language that would pay Kirk. And they finally agreed to it."
That language was soon picked up by other agents and used in their contracts. Nearly a year later, one club official at the 1988 owners' meeting in Atlanta said that Dodger owner Peter O'Malley was one of the few officials who stood and said that he would not go along with the crowd in denying lockout benefits.
"O'Malley said he was only going to do what was best for the Dodgers and for baseball," the official said.
Thus, besides the guaranteed money, the Dodgers have also given out substantial bonuses. Orel Hershiser received $1.1 million, Hubie Brooks was given $950,000, Mike Scioscia received $850,000. Fernando Valenzuela, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million, received $850,000 of that in advance.
"We all knew this would be a different sort of negotiating year, so we did what we felt was necessary," said Fred Claire, Dodger vice president.
"It all became a matter of leverage. Do you say, 'Wait a minute' and not give into a demand, and then not sign an Orel Hershiser?"
The New York Mets operated in the same fashion, giving $500,000 in bonuses each to Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson and Kevin McReynolds.
"We figured we would have to pay a bonus in any event," said Al Harazin, Mets vice president. "If a larger bonus would get the players to sign so we could keep them a few more years, so be it. I don't view it as anyone taking advantage of us."
The Angels operated from the other end of the spectrum. Because players such as Bert Blyleven didn't have as much leverage when they signed contracts, the Angels gave no concessions, and will have some of baseball's biggest potential losers. Chili Davis was given no bonus and no lockout guarantees on his $1.375-million contract. Nor were Brian Downing ($1.25 million), Mike Witt ($1.31 million) or Blyleven ($1.175 million).
"Some organizations are just bread and butter organizations, and won't include those extras," said Rick Brode, agent for the Detroit Tigers' Lou Whitaker. Because Whitaker wanted to stay with the Tigers, he accepted a deal that included no bonus, and a salary of $1.8 million that might not be paid during a lockout.
"Lou said he wanted to stay in Detroit, and so I had to do whatever it took," Brode said. "It all depends on your bargaining power."
That is, of course, if you're not Cecil Fielder, a former Toronto Blue Jay infielder who was signed by the Tigers. He received as much money in a signing bonus--$1.5 million--as he will receive during the two years of the deal.
"That's where the real story is," Moss said. "That all of a sudden, $1-million bonuses have become a way of life. That the owners have conceded that much."
The players most hurt by a lockout would be those with fewer than six years of experience, who are due to make big money this year through arbitration or one-year deals that are not guaranteed until Opening Day. They have not played long enough to save money, and could be denied what might be the only big contracts they will receive.
"Those guys will feel it the most because they have no ability to get guarantees on anything," said agent Jim Bronner, whose firm represents 79 players.
A big loser in that category would be Kevin Mitchell, a five-year player who recently signed for $2.083 million, contrasting with his $535,000 salary last year.
Overall, many observers say that the biggest winner in a lockout would be the Players Association. After all, many argue, owners can't pay what they don't have.
"With all this money going around, this will be the one time nobody can con the public on who is right," Reich said.
THE BIG GUYS
HOW THEY TRIED TO BEAT THE LOCKOUT
SIGNING 1990 1991 1992 PLAYER BONUS PAID SALARY SALARY SALARY Will Clark, SF $2M $1.75M $3.25M $3.75M Dave Stewart, Oak. 2M $850,000 2.5M 2.5M Mark Davis, KC 1.5M 1.75M 3.25M 3.25M Mark Langston, Angels 1.5M 1.5M 3.25M 3.25M Eric Davis, Cin. 1.5M 1.6M 3.1M 3.1M Joe Carter, SD 2M 1.2M 3M 3M Kirby Puckett, Minn. 1.5M 2.2M 2.5M 2.8M Rickey Henderson, Oak. 1M 2M 3M 3M Bret Saberhagen, KC 600,000 1.4M 2.75M 2.75M Kent Hrbek, Minn. 1.5M 2M 1.5M 3M
1993 1994 POSSIBLE '90 AVERAGE PLAYER SALARY SALARY LOSS/WEEK* SALARY** Will Clark, SF $4.25M $67,307 $3.75M Dave Stewart, Oak. 0 3.5M(a) Mark Davis, KC 3.25M 67,307 3.25M Mark Langston, Angels 3.25M 3.25M 57,692 3.2M Eric Davis, Cin. 57,692 3.2M Joe Carter, SD 46,152 3.066M Kirby Puckett, Minn. 84,615 3M Rickey Henderson, Oak. 3M 76,923 3M Bret Saberhagen, KC 2.8M 53,846 2.96M(b) Kent Hrbek, Minn. 3M 3M 76,923 2.8M
* Pro-rated on the basis of 26 checks per year. An arbitrator will determine if each of these players will be paid in the event of a lockout. Stewart will be paid regardless.
** Average salary includes pro-rated signing bonus.
(a) Stewart's average salary based on 2-year extension that takjes effect in 1991.
(b) Saberhagen's average salary based on 3-year extension that takes effect in 1991.
PLAYERS WHO WILL GET PAID
1990 PLAYER SALARY Eddie Murray, Dodgers $2.7M Don Mattingly, NY Yankees 2.5M Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs 2.1M Dave Winfield, NY Yankees 2.02M Tim Raines, Montreal 2M Dale Murphy, Atlanta 2M Pedro Guerrero, St. Louis 1.95M Darryl Strawberry, NY Mets 1.8M Dave Stieb, Toronto 1.6M Dave Righetti, NY Yankees 1.55M Bruce Sutter, retired 1.5M Tom Brunansky, St. Louis 1.5M George Brett, Kansas City 1.5M Willie McGee, St. Louis 1.5M Bruce Hurst, San Diego 1.5M Nolan Ryan, Texas 1.4M Carney Lansford, Oakland 1.15M Dan Quisenberry, San Francisco 1.1M Mike Moore, Oakland 1.025M Tony Gwynn, San Diego 1M Kirk Gibson, Dodgers 1M Scott Fletcher, Chi. White Sox 1M Mike Marshall, NY Mets 1M Andy Hawkins, NY Yankees 1M Bob Welch, Oakland 1M Jay Howell, Dodgers 900,000 Steve Sax, NY Yankees 900,000 George Bell, Toronto 900,000 Alejandro Pena, NY Mets 875,000 Jesse Orosco, Cleveland 850,000 Bob Walk, Pittsburgh 850,000 Bill Doran, Houston 834,000 Chet Lemon, Detroit 800,000 Eric Show, San Diego 800,000 Rick Mahler, Cincinnati 790,000 Ron Oester, Cincinnati 650,000 Gary Redus, Pittsburgh 500,000 Gary Gaetti, Minnesota 500,000
Note: These are the 38 players whose 1990 salaries are guaranteed during a lockout either through a favorable lockout clause or a lack of a lockout clause.
PLAYERS WHO COULD LOSE THE MOST
1990 LOSS PLAYER SALARY A WEEK Ted Higuera, Milw. $2.125M $81,730 Jack Morris, Detroit 2.1M 80,769 Kevin Mitchell, SF 2.083M 80,115 Jack Clark, San Diego 2M 76,923 Wade Boggs, Boston 1.9M 73,076 Alan Trammell, Detroit 1.8M 69,230 Lou Whitaker, Detroit 1.8M 69,230 Carlton Fisk, White Sox 1.75M 67,307 Dwight Evans, Boston 1.5M 57,692 Alvin Davis, Seattle 1.475M 56,730 Steve Bedrosian, SF 1.45M 55,769 Lloyd Moseby, Detroit 1.4M 53,846 Chili Davis, Angels 1.375M 52,884 Mike Witt, Angels 1.3M 50,000 Brian Downing, Angels 1.25M 48,076 Julio Franco, Texas 1.25M 48,076 Mike Greenwell, Bos. 1.225M 47,115 Ernie Whitt, Atlanta 1.2M 46,153 Lee Smith, Boston 1.2M 46,153 Bert Blyleven, Angels 1.175M 45,192 Danny Jackson, Cin. 1.15M 44,230 Jim Clancy, Houston 1.15M 44,230 Frank Tanana, Detroit 1.1M 42,307 Ozzie Guillen, White Sox 1M 38,461 Jeff Robinson, Yankees 925,000 35,576 Rich Gedman, Boston 920,000 35,384 Steve Balboni, Yankees 900,000 34,615 Rob Deer, Milwaukee 885,000 34,038 Terry Kennedy, SF 850,000 32,692 Tommy Herr, Phil. 825,000 31,730 Todd Worrell, St. Louis 825,000 31,730
Note: These are some of the players who could lose the most during a lockout because of contracts that include neutral or unfavorable lockout clauses and no bonus money. Weekly salary based on baseball's 26-week pay scale.