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Owners Take a Third Strike on Collusion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of victories in the cases known as Collusion I and II, the Major League Baseball Players Assn. was notified by arbitrator George Nicolau Wednesday that it has also won Collusion III.

Don Fehr, the union’s executive director, said the three-for-three sweep should translate to at least $200 million in compensation for the players affected by a conspiracy that restricted movement and salaries in the winters after the 1985, ’86 and ’87 seasons. The owners have placed damages at $70 million.

So far, only the remedial penalties for Collusion I have been announced. Arbitrator Tom Roberts set penalties of $10.5 million on Aug. 31, 1989, but has yet to announce how it will be distributed and to whom.

Nicolau is expected to announce damages from the Collusion II case before the end of this season, but Fehr said Wednesday he will be meeting with Nicolau and Charles O’Connor, executive director of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, in an attempt to (1) reach a compromise settlement on damages from the three collusion cases and (2) formulate a system of organized distribution as opposed to a piecemeal one.

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“If we have to litigate every claim, the stain of collusion will go on forever,” Fehr said.

The concept of collusion has been credited, so to speak, to former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth. Current Commissioner Fay Vincent has said he will not tolerate the process during his administration, and the new collective bargaining agreement contains assurances by management that it will pay treble damages if guilty of collusion again.

After a long period of incendiary relations, Fehr said there is reason for optimism. He cited the free market of last winter, the safeguards in the new agreement and his belief that there will be a good-faith attempt to settle the issue of collusion damages and distribution without a rash of litigation.

Seventy-six free agents from the winter of 1987-88 are affected by the Collusion III decision, including Jack Morris, Gary Gaetti, Dave Righetti, Paul Molitor, Jack Clark, Greg Minton, Mike Witt, Chili Davis and Brett Butler. Some could receive what is known as new-look free agency, such as was granted Kirk Gibson as part of Collusion I, allowing him to move from the Detroit Tigers to the Dodgers.

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The crux of the union’s Collusion III case centered on the information bank, a process by which clubs immediately filed their offers to free agents with the Player Relations Committee, which then made the information available to other clubs.

“The fact that there were a number of free-agency contracts signed before and during the 1987-88 free-agent market does not mean that the market itself was ‘free and unencumbered,’ ” Nicolau wrote in his ruling.

“The (information) bank’s message was plain--if we must go out into that market and bid, then let’s quietly cooperate by telling each other what the bids are. If we all do that, prices won’t get out of line and no club will be hurt too much.”

The owners dissolved the information bank after the union filed its grievance. Said O’Connor, in a prepared statement Wednesday: “We strongly disagree with his ruling, but it should be understood that the events occurred over two years ago. The clubs hope that the parties can put litigation behind them and continue the work of developing a productive relationship.”

Collusion Chronology

1985

Oct. 16--Lee MacPhail, head of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, sends a letter to clubs urging financial restraint.

1986

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Feb. 2--Major League Baseball Players Assn. files first collusion grievance.

Aug. 5--Clubs fire arbitrator Thomas Roberts during hearings in the case.

Sept. 11--Another arbitrator rules that Roberts cannot be fired during a case.

1987

Feb. 20--Second collusion case filed.

Sept. 21--Roberts finds owners guilty in the first collusion case.

1988

Jan. 20--Third collusion case filed.

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Jan. 22--Seven players given “new look” free agency by Roberts.

Aug. 31--Arbitrator George Nicolau finds owners guilty in the second collusion case.

Oct. 24--Twelve players granted “new look” free agency by Nicolau.

1989

Aug. 31--Roberts awards players $10,528,086.71 in the first damage phase of the first collusion case.

1990

July 18--Nicolau finds owners guilty in the third collusion case.

Source: Associated Press


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