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Owners’ Penalties Multiply : Collusion: Second ruling by baseball arbiter puts the fine at $102.5 million.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball’s 26 major league owners, already fined $10.5 million for restricting free agent movement during the winter of 1985-86, were ordered Monday to pay another $102.5 million for their conspiracy during the winters of 1986-87 and 1987-88.

Arbitrator George Nicolau announced the decision after almost three years of hearings on the two collusion cases.

Arbitrator Tom Roberts had previously set the price of $10.5 million on Collusion I. The total of $113 million for the three cases comes to $4,347,234 per team and does not include interest, expected to be a significant figure.

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Agent Tom Reich, who represents many of the players involved, estimated that final damages will reach $300 million--more than $10 million per club. But even that sum “is not much more than half of what I felt actual damages were,” he said.

The $102.5 million represents a compromise between the $130 million that the Major League Baseball Players Assn. was seeking for Collusions II and III and the $85 million that the owners’ Player Relations Committee proposed.

Although some players, including Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers and Lance Parrish of the Angels, have already received a second chance at free agency as a result of the first two cases, no player has received monetary compensation.

Don Fehr, executive director of the players union, said Monday he was not prepared to estimate how many players will file claims, but the figure is expected to surpass 300, with any player eligible for free agency or arbitration in those three years forming the basic eligibility list.

Hearings will begin in Chicago next week on how the money is to be divided, what interest is owed, how players tied to multiyear contracts signed in those years are to be compensated and which players are to receive so-called “new-look” free agency, or a second chance in the open market.

The union is asking that 21 players from Collusion III become free agents again. Among them: Jack Clark, Dave Righetti, Gary Gaetti, Chili Davis, Mike Witt, Dave Smith and Dennis Martinez.

Peter Ueberroth, who was commissioner during the years of conspiracy, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A National League owner who declined to be identified (the PRC instructed clubs not to comment), said: “Maybe we ought to sue Peter for the $113 million.”

Commissioner Fay Vincent has said there will be no collusion during his administration, and the new labor agreement contains a guarantee that the owners will pay treble damages if found guilty again.

In a statement Monday, the PRC’s legal counsel, Chuck O'Connor, said, “While we disagree with the amount of damages awarded, it is important to remember that the events in question began more than five years ago.

“It is undoubtedly the case that the origins of this dispute are in part related to the clubs’ efforts to grapple with the serious economic issues facing the game.”

A joint union-management study committee, as authorized by the new labor agreement, will soon begin exploring those issues. In the meantime, O'Connor said by phone that the $4.3 million each club now owes will move some of those clubs that are making money into the red, while some are already in the red.

He refused to identify those clubs, but said the $4.3 million could have an impact on winter expenditures.

“The money some clubs planned to spend will have already been spent,” he said.

O'Connor added, however, that the clubs have already put $10.5 million in escrow to cover the Roberts decision and that $102.5 million would be added to the account by the end of the year. He said the clubs still had about $100 million in TV money in their lockout fund from last winter.

Fehr said the $102.5 million, while not everything the union wanted, was a substantial victory.

“There will be much more to come when the remaining damages are determined, including lost salary for 1989 and 1990,” Fehr said. “Protest as they will, the owners can no longer downplay either the significance or the effect of their intentionally wrongful conduct.”

Attorney Richard Moss, who represents several collusion victims, including Andre Dawson and Jack Morris, cited the fact that many of the players are already out of baseball and wondered if justice delayed wasn’t also justice denied.

“So far, the only people who have seen any money are the lawyers and the arbitrators,” he said.

This story contains material from the Associated Press.

A chronology of events in baseball’s collusion cases:

Feb. 3, 1986--The Major League Baseball Players Assn. filed the first collusion grievance, charging that owners acted in concert to boycott the signing of free agents after the 1985 season.

Feb. 20, 1987--The union filed a second grievance, charging the boycott extended beyond the 1986 season.

Sept. 21, 1987--Arbitrator Thomas Roberts ruled teams conspired to “destroy” free agency after the 1985 season.

Jan. 19, 1988--The union filed a third grievance, charging the boycott continued in part after the 1987 season and that management’s Player Relations Committee operated a free agent “information bank” in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

Jan. 22, 1988--Roberts made seven players from the first collusion case “new look” free agents: Kirk Gibson, Carlton Fisk, Juan Beniquez, Tom Brookens, Donnie Moore, Joe Niekro and Butch Wynegar. (“New look” meant that these players would have their free agency opened up again for a certain period of time for teams to get a so-called “new look” at signing them. For example, it was under this situation that Gibson came to the Dodgers).

Aug. 31, 1988--Arbitrator George Nicolau ruled that owners conspired against free agents after the 1986 season.

Oct. 24, 1988--Nicolau made 12 players from the second collusion case “new look” free agents: Doyle Alexander, Alan Ashby, Bob Boone, Jim Clancy, Ken Dayley, Brian Downing, Rich Gedman, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Roy Smith, Claudell Washington and Ernie Whitt.

Aug. 31, 1989--Roberts ordered clubs to pay $10.5 million for damages during the 1986 season.

July 18, 1990--Nicolau ruled owners conspired against free agents after the 1987 season and that the “information bank” violated the collective bargaining agreement.

Sept. 17, 1990--Nicolau ordered owners to pay $102.5 million for damages during the 1987 and 1988 seasons.


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