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The $7.8-Million Man--<i> Not</i> : Jody Reed, Playing With Brewers for a Guaranteed $350,000, Might Never Live Down His Departure From the Dodgers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stupid?

Greedy?

The victim of an agent’s staggering miscalculation?

Jody Reed bristles at each of these characterizations, but he is doomed to ridicule, if not regret.

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“People are ripping on me because I’m only going to make a million dollars this year,” said the former Dodger second baseman, now with the Milwaukee Brewers.

“A million dollars. Since when is that nothing? What’s going on here?”

What’s going on is that Reed rejected a three-year, $7.8-million offer to remain with the Dodgers and was without alternatives when he accepted employment with the Brewers at a bargain-basement salary.

The six-year veteran is guaranteed $350,000, the salary of some second- and third-year players.

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He might make $1 million, but only if he has enough plate appearances.

And there is no guarantee beyond 1994.

“I made a career choice that I have to live with,” Reed said. “I’m happy with the way things turned out. I don’t understand why everyone else is unhappy about it.”

Everyone else is incredulous.

At $7.8 million for three years, Reed would have made $2.6 million in ’92.

At $7.8 million for three years, Reed, 31, wouldn’t have had to worry about another contract.

Reed has earned $4.95 million in the last three years, but he has responded to the events of last winter by repositioning--not firing, he insists--longtime friend and agent J.D. Dowell in other areas of his business affairs. He has hired respected Baltimore agent Ron Shapiro to handle future contract talks, providing there are any.

“I can see the importance of some experience in that field,” Reed said, suggesting that he might have paid a severe price for Dowell’s lack of it, although he added:

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“This wasn’t a case of bad advice. I was told all the possibilities and probabilities and it was my decision. If there is any blame to be given, it should go to me. My guy did his job. I elected to take the path I took.”

The yellow brick road it wasn’t.

In fact, Reed’s route--rejecting the security of the Dodgers’ offer for the uncertainty of a market that ultimately left him in limbo--seems to represent one of the biggest mistakes of the free-agent era.

“Baseball economics are so distorted that half the time the players don’t even recognize the value of money, the extent of what they are being offered,” said one American League general manager.

“Jody Reed is a fine second baseman, but he isn’t Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg or Robby Thompson. He wasn’t coming off the year Thompson was, but that seemed to be his yardstick.”

Thompson, also a free agent after last season, batted .312, hit 19 homers, drove in 65 runs and won a Gold Glove in the field. He re-signed with the San Francisco Giants for three years at $11.625 million and received a fourth-year option for $3.375 million more.

Reed provided stability for the Dodgers at what had been a revolving-door position after the departure of Steve Sax.

In 132 games, he made only five errors, a Dodger record at the position. He batted .276 with 21 doubles. He had two home runs and has never had more than five in a season. He had one stolen base and has never had more than seven in a season. He drove in 31 runs and has never had more than 60.

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“He played hard and played well,” Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, said in reflection. “We had great appreciation for the job he did, and that was reflected in our offer, the $7.8 million for three years.”

Reed had been acquired in a prearranged deal with the Colorado Rockies, who selected him from the Boston Red Sox in the expansion draft, then traded him to the Dodgers for hard-throwing but oft-injured pitcher Rudy Seanez.

Reed said his summer in L.A. was “an absolute pleasure.”

“I had fun and did my job,” he said. “The fans were great, the media was great.

“I felt that I not only developed a player-manager respect with Tom Lasorda, but I enjoyed being around him. I also felt the team made big improvement.

“In no way, shape or form was I thinking it wouldn’t work out for the future there. Then, bam, it didn’t. I was surprised and a little shocked.”

And feeling stupid?

“People who put money as their top priority will say I was stupid,” Reed said. “The same people will say I’m lying when I say that money isn’t my top priority.

“There were personal issues I tried to work out with the Dodgers. I had no problem with the offer if it wasn’t for those issues. I was uncomfortable with them, but I don’t want to get into what they were.”

Insiders say that at one point last season, Reed went to Claire and said that many players felt that shortstop Jose Offerman shouldn’t be in the lineup.

It is believed that Reed, as the pivot man on double plays, had some concerns for his safety on late feeds from Offerman, but how any of that played into contract talks, if it did at all, is unclear.

A rationalization for rejecting the Dodgers’ offer?

“There was nothing of a personal or confidential nature involved,” Claire said. “There’s nothing complicated or complex about it. What we were offering and they were asking was never close.

“It’s that simple. We weren’t in the same ballpark.

“We made a fair and precise offer and got right to it. Jody had about a week in which he could have taken it. We told him if he exercised his right to file for free agency, we would exercise ours and remove the offer because we would want to start talking to other players then, in the same way he’d be talking to other clubs.”

Reed, however, said he wasn’t given that warning.

“I was protecting my rights and following the rules of the game,” he said of his filing. “At that point I didn’t see any reason to sever ties, but Fred called and said the offer was no longer valid. I didn’t understand it.

“I mean, the only thing I don’t understand about the year in L.A. was the thinking of the one guy (Claire), but he makes the calls and I’m not the first to question them. All I know is that I followed the filing rules and suddenly became a villain. What did I do?”

The Dodgers turned their attention to Thompson, but couldn’t close that gap either, Claire said, and when Thompson re-signed with the Giants, “Jody’s agent called and said that defined the market. I mean, we didn’t stop trying to sign Jody until we made the trade (for Delino DeShields), but we were never close.”

The point being, Claire said, that if the Dodgers had wanted to pay Thompson prices, they would have paid for Thompson himself, allowing them to keep Pedro Martinez, who was traded to the Montreal Expos for DeShields only four days after Reed had filed.

“The irony is that the process left us with one of the best young second baseman in baseball, if not the best,” Claire said.

Reed was left in a cold market, with virtually no offers.

“I didn’t expect to be showered with big offers, but I was surprised by the extreme nature of the downward turn,” he said of the market. “It was weird, but I wasn’t alone, and for people to keep singling out Jody Reed is difficult to understand.”

Reed cited Chris Sabo, Brian Harper, Walt Weiss, Harold Reynolds and Bip Roberts as other veteran free agents who had to scramble for comparatively low-paying jobs.

The difference, however, was that only Reed went in having rejected a major offer from his former club.

Was it greed, as ESPN proclaimed?

“What hurts most is that I’ve tried to live my life as a Christian,” Reed said. “To be portrayed as greedy by some in the media is the antithesis of a Christian, and I feel it may have torn down the good work I’ve tried to do and the example I’ve tried to set.

“I hope people see beyond (the characterization). If they can’t, I’d like to apologize to them.”

Reed added that he was never worried about permanent unemployment and doesn’t believe he made a mistake.

“Am I happy here? Yes,” he said. “Is my family happy? Yes. Do I feel I’m where the Lord wants me to be? Yes. Will I enjoy playing baseball here? All indications are that I will.

“As a veteran, I feel I can help mold a young club. We may be only a player or two away from competing with the best in the division.”


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