BASEBALL ON STRIKE : Working to Make Ends Meet : Lower-Paid Angels, Dodgers Taking Different Paths to Economic Survival

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the tropics of the Dominican Republic, in the house where he lives with his in-laws, his wife and his son, Raul Mondesi has spent much of this winter writing--if only his name.

Fifteen thousand times, he has scribbled his autograph, for which he has been paid more than $110,000, more than he pocketed as the lowest-paid player on Dodgers' 25-man roster last season.

Early last season, Mondesi was barraged by product and equipment manufacturers for endorsements, making his Dodger Stadium locker look like a department store.

And even now, despite the major league baseball strike, the National League rookie of the year's promotional stock has not fallen. Having received about $90,000 of his $126,000 salary when the players went on strike Aug. 12, he left Glendale to return to his hometown of San Cristobal, with numerous economic options ahead of him.

Other young players, however, were not as fortunate.

The choices for Angel outfielder Garret Anderson, a triple-A player who is in the club's plans for next season, included playing winter ball or stocking merchandise at the Price Club. At first he chose the Price Club, then moved on to Millers Outpost.

Utility player Mark Dalesandro, the lowest-paid Angel at $109,000, chose winter ball, and he is glad to have lived through the experience.

Anderson, 22, was up with the Angels for only eight days last season. That wasn't enough time to qualify him for the players' union strike fund, but it was long enough for the Angels to project him as their left fielder for next season.

Nevertheless, shortly after his season with Vancouver ended, Anderson, saying he has learned not to count on anything, got a job.

He didn't want to play winter ball, where the scale ranges from $2,000 a month for minor league players to $10,000 for big-name players in their homelands.

Instead, he chose to stay home in the Santa Clarita Valley with his wife, Teresa, and relatives, taking a job at the Price Club as a box boy before returning to Millers Outpost, where he worked in high school. He makes $6 an hour as a clerk, about $175-$200 for a 30-hour week. Playing for Vancouver last season, he earned $27,000.

"I talked about it with (teammate) Rex Hudler and he told me basically some guys (in baseball) last only four years anyway, so you've got to have something else in life," Anderson said.

" . . . I'm working now so I don't have to dip into everything I have saved. I use it to buy groceries, get gas in the car and pay bills, but the only bill I have is a credit card. I don't want to work full time."

His signing bonus with the Angels provides for a four-year scholarship when he is finished playing, and Teresa, who is in college, said they will adapt to whatever happens with baseball.

"We try to keep a level head and not depend on baseball," she said. "If Garret never plays baseball again, he'll go to school and life will go on."

Anderson wants to play baseball but said he will not cross the picket line in the spring, when the clubs say they will use replacement players.

"Guys who are going to play are probably guys who would never have a chance to play in the big leagues," he said. "I think if you want to have a future in baseball, and be comfortable in baseball, you can't do that."

Lying on a hospital bed in Mexico a couple of months ago, Dalesandro, 26, wasn't thinking about his future in baseball--he was merely hoping to have a future.

He went to Mexico to play winter ball to earn money and keep in shape. But after about six games, he caught a stomach virus and it took him more than a month to shake it.

"They (Mexican doctors) told me I had food poisoning, but I didn't have any of the symptoms," said Dalesandro, who lost about 11 pounds in the ordeal. "You know when you have food poisoning. I guess I got a virus from the water or something. I wanted to play through it, but my life was more important."

He went home to Chicago as soon as he could, recovered, and has been living with his parents since. He said he is doing fine financially, mainly because he planned ahead and saved most of his money from last season.

"If I get a job, it will be more so because of boredom," he said. "I'm used to being on my own. I was in college for four years and in the minors for four years after that, so I think I could kind of be getting on everybody's nerves around here."

He is supplied with baseball equipment from endorsements, although only time will tell if it will be useful. In Chicago, where he lives close to downtown, a few endorsement deals are in the works, although most are contingent on there being a baseball season.

" . . . I haven't had a job in a long time--the last eight or nine years have been devoted to baseball," said Dalesandro, whose marriage plans for October are still on schedule. "Every off-season in baseball, I have played in winter ball or the instructional league and used the time to stay in shape and work out. My off-season hasn't changed this year."

A winter ball salary can be enticing for a young player. Dodger pitcher Ismael Valdes, who was sent down to triple-A Albuquerque shortly before the strike, was under pressure to play in his native Mexico but turned down the opportunity. Instead, he took the advice of Dodger Executive Vice President Fred Claire and returned home to his parent's farm in Victoria, Mexico, to rest his arm.

Mondesi, who is playing for a local team near his home in San Cristobal, is paid $8,000 a month. He also will receive a bonus in the $10,000 range because his team made the playoffs.

But that is only part of the windfall Mondesi has collected after his spectacular rookie season. In three separate deals, he made $110,000 by autographing 15,000 bats and cards. That's more than $730 a signature, more than the $688 he lost each day of the strike.

With the help of his attorney, Jeff Moorad, Mondesi also signed some more--on endorsement contracts. Moorad's agreements provide for Mondesi to not only receive equipment and merchandise but get paid for using it. Mondesi's charity little league in the Dominican Republic will also get bats and balls.

There is one area, though, in which Mondesi has been affected by the strike. He had mentioned plans of buying his mother a big new house in the Dominican this winter, but he said he has put that on hold. With baseball's uncertainty, most players said they have cut back on spending.

Angel Jim Edmonds, whose salary of $117,500 last season was the second-lowest on the club, received a check Thursday from the players union's strike fund, which should not be discounted in keeping young players unified. Players with four years of service will receive about $175,000 from the fund. Edmonds, whose share is prorated, said he will get about $40,000 this winter from the union.

"If I hadn't played a full year, it would be different," he said. "But just by being up all year, I'll have a share from the licensing fees that amounts to what some people make in a year."

Or what Mondesi makes by signing bats.

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