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Dodger Penalty Is Far-Reaching

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Commissioner Bud Selig punished the Dodgers for their deceit in the early signing of Adrian Beltre but did not grant the player free agency in a precedent-setting decision announced Tuesday afternoon.

Finding the club and the third baseman both culpable, though perhaps not equally, Selig fined the Dodgers $50,000, but far more damaging, he ordered critical elements of the Dodger organization out of the talent-rich Dominican Republic for one year.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Dec. 24, 1999 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 24, 1999 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 3 Sports Desk 2 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Dodgers--Outfielder Josue Perez and infielder Juan Diaz were granted free agency this summer after it was found the Dodgers had violated baseball rules by scouting them in Cuba then not providing an open tryout for them later in the Dominican Republic. The violation was not that they were signed before their 16th birthdays, as was reported Wednesday.

The club may not scout or sign a first-year Dominican player for a year, and it was ordered to cease operations at Campo Las Palmas, the highly successful and model baseball school in the Dominican Republic, also for one year. It still may operate its summer league team there, according to a Dodger official.

Ralph Avila, former vice president of the club, and scout Pablo Peguero, who signed Beltre, were suspended for a year, as well.

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Traditionally, the Dodgers have a powerful presence in the Dominican Republic, where the likes of Raul Mondesi, Ramon and Pedro Martinez and Beltre were discovered. These sanctions could weaken their hold there, though a rival general manager predicted the Dodgers simply would reallocate money earmarked for the Dominican to places such as Venezuela.

The players’ union is expected to file a grievance on behalf of Beltre, claiming Selig has violated baseball’s Basic Agreement, a litigation process that could linger into spring training.

Selig’s investigation found that Beltre was indeed 15 at the time of his signing, a year younger than baseball’s minimum.

Selig’s decision maintained that Beltre and his representatives were aware of the deception and willingly conspired with the Dodgers at the time of the signing and, according to a ranking baseball official, on at least six occasions thereafter.

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Selig examined documents, including medical reports, that clearly stated an incorrect birth date--April 7, 1978--but were signed by Beltre, the official said.

Tuesday’s findings concluded that “Beltre and/or his representatives likely were aware at the time of the signing that he was not of sufficient age. Also, there exists documentation in which Beltre used and listed the falsified birth date.”

The documents, baseball found, demonstrated a pattern that it believed showed “his apparent complicity in the violation.”

Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, has claimed that the Dodgers’ deception became apparent to him in March, during a routine conversation with Beltre, and that he notified the club of his discovery shortly after that.

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Selig doubted the account, and in fact, wrote a letter to Beltre, obtained by the Associated Press, accusing Beltre of compliance.

“Lack of awareness is not a valid justification or excuse,” Selig wrote to Beltre. “It defied credibility that you were unaware of the age limits at the time of your signing and remained so for almost five years.”

Dodger officials did not return telephone calls. Their public relations department issued a release with statements by President Bob Graziano and General Manager Kevin Malone.

“We submitted this matter to the Commissioner, fully cooperated in the investigation process and will abide by his findings and rulings,” Graziano said. “As we have said before, the Dodgers respect and strongly endorse the rules and regulations of major league baseball, and we fully intend to comply with those rules. We have and will continue to improve our structure and to strengthen our policies so that similar issues will not arise in the future.”

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The Dodgers are to pay Beltre $48,500, the estimated amount over his original signing bonus ($17,000) Beltre would have been worth in 1995, when he actually turned 16, including interest.

Said Malone: “We respect Adrian as an individual and a ballplayer and we’re pleased he will remain in a Dodger uniform in 2000.”

Pending the grievance process, the Dodgers will retain the young and talented Beltre, who in his first full season batted .275 with 15 home runs and 67 runs batted in. Born April 7, 1979, he is 20.

“In light of the facts and the precedent, we knew this was going to be a procedural step, rather than a step of decision,” said Boras, who was seeking free agency for his client. “We are going to examine this. We’re disappointed by the decision, but we’re going to go forward and try to get the facts to an independent tribunal.”

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Players’ union official Gene Orza said he will respond within two days. Another official predicted a grievance will be filed and a hearing date set by Thursday evening.

“We . . . want to give the decision the attention it deserves,” Orza said. “We’re going to study it, interview the players, do some legal analysis, make sure we’re on firm ground.”

The investigation, and the grievance that seems sure to follow, might never have happened, even after Boras brought the matter to the attention of the Dodgers in April. Boras said the Dodgers asked him to shelve the issue until the end of the season, and he complied.

One ranking baseball official familiar with the investigation, however, said there are indications that negotiations--or attempts to negotiate--on a multiyear contract extension occurred after the season. Had the sides struck a deal, the case probably never would have reached Selig.

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“It’s obvious you have to make the club pay for this,” the official said. “But, in addition, the player is involved. You have to do what’s fair. But, this is not necessarily a person whose rights were violated.”

It is unclear who initiated the negotiations, and they did not progress very far.

The Dodgers declined comment on the subject. Boras, racing to a New York airport Tuesday evening, said, “My only dealing with the Dodgers was in response to their inquiries.”

Although Beltre’s 1994 signing came well before the Fox Group purchased control of the Dodgers from the O’Malley family, Selig would not pardon the new owners.

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“This is a serious violation of major league baseball’s rules,” Selig said in his statement. “There are those who would like to dismiss this kind of behavior as ‘business as usual.’ We will not allow such an attitude to prevail in our game, we will vigorously enforce the rules.”

The “business as usual” remark may have been aimed at club senior vice president Tom Lasorda, who recently said that major league rosters were speckled with cases similar to Beltre’s.

Two Cuban players--outfielder Josue Perez and infielder Juan Diaz--were granted free agency this summer after it was found the Dodgers signed them before their 16th birthdays.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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THE PENALTIES

Sanctions imposed on the Dodgers by Commissioner Bud Selig:

* Fined $50,000.

* Ordered to pay Beltre $48,500.

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* Banned from scouting or signing any amateur players who reside in the Dominican Republic for one year.

* Ordered to close their Dominican Republic training camp at Campo Las Palmas for one year.

* Ralph Avila, the former vice president of Campo Las Palmas, must serve a one-year suspension if he returns to baseball.

* Pablo Peguero, the scout who signed Beltre, suspended for a year.

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