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Wanted: Collusion Remedy : A Knotty Process Will Start With Informal Meeting

September 23, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn., and Barry Rona, legal counsel to the owners' Player Relations Committee, are scheduled to meet for lunch in Manhattan today. Besides what's on the menu, there will be plenty of food for thought.

Baseball's labor protagonists will begin a process designed to provide remedies in the wake of Monday's ruling by arbitrator Tom Roberts in which he charged the owners with violating the collective bargaining agreement by conspiring to block free-agent movement during the winter of 1985-86.

It seems unlikely that Fehr and Rona can find solutions on their own. They agreed Tuesday that Roberts will make the final judgment in response to their recommendations.

This is called the penalty phase, and Roberts, reached at his office in Rolling Hills Estates Tuesday, said he has the authority "to frame any remedy that I deem appropriate."

Roberts, however, said it would be inappropriate to comment on any aspect of his decision until the grievance is completed, but he denied telling the Associated Press, as the wire service reported Tuesday, that he may not issue his remedies until shortly before the start of the 1988 season.

"I couldn't have said that because I don't know how long it will take," he said.

Fehr said Tuesday that he hoped to have the remedies in place by the end of the World Series so that the 1987 free agents have the opportunity to encounter a free market.

Rona, however, said he sees the penalty process lingering for months.

"In essence, Don seems to be saying that he wants salary arbitration for each of those 62 free agents (from the winter of 1985-86)," Rona said. "If that's the case, you're looking at months and months."

Fehr refused to indicate what remedies or penalties he will pursue. He said he was still sorting out the legal complexities.

But Dick Moss, a former union lawyer who now represents Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, Fernando Valenzuela and a number of other top players, emerged from a planning session at the union's New York office Tuesday and said that he strongly suspected that the union would seek punitive damages for the owners' "blatant" attempt to destroy free agency in violation of the bargaining agreement, and an arbitration process through which the 62 free agents would be compensated for either the salary or maneuverability they may have lost in the closed market of 1985-86.

Rona said he would fight a recommendation for punitive damages because he doesn't think any of the 62 players are even entitled to compensatory damages.

"Kirk Gibson got $4 million for three years and Donnie Moore got $3 million for three years," he said, repeating his Monday theme. "How were they damaged?"

Neither, of course, received a competing offer and ultimately returned to his respective team--the Angels for Moore and the Detroit Tigers for Gibson.

That absence of movement over the last two years seems to concern most agents more than the lowering of salaries and may present the toughest challenge to the remedy process, since most clubs are likely to maintain a policy of financial restraint, insisting they can't be forced to bid.

Kansas City General Manager John Schuerholz, for example, said Tuesday that the Royals simply got tired of being used as a pawn in the bidding process, dropped out even before the conspiracy charges developed and did not intend to return to that market.

He cited the Philadelphia Phillies' signing of Lance Parrish last winter and the Chicago Cubs' signing of Andre Dawson and said, "If you haven't looked at the standings lately, I don't think you'll see a world championship coming to either Philadelphia or Chicago this season."

Will the financial penalties be stiff enough to change that wide-spread perspective or does the system have to be reworked?

Rona said Tuesday that he wouldn't discount the eventual possibility of changes in the current system, but seemed to suggest that they wouldn't happen until this bargaining agreement expires in 1989.

Fehr said that all that's needed to make the current system work again is a realistic approach by the owners.

"I'd like to believe they would now live with it," he said. "They've had their day in court and the arbitrator has thrown out all that nonsense about coincidence, happenstance and economic problems. He didn't buy any of it. Now we're going to find out how many clubs can't use Jack Clark or Dale Murphy or Jack Morris (who are all eligible for free agency this winter). Just like the Dodgers didn't need Tim Raines, right?"

Raines went unsigned as a free agent last winter and ultimately returned to the Montreal Expos May 1. He is a factor in a second collusion grievance now being heard by another arbitrator, George Nicolau.

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