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Baseball / Ross Newhan : The Cold War Between Owners and Players Gets a Little Colder

September 27, 1987|Ross Newhan

So you thought that now, with the owners having been formally charged with conspiracy, there would be a thaw in the icy relationship with the players, that they would find peace in our time?

Guess again.

It's going to be another cold winter.

The Angels' unceremonious release of Doug DeCinces in an apparent attempt to save $141,667 is a sobering barometer.

Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn. reflected on it and said from New York that the Angels' decision to break the agreement on the termination clause in DeCinces' contract was "deliberately provocative" and "insulting" to a player of DeCinces' stature.

Was that it? Were the Angels merely trying to save $141,667?

Owner Gene Autry said it went beyond that. Autry said it came down to DeCinces' lack of production, the need to play Jack Howell and more.

"I don't mind telling you that we felt Doug had become strictly a clubhouse lawyer," Autry said. "He was into almost everything.

"There was a recent game when Gene Mauch wanted him to hit and couldn't find him. He was watching another game on the TV in the clubhouse.

"It wasn't the $140,000. (General Manager) Mike Port had no choice. Doug didn't even seem interested in playing."

Autry's comments were a bit perplexing. DeCinces has worked hard to overcome a congenital back problem and remain in the lineup. He was a pivotal force for five rewarding seasons before this one.

"I'd like to know the last time Gene Mauch asked me to play and I said I couldn't," DeCinces said in response to Autry.

"I was no different than a lot of the players who would go up to the clubhouse during a game to stretch, swing a bat and stay loose. You couldn't do it in the dugout. There wasn't room. Mauch knew where we were. I'd like to hear him say the same things Autry is, but he hasn't even called me since I was released.

"I mean, I don't think Mr. Autry has a clue. There hasn't been a TV in the clubhouse since Mauch threw a bat through them. I think (Autry is) just trying to get back at me because of the bad publicity the club received over the way they handled my release.

"His comments are so sad, so low, so inexcusable.

"As for being a clubhouse lawyer, the only time I said anything was when the younger players asked me something because of my knowledge and experience.

"Look, I knew the Angels were going to release me at the end of the year and all I wanted was the opportunity to bow out gracefully. They won't let that happen. They talk about family and then do everything to destroy it."

DeCinces plans to file a grievance over his release. The legal process rules the game now.

Fehr, for example, said he will be meeting with arbitrator Tom Roberts in the next few days to present his recommendations on remedies and penalties in response to the collusion decision.

He said he was concerned, however, about another barometer, citing the frequent comments by Barry Rona, legal counsel to the owners' Player Relations Committee, that the owners will abide by the decision but can't really be forced to bid.

"We're going to know very quickly if they are going to comply or not," Fehr said, referring to the large number of quality players eligible for free agency this winter.

"How the clubs respond will affect the remedies we seek and the climate in which we seek them."

Does that mean that if the clubs respond realistically, he will ask for less in financial damages?

Fehr said no and seemed to leave no doubt that he will seek compensatory damages, if not punitive, as well, for the 62 free agents from the winter of 1985-86.

"A lot of players are owed a lot of money," he said. "That doesn't change. What the owners' approach (to this year's market) will determine is the extent of structural problems (in the system).

"There's a parallel to what's happening in the NFL. We could be in for a long fight (when the current bargaining agreement expires in 1989) if the recent mentality persists."

Until Rick Sutcliffe of the Chicago Cubs lost Saturday's start against the St. Louis Cardinals, he had a 3-0 record since Sept. 13, a span in which the rest of the Cubs' pitchers were 0-10.

Sutcliffe has recovered from a sore shoulder and a finger callus that contributed to his winless August and revived his chances for the Cy Young Award with an 18-9 record and September victories over the three leading teams in the National League East--the Cardinals, New York Mets and Montreal Expos.

He maintains, however, that he isn't thinking about the Cy Young.

"We're in last place," he said. "It's tough to think of anything as far as individual stuff is concerned. Andre (Dawson) will tell you the same thing. We'd love to give up statistics to move up in the standings.

"I mean, it's almost sickening where we're at. I went through a couple of years of this in Cleveland and now three years in a row with a team not able to play up to expectations.

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