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BASEBALL : It's Tough All Over for Dodger Employees

September 20, 1992|ROSS NEWHAN

Item: Dodgers lay off eight minor league coaches and trainers, drop their rookie team in Florida, cancel annual organizational meetings in Arizona and reduce the travel budget for scouts.

It's happening everywhere:

--The Angels are releasing or relocating more than half a dozen full- and part-time scouts. They have curtailed travel for all scouts except those at the major league level and have canceled the annual organizational meetings. And there is a directive from President Richard Brown that any expenditure of more than $250 must have his approval.

--The New York Yankees, despite that $45-million cable TV contract, have dropped their Gulf Coast, Florida State and instructional league teams, and have notified all scouts that they are free to seek other employment because several will have to be fired.

In the upside-down world of baseball, foundations are being undermined to support those $40-million payrolls at the top.

Dodger President Peter O'Malley called it a result of the industry's troubled economics, adding: "We're not immune to the disorder and uncertainty. Whether it's Seattle or New York, all clubs are affected."

In the case of the Dodgers, O'Malley said, he can no longer think blue.

With a $42-million player payroll and attendance down about 500,000, the club will finish in the red, he said, adding that it is too soon to know how much the Dodgers will lose or if the player payroll will have to be reduced. But he is conducting an expense review in all departments.

He cited the complicating uncertainty of the TV and union contracts that have to be negotiated soon and said: "I'm proud of the fact that our ticket prices are still among the industry's lowest. Ticket prices cannot and should not continue to go up, and I'm trying to prevent that with this ongoing exercise (in budget restraint)."

The Dodgers have gone so far as to reduce lighting and escalator service at Dodger Stadium before games.

"It's a little scary," said longtime Dodger Von Joshua, one of the fired instructors. "I mean, if the Dodgers are cutting costs, how do I find a job with another organization?"

If, in fact, blue has turned to red, it happens just as the Dodgers are trying to revive their long dormant farm system. Charlie Blaney, their farm director, said, however, that there is fat to be trimmed and the revitalization will not be hampered.

"We're looking more and more to developing from within and we wouldn't do anything to harm that production," he said. "It wasn't a good year for the club--on the field or financially--and we're looking for ways to be more cost efficient."

The elimination of their rookie team at Port St. Lucie, Fla., will save about $500,000 in salary and expenses, he estimated, but it will not harm development because the Dodgers still have two rookie teams, the industry norm.

"We were signing some players who were non-prospects just to fill in, and that didn't make sense," Blaney said.

Likewise, he said, the 1992 addition of Mickey Hatcher as a full-time coach at triple-A Albuquerque compensates for the loss of Joshua, and the continued employment of roving hitting instructors Reggie Smith and Leo Posada will augment the use of player-coaches at lower levels.

Still, Blaney said, notifying Joshua, Darrell Evans and the other released instructors and trainers represented his toughest day ever.

Each will receive a letter of recommendation and be paid through Dec. 31. The calendars are still accurate at Dodger Stadium, though some of the clocks aren't, having been turned off as part of the saving on electricity.

DODGER POWER

The question of power goes beyond the use of electricity or the middle of the lineup. It goes to a question of who holds it or will hold it in the future.

Will Fred Claire move upstairs, eventually to be replaced by Larry Doughty or Tom Lasorda? Will Lasorda move north in the chain of command or east to Florida, if the Giants go to St. Petersburg and longtime friend Vince Piazza remains part of the new ownership group? Will Phil Regan or Bill Russell be the next manager?

The answers are not clear, but some in the organization suggest the organization is on the verge of what one longtime scout, insisting on anonymity, described as an "internal explosion."

He cited concern over the power vested suddenly in former Dodgertown director Blaney and instructor Reggie Smith, the absence of significant improvement in the farm system and an uncertain overall direction complicated by budget woes.

"I don't see any way out," he said of the 1992 morass. "I don't think they're going to spend money (on free agents), and there's not much in the system. All you have to do is look on the field to see what has happened (to the organization)."

The released Joshua corroborated that to an extent but didn't burn bridges. He said the system's talent level is still "not what it used to be" and that the best of what Albuquerque had to offer is already spending September with the Dodgers.

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