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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Warning Signs on Strawberry Were All Too Clear

June 27, 1993|ROSS NEWHAN

There have been too many twists and turns to predict how this story will end, but the Dodgers can't say they weren't aware of those twists and turns from the start.


A strong and independent commissioner might see it differently, but Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and chairman of the executive council, sees no reason to exercise baseball's "best interest" powers and end the systematic devastation of the San Diego Padres by owner Tom Werner and colleagues.

Baseball has no problem, Selig said, with Werner trading Gary Sheffield for three basically unproven pitchers, or with the departures of Craig Lefferts, Randy Myers, Tony Fernandez, Benito Santiago and Darrin Jackson from a team that was only 4 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West on Aug. 1 of last year.

"This is a dramatic manifestation of the big-market, small-market problem," Selig said, spouting the company line. "I understand the fans' frustration, but Tom is trying to preserve the viability of his franchise and prevent an economic tragedy.

"I've seen it compared to Charlie Finley (whose attempt to sell Joe Rudi, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers as owner of the Oakland A's was blocked by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn), but that was a liquidation.

"Here you have a club making trades, and while some of them seem one-sided, I understand what Tom is doing and I understand he has to do it to maintain the viability of the franchise."

Has to do it to prevent an economic tragedy? Bold assertion, but where's the proof?

Don't San Diego fans, left with a shell of a major league team--first baseman Fred McGriff will probably be peddled next--deserve to see independently audited books to document that the club really lost $8 million or $6 million or $10 million last year, depending on what this week's claim is?

Don't they deserve to know how much depreciation and cash-flow benefits one of baseball's wealthiest ownership groups has already claimed since buying the Padres for a modest $65 million in 1989-90?

Werner and colleagues have abdicated their responsibility to the people supporting the franchise. They have destroyed a contending team, and if they don't want to play the game at today's prices, they should be forced to sell.

The tragedy, to borrow Selig's grandiose description, is that there is no one strong enough in baseball to bring an end to it, to go to bat for the fans' best interests.


While the Padres head in another direction, there is no question about the wheeling and dealing of Florida Marlin owner Wayne Huizenga.

Already on a pace to break the Angels' 1961 expansion record of 70 victories, the Marlins are looking to become competitive in a hurry.

"It's not like we have an entire lineup of high-priced veterans," General Manager Dave Dombrowski said. "Unfortunately, the way the game is, if you want premium players, you have to pay the price."

The Marlins were already paying big-time salaries to Santiago and Bryan Harvey--and to a lesser extent to Walt Weiss, Charlie Hough and Dave Magadan, who has lost his position to Sheffield and will probably be traded. Sheffield makes $3.11 million this year and can become a free agent after the 1994 season if the same system is in place.

"There is some risk to it, but hopefully we can sign him to a long-term contract," Dombrowski said, adding that Sheffield is a premium power hitter in the prime of his career.

"He makes us better, but we don't figure to win it this year or next," Dombrowski said. "We made the deal (giving up three pitchers from the expansion draft) on a long-term basis."

Dombrowski also said he hoped the addition of a cornerstone player has ended trade rumors about Harvey, who has 22 saves and is another cornerstone in the Marlins' building process.

"I've repeatedly said that we didn't draft Harvey to trade him," Dombrowski said. "I hate to never say never, but it would take an overwhelming offer. I'd be shocked if it happened."


The resignation of Al Harazin as the beleaguered general manager of the beleaguered New York Mets paves the way for the return of Joe McIlvaine, most recently the frustrated general manager of the Padres and previously an architect of the Mets' championship teams of the '80s.

McIlvaine faces a long and difficult task. With a $39-million payroll, the Mets are averaging $1.8 million a victory. Bret Saberhagen compared his hapless team to a "circus act" the other day, and John Franco punched a clubhouse wall in frustration and embarrassment.

Meanwhile, a banner hung in Shea Stadium read, "Young and the Hopeless."

That was a reference to Anthony Young, who has set a major league record for futility with 23 consecutive defeats, 12 in relief and 11 as a starter. Young has made 71 appearances since his last victory, in 1992, but deserves better. Twelve of the 36 runs scored against him this season have been unearned, and his 4.08 earned-run average isn't that much worse than the 3.77 of 11-game winner Jack McDowell.


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