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Curve Thrown Into Free-Agent Eligibility Issue

October 16, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than 24 hours after the appointment of William J. Usery as special mediator in the baseball labor dispute, the convoluted off-season continued to unravel Saturday amid an ongoing dispute over the free-agent eligibility of 14 players.

Four of those players--Jack McDowell of the Chicago White Sox, Jim Abbott of the New York Yankees, Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers and Erik Hanson of the Cincinnati Reds--filed for free agency Saturday, opening day of the 1994 filing period, but their eligibility was rejected by the owners' Player Relations Committee on the basis that they do not have the required six years of major league service, falling short because of time lost during the strike.

Eugene Orza, associate general counsel of the players' union, maintains that the players continued to accumulate service time during the strike because the clubs maintained active rosters. He has said that if the owners continue to block the claim, the union will file a grievance with baseball arbitrator George Nicolau.

But management sources said they might claim that Nicolau is no longer eligible to hear grievances because the bargaining agreement that established his position expired Dec. 31. Orza, in turn, said the owners have never proposed eliminating arbitration and that the players would fight that action in court.

Among those whose free-agent eligibility is jeopardized by the issue of service time is Chris Gwynn of the Dodgers, who needs one more day to be eligible.

Tim Wallach of the Dodgers was among the initial nine players who have met the eligibility requirement to file Saturday. The nine included Kevin Brown of the Rangers, Bill Swift of the San Francisco Giants and Mark Grace of the Chicago Cubs. About 170 players are eligible for free agency. One who files can talk to any club before Nov. 1, but can sign only with his own.

The owners have reserved the right to impose a 45-day freeze on signings. The union has said it would respond by filing a collusion grievance.

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