With their players distracted by ongoing trade speculation about Randy Johnson, the Dodgers drew a line in the sand Tuesday in negotiations to acquire the all-star pitcher.
Fred Claire, executive vice president, set a noon deadline for the Seattle Mariners to accept his final offer for the disgruntled left-hander. Then Claire waited for his phone to ring.
But his deadline came and went. And when Mariner General Manager Woody Woodward finally returned Claire's call later in the afternoon, he had surprising news: Johnson wasn't available after all.
So a day after pitcher Hideo Nomo's Dodger career ended in a stunning announcement--he was designated for assignment--weary team officials and players were again struggling to make sense of the chaos that has become commonplace at Chavez Ravine.
The bizarre Johnson trade situation capped another tumultuous day of off-field news at Dodger Stadium, where they also still play baseball.
The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Dodgers, 7-4, before a crowd of 36,367. It was the team's fourth consecutive loss, a streak coinciding with word emerging about the Johnson trade talks.
Claire emphatically said the Dodgers are out of the running for Johnson, and he hopes closure on the issue will help to change the team's on-field performance.
"We are no longer interested in Randy Johnson," Claire said in a hastily called news conference at the stadium.
"Our interest ended at noon [Tuesday] from our standpoint. This has been a rather difficult time for everyone, and we're trying to move on."
Throughout the afternoon, there were unconfirmed reports that a deal had been completed. That further upset tense Mariner officials, sources said.
They were initially displeased last Thursday because Claire confirmed the ongoing talks, contradicting Woodward who denied speaking with Claire about trading the 1995 American League Cy Young Award winner.
In a terse three-paragraph statement, Mariner President Chuck Armstrong denied the franchise had ever contemplated trading Johnson.
"Continuing speculation about unsubstantiated rumors of a trade for Randy Johnson has prompted this clarification of his status with the Seattle Mariners," the statement read. "Randy Johnson is a valued pitcher for the Mariners, who is under contract for the balance of the 1998 season.
"Randy will pitch for the Mariners throughout the season. Accordingly, we have no plans to trade Randy Johnson."
Claire called Woodward with a final proposal Monday at noon, and gave him 24 hours to complete a deal. Claire declined to identify the players he offered to Seattle, but sources said the package included pitcher Ismael Valdes and infielder/outfielder Wilton Guerrero, who was optioned to triple-A Albuquerque on May 16.
The deadline was set, Claire said, because the Dodgers have been struggling in part because of the atmosphere surrounding the ongoing talks, which intensified last Wednesday. Players have been deluged by questions from reporters, and they have acknowledged the situation has made their jobs more difficult.
"It was 24 hours on the proposal I gave him [Monday], and with the conversations we had been having up to that point, I thought that was enough time to reach a resolution," Claire said. "I wasn't trying to apply pressure, I was trying to deal with the realities of our lives.
"I told him I thought it was a very good offer, and a fair offer. I thought that this should get it done. I said, 'If you think this is it, let's get it done. If you don't, or have a better, deal I understand.' "
Claire anticipated receiving a phone call from Woodward, sources said, and grew increasingly irritated as the day progressed. He took the offer off the table once the deadline expired, and informed front-office personnel the trade talks had collapsed.
"I wasn't trying to create pressures, I was just dealing with a time frame, because this had to come to a halt. I knew in my own mind, and I've known for a couple of days, that we weren't going into [Tuesday's] game with this whirling around. It was not going to happen."
After batting practice, Claire informed the coaching staff and players the deal was dead. He said it was important to make that clear.
"I told them that it was time to get our focus back on the field, and that the time had come to put this behind us," he said. "It was time to get our house in order."
Said Dodger reserve Jim Eisenreich: "Fred didn't want to let distractions affect our play like they have been. The bottom line is we're all players and we know what we have to do."
The Mariners simply got cold feet about the prospect of trading a player among the most popular in franchise history, sources said. And they also reconsidered because of Johnson's performance in his last two starts, in which he is 2-0 with 25 strikeouts.
After being assured by Mariner officials he would be traded, Johnson and his representative were understandably upset about Tuesday's events.
"Randy should not have had to go through what he has," said Barry Meister, who represents Johnson along with Alan Nero.
"The Mariners could have handled this in a much better fashion than they did. They could have put an end to this long ago, instead of letting him twist in the wind this way. They had very little regard for Randy or his family."
And with Claire actively pursuing a trade for Nomo, what does that mean for the starting rotation now that Johnson isn't expected to join the Dodgers?
"We have a good team, and we've made some good additions," Claire said. "We're going forward with the team that we have."
For now, anyway.
* Dreifort win streak ends against Cardinals. C8
* Winning, not stars, is the key to sales. D1