Another $102.5 million added to collusion ledger

September 18, 1990|By Manny Topol | Manny Topol,Newsday

NEW YORK -- Major-league baseball owners were ordered yesterday to pay players at least $102.5 million in lost salary because they conspired to hold down salaries of free agents in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. The decision by arbitrator George Nicolau marks the fifth consecutive decision to go against the owners on collusion. Arbitrators also have ruled that the owners were guilty of suppressing salaries through a free-agent boycott after the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons.

Last year, the players were awarded $10.5 million by arbitrator Thomas Roberts, who heard the 1986 collusion case.

Hearings will be held next week in Chicago to determine how the money is to be divided. Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Association, said last night that the hearings also will deal with additional damages, such as compensation for loss of mobility. Fehr said the damages also would include lost salary for 1989 and 1990, plus interest.

He said it is possible that hundreds of players may be involved in the final payout because the rulings may cover those players who went through arbitration during those years as well as free agents. He said the damages could be substantial.

Fehr said, "Protest as they will, the owners can no longer downplay either the significance or the effect of their intentionally wrongful conduct." Chuck O'Connor, head of management's Player Relations Committee, said the union asked for approximately $130 million for 1987 and 1988 and owners had proposed paying damages of about $85 million.

Although teams again started signing free agents -- some to huge contracts -- following the 1988 season, the union claims damages are continuing because salaries are lower than they would have been without the collusion.

In 1987, the clubs used an "information bank," a central clearinghouse for information on negotiations with free agents. Nicolau found the bank violated the basic bargaining agreement.

The 76 members of the free-agent Class of '87 include Jack Clark, Paul Molitor, Gary Gaetti and Jack Morris.

Clubs already have placed $10.5 million in escrow to cover the Roberts decision. O'Connor said $102.5 million would be added to the account by the end of the year.

"While we disagree with the amount of damages awarded, it is important to remember the events in question began more than five years ago," he said.

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