Major-league baseball's club owners will pay players $280 million in damages under a settlement that will bring to a close the aftermath of the owners' three-year conspiracy against free agents, a lawyer involved in the case said yesterday.
It will be the largest owner-to-player payment made in sports history.
Under the settlement, reached in the past week by lawyers for the two sides, 16 players who were free agents after the 1987 season will become new-look free agents.
The group, none of whose members was eligible to be free agents this year, includes Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers, Jack Clark of the San Diego Padres, Gary Gaetti of the Minnesota Twins, Brett Butler of the San Francisco Giants, Dave Henderson of the Oakland Athletics and Dave Smith of the Houston Astros.
Neither side has announced the settlement, and yesterday Steve Fehr, one of the players' lawyers, said only that "For the first time, a settlement is possible, but there is a lot of work to be done, and we may not know for a month."
But another lawyer involved in the case said the basic elements -- the $280 million payment and the 16 new-look free agents -- had been agreed to.
Some less significant details remain to be worked out, the lawyer said, and the settlement won't be official until the 26 owners and the players association's executive board ratify it at their respective meetings a month from now.
Two arbitrators, Thomas Roberts and George Nicolau, found the owners guilty of collusion in their treatment of free agents after the 1985, '86 and '87 seasons.
They also had awarded $113 million in damages for lost salary in 1986, '87 and '88 as a result of the owners' violation of the labor agreement.
Nicolau had scheduled hearings for last month to determine lost salary for the '89 and '90 seasons, but they were postponed twice while lawyers negotiated a settlement. Nicolau had also been asked to rule on the players' contention that the damage awards should be accompanied by interest.
The payment of $280 million, which figures to $10.77 million per club, will cover everything: the damages already awarded, damages yet to be determined and interest.
Roberts had announced a $10.5 million award for the first conspiracy case on Aug. 29, 1989. One year and 19 days later, on Sept. 17, Nicolau awarded the players $102.5 million for salary lost in 1987 and '88.
At the time of Nicolau's award, some lawyers estimated that the interest on the $113 million could be $43 million, which would have raised the total the owners owed the players to $156 million. That total did not include lost salary for 1989 and '90.
On the day Nicolau announced his award, Charles O'Connor, the owners' chief labor representative, said the entire collusion matter could be resolved by the end of the year. The owners are expected to make the $280 million payment on the first of the year.
Neither O'Connor nor Donald Fehr, the head of the players' union, was immediately available for comment. O'Connor was in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the general managers' meetings, and Fehr was in Tokyo with a major-league all-star team that is playing a series of games in Japan. Commissioner Fay Vincent also was in Japan.
No determination has been made on how many players will share in the settlement or how the money will be distributed among the players.
The major-league players who will become free agents as part of a settlement of baseball's collusion case:
Pitchers: Larry Andersen, Red Sox; Juan Berenguer, Twins; x-John Candelaria, Blue Jays; Danny Darwin, Astros; y-Bill Gullickson, Astros; Mike LaCoss, Giants; Dave LaPoint, Yankees; Charlie Leibrandt, Braves; Dennis Martinez, Expos; z-Bob McClure, Angels; x-Greg Minton, Angels; Jack Morris, Tigers; x-Joe Price, Orioles; Dave Smith, Astros; Mike Witt, Yankees;
Catcher: Mike Heath, Tigers.
Infielders: Jack Clark, Padres; Gary Gaetti, Twins.
Outfielders: Brett Butler, Giants; Chili Davis, Angels; Dave Henderson, Athletics.
x-Already a free agent.
z-Waived free-agent rights in new contract.