Bonds non-deal is sign of baseball's chaotic times

December 07, 1992|By Frank Dolson | Frank Dolson,Philadelphia Inquirer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- They were all primed for the bi announcement. Barry Bonds was ready. His father, Bobby, was ready. Dennis Gilbert, Barry's agent, and Gilbert's three associates were ready.

And then a funny thing happened last night on the way to the official unveiling of baseball's $43.2 million Giant. The news conference was called off.

You've got to hand it to baseball -- just when you think it can't make itself look more foolish than it already looks, it finds a way.

The biggest player contract in the history of the game was put on hold for the simple reason that the people who made the offer didn't yet own the San Francisco Giants. And Bob Lurie, still the official owner of the team, wasn't about to put his name on Barry Bonds' $7 million-a-year contract.

Just another of those minor technicalities that has this rudderless ship we call baseball adrift in a sea of controversy and confusion. And I'll bet you thought things couldn't get any worse.

The best thing you could say about the decision by the would-be new owners of the Giants to make Bonds the richest player in the game is that it took people's minds off Marge Schott for a while. They were too busy trying to figure out how a San Francisco group led by Peter Magowan could afford to pay anybody $7 million a year to play baseball when it couldn't afford to equal the St. Petersburg, Fla., offer for the club, falling short by $15 million.

Bob Lurie, a man of consummate class -- in fact, just the type of person baseball can least afford to lose -- had every right to be upset when he heard what the owners-to-be had done. But Lurie loves San Francisco, and he loves the Giants and he loves baseball. So he didn't say what he must have been thinking.

What he did say yesterday, as he sat in his hotel suite at baseball's winter meetings, was how much the offer to Bonds had surprised him.

"I don't want to get in a controversy with these guys," he said, "but, yes, I was very surprised. How could I not be surprised? I think most people were."

Surprised. Shocked. Incredulous. Baseball people were all of those things and more. Jerry Reinsdorf, majority owner of the Chicago White Sox, was disturbed enough to say that he intended to vote "against" approval of the Giants' new ownership group.

Prospective owners, after all, are required to submit their plans for operation ahead of time. The San Francisco group had promised to act conservatively, to keep the Giants' payroll down. Somewhere, somehow, those plans went astray.

Lurie heard about the Bonds deal on Saturday, after Bob Quinn, the Giants new general manager, phoned Al Rosen, the outgoing GM. Until the sale of the club is final, the new group has to notify Lurie before any signings or trades.

"Frankly, I was shocked," Rosen acknowledged. But, like Lurie, he was determined not to say too much. "You and I have to stay in the background," Rosen said to Lurie. "It's baseball's problem, and it's their [the new owners'] problem."

Lurie was sure of one thing: He was not about to be held responsible for a contract that he -- and a number of other owners -- considered ridiculous.

Bill Giles, too, was startled by news of the proposed six-year deal for the National League's MVP.

"I have been startled the last two weeks about everything," the Philadelphia Phillies owner said, alluding to the surprisingly big contracts given to pitcher Chris Bosio by Seattle and shortstop Spike Owen by the New York Yankees.

"Actually, I have a harder time swallowing the $4 million Bosio got than the $7 million for Bonds," Giles said. "But both are crazy."

Almost as crazy as would-be owners who couldn't afford to pay $115 million for the Giants offering a $43.2 million contract to Barry Bonds to play for a baseball team that isn't officially theirs.

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