Off field, Orioles make the payoffs Team's deferred salaries/bonuses to former personnel top $8.6 million

August 28, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Jim Palmer's last official trip to a big-league mound came about a decade ago, but the Orioles have never stopped appreciating their Hall of Fame pitcher.

Or, as it turns out, paying him.

Palmer, who, except for a brief spring-training comeback two years ago, retired in 1984, will collect $30,468 from the Orioles this year, putting him among more than a dozen former players and front-office employees who are receiving a little more than $8.6 million in deferred salaries and bonuses from the Orioles.

The payments to Palmer end this year, but others -- including money to Eddie Murray, Rick Dempsey and Dennis Martinez -- will be on the Orioles' rolls well into the next century, according to team financial records.

Murray, who was traded by the Orioles after the 1988 season, easily tops the list of former players still collecting from the team with $2.8 million in deferred salary and another $650,000 in bonuses.

Murray, now with the New York Mets, gets about $159,000 a year through 1999, and another $2.3 million after that, according to the team records, which were filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in connection with the recent sale of the Orioles. The only other ex-Oriole owed more than $1 million is the late Alan Wiggins, whose estate receives $1.2 million.

None of the players on the list has played for the Orioles in years with the exception of Rick Dempsey, who had nine at-bats in cameo appearances last season. Most passed through Baltimore the 1970s and '80s, a time when player salaries were beginning to soar and teams were locking up their players with extended deals.

"When we had the onslaught of new, long-term contracts in the late '70s and early '80s, people were looking for new ways to handle them. Deferred payments became an industry-wide phenomenon," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino, who was a key negotiator for the team then.

The deferred deals were attractive to players because they spread their extremely high salaries over more years, reducing their incomes and cutting taxes. Some players also used the forced saving to build a retirement nest egg.

Teams had equally important motives: The deals allowed them to shift payroll bills 10, in some cases, 20 years into the future. In most of the deals, the deferred money did not accrue interest.

A few former Orioles said they didn't ask for deferred payments, but agreed to them because they were the only way team officials would put more money into their contracts.

"There was no choice between up-front and deferred. If you were looking for something extra, you pretty much had to accept it," said former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan, who is still due to get about $250,000 in deferred salaries and bonuses.

Tippy Martinez recalled that he agreed to take his money later after then-general manager Hank Peters told him it was the only way the team could afford to pay him.

"They said they couldn't afford to pay interest, but it would be helping the ballclub out if I would take deferred payments. I liked Baltimore, so naturally I wanted to stay," Martinez said.

He isn't sorry now, five years after he retired. "I always knew I'd have security down the road, that if I couldn't find a job I'd always have a nice income coming in," said Martinez, who received $50,000 from the Orioles this year, and will get $100,000 over the next two years.

Scott McGregor, who will be receiving more than $750,000 from the Orioles, doesn't have regrets either. "It worked perfect for me," said McGregor, who retired in 1988. "When I retired, I was 36 with 10 years of deferred money. When that's finished, I can start taking my [major-league] pension.

"The chance you always take is: Will baseball survive long enough to pay what they owe you, but they seem to be doing all right. . . . For me, it was very wise."

The Orioles weren't the only team relying on deferred compensation in the 1980s, but Lucchino couldn't say how they compared to other teams. "I don't really know what other teams' deferred obligations are. I assume we were in the middle of the pack," he said.

Most teams stopped seeking deferred compensation by the late 1980s for a few reasons. A big one was that more players were asking for the club to pay interest on deferred money, a big disadvantage for management. "If substantial interest accrued, there was no benefit for the club," Lucchino said.

Former players aren't the only team employees with deferred compensations deals. The list also includes two Orioles general managers. Hank Peters, Orioles GM from 1976 through 1987, gets $308,250 from the club, in payments that continue until at least 2000, and current GM Roland Hemond receives $87,500 next year. Pat Santarone, the longtime Orioles groundskeeper who retired before the 1992 season, is owed about about $20,000 for this year and 1994.

ORIOLES IOU'S

Some of the deferred payments (salary plus bonuses) that the Orioles will be paying former players over the next several years. Full list on page 8C:

Player ... ... ... ... ... ... Deferred payment

Eddie Murray .. .. ... ... ... $3,416,447

Alan Wiggins (estate) .. .. .. $1,165,486

Scott McGregor ... ... ... ... $754,742

Rick Dempsey ... ... ... .. .. $648,388

Fred Lynn* ... ... ... ... ... $525,000

Dennis Martinez .. ... ... ... $427,089

John Lowenstein .. ... ... ... $260,414

Mike Flanagan ... ... .. .. .. $249,692

Rich Dauer ... .. ... .. .. .. $142,119

* - payable to Detroit Tigers

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