Alomar pay issue reopens an old wound

February 08, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Roberto Alomar and John Hirschbeck want to move forward.

The Orioles can't let go.

So, you think owner Peter Angelos is taking another maverick stand by paying Alomar during his five-game suspension?

Wrong.

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said yesterday that it is "standard operating procedure" for clubs to pay players who are suspended for on-field incidents.

And Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the players union, went one step further, saying Angelos is obligated to pay Alomar.

"He doesn't have a choice," Orza said.

The owners dispute that, but regardless of how an arbitrator decides on three pending grievances, the Orioles are stoking an issue that the principals want put to rest.

Both Alomar and Hirschbeck say it's over, but Angelos and Co. won't let it die.

One broken record deserves another.

Ladies and gentlemen, Richie Phillips

"When you pay someone during suspension, what you are in effect giving them is a paid vacation," the head of the umpires union said. "That seems to incentivize aberrant behavior rather than deter it."

Once again, Phillips is focusing on the wrong target.

The problem isn't Angelos.

The problem is a sport that allows players to receive their full salaries while under suspension from their league presidents.

(Players suspended by their clubs and players suspended for off-field incidents by the commissioner's office are not paid, according to Louis Melendez, an associate counsel with the Player Relations Committee.)

"It's a flaw in the system," Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson said.

"If a league suspends a player, the only entity harmed by that is the club. The player continues to get paid in almost all cases. This is not a good way to run a railroad.

"There needs to be a consequence to that kind of behavior. There's a consequence in the NBA. There's a consequence in the NFL. But there's essentially no consequence in baseball."

The Chicago Bulls' Dennis Rodman lost $1.1 million during his recent 11-game suspension. The Dallas Cowboys' Michael Irvin lost more than $500,000 during his five-game suspension last season.

Alomar stood to lose approximately $120,000.

It was not likely to happen.

In other sports, the commissioner represents central authority. But in baseball, the league presidents administer on-field discipline. Bud Selig, an owner with a conflict of interest, is the commissioner.

Now, you can't fault Angelos for answering reporters' questions on whether he would pay Alomar. But when asked for his reasoning by the Washington Post, he responded, "I'll speak to that more extensively at a later time."

Why so cryptic?

Angelos declined comment yesterday, but directed Gillick to speak for the club.

"We're just following prior practice," Gillick said, rather clearly.

Or, as Orza put it, "When Peter Angelos said he's going to pay Roberto Alomar, he really said he's going to treat Roberto Alomar the same way every other player has been treated."

Orza said that since the formation of the union in 1966, every player suspended for an on-field incident has been paid.

Gillick and Melendez, however, said the custom evolved over time.

"When I got into it at this level in 1976, it was not a practice," Gillick said. "Somewhere along the line -- I can't give the date, somewhere in the '80s -- it became a practice.

"What happened was someone fell out of step and paid. Another guy fell out of step and paid. Then everybody started paying."

And when the Montreal Expos tried to withhold $87,000 from Larry Walker in 1994, an arbitrator honored the precedent and made them pay.

The issue is not addressed in the league contracts, the standard players' contracts or the collective bargaining agreement.

Melendez said only guaranteed contracts like Alomar's contain a provision stating that a player will not be paid if he is suspended by the league.

But the union is challenging that language in cases involving Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton and Xavier Hernandez. And even if an arbitrator rules in the owners' favor, it still would be Angelos' prerogative to pay Alomar.

Guess what?

He would.

"We have other reasons to feel comfortable paying him," Gillick said. "Those are our own reasons. We feel comfortable enough paying him for reasons both the owner and the management of the club believe in."

Ah yes, the familiar Robbie-was-provoked defense.

It's even more tired now than it was in October. Hirschbeck blew a called strike three. He cursed Alomar in the ensuing argument. But Alomar was wrong to spit on him -- end of story.

Remember when assistant GM Kevin Malone said the club was preparing a "public defense" of Alomar? The Orioles backed off, but team officials are still stewing, believing that only one side was heard.

They're not all wrong -- Alomar, a mostly decent sort, was portrayed as a monster while Hirschbeck, the instigator, largely avoided blame. Still, this undercurrent of resentment serves no useful purpose.

The principals want to move forward.

The Orioles can't let go.

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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