Wren, O's vie in pay dispute

Ousted GM seeks Selig assist as O's stop payment on contract

October 27, 1999|By Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss | Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Recently ousted Orioles general manager Frank Wren is seeking binding arbitration from the office of baseball commissioner Bud Selig as a means of settling a dispute with the club regarding his three-year contract.

Baseball sources confirm that the Orioles have suspended payment of the balance of Wren's salary and, barring a settlement between the parties, the issue likely will be settled by Selig through the prescribed process of binding arbitration.

"The matter is pending before the commissioner," said Wren's attorney, Herb Belgrad. "There is nothing confidential about that."

The Orioles fired Wren on Oct. 6, less than a year after he was named successor to Pat Gillick. A source familiar with the case said negotiations to reach a settlement stalled after Wren was quoted in Oct. 9 editions of The Sun.

On Oct. 13, Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz announced Wren's hiring as assistant general manager. However, Wren's fresh employment does not alter his demand that the Orioles honor the rest of his three-year, $1.35 million contract, which apparently also included perks such as a loan. Belgrad filed the request for arbitration on Wren's behalf within the past 10 days.

Belgrad, an attorney with Tydings & Rosenberg, is former president of the Maryland State Bar Association and former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. Wren retained his services shortly after moving his family to Baltimore.

Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos -- reached yesterday at his law office -- declined to comment on the situation, saying only that he was unaware of a grievance being filed against the club. A grievance, however, is typically reserved for labor disputes. Binding arbitration is the method prescribed by Major League Baseball as a means of avoiding litigation between clubs and their employees.

"The employment agreement provides if there is a dispute between the parties with respect to any part of the agreement the dispute will go to the commissioner for a ruling," Belgrad said last night.

Belgrad cited "obvious disagreements" between the Orioles and Wren but would not elaborate on the merits of his client's case. A compromise may be struck between the parties until Selig makes a ruling.

Selig, also in attendance for Game 3 of the World Series, confirmed that the matter has reached his office but would not comment further except to say that the issue would not be addressed until after the Series, probably sometime next week.

"The contract submits disputes to the commissioner to act as the arbitrator," said Major League Baseball legal counsel Rob Manfred.

Wren, attending the World Series in an official capacity with his new team, also declined to comment.

Wren signed his three-year contract last Oct. 28 but quickly clashed with Angelos. The relationship finally reached its breaking point after Wren ordered a Sept. 17 team charter to leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport without late-arriving third baseman Cal Ripken, who was forced to make his own arrangements to meet the team in Anaheim, Calif., later that day.

The Orioles called an Oct. 5 meeting with Wren to discuss several issues concerning his management style, including having him apologize to director of player personnel Syd Thrift over an internal matter. Wren refused and was fired "for cause," according to the club.

The Orioles have yet to name Wren's successor but have indicated the likely elimination of the general manager title in favor of director of baseball operations.

It is unusual for a team to refuse to honor the remainder of a multi-year contract when a front office executive's employment is terminated, but an Orioles source indicated that ownership feels it is on a strong legal foundation to suspend payment of the approximately $900,000 remaining on Wren's contract.

The issue most likely will be determined by Selig with input from Manfred, Major League Baseball chief operating officer Paul Beeston and executive vice president Robert DuPuy.

The Orioles hope to decide upon a managerial successor to Ray Miller by this weekend. Several club executives, including executive vice president John Angelos and Thrift, traveled to New York last night. An advisory committee composed of team executives and department heads within baseball operations already has interviewed nine candidates and forwarded its findings to the majority owner.

Former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, Boston Red Sox bench coach Grady Little and Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo are considered leading candidates, according to club and industry sources.

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