O's drop another: Wren gets severance

Selig rules for ex-GM

team owes $400,000

May 11, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Commissioner Bud Selig has ordered through binding arbitration that the Orioles pay former general manager Frank Wren more than $400,000 severance.

Selig's decision, considered an "internal matter" by Major League Baseball, was confirmed yesterday by industry sources.

"I never comment on internal rulings," said Selig, reached by phone at his Milwaukee home last night. "There's really nothing to say."

Wren, now the Atlanta Braves' assistant general manager, also refused to discuss specifics of the ruling but expressed relief over the end to a protracted, often personal, battle.

"I am glad that we prevailed," said Wren. "At this point, we can go forward and it closes the last chapter of the year we spent in Baltimore."

The ruling, handed down Monday but not announced by the commissioner's office, represents a bitter loss to a club and its majority owner, Peter Angelos, who argued that Wren was dismissed "with cause" and not entitled to any compensation beyond time served.

"He was only asking for what he was entitled to. He would have liked to have avoided using the arbitration route, but that was the only remedy he had under the employment contract," said Wren's attorney, Herb Belgrad.

Monday's ruling ends a nasty chapter that pitted Angelos and Wren against each other almost from the beginning of his 11 1/2 -month term with the club. Their differences culminated when chief operating officer Joe Foss and club counsel approached Wren about a settlement shortly after last season's fourth-place finish, which also brought about the ouster of manager Ray Miller.

When a preliminary agreement disintegrated, Wren submitted a formal request to the commissioner's office for binding arbitration last Nov. 29.

As part of negotiations that preceded Wren's Oct. 6 firing, a settlement had been drafted stipulating Wren would be paid the difference between his general manager's salary, $450,000, and what he would earn from his next employer. The Braves hired Wren as assistant GM one week after his dismissal for an annual salary of about $250,000, leaving the Orioles liable for slightly more than $400,000.

Counsel for the Orioles argued that Wren had been fired "for cause" and was not due any portion of his remaining salary. The club based another facet of its argument, according to industry sources familiar with the case, on Wren's conduct and decisions. Wren's refusal to order the team charter to wait for third baseman Cal Ripken on a cross-country flight was prominently cited.

An aborted signing of reliever Xavier Hernandez also was cited by the club. Wren was blamed for prematurely announcing the signing of a pitcher found to have rotator cuff damage and who was subseqently released by the club after he was placed on the 40-man roster. The Orioles settled with Hernandez for $1.75 million.

"I would say the Orioles would respectfully disagree with the commissioner," said Orioles general counsel Russell Smouse. "We recognize that the general inclination in league matters is to favor the employee. I also would say that there were a wide range of issues and complaints about Frank that came from throughout the organization. There were a host of reasons for the Orioles to take the action that was taken."

There is no appeal of the decision and a date has been prescribed for the club to make payment to Wren.

Wren successfully argued that the above-mentioned decisions did not constitute cause, and he was tacitly supported by other executives fearful of the precedent set had he not won.

"I think that other general managers following the case were interested in the decision and would cleary be affected," said Belgrad. "The challenge was to the scope of a general manager's authority."

A ruling had been expected during spring training; however, the commissioner's office had granted the club two additional rounds of arguments that made for a nearly six-month process.

"I think the biggest aspect of this finally being settled is that we can finally move forward," Wren said last night from Myrtle Beach, S.C. "We're settled in Atlanta. We're happy. We're finally able to look forward and not back."

The Braves are scheduled to play the Orioles at Camden Yards on June 13-15. Braves GM John Schuerholz is expected to attend without Wren.

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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