Against the backdrop of the baseball strike, Jason Varitek from Georgia Tech, college baseball's best player this spring, continues his own work stoppage. Varitek, a catcher, is attempting to reach an agreement with the Seattle Mariners, the team that made him the 14th pick in June's amateur draft. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement by Sept. 21, Varitek, who did not sign with Minnesota last summer after having been chosen 21st by the Twins, says he will reenter the draft next spring. If he does he will almost certainly become the first three-time first-round pick in baseball history.
At issue is the Mariners' unwillingness to budge from the $400,000 signing bonus they offered Varitek on July 7. Varitek is asking for $850,000, a tidy sum but in line with the bonuses paid other first-rounders. The K.C. Royals paid the 16th player selected in the draft, first baseman Matt Smith, a cool million, and the average signing bonus of the 10th through 18th picks was $835,000.
Seattle's defense of its lowball offer is, frankly, indefensible. Based on a highly suspect sampling of previous drafts, the Mariners determined that college seniors sign for 35% less than similarly ranked non-seniors. Because Varitek had no college eligibility remaining and because the Mariners owned his rights until the next draft, they figured he would have to accept their $400,000 offer. Taking such unfair advantage of a senior plays into the hands of those who would argue that baseball's draft, indeed all sports drafts, should be abolished.
Baseball people believe that Varitek will eventually sign. "Once one side finds a face-saving mechanism, they'll get it done," says one American League general manager. Varitek, however, says he will not sign after classes begin on Sept. 21 at Tech, where he is 27 credits short of his undergraduate degree in management. "I feel like I'm on strike," says Varitek. "I'm willing to go through this all over again if it means being treated fairly."
When the Stanley Cup goes back to the shop for repairs after its whirlwind summer vacation (SI, July 25), the engravers of the olde mug might want to take another crack at spelling the name of the 1980-81 league champions, now proudly identified as the NEW YORK ILANDERS.
Now that the World Championship of Basketball has come and gone (page 38), making barely a ripple, we have a suggestion that might actually make such a tournament palatable, while at the same time promoting the game worldwide, which was the original intent. No, we're not talking about Dream Team I vs. Dream Team II. Rather, model the event after golf's Ryder Cup: the best players from the U.S. in a seven-game series against the best from the rest of the world. This year such a format might have pitted the Dream Teamers against this lineup:
Centers: Hakeem Olajuwon, 7 feet, Nigeria (now a U.S. citizen). Probably the best player in the world, as shown by his MVP season in the NBA.
Dikembe Mutombo, 7'2", Zaire. Terrific shot blocker. Would keep the U.S. big men from scoring at will inside.