A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
After 15 months and enough testimony to fill up 5,674 pages of transcripts, arbitrator Thomas Roberts came to the obvious conclusion on Monday that the major league baseball owners were guilty of improperly engaging in "concerted conduct" to limit the market for 62 free agent players after the 1985 season. Roberts was ruling on a grievance filed by the players' union, and he specifically cited the case of Kirk Gibson, the Detroit Tiger outfielder who found that none of the other 25 teams wanted him. Said Donald Fehr, the executive director of the union, "This dismisses once and for all the idea that this came about by accident." The decision does not cover such 1986 free agents as Jack Morris of Detroit and Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos; a second arbitrator, George Nicolau, is scheduled to hand down a decision in November on a grievance involving the class of '86.
Now comes the hard part. What are the ramifications of Roberts's ruling? Fehr feels that Gibson and the other wronged players should be awarded "full and complete damages." Fehr also thinks the free agents should have the right to void their existing contracts. Awards could be determined on a case-by-case basis, or the Players Association could ask for a huge indemnity and distribute the money itself.
The owners made their own bed. As Roberts pointed out in his decision, they were the ones who insisted that Article XVIII, Paragraph H be put in the Basic Agreement: "Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs." And then they went out and violated it.
What is needed is both a free labor market and fiscal responsibility by the owners—not owner collusion. In other words, something between the giddy bazaar in which the owners used to shop and the bargain basement they conspired to create.
When Pittsburgh radio personality Trish Beatty was in Moscow in July, working on a documentary about a Soviet-American peace walk, she joined a pickup baseball game that drew both from participants in the walk and from prospective members of the Soviet national baseball team. During a ceremonial postgame exchange of gifts, a Soviet pitcher-outfielder by the name of Andrei Tselekovsky somehow lost his mitt.
Baseball gloves are as rare as VCRs in the Soviet Union, where fledgling ballplayers usually depend on the kindness of visiting foreigners to equip them, so Beatty resolved to replace the glove. Back in the U.S., she called the Phillies' Kent Tekulve, an old friend from his Pirate days, and got a glove from him, personally signed. She forwarded it to former NFL quarterback Guy Benjamin, now with Athletes United for Peace, who was on his way to the Soviet Union.
Benjamin could not locate Tselekovsky, so he left the glove with a Soviet Olympic official. Beatty had no idea if the glove reached Andrei. But some weeks later she was reading The Pittsburgh Press when she came across an Associated Press dispatch on Soviet baseball that described a player named Tselekovsky as having "a glove autographed by Kent Tekulve."