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BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
September 12, 1988
THE VERDICT IS IN
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September 12, 1988

Baseball

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Earlier this year, in what is now called Collusion I, Roberts granted some of the class of 1985 immediate free agency, which allowed erstwhile Detroit outfielder Kirk Gibson to move to the Dodgers. With Nicolau's decision (Collusion II), the Players Association now has the right to request free agency for all 79 players involved in the case, but it will probably only do so for Raines, Parrish, Gedman and the other five players who hadn't signed by the Jan. 8, 1987, deadline. However, the association may wait until after the season to make that request, to improve the players' bargaining positions.

It may be awhile before Roberts and Nicolau decide on the fines and reparations the owners will have to pay for their misconduct. By the time Nicolau finishes with Collusion III, covering the class of 1987, damages for all three years could total between $100 million and $150 million, which would be split among the 26 clubs. That has a lot of owners worried. "If the smaller-market clubs have to ante up three or five million apiece, we'll really be hurt," says the owner of one of those teams.

The message in all this is clear: For years, the owners individually failed to exhibit any self-discipline in the face of a free market, and then, when they tried to work together to control the market, they were overzealous in their attempts to do so. Many owners, of course, maintain that much of the evidence presented to Nicolau was circumstantial and that they were not in cahoots.

What happens next? First, free agency will be back, though contracts will likely be for shorter periods of time than they were in the free-agent heyday of the late 1970s and early '80s. The Cardinals have already made it known that they will be going after Seattle pitcher Mike Moore if the Mariners allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season. However, it's unlikely that Raines will become a free agent because a new three-year extension with Montreal is "98 percent done," according to a club official.

Another consequence of the Nicolau decision may be harder to swallow. When asked his opinion of the verdict, the Tigers' owner, Tom Monaghan, told CNN, "The only way to get unions back in line is with a long strike...and the Detroit Tigers will be the last team to cave in." Both the owners and the players are building war chests for a strike in 1990.

Still, there are islands of sanity. As one owner says, "We should be trying to work with the Players Association to enjoy the fact that we are drawing record attendances and baseball has never been in better shape." But greed and the struggle for power—on both sides—may overcome reason.

TIMEOUT

One of the silliest developments of the season is what has come to be known as the Air Controller Rule. No such rule exists, of course, but several reporters conjured it up last week when outfielder Fred Lynn reported late for his assignment with his new team, the Tigers, and lost his chance to play in the postseason. To be eligible for postseason play, a player acquired on or before Aug. 31 must be in the same city as his new mates by midnight of that date. What being in a city means, however, is open to interpretation.

Last week, because the Tigers and outfielder Fred Lynn haggled too long over the $250,000 buyout to get him to waive the no-trade clause of his Oriole contract, the private jet taking Lynn to Chicago didn't make contact with the O'Hare Airport tower until 12:10 a.m. (Central Daylight Time) on Sept. 1. So Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie reported that Lynn was late, thereby eliminating him from postseason play with the Tigers.

Lajoie was confused about the rule because the commissioner's office and PRC had given him different answers when he called that day to ask how it worked. Similarly, Boston general manager Lou Gorman, who was trying to work out a deal for Braves pitcher Rick Mahler, was told by the commissioner's office that if the trade went through on Aug. 31, Mahler would have to be in Anaheim, where the Red Sox were going to play the Angels the following day, by midnight Eastern Daylight Time.

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