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Amid all the hoopla and oohs and aahs about the high-priced signing of baseball's free agents—a disproportionate number of them from Charlie Finley's disenchanted Oakland A's—it might be well to remember that Finley's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn goes to trial in Chicago on Dec. 13.
Finley-Kuhn? Rudi-Fingers-Blue? Right. It seems longer ago, but it was only last spring that Finley, disturbed because he could not sign some of his recalcitrant players, began dealing them off. First, he traded Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to the Orioles, hoping perhaps to shock other intransigents on his team into accepting contracts. When they would not, he suddenly sold Vida Blue to the Yankees and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox. Kuhn canceled the deals as not being in the best interests of baseball. Finley managed to sign Blue in the middle of the hooraw, but Rudi and Fingers played unsigned the rest of the year, became free agents and now have joined other clubs, Rudi the Angels, Fingers the Padres.
It's a fascinating situation. If Kuhn had not canceled Finley's deals with New York and Boston, the Oakland owner would have received about $3.5 million for the three players. As it is, he still has Blue—and a shattered ball club—but nothing whatever to show for Rudi and Fingers, not to mention Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Don Baylor and Bert Campaneris, who also fled Finleyville after becoming free agents.
If Finley wins his suit against Kuhn, he will certainly expect the commissioner (or organized baseball) to pay him the money the Red Sox would have given him last June for Rudi and Fingers, Or the court could decide that the deal was in fact a fait accompli, that Rudi and Fingers belong (although still unsigned) to the Red Sox, and that the Boston club owes Charlie a couple of million dollars.
The latter decision would upset the Angels and the Padres and, presumably, Rudi and Fingers, who would become free agents all over again—wouldn't they?—if they chose not to sign with the Red Sox. Which would leave the Red Sox bereft of both the players and the money they would have to pay Finley. And what about the Yankee purchase of Blue? Who's Blue's?
Talk about a can of worms.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
The pro football draft was declared illegal by a Federal Court five months after the New England Patriots traded quarterback Jim Plunkett to the San Francisco 49ers for one second-string player and four top 49er draft picks (two in 1976, before the draft was shot down in court, and two more in 1977). The court decision is being appealed, of course, and in any event some sort of draft apparatus seems sure to be worked out between the owners and the players. Even so, Patriot fans are wondering what might happen if the 1976 draft is canceled. They don't want Plunkett back, now that Steve Grogan has emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But neither do they like the idea of the 49ers keeping Plunkett for half price, while the Patriots sit there contemplating the egg on their faces.
Well, it turns out that such gloomy speculation is academic. Chuck Fairbanks, the Patriot head coach, anticipated the possible elimination of the draft when he made the Plunkett trade and had a solution written into the deal. If there is no 1977 draft, and the 49ers therefore are unable to give the Patriots the promised first and second picks, there will be a private "draft," involving only New England and San Francisco. The word is that the 49ers can protect Plunkett and three more players, after which the Patriots can select any two of the 39 other names on the San Francisco roster. That's not such a bad option play.