On Monday evening, Kansas City Royals general manager Herk Robinson made the stunning announcement that K.C. was placing outfielder Bo Jackson on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Even after days of speculation about Jackson's health and future, few had foreseen such an extraordinary—and sad—turn of events. At his news conference, Robinson made it clear that the decision was both a medical and an economic one.
Jackson, that most celebrated of two-sport athletes, injured his left hip while playing for the Los Angeles Raiders in a Jan. 13 NFL playoff game. At first, it was thought that the injury wasn't serious, but according to Royals team physician Dr. Steve Joyce, Jackson has since suffered an alarming loss of cartilage in the hip joint. In his announcement, Robinson said that the latest physicians' reports were "certainly far more serious than we had hoped, for our sake and for Bo's." Jackson's own doctor, Dr. James Andrews, a Birmingham, Ala., orthopedic specialist, was slightly more optimistic, indicating the possibility that Jackson could return to baseball after the All-Star break.
By releasing Jackson on or before March 19, the Royals are obliged to pay him only one sixth of his $2.45 million salary for 1991. Said a source in the Kansas City organization, "This was a no-brainer. It was the only sound business decision to make based on the facts. Bo may not have a whole lot of baseball left—though we can't say he won't play again."
Whether he will ever play again—and at what level of skill—was what the 25 other major league teams quickly began to ponder. Assuming that Jackson clears waivers in the period ending Friday (if he were claimed, the new team would have to pick up his full contract), he can negotiate a new contract with any other club. Given his talents and his enormous drawing power, everyone in baseball began Monday to play the guessing game: Who would roll the dice? And at what price?
It's Only Money
It may be hard to believe, but not every free agent got rich this winter. Some who put up decent numbers last year are still home, waiting for the phone to ring.
"A lot of teams ran out of money," says Brewers general manager Harry Dalton, explaining why baseball's early winter spending spree fizzled out in January. "There's so much pressure to retain stars and to acquire the big-name free agents. You commit what you can, then you run out of room on your payroll."
The biggest losers were part-time players. Instead of paying $1 million for a veteran fourth outfielder or a backup infielder, many general managers decided to go with young players, whom they arc paying little more than the $100,000 major league minimum. Not all the victims were part-timers, however. Case in point: Candy Maldonado. As a regular outfielder-DH for the Indians last season, Maldonado was one of only five American League players who had at least 22 homers and 95 RBIs. Last season, Maldonado was seeking a three-year deal from the Indians reportedly worth at least $6 million. Even though Cleveland is woefully short of power, in December general manager Hank Peters offered him only a one-year, $1.4 million contract, plus an option for another year. Maldonado rejected the deal and started talking with other teams, but the best he could do was get an invitation to the Brewers' camp.
"Sure, we wanted him," says Peters, "but he wanted substantially more than we wanted to pay. He overestimated the level of interest. I asked other people in baseball why they didn't have much interest in him. They said they were afraid of giving him a multiyear deal."