Top prospect Jason Varitek, who was selected by the Mariners in last June's amateur draft, "took a step yesterday that could lead to free agency for drafted amateur players." Varitek signed yesterday with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, a league not affiliated with MLB or the NAPBL. Bill Murray, Exec Dir of Baseball Operations in the Commissioner's Office, said the Mariners would still have the rights to him until next June, when Varitek goes back into the draft. But Varitek and his agent, Scott Boras, contend that by signing a professional contract, Varitek is no longer subject to the Mariners' rights or the next "amateur" draft. "In other words, the case is probably headed to an arbitrator or judge" (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 1/13). The Saints are owned by Mike Veeck, son of the late Bill Veeck. He claims that Varitek does have the right to sign with another major league organization (St. Paul PIONEER PRESS, 1/13). IN TOWN FOR THE O.J. TRIAL? MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr's tour stopped in L.A. yesterday where he met with about 175 players and several agents. The union has updated about 600 players on the current tour. There are three more scheduled stops: Dallas, Caracas and the Dominican Republic. MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza said that the current signing freeze probably will stay in place until there is a bargaining settlement (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 1/13). TRICKLING REPLACEMENT PLANS: ESPN's Keith Olbermann reported that the owners have made the following decisions regarding the use of replacements: 1) Rosters will be increased to 32, with 25 players eligible per game; 2) Players' minimum salary will be $115,000, maximum salary $200,000, none of it guaranteed; 3) Replacements will be guaranteed first class airfare, a $125 per diem at spring training, a $10,000 bonus for being on the roster opening day, and a $20,000 bonus for being on the roster in the case of a settlement; 4) The highest a team payroll could be is $7.5M ("SportsCenter," 1/12). In Washington, Thomas Boswell asks, "Can you annihilate an entire season -- or play a whole year with replacement players -- without risking the health of your product? In baseball's case, you'd be ruining two seasons" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/13). IS MR. SELIG AWARE OF THIS? Brewers GM Sal Bando said he is not spending time trying to field a replacement team: "We'll sign some (minor league) free agents, but only if we think they have a chance to make the major-league club at some point. We won't be putting together a replacement team as such" (Tom Haudricourt, MILWAUKEE SENTINEL, 1/13). TICKET PRICES: Royals GM Herk Robinson said yesterday that a ticket policy regarding the use of replacements will be announced shortly. It will likely be similar to policies announced by other teams which is half-price. Ticket prices would increase if any Major Leaguers crossed the picket line (Jeffrey Flanagan, K.C. STAR, 1/13). THE UMPS: Negotiators for locked-out umpires and the owners met in New York yesterday "without progress." The two sides meet again next Thursday in Philadelphia. Umpires want a 60% raise over four years (Rod Beeton, USA TODAY, 1/13).
Leagues Governing Bodies
Ottawa Rough Riders President Phil Kershaw announced yesterday that he has been negotiating for "about two weeks" with an out-of-town investor to buy the team from Bruce Firestone. Kershaw who currently does not own a piece of the team, is likely to acquire a minority stake if the team is sold to this investor (Don Campbell, OTTAWA CITIZEN, 1/13). THE L.A. POSSE? Businessman Phil Johnson is "100 percent certain" that he is on the verge of becoming the first black owner in the history of pro football. Johnson is leading a group that has agreed to terms to acquire and operate the Posse and move the team to L.A. According to Johnson, it is just a matter of the CFL Board of Governors approving the sale (Marty York, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). BIRMINGHAM: The CFL confirmed that it has received a formal application for an expansion franchise to be based in Birmingham from retired insurance exec Arthur Williams. Williams has named Larry Lemak, a local orthopedic surgeon, president and part owner of the potential franchise (CFL).
In a telephone interview, World Golf Tour Exec Dir John Montgomery Jr. said that he is trying to schedule the Tour's inaugural event for next November, most likely to held in Japan and televised in the U.S. on Fox. The PGA Tour season ends in October with the Tour Championship. Montgomery said that neither he nor Greg Norman have "given up on their plan to eventually start an eight-event world tour" featuring the game's top 30 players. He added there is still "widespread interest from potential sponsors." Fox initially said it would pay the World Tour $25M in rights fees for an 8-event schedule. A Fox spokesperson said the network was still interested in the concept and "is waiting for further word from Montgomery." PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said this week that he met with Norman last Thursday and that Norman told him "he's taking a step back. He recognizes it can't move ahead in its current configuration." Finchem said that reps from various int'l tours will convene in FL in March to discuss the possibility of a world tour from a long- term perspective (Leonard Shapiro, WASHINGTON POST, 1/13).
The NHL and its players reached agreement on the "major items among the 'transitional issues' that are still casting a shadow on today's contract-ratification vote by the players," according to today's Toronto GLOBE & MAIL. While most were optimistic that the new CBA would receive a majority vote from the 700 NHLPA members, the issue of "grandfathering" for players formerly classed as Group I could cause some "no" votes. While the union was telling agents that the players would be eligible for arbitration under the old rules, there was no indication that the league had agreed to that. Several agents were promising legal action if their clients were going to be forced to live under the new rules this year (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). VOTE QUOTES: Bruin Cam Neely, one of the 30-year-old players who will have to wait longer to be a free agent, will vote no: "If that's what we had to give up, you'd think we could have given that in August or September" (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13). Blackhawk Ed Belfour, another 30-year-old non-free agent: "You can't always get what you want" (Daryl Van Schouwen, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/13). Panthers Player Rep John Vanbiesbrouk predicted that doubts about the transitional issues would not affect any votes (David Neal, MIAMI HERALD, 1/13). But "rumblings" from the Islanders indicate the vote may be closer than expected (Peter Botte, N.Y. POST, 1/13). Red Wings Player Rep Terry Carkner: "We have to remind the guys that a 'no' vote means you want the season to end" (Helene Elliott, L.A. TIMES, 1/13). Canuck Sergio Momesso: "A lot of guys don't want to sign and have them say they'll take care of the transitional things later. There is not a lot of trust" (Elliott Pap, VANCOUVER SUN, 1/13). 23-year-old Bruin Bryan Smolinski: "It's too bad I can't vote for none of the above" (Joe Gordon, BOSTON HERALD, 1/13). MORE POST-DEAL REAX: Blues Player Rep Guy Carbonneau, assessing the deal: "Unrestricted free agency, even if it's at age 32, we still have free agency, and that's never been negotiated in any CBA in sports. It's always been won with court or legal action" (Dave Luecking, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/13). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont writes that the players will be "candid enough to say who won. The vote to ratify could be a sign of what they're thinking" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/13). In Washington, Dave Fay writes there are still no "restraints to save the owners from themselves" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/13). In Toronto, William Houston's WINNERS: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow, Maple Leafs Pres/GM Cliff Fletcher; LOSERS: Bruins Pres/GM Harry Sinden, the NHL's "seven dwarves, er, hawks" (Jacobs of Boston, McMullen of New Jersey, Pollin of Washington, Ilitch of Detroit, Wirtz of Chicago, Aubut of Quebec, Shenkarow of Winnipeg), Chris Chelios and Brett Hull (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/13). In Chicago, Bob Verdi writes if Blackhawks Owner Bill Wirtz "were interested only in padding his bottom line, he could have pared his organization with layoffs. He did nothing of the kind. He held a Christmas party" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/13). Harvard Law's Paul Weiler calls the rookie cap the "biggest win for the owners" (Len Hochberg, WASHINGTON POST, 1/13). LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD: In Montreal, Peter Hadekel writes that the deal "could be the start of a long overdue market correction in professional-sports salaries" and that it is a "good start on laying groundwork for some form of revenue-sharing" (MONTREAL GAZETTE, 1/13). Edmonton-based columnist Cam Cole, on the "patronizing" treatment afforded small-market Canadian cities by big-market NHL owners: "We were patted on the head a lot" (SOUTHAM NEWS, 1/13). Nordiques Owner Marcel Aubut, Oilers Owner Peter Pocklington and Senators Owner Rod Bryden all predicted the league would institute a "slush fund" to defray the disparity between U.S. and Canadian currency for financially-strapped Canadian franchises. Bryden: "I don't know how totally complete the protection will be, but there will be significant movement by the league in the current year to be of help to us" (CP/ OTTAWA CITIZEN, 1/13). Agent Mike Gillis predicts a "new era of litigation" over arbitration and the rookie cap (Tony Gallagher, Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/13). ESPN'S Jimmy Roberts examined the Americanization of the NHL: The migration of stars (Messier, Gretzky) to U.S. media markets, the rewarding of 4 out of the last 5 expansion teams to U.S. warm weather sites, and the emphasis on marketing the whole-game experience for U.S. fans ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/12).
Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner, who serves on MLB's expansion committee, indicated that "optimism about expansion was warranted": "I told you [Acting MLB Commissioner Bud] Selig had it on a fast track, and believe me, you're not going to believe how fast that track is." Sen. Connie Mack said he would not back off his support of legislation that revoke MLB's anti-trust exemption unless MLB promises an expansion team for Tampa Bay. Vince Naimoli, head of the Tampa expansion effort: "I'm always extremely encouraged to hear of things like that. I know Mr. Steinbrenner has been a very vocal advocate and supporter of our area getting major league baseball and I continue to appreciate everything he does for us" (David Dahl, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/13).