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BUD COLLINS

Miller weighs in on issue

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. -- The trauma of Rodriguez Interruptus has reached all the way to this finger of sand off Sarasota, and a baseball wise man who shakes a disapproving finger at several of the players in the cast.

 

But not the players of the game. "Rodriguez, Ramirez, Garciaparra, Ordonez, and perhaps others who might have been involved in trades, are innocent bystanders," Marvin Miller said. "It's not their fault that the administrators, right from the top -- Bud Selig -- didn't know the rules, or disregarded them. It could be hard on players to have to play where they know they're not wanted."

Miller, the baseball labor leader who led players to pyramids of money, put teeth into the players' union during 17 years of outwitting the owners. He retired as executive director of the Players Association 20 years ago, but keeps an eye on the game and is sometimes consulted by the union -- though not in this case.

"I can't believe most of the stuff I've read about this mess," he said with a laugh. "Some writers I otherwise respect don't know the rules. Nor do many of the `so-called experts' they're quoting.

"I don't know Larry Lucchino. His quotes sound frustrated, and that's understandable. He has a good reputation. But hasn't he been around a long time? And he hasn't closely read contracts, the collective bargaining agreement, and the rules? Or his lawyers haven't?" Miller waves his soup spoon -- a gesture that says: "How in the world could this ever have happened?"

Appropriately, considering the soup that everybody is left in, Miller is sipping a succulent asparagus veloute in one of Florida's finer restaurants, Jose Martinez's Maison Blanche. Between soup and chocolate mousse, he simply lays out the course of mistakes that caused the union to step in and reject "the reduction. Not restructuring. That word doesn't apply in this case. It was a reduction of Rodriguez's contract the Red Sox sought. Very plain, and that's against the rules.

"Andy Pettitte accepted a reduction from Houston, which was legal because he was a free agent, having fulfilled his contract with the Yankees. Rodriguez is still under contract.

"This should never have gotten started the way it did because the commissioner broke one of the oldest rules by permitting the Red Sox to talk to Rodriguez. That's tampering. That was a baseball rule installed by the owners long before the union existed. Selig had no authority to allow that exception. On the other side, the union was slow to pick up on it. That surprised me. There should have been no talks between the Red Sox and a player under contract. Period.

"But eventually the union correctly did step in and point out the essential fact -- a contract is a contract," Miller said.

"It doesn't mean that the Rodriguez-Ramirez trade couldn't be made. But it is elementary what a trade is: Team A trades Player A to Team B for Player B. Each team accepts the contract made by the other. Nothing can be reduced, whether or not the players agree to a reduction. Such things as performance bonuses, of course, may be added. In the case of Texas, apparently eager to get rid of Rodriguez, they could help the Red Sox by absorbing a portion of Rodriguez's salary, as long as he gets it in full. [George] Steinbrenner has done that on occasion, unloading somebody from the Yankees.

"Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, should know better. If the deal had gone through, would he, have returned some of his commission?" Miller said with a smile.

"When they think it over, I believe the Red Sox and other owners will -- silently, probably -- thank the union for its stand. If a contract lost its sanctity, the game would be destabilized."

Miller is ready for a cappuccino, and looking forward to a game of tennis on the morrow beside the Gulf of Mexico. "All right, let's say Boston and Texas got away with the deal, pulled it off. The union would have filed a grievance. It would have gone to arbitration -- and killed right there by an arbitrator who knew the rules.

"The pity is that the union didn't step up immediately and object to Selig's approval of what amounted to tampering by the Red Sox with Rodriguez. Rodriguez had no idea, but his quotes I've seen [yesterday] tell me he's honorable and thoughtful. He said he does `understand the principle,' and respects `the need to protect the rights of his fellow players.' "

Suppose Selig had properly stayed out of it? He might have saved Our Olde Towne Team's faithful a lot of grief. Should he eat crow? I'll ask local chef Jose Martinez if it's on his menu.

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