Shortly after the principals in the arbitration case of Tiger pitcher Jack Morris disappeared into a meeting room at a Chicago hotel, a room-service waiter arrived with a coffee cart. A moment later, he wheeled the coffee, untouched, back out. A reporter covering the case, in which Morris was asking $1.85 million from a team owned by multimillionaire pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, asked the waiter what had happened. "No one would pay the check," he replied.
Welcome to baseball's new era of fiscal responsibility. The important news last week was not that Morris had won his $1.85 million or that Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly had won $1.975 million—the highest salary awarded in the 12 years of arbitration—but that prime free agents like Tim Raines and Lance Parrish remained unsigned and unsought, that other players were receiving such meager offers from their teams that they were threatening to stay away from spring training, and that the owners had provoked the Players Association, which already had a grievance pending against them alleging collusion, into filing two new grievances. Tom Reich, agent for both Parrish and Raines, denied rumors that he planned a $200 million lawsuit against baseball, but said, "I'm holding that option for down the road if this pillage continues." Some flash points in the dispute:
•The Phillies became the first team to make Parrish a serious offer ($1 million for one year) but they tossed in a startling contract proviso: that Parrish agree never to bring any legal action against baseball or any of its teams. "It's almost an admission of concerted action," declared agent Alan Hendricks.
March 2, 1987
•Players lost 16 of 26 arbitration cases, but those ineligible for arbitration (anyone with less than three years in the majors) were even worse off. Wally Joyner, runner-up in last year's American League rookie of the year voting, was offered a mere $90,000 by the Angels. Glenn Davis (31 home runs, 101 RBIs) was told by Houston he could have $180,000. Milwaukee's bid to keep ace Ted Higuera (20-11, 2.79) was a relatively paltry $300,000. Owners have returned to the old Walter O'Malley take-it-or-leave-it approach. Davis and Higuera may hold out; so may AL MVP Roger Clemens, who wants $2.6 million for two years, $1 million above the Red Sox ceiling.
Some believe that the owners are hankering for a showdown. "They have control, and they want to force a confrontation that will do for them what the Messersmith decision did for the players," says one legal observer. "It could be the forcing of another strike, which they believe could effectively break the Players Association. Or it could be the forcing of lawsuits, which they would beat, thereby crushing the Players Association's litigation mentality."
But the owners may be playing a risky game. In fact, commissioner Peter Ueberroth may tell them this week to sign up a few of the free agents posthaste. The judicial gears are already turning: Arbitrator Thomas Roberts of Los Angeles has been weighing arguments for 13 months on the players' original collusion grievance. Another arbitrator will adjudicate the latest grievances. Roberts is expected to reach a decision by June. If he finds the owners guilty of collusion in violation of the collective-bargaining agreement, he could order them to pay damages to all players hurt by the collusion or even declare all players who signed contracts in the last two years free agents.
ON THE AQUA-STICK
He is in the Guinness Book of World Records for somersaulting (12 miles, 390 yards), balancing a milk bottle on his head (24 miles) and distance pogo-sticking (11.53 miles through the foothills of Japan's Mount Fuji). Now Ashrita Furman, 32, manager of a Queens, N.Y., health food store, claims to have invented yet another oddball pursuit, "aqua pogo-sticking." Last March, Furman put on a face mask and snorkel and pogoed (po-went?) off the floor of an 8½-foot-deep YMCA pool for 3 hours and 20 minutes. He says his "sport" is good exercise and a lot of fun—except when your stick gets stuck. This happened often in January when Furman pogoed for a "record" 3 hours and 40 minutes in the clay-bottomed Amazon River in Peru. "A couple of times I had to struggle so furiously to get unstuck that my friends on shore thought I was being eaten alive and started to reel me in," Furman says. He was tethered to shore by a rope, in case he encountered any piranhas.
Furman has a videotape and four witnesses to prove his feat, and hopes to have it accepted for inclusion in Guinness. His next stunt: to "row" on land from New York City to Philadelphia on a rowing machine with wheels attached.
Four skiers died in Breckenridge, Colo., last Wednesday under a half-mile-wide avalanche. They had ventured into a deep-powder bowl that is roped off and clearly marked as out of bounds because of its avalanche danger. Although it is not certain what caused the several hundred tons of snow to cascade on them—avalanches are astonishingly mighty and capricious (SI, April 19, 1982)—two other "back-country" skiers were seen skiing above them, also out of bounds, shortly before the avalanche occurred. The weight and movement of those two may have been enough to break loose the heavy snows that had fallen on Breckenridge in recent days.
Eight back-country skiers have died in Colorado this year in avalanches, twice as many as in all of last year. The lure of soft, pristine powder is strong. Freddie Hinchcliffe, 18, who lives near the Breckenridge Ski Area, told the Rocky Mountain News: "Most people who are locals or have skied here a lot don't even read the [warning! signs." Shamus O'Toole, a local barkeep: "I have friends who ski there every day they ski. [They're] thrill seeking.... Skiing in deep powder is better than sex."
Police questioned the two skiers who may have set off the avalanche but said no charges will be filed. As for those who died, David Peri, Breckenridge's marketing director, said they "were looking for a different thrill. They found it."
SOVIET NAME GAME
When Celtics forward Kevin McHale became a father for the third time, he named his new son Joseph. Teammate Rick Carlisle wishes, however, that McHale had called the boy Gorbachev.
WHO'S THE BOSS?
During the recent Rendez-Vous 87 hockey series (SI, Feb. 23) Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky was asked about the next international event in which NHL all-stars are scheduled to compete, the six-nation Canada Cup in September. The timing of that tournament would force players like Gretzky to get into top playing shape even before NHL training camps open. "I think we should have waited until 1989," said Gretzky. "The players have no objections to playing in these series, but maybe somewhere along the line the owners have to step in and say well, maybe it's physically and mentally too much on the players."
The Canada Cup, which was last held in 1984, is the pet project of Alan Eagle-son, president of the NHL Players Association. "I think the owners should sit down with Mr. Eagleson," said Gretzky, "and talk to him and say maybe we should play in '89 and give the players a little rest." One has to marvel at the NHL's bizarre power structure, in which a union member asks management to protect him from the heavy work demands made by the sport's union chief.
THE HIGH PRIESTS OF SLAPSTICK
In 1962, Father Brian McKee was looking for a way to raise money for the charities of his North Bay, Ont., diocese. An idea skated across his mind: Why not round up all the hockey-playing priests he could find, starting with Father Les Costello, the onetime Maple Leaf forward, and find out if people would pay to see them play. Twenty-five years and $3 million in donations later, the Flying Fathers are still flying.
The Fathers play about 30 games each season, most of them in Canada, although they have also toured the U.S. and Europe. Their record isn't known, but it is thought that they've lost only about a dozen of the 600 games they have played. Father Vaughan Quinn, who has spent 11 years in goal, says the Fathers usually take on local amateur all-star teams, and he claims to know the secret of their success: "We've got God on our side." The team's slogan is "Playing and Praying."
The Fathers play well and hard, but they toss in plenty of Globetrotteresque antics. They slap pies in faces and fling buckets of both water and confetti. At a game last week in Calgary against a team of local fire fighters, Father Dan Bagley came down the ice with the puck tethered to his stick, faked left, then right, then threw stick and puck together into the cage. The goal counted. As always, the game was free of gratuitous violence, but one fire fighter was sent to the penalty box for an infraction the P.A. man described as "missing Sunday mass." Costello was assessed two minutes "for acting like a Protestant." At one point a bench-warming priest donned a habit and leapt onto the ice as the Flying Nun. He, er, she checked fire fighters into the boards for two furious minutes before politely returning to the bench. The Fathers won 6-4.
Although the routines aren't spontaneous, they haven't been honed through hours of arduous rehearsal, either. "We last practiced in 1975," says Quinn. "After that one, we said, 'Screw work, let's just play.' "
The game in Calgary drew 11,858 fans and raised money for muscular dystrophy. In that spirit of charity, the Flying Fathers play—and pray—on.
THEY SAID IT
•Kathi Hahn, wife of Ohio University's excitable basketball coach Billy Hahn, on what she thinks about when watching her husband frantically pacing and jumping up and down during games: "The dry-cleaning bill."
•Billy Packer, CBS sportscaster, taking note of a recent 8° temperature reading in Syracuse: "That's why [Orange basketball coach] Jim Boeheim brings in his recruits in the summer."