Philadelphia Inquirer - May 28, 1980

Football agent envious of baseball’s free-agent rights

 

By Gordon Forbes, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

Jim Solano, the tenacious little pro football agent from Narberth, has followed the dramatic rise of baseball salaries since the first free-agent draft with growing envy. In the trade, Solano is known as the split agent, since most of his clients work the split-end position, including former Eagles game-breaker Harold Jackson.

 

To prove a point, Solano used Jackson as an example of a superstar tied to an NFL team because of the 1977 compensation rule negotiated between the owners and Ed Garvey's player union.

 

"Harold Jackson had to take 50 percent of what he was offered on the open market," Solano said. "He was with the Los Angeles Rams then, and four teams were interested in him as a free agent. They offered between $250,000 and $400,000 a year. But he had to sign for half of that.

 

"We were able to get some nice additions to his contract to sign. But he could have doubled his salary if there was true player movement In the league. John Dutton, he played for two years at 10 percent higher than he made before, then was finally traded."

 

Dutton was an all-pro defensive end who claimed he was a total free agent last year after playing out his option with the Baltimore Colts but failing to generate an offer from a new team. Dutton argued that he was forced to re-sign with the Colts for another year and therefore should have become free the following Feb. 1 without restriction.

 

Garvey took the issue to arbitration. Unfortunately for the NFL players and activists like Solano, the union lost its case. Arbitrator Bert Luskin upheld the owners' position, noting that "nowhere within the language of Section 17-b (of the collective bargaining agreement) are there words or phrases which could be interpreted in a manner which places a limitation upon the option rights of a player's old club to one option, or two options following the expiration of his contract or contracts."

 

"This is America," grumbled Solano. "Lincoln freed the slaves. To tie a guy to a team for the rest of his career is completely un-American. It violates the statutes of our country."

 

Solano concedes that pro football needs some kind of compensation rule to avoid a wild outbreak of player-jumping. "It should be financial," he said. "After four years, when the player becomes vested and wants to move, the club that signs him should pay 50 percent of the guy's salary back to the team he came from.

 

"Listen, football is the most demanding game of all. They just about get by week-to-week. You see some real deformed bodies out there. Scars on the knees, shins messed up, fingers broken, noses broken, cuts... bruises... rug burns (from Astro-Turf) on their bodies. And they never go away, either. They're the scars of the game. To me, these guys should be the highest-paid athletes. But they're not."

 

Solano says the median for salaries in the NFL is $57,000; that is, half of the players earn more than that figure and half earn less.

 

"And they're playing for the most successful financial teams in professional sports," he said. "Who makes more gross revenue than the Eagles? The Phillies don't. The Flyers don't, The 76ers certainly dont.  The gross revenue of pro football is the greatest in any sport. They've got $5 million coming in from television. They've got no minor league scouting system, and they only play eight home games. So there's not a lot of operating expenses."

 

If anything irks Solano more than baseball's inflated salary structure, it's one of those photos that hit the sports pages every March from Florida. The one showing some $400,000-a-year pitching whiz strolling along a golden beach at sunset.

 

"Their careers are longer, they have no injuries, no concussions, no separated shoulders, no broken fingers," says Solano.

 

"They really have no training, either. If any of those baseball players had to go through a camp like the one Dick Vermeil runs, they'd quit the game. They're all prima donnas. They don't know what hard work Is. There's not a baseball player alive who could go through Dick Vermeil's camp."

 

Baseball's health issue aside, Solano admits there are examples of fat-cat contracts in pro football, too. According to his figures, first-round draft picks of the early 1980s will receive signing bonuses of $100,000 to $650,000 and an average first-year salary of $65,000 with yearly increments of 10 percent.

 

Solano says second-rounders will get bonuses of $50,000 to $100,000, with a starting salary of $42,000, and third-rounders bonuses of $32,000 to , $50,000, with a rookie salary of $36,000.

 

The way Solano figures it, both Roynell Young and Perry Harrington, the Eagles' first and second-round draft picks, should wind up with bonus contracts worth $600,000 to $800,000 if they sign for five years.

 

Solano maintains a low-key image, skipping the major postseason all-star games in order to work on tax forms and investment opportunities for his clients. Accordingly, he drew a blank in this year's player draft. He is currently taking a firm line on contracts for veterans Harold Carmichael, Carl Hairston and Guy Morriss, three Eagles he breaks down to "one all-pro and two future all-pros."

 

"We're making progress, but we're still somewhat apart," he hedged. "I still think the money in pro football should be paid to guys who have proven themselves in the league. And you know, there are no more individual incentives given out by the Eagles, only team incentives. It's the Eagles' philosophy that they pay everybody fairly, and therefore there's no need for incentives."

 

 

The Eagles' family concept has held up through the first four years of the Vermeil era, but Solano suggests the team may be entering a new money era.

Pirates’ "Hit Man" puts the Phillies away

 

By Lewis Freedman, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

They call him "The Hit Man," and it is not because he is wanted by the police in a dozen states.

 

It is because when Pittsburgh Pirates' manager Chuck Tanner turns to him in the late innings with men on base and beckons, Mike Easler usually gets a hit.

 

Last night, Easler, 29, who has sat on the bench for three major league clubs since 1973, came off of it in the 13th inning to lash a single to right field that drove Bill Madlock home from second with the winning run in a 3-2 victory over the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. He hit a Dick Noles' slider while batting for winning-pitcher Enrique Romo.

 

It was a stroke in the tradition of Smoky Burgess and Manny Mota – Pirates' pinch hitters of the past.

 

"He's a good hitter," said Tanner, who has come to rely on the lefty swinger, based on his 3-for-9 pinch-hitting this season.

 

Easler, who pinch hit two homers last year, is enjoying his value to the world champs after undistinguished stays with Houston and California.

 

"I like trying to come in and get the big hit," he said. "I feel really good about it. Situations like tonight; that's what I love about pinch hitting."

 

Easler is easy going, and, in fact, his nickname used to be "Easy," but his brother James suggested the new one. Something like that doesn't stick, however, unless you earn it, and Easler did.

 

Someone else who made things look easy last night was relief pitcher Kent Tekulve, whose side-arm motion mowed down Garry Maddox, Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo in the 13th inning for his sixth save.

 

The key man in the bullpen last year, Tekulve was battered by the Phils the night before and by just about everyone else he had faced lately. Before the game his earned run average was up to 5.48.

 

But "The Stork," who looks a bit like actor Donald Sutherland, shut down the Phillies with three ground balls in their final at-bats.

 

"I slowed my motion down a little," Tekulve said. "And tried to go back to the basics."

 

Tanner said he didn't think Tekulve was so bad a night earlier when the Phils won, 7-6.

 

"I told Tekulve last night (Monday) what they hit were ground balls," Tanner said, '"and that's what you throw.'"

 

"What a difference a day makes," Tekulve said. It wasn't a bad day for Henry Bibby's big brother, either. Jim, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 35-year-old brother of the Sixers' guard, started for the Pirates and pitched 11 innings, surrendering seven hits and striking out seven.

 

"Bibby was throwing just as hard in the 10th and 11th innings as he was early in the ball game," Tanner said. "He's been pitching as well as any pitcher in the game."

 

Bibby (5-1) appeared on his way to a shutout until Mike Schmidt slammed his 13th home run in the ninth inning.

 

"With two (Bibby and Phillie starter Steve Carlton) great pitchers like that," Tanner said, "we just think 'Let's get one and hang with it.'"

 

One thing the Pirates said was not on their minds was Monday night's brawl, although their actions spoke a bit differently.

 

And as soon as it was over, Tekulve again denied that it was any kind of factor in the game.

 

"You can’t dwell on that," he said. "There's another game, and we just figured if it happens again, it happens again."

 

 

But last night there were no fisticuffs, just baseball.

Pirates nip Phils, 3-2, in 13 innings

 

Regain lead in division

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

The Phillies and Pirates put away their boxing gloves, unhooked their full nelsons and got down to playing serious pennant-race baseball last night. It may be only May, but to these guys it is always September.

 

As they rolled into the 13th inning, the only thing charging the mound was a sizzling ground ball off the bat of Bill Madlock. It turned out to be a lot tougher to handle once it got there than Bert Blyleven.

 

Dickie Noles knocked it down and lurched after it. He grabbed at it once, grabbed at it twice and finally gave up.

 

And so Madlock had the single that started the 13th-inning rally that lifted the Pirates over the Phillies, 3-2, and moved them back into first place by a game.

 

"These kinds of games are usually won on breaks," said manager Dallas Green. "And they got the breaks tonight. Dickie just could not find that ball Madlock hit. If he finds that ball, Madlock doesn't even come around to score."

 

He doesn't, because he's out. But he wasn't, and he did, or something like that.

 

Lee Lacy bunted Madlock to second. And Noles then had the very tough task of dealing with the second baseman, Phil Garner, of the all-clutch team. But Noles worked him carefully, then fanned him with a 1-and-2 fastball. Next, Green did what he had to do. He had to get the unhittable reliever Enrique Romo out of the game. And to do it, he had to walk Ed Ott, pinch-hitting in the No. 8 spot, even though he knew the dangerous Mike Easler would hit for Romo. And besides, said Green, he feared Ott as much as he did anybody in the other dugout.

 

"I'd rather pitch to Easier than Ott, to tell you the truth," Green said.  "Look at Ott's record over the years. He kills us."

 

But they call Easler the Hit Man, so you know he's got a few notches in his trigger, too. What this boiled down to for Green, in the end, was a game of Pick Your Assassin.

 

Easler, who already has two pinch homers this year, coolly ripped a single between Pete Rose and Manny Trillo. That scored Madlock, won a big ball game and wiped out yet another dramatic ninth-inning Phillies comeback.

 

Romo (3-0) got the win with an inning of hitless relief that included consecutive strikeouts of Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. Noles (0-2) got the loss, even though he struck out Willie Stargell to end the 12th. . And Kent Tekulve got some revenge, saving it for Romo with a 1-2-3 13th.

 

For eight innings, this was all Jim Bibby's show. Steve Carlton was good (five hits, 11 strikeouts in eight innings), but Bibby was better.

 

He took a 2-0 lead and a seven-strikeout five-hitter into the ninth, looking for his second shutout. But he didn't make it. His 3-and-2 fastball to bake McBride was inside, so McBride was on first with one out and Bibby was unhappy. The unhappiness was mostly directed at plate umpire Andy Olsen, whose strike zone didn't seem to coincide with Bibby's.

 

Then his first pitch to Schmidt was a fastball just low. Olsen called it ball one, and Bibby stomped around the mound angrily. He came back to throw a fastball, high and down the middle, to Schmidt. Schmidt ripped it over the Pittsburgh bullpen for his 13th homer, and Bibby was heading for extra innings, like it or not.

 

Bibby wound up lasting 11 of those innings and getting nothing for it. But at 35, he is still 5-1 and in.the best groove of his life.

 

"I guess he was not what you'd call one of the greatest pitchers in baseball early in his career," said Schmidt. "But the last couple years, he's as good as anybody in the league."

 

He had to be to keep Carlton from going home with his ninth win. Carlton gave up single runs in the first and the fourth, and he almost gave up neither. The key to the first run was Larrv Bowa's fifth error of the year (one fewer than his total for all last year). Bowa made a nice pickup on Tim Foli's grounder up the middle, but he sidearmed a throw that reacted, said Rose, like a Tekulve sinker. Rose couldn't quite scoop it out of the dirt.

 

"He (Bowa) has a nasty sinker occasionally," Rose said. "I guess he had to get over the top on it when he's going that way. But I don't remember him throwing that many sinkers last year. It came up and instead of hitting in the pocket of the glove, it hit the front. And I couldn't get it by the time he (Foli) got by."

 

Foli stole second, and, after a two-out walk to Bill Robinson, Madlock bounced an RBI single into left. It was Madlock's only hit ever off Carlton as a Pirate (1-for-12).

 

In the fourth, Lacy drilled a one-out triple that Luzinski almost charged through the wall trying to catch. Carlton worked tentatively to Garner, got behind him, 3-and-1, and decided to walk him on purpose.

 

The object was to get Steve Nicosia to hit into a double play. And Nicosia almost did. He pulled a rocket right at Schmidt, and when Schmidt short-hopped it, that looked like the tough part. Even the super-tough Garner wouldn't get in the way of a Manny Trillo submarine relay throw, would he?

 

He would, and he did. Garner went into second like a guy trying to block a Tony Franklin field goal – both arms outstretched up. Trillo's throw deflected off his arm and into short right. Goodbye, double play. Hello, second run.

 

"That," said Schmidt, "is why they call him 'Scap Iron', I guess."

 

"He can't impede the second baseman from throwing the ball," said Green, who argued the point without success. "In my opinion, and in Larry Bowa's opinion, and in Manny Trillo's opinion, he slid with his hands up in order to do just that. He (umpire Fred Brocklander) admitted he had his hands up. He just thought the degree to which they were up wasn't impressive enough."

 

The Phils had a few chances off Bibby, but four ended in double plays. Trillo lined into one with Maddox on second in the fifth. Rose bounced into one in the 11th even though George Vukovich was running on a 3-and-2 pitch. McBride in the sixth and Del Unser in the eighth were the other victims.

 

Amid all the baseball, it was almost forgotten that one night before, these guys were staging a 60-man battle.

 

 

"That was just a one-day matter," said Green. "I don't think it's a long-term thing. There might be a grudge or two, but I don't think anybody plays anybody harder or tougher against these guys than anybody else. If they do, it's because they're the ones ahead of us now."

Those ‘scary’ brawls:  Too early and too dangerous

 

By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor

 

Baseball's big leagues wound up even this Memorial Day – one knockdown-inspired brawl apiece. Or, as veteran National League umpire Doug Harvey put it after Monday night's Philadelphia fracas: "It's a little early for this kind of (bleep). It's only May, isn't it?"

 

Maybe so, but tempers seem to be at an August pitch, prompting American League president Lee MacPhail to take steps to curb the combatants.

 

"I think we've had more (brawls) than normal – to the point that I've sent out a special message to managers, general managers, crew chiefs and umpiring supervisors," MacPhail said yesterday in the wake of Monday's Texas-California war, during which four players, including pitchers Bruce Kison and Bob Babcock, were ejected.

 

"I don't quite understand why there should be so much of this," MacPhail said, "but we're going to try to put a halt to it."

 

National League president Chub Feeney, "waiting to see the films" of the Phillies-Pirates' donnybrook, sent word to Harvey's umpiring crew to keep a tight rein on the Phillies and Pirates in last night's game. "The umpires," said Feeney, "are going to inform the managers before the game, 'That's enough of that.'"

 

And to make sure they paid attention, Feeney instructed the umpires to issue an official pregame "warning," the kind of thing usually handed out only after the first knockdown pitch of the game has been delivered. Such a warning puts both clubs on notice that the next such pitch, if deemed deliberate, will automatically result in the ejection of both the pitcher who threw it and his manager.

 

That procedure was installed three years ago when, Feeney said, "we had about 30 (beanball brawls)."

 

There are those who feel that such warnings are patently unfair. The pitcher who gets warned, they argue, has already had a free shot at an opposing batter. All the rule does is punish the guy who retaliates.

 

"What are you going to do?" asked MacPhail, "give the other guy a free shot, too, and let somebody get killed? You can't wait. Once something happens, once the umpire feels they're deliberately throwing at each other, they've got to stop it. The risk is too great to allow a free shot."

 

There's also a considerable risk involved in a batter charging the mound and precipitating the kind of battle royal that erupted in those two Memorial Day games. "If there's any change this year," MacPhail theorized, "it's that hitters are trying to take things in their own hands."

 

Particularly, it would seem, American League hitters. Monday night's explosion here was only the third National League beanball brawl that registered on the Feeney Scale.

 

"You have to realize one thing," Pete Rose said, "when the American League pitchers throw at people they don't have to worry about coming to bat (because of the designated-hitter rule)."

 

In other words, if they were playing under American League rules there would have been no opportunity for a Kevin Saucier to retaliate for those high, inside pitches Bert Blyleven threw to Mike Schmidt. With the DH rule, the only way to get even with a pitcher is to make a beeline for the mound.

 

And that can be very dangerous.

 

Are things really getting out of hand? Are there more head-hunters -in the big leagues now than ever before? Are hitters quicker to react that ever before?

 

"I think since I came up (in 1963) pitchers throw less at hitters," said Rose, who's seen pitchers and hitters come and go in the big leagues for nearly two decades. "That might be because they get fined and kicked out and stuff. I can remember a time if you hit back-to-back homers, the third guy went right on his butt. We've had that (back-to-back homers) six times this year and no one's gone down yet."

 

The other night in New York, though, the Yankees hit back-to-back homers and the next batter, Jim Spencer, was hit, triggering a bench-clearing dispute.

 

"I've always disagreed with that (hitting the guy after the homers have been hit)," Rose said. “Like that one year, 1956, when the Reds hit 221 home runs. Seemed like every time there 'd be home run-home run-home run, Roy McMillan’d be up. If you're going to get a guy, get the guy you're mad at....

 

"Look, I think there are a lot of very competitive players in the league, but I don't think anybody's trying to hurt another guy. I think most of the Pirates would like to beat the Phillies at their full strength and most of the Phillies would like to beat the Pirates at their full strength. They don't want to see anybody get a broken arm in a fight or get beaned."

 

Certainly, Mike Schmidt doesn't. Three years ago, after Kison used him for target practice in Pittsburgh, Schmidt lost his temper, and broke a finger in the ensuing scuffle. Yet there he was Monday night, taking a step in the direction of the mound and hollering a few choice words at Blyleven. And, a few innings later, there he was again in the middle of the mob scene, risking another injury.

 

"You don't have time for all that stuff to go through your mind," Schmidt said. "Baseball fights like that are scary. Nobody has any protection. I've got spike marks on my legs right now from being stepped on. I was down on the bottom of the pile. Somebody could have stepped on my finger again."

 

Luckily, nobody did. The Schmidts, the Luzinskis, the Parkers, the Stargells all survived to play another night... and, in Schmidt's case, to bomb a game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

 

"Those guys (the Pirates) look like the Steelers' front four when you're out thereon the field (fighting) with them," Schmidt said, thinking particularly of Jim Bibby, Parker, Stargell, “and Bill Robinson, he ain't no little guy, either."

 

Schmidt wanted to be playing baseball against them, not rolling around in a pile upon the Astro Turf.

 

"I'm not the toughest guy in the league," Schmidt said. "I'm no fighter. I have to be provoked pretty far in order to lose my temper, and I didn't lose my temper last night, as a matter of fact. I just felt something had to be said at the time. It's tough enough to hit a great curve ball like he (Blyleven) has and a good fast ball that he can throw low and away for strikes when he wants to. The only way 1 can even attempt to hit is to keep my shoulder in and keep my poise as a hitter. The guy throws a curve ball and it starts right at your ear and it breaks over the plate and you're trying to hit it. If the guy has the freedom to fire the ball at your head at least once an at-bat...."

 

So Schmidt decided that the time had come to take away that "freedom," to let Blyleven and the Pirates know that they couldn't "take liberties with myself as a hitter or Greg as a hitter."

 

"Last night was the first glaring throw-at-your-head experience I've had this year," Schmidt said. "Sometimes pitchers have to resort to intimidation to get you out. That's fine with me. But if the same guy continues to resort to those measures eventually it becomes a test of your manhood as far as I'm concerned. I've got a family and I'd like to live. That's all."

 

Live and let live. That's all Mike Schmidt asks. That's all most of the Phillies and Pirates, most of the Angels and Rangers who were throwing punches, applying wrestling holds and rolling around on the turf Monday night ask.

 

It is, as Doug Harvey said, a little early for this kind of thing.

 

 

And, as both league presidents know only too well, much too dangerous.