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Steinbrenner at 80: Turning down Jack Morris

George Steinbrener turns 80 on July 4. We're looking back on his tenure with the Yankees.

  In December, 1986, baseball owners were still trying to control salaries and Steinbrenner declined an opportunity to sign a great free agent pitcher in Detroit's Jack Morris.  "I swear on my mother's head that no one has told me what to do, there was no collusion,'' ' was the operative quote from Steinbrenner.


I reported this story for Newsday:

When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who used to turn his pockets

inside out to sign players, turned down Jack Morris yesterday, the

righthanded pitcher said he felt his free agency had become a chain he

couldn't escape from.  He said he felt anything but free in his choice to

leave Detroit and seek a new employer.  It was plain for Morris to see,

baseball had a Tiger by the tail and he saw no way to pull free.  


Morris, left with what he saw as little choice,  accepted the Tigers' offer of

arbitration as the midnight deadline approached last night.  

"I'm definitely not a free agent," Morris said.      

The Yankees not only lost an opportunity to add Morris to their

roster, they also moved a step closer to losing Ron Guidry and Willie

Randolph.   Guidry and Randolph declined the Yankees' offers of salary

arbitration.  Now the Yankees must re-sign them by midnight Jan. 8 or

forfeit their rights to each until May 1.   


With Morris acquiescing to what he and his agent, Richard Moss,

referred to as collusion among baseball owners, this year's symbol of

independence among players has been defeated. Steinbrenner made that

definite early yesterday when he informed Moss that he would not accept

his proposal of signing Morris to a one-year contract at a salary

determined by arbitration.  


Morris had spent the week peddling his wares

-  an arm for the pitching poor   -   but there were no takers, despite

his lifetime record of 144-94, including his 21-8 record last year.    

After Steinbrenner's rejection, Morris and  Moss reached the same

collusion conclusion.  "It's obvious that what happened is not right,"

Moss said in a news conference at a Manhattan restaurant.  "It's

violative of the Basic Agreement. "   


Morris had gone 0-for-4 on his free-agent walk.  Where free agents

used to talk terms of endowments, Morris  couldn't even get a free lunch

on his tour.  He and Moss paid their own way to the  clubs  they visited.

It seemed evident to Morris that the four teams  -  the Twins, Yankees,

Phillies and Angels  -  had agreed not to sign him.  "I can't envision

anybody not needing my statistics," Morris said.  The Phillies and Angels

rejected Morris' proposal without even a face-to-face meeting.  Moss let

it be known that his client would be willing to negotiate with any team

in baseball, but none responded.      


The Yankees' pitching cost them the East Division last season and

without Morris it may well cost them again next year.  "If I were a

Yankee fan this would be a sad day for me," Moss said.    

 Steinbrnenr  saw it differently.  "I think we can win the division

anyway," Steinbrenner said from Tampa. Steinbrenner said he was not

prepared to "take a six-million-dollar swing" in the Yankees' payroll. 


Steinbrenner estimates that's what it would cost him to sign Morris,

free agent Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly.  "I can't go out on that limb," Steinbrenner said.

Steinbrenner was assuming that Morris would win close

to $2 million in arbitration, Guidry wants $2.5 million for two years

and Mattingly, unsigned for 1987 and eligible for arbitration, is

seeking close to $2 million.     


Steinbrenenr  said soon after he met with Morris Thursday in Tampa,

agents for his unsigned players were "watching like hawks. "  He said he

heard from Reggie Ringuet, Guidry's agent.  It appeared to Steinbrenner  

that the agent was prepared to use the Morris situation as a negotiating

wedge.  "Within 45 minutes of meeting with Morris, Reggie called me," Steinbrenner  said.

said.  Ringuet said yesterday that his call to Steinbrenenr  was "coincidental.  I was trying to hammer out an agreement, that's why I

called him. "    


 Steinbrenner added that he had "a sincere interest in Morris," and

was sorry an agreement had not been reached, though he gave no

counteroffer.  "I wrestled with it all [Thursday] night, I analyzed it

all night," Steinbrenner said., adding that he did not arrive at his

conclusion by collusion.  "I didn't talk to the Player Relations

Committee, no [Barry] Rona [PRC head], no one but Woody Woodward

[Yankees GM].  


"I swear on my mother's head that no one has told me what to do.  There

was no collusion. "   


Steinbrenner also said he lauded Morris' position in risking a

one-year contract through arbitration because it would not be guaranteed

if the player got injured.  On the other hand, Steinbrenner was not

willing to take the same risk of losing a $2-million arbitration case to

the pitcher.  "There is no doubt they are going to ask an arbitrator for

[Fernando] Valenzuela money," Steinbrenner said of the two-year,

$3.9-million pact Moss negotiated for the Dodgers' ace.  "They are not

dealing with somebody,"  Steinbrenne said of himself, "going to town

with a load of pumpkins. "   


The offers Morris and Moss thought Steinbrenner and the others

wouldn't refuse, ignited into a controversy that will be hard to defuse.

"We found a recurrent theme this week," Moss said.  "It was  `Jack,

you're worth what you're asking, but we're not going to pay. ' We are,

needless to say, very disappointed Mr. Steinbrenner was not able to

accept our offer.  We felt there was no breakthrough involved, no

principle involved, no philosophy.  We frankly thought Mr. Steinbrenner 

would find some way to accept it. "    


Seinbrenner said he did not "draw a steel curtain" if Morris had

wanted to reopen talks.  But Moss does not believe his client would have

been offered much beyond the $2.5 million for two years the Tigers have

offered.  And that would have come only if Morris remained unsigned

beyond Jan. 8, when a free agent can't negotiate with his original team

until May 1.  Moss said, "It seems obvious Jack would be offered a

contract substantially below his market value.  This whole game is to

drive down salaries. "


Morris added, "The owners are all saying, `Jack, you're a fine player,

but you can only play under our rules. ' I'm getting the same answers

over and over.  They say I'm worth the money, but they won't pay it.  All

this did was put pressure on me to return to Detroit."


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