Red Sox, MLB resolve dispute over coaches' pay after team takes stand

Updated: March 20, 2008, 11:19 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Fans at City of Palms Park were ready for Boston's final spring training game in Florida. The Red Sox weren't.

In an extraordinary move, Boston players voted to boycott a nationally televised exhibition and Wednesday afternoon's flight to Japan for next week's season-opening series against Oakland, upset that coaches weren't going to receive the same $40,000 payments negotiated for players by their union.

A couple of hours later, all was resolved, and the Red Sox took the field one hour late for a 4-3 loss to Toronto before a crowd of 7,868.

Across the country in Phoenix, Athletics players also considered a boycott. They didn't take batting practice and held five team meetings before following Boston's lead and deciding to play. An Oakland split squad lost 6-1 to the Los Angeles Angels in front of 7,940 fans before leaving for Tokyo.

"The players just stepped up and they did what I think was right," Boston bench coach Brad Mills said.

Major League Baseball agreed to pay the managers, coaches and trainers on the trip $20,000 each from management's proceeds, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details weren't announced. The Red Sox agreed to make up the difference to make the amount equal, and to pay some of the other team personnel making the trip, the person said.

"It was a misunderstanding of what agreement was reached between MLB and the MLBPA," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We said we would step up and make sure a second pool was created and would seek contributions from all parties."

It was unclear whether Oakland would make additional payments to its staff.

Fehr on Mike Tirico Show

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players' union, talks with Mike Tirico about the Red Sox players' actions on behalf of their coaches, as well as Barry Bonds' status as umemployed. Listen Insider

"We are going to handle the situation internally at this point," A's president Michael Crowley said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "We will ensure that our coaches are treated fairly."

Cancellation of the March 25-26 series at the Tokyo Dome would have been a publicity nightmare for Major League Baseball, which already has had enough bad news during an offseason dominated by performance-enhancing drugs.

"Everyone connected with the trip will be fairly compensated," baseball spokesman Rich Levin said.

Manager Terry Francona and his players were upset after learning staff members were not going to get the $40,000 stipend. The Boston Herald reported players insisted part of their agreement to make the trip included the fee -- for them and the coaches.

"We're so united. And I don't mean just the players," Francona said in a dugout interview with ESPN during Wednesday's game. "I mean the staff, the trainers and our players showed that and that's what this was about. It wasn't about being greedy. It was about trying to be unified."

Managers and coaches were included in the players' pool payments for baseball's two previous season-opening trips to Japan, when the New York Mets played the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and the Yankees played Tampa Bay in 2004. But this time, the agreement between MLB and the players' association called only for payments to 30 players on each club, and left out the coaches.

"They're just as much a part of this team as anybody," said Oakland closer Huston Street, the team's player representative. "Playoff shares, coaches get an equal share. You look at previous Japan trips, coaches have gotten an equal share."

The initial vote by Boston players set off a series of calls among players from the Red Sox and Athletics, Major League Baseball, the clubs and the players' association.

"We felt we had to make a stand, and being on ESPN didn't hurt," Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said.

[+] EnlargeTerry Francona, Sean Casey, and Jason Varitek
AP Photo/Charles KrupaTerry Francona, seen here Wednesday with Sean Casey (left) and Jason Varitek, found himself in the middle of a dispute between the Red Sox and MLB over stipends for coaches for Boston's trip to Japan.

At Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where their game was scheduled to start three hours after Boston's, A's players watched coverage of the Red Sox dispute. Oakland players spoke by telephone with their Boston counterparts about boycotting the trip.

"There was a discussion about whether to play the game today. There was a discussion about how the money could potentially be handled. There was a discussion about going to Japan. There was a discussion about how to talk to the media about it," Street said.

Street said Oakland's players would be willing to lower what they receive in order to provide for coaches. He said while "everybody is going to be compensated fairly," he wasn't certain that "fairly" would mean "equally."

Lowell said $20,000 payments for the coaches would not have been acceptable given that the players were making $40,000.

"We didn't think that was correct," he said. "Giving them half of that is not equal."

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been scheduled to pitch for Boston, left the stadium to pitch in a game against Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate while David Aardsma started in his place. Matsuzaka is scheduled to be the opening-day starter in Tokyo next week against Oakland.

Francona spoke twice Wednesday with commissioner Bud Selig about the exhibition against the Blue Jays.

"Mr. Selig was justifiably concerned about playing the game, which I completely understand," Francona said.

Boston's Kevin Youkilis stressed the players felt strongly about not going to Japan without a resolution.

"The club's working on stuff and trying to get money where it needs to get," he said. "It was definitely an experience of a lifetime, and it ended in a good way."

Boston catcher Jason Varitek said players thought it was necessary to take a stand on behalf of the coaches and staff.

"They're the basis of what takes care of us," he said.

Before the game, the Red Sox clubhouse was closed to reporters because of the bonus dispute.

"We had an agreement," Curt Schilling, one of a handful of Red Sox players who talked with Major League Baseball on ground rules for the trip, told ESPN's Claire Smith.

"Some of the promises have already been taken away, now this," Schilling said. "As far as the players are concerned, [withholding the coaches' bonuses] can't happen."

''When we voted to go to Japan, that was not a unanimous vote,'' Lowell told The Boston Globe, "but we did what our team wanted us to do for Major League Baseball. They promised us the moon and the stars, and then when we committed, they started pulling back. It's not just the coaches, it's the staff, the trainers, a lot of people are affected by this.

"I'm so super proud of this team," Lowell said, according to The Globe. "When we put it to a vote it was unanimous. We're all in agreement that we're not going to put up with this.''

That the players would consider such action "is really appreciated, to say the least," Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan told ESPN. "It means as much as the money itself.

"While we're very fortunate, a lot of people don't realize what we do. It's nice to get recognition from the players."

Oakland general manager Billy Beane was happy the trip will go on and expressed desire for additional international play.

"I hope we go to Rome. I hope we go to Paris, Berlin," Beane said, wearing shorts with a logo of the English soccer club Arsenal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ALSO SEE