Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn yesterday approved the $400,000 sale of Oakland A's relief pitcher paul Lindblad to the Texas Rangers after ruling that the sale was not contrary to the best interests of baseball.
Kuhn warned A's owner Charles O. Finley that he is "far from convinced that there is not a plan to substantially liquidate the assets of the Oakland club."
From his New York office, Kuhn notified Finley and the 25 other clubs that he will continue to scrutinize "with great care" the future sale of Oakland player contracts for substantial cash payments.
The commissioner said he would not hesitate to veto such transactions if they are not in the best interests of the game or to take remedial or punitive action.
Finley declined comment until he could read Kuhn's statement.
Finley announced the sale last week shortly before final legal briefs were submitted to a federal judge in his $3.5 million suit against Kuhn for nulifying the sale of three star Oakland players last summer.
Kuhn canceled the slaes of Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each and of Vida Blue the New York Yankees for $1.5 million, saying the deals were not in the best interests of baseball.
Unlike the Lindblad case, the attempted sales last summer were disapproved because Kuhn said they could upset competitive balance, since the three players were to be sold to penant-contending clubs in midseason.
Finley announced the Lindblad sale despite Kuhn's directive that large cash transactions be cleared through the commissioner's office and while the federal judge is considering his ruling on the suit.
In both instances, Finley has argued that Kuhn does not have the authority to overrule such sales and that the commissioner was maliciously trying to deprive the A's of money Finley said he needed to rebuild the club.
Asserting he does have such authority and calling allegations of harassment "nothing but a smokescreen," Kuhn said he was concerned about evidence he believes supports the charge that Finley is trying to liquidate the A's assets substantially.
Kuhn cited "uncontradicted testimony" during a hearing Wednesday on the Lindblad sale that Finley had negotiated to sell top talent for cash in the past year.
The commissioner mentioned that Finley had failed to sign some of that top talent and that several players had become free agents and left the team.
Kuhn also noted that Oakland had obtained negotiation rights to 22 players in the free-agent re-entry draft, signed none, negotiated with only three and then had the draft rights to those three rescinded by the player relations committee because of the A's lack of interest in them.
During the hearing, Finley denied the liquidation charges and cited recent signings of A's already on the roster that brought the clun to almost 20 players under contract - a figure Kuhn said was below average.
Finley cited is unsuccessful efforts to sign Dick Allen as proof there was no liquidation plan and noted a recent offer by the A's to trade a front-line player for established talent. The unidentified player is believed to be Blue.
"I am not so persuaded" concerning Finley's motives, Kuhn said of the attempted signing of Allen.
The persuasive test in approving the Lindblad deal, Kuhn said, was that the Rangers had sought to buy his contract for a number of years.
Finley "resisted the deal until the offering price went so far beyond the reasonable market value of the contract that the deal became difficult to resist," Kuhn said.
He also pointed out that Lindblad, "while an established and respected . . . player will be 36 years old this August. He is hardly in the prime of his career and cannot be classified as a star player."
Kuhn's ruling frees Lindblad, who lives in the Rangers' hometown of Arlington, Tex., to report to their training camp immediately. He had been working out with the New York Yankees pending a resolution of his status.