There is more to the dispute over the Baltimore Orioles' scheduled exhibition game Monday against their Class AAA affiliate than the petition posted in the Orioles' clubhouse Tuesday by Albert Belle.
The Major League Baseball Players Association said today that, as part of the negotiations for the two exhibition games earlier this season against the Cuban all-stars, Orioles players were told they would not have to play in the exhibition game against the Rochester Red Wings.
"Our understanding is that club officials, as a condition of the Cuba game, agreed that this game [at Rochester] would not be played," said Gene Orza, associate general counsel for the players association.
Orza said the agreement was not in writing, but was "an understanding."
Joe Foss, the Orioles' chief operating officer, said he was not sure whether such a promise was made by the club, and he would not speculate as to whether the game will be played or canceled. Foss said discussions between the club and the players association have been "very constructive and cordial."
"We're still trying to get to the bottom of this," Foss said. "I hope by [Thursday] we'll have all the information we need and can make a determination on how to go forward."
At issue is the loss of a second off-day. The Orioles hosted the Cubans at Camden Yards on May 3, previously scheduled as a day off. Players are not paid for exhibition games.
"The players played an additional exhibition game [against Cuba]," Orza said. "And now they are being asked to give up another off-day. I'm not sure that's fair, beyond the legal aspects of it."
On Tuesday, Belle posted a petition in the Orioles' clubhouse urging a player boycott of the game. It was later removed, apparently by other players.
Pitcher Mike Mussina, the Orioles' player representative, declined to comment on the Rochester game. And although Scott Erickson was the only player who added his signature to Belle's on the petition, it is clear that the players do not want to play in Rochester.
"It's a joke," said one Orioles player, who wished to remain anonymous. "How many other teams would ask their players to give up two off-days in half a season?"
The game in Rochester is a sellout, with approximately 13,000 fans expected, and canceling the game would require giving refunds.
"We are hoping that [cancellation] is not necessary," Foss said.
Webster Plays in Minors
Catcher Lenny Webster caught six innings for Rochester on Tuesday in his first game of a rehabilitation assignment for his sprained right ankle, which has kept him on the disabled list since May 13. Webster went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and later reported some discomfort in the ankle. He went 0 for 3 as a designated hitter today.
Manager Ray Miller today said the club probably cannot afford to carry three catchers when Webster returns, which means the Orioles must either part with Mike Figga, who has impressed Miller since the team claimed him off waivers, or trade Webster. The Dodgers have shown interest in acquiring Webster, but have not been able to satisfy the Orioles' chief need, a veteran reliever.