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Sox players go to bat for coaches

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 19, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox players painted the day as an exercise in unification: one for all and all for one.

They vowed not to go to Japan for their season opener next week against the Oakland A’s or play Wednesday's spring training game against the Blue Jays unless manager Terry Francona and the team’s coaches and support personnel were paid the same $40,000 the players were for starting the season overseas.

After a tense few hours at City of Palms Park, when the Sox finally took the field more than an hour behind schedule, a settlement had been worked out to compensate the coaches making the trip, ensuring the Sox made their afternoon charter flight to Tokyo. According to team and major league sources, Red Sox management offered to underwrite $600,000 to take care of coaches and staff, but there will be some reimbursement from gate receipts from the Japan trip from Major League Baseball.

‘‘In the end, the right thing was done,’’ said Red Sox righthander Curt Schilling. ‘‘It was a busy, hectic day, but we all put our heads together and got it worked out.’’

When the Sox players agreed to make the trip to Japan, the Players’ Association negotiated a payment of $40,000 to each player. However, the payments to the manager, coaches, and support staff were not included in the written agreement. An MLB source blamed the Players’ Association, which does not recognize coaches, except for pensions. The union said it was merely something that fell through the cracks — something that was said during negotiations but not put into writing.

‘‘It wasn’t so much the money, it was the fact that these things were promised and then reneged,’’ said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who didn’t assess blame.

Francona had been under the impression that he and his staff were getting the extra stipend until he talked Tuesday night with Oakland manager Bob Geren and learned the A’s coaches were not getting paid.

Early Wednesday, Francona met with Lowell, general manager Theo Epstein, and team president Larry Lucchino, and had a conference call with commissioner Bud Selig to express his concerns over his staff not being properly compensated.

The players then voted unanimously to boycott the Japan trip if the coaches were not paid and voted not to play the Grapefruit League finale against the Blue Jays. They sat in the dugout for 15 minutes before going back into the clubhouse while fans booed the delay of the game. Groups of players later came out to sign autographs during the delay.

During Wednesday’s negotiations, the players had to talk directly with the Red Sox to get the $600,000 to fund the coaches’ payments because the Players’ Association does not negotiate on behalf of the coaches. When the Devil Rays and Yankees played in Japan in 2004, coaches were compensated with money that came out of the players’ receipts for the trip.

‘‘The conference call [in October] was tough in and of itself,’’ Sox player representative Kevin Youkilis said. ‘‘There were six or seven players on it. In the business world, conference calls are not the easiest way. You hear voices and everyone’s talking. We definitely knew what we were told. There was added stuff just to get us to go over there. I can’t blame one person for the misunderstanding. I think the next time we know going forward that when you have these conference calls, you have to get it in writing. It’s the easiest way to do stuff. One thing that will be addressed at players’ union meetings now is that you have to put it in writing and be on the same page. We found out today. It’s a learning process, we’re moving forward.’’

At one point in the negotiations, the coaches were going to receive $20,000. ‘‘Giving them half was not acceptable,’’ Lowell said.

‘‘You’re always going to have MLB saying it is the union’s fault and the union saying it’s MLB’s fault,’’ said Lowell, who was a key figure in uniting the team. ‘‘I just know what we heard on that call and there were things that weren’t executed. I don’t remember there ever being a need for a written agreement. Maybe there is between the union and MLB, but I didn’t see one.’’

MLB officials said the payment to the coaches could rise above $40,000 once all the proceeds from the trip are received.

‘‘It’s just great that it got resolved,’’ said first base coach Luis Alicea, who called the episode Wednesday morning ‘‘an embarrassment.’’

‘‘It’s frustrating,’’ Francona said. ‘‘They were told they’d be paid. For some [of the staff], the money is equivalent to two-fifths of their salary for the year. I don’t believe coaches are second-class citizens.’’

Said Youkilis: ‘‘People just don’t know how much these coaches do for us, how hard they work. They put in way more hours than players do to get us ready to play. That’s why everyone was so passionate about this issue. If they have to go through all the things that we have to go through on this trip, they should get the compensation as well. That’s only fair.’’

Lucchino declined to speak about the topic Wednesday before leaving for the trip, but Epstein said, ‘‘We were trying to find a fair resolution to the situation and I think we accomplished that. All parties were happy.’’

Sox players thought it was a bonding moment for the team.

‘‘It shows how much this team cares about one another and the people who are involved from the traveling secretary to the video guy to the trainer to the clubhouse people,’’ said Lowell. ‘‘We believed what we were standing up for was the right thing.’’

Oakland GM Billy Beane, whose team did not go to the same extremes as the Sox, quipped, ‘‘The Sox really mobilized their forces.’’ While A’s players were supportive of the Red Sox, watching it on ESPN and communicating with the Sox players, player rep Huston Street said the A’s were always going to play their game Wednesday and make the trip to Japan. It has yet to be determined whether the Oakland organization would pony up money for its staff.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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