Cash keeps MLB Japan trip from falling apart

How a $6 billion industry can fail to round up the money to fairly compensate its employees taking a trip halfway across the globe is flabbergasting.

And I'm not referring to the Boston Red Sox threatening to boycott both an exhibition game Wednesday and their flight to Japan (where they are scheduled to play two regular-season games against the Oakland A's) because their coaches weren't getting $40,000 apiece.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were hardly paid at all for their trip to China last week to play two historic exhibition games. Each player received $3,000, while coaches and trainers were stiffed completely.

No wonder those teams reacted with bemusement that their American League counterparts headed for Japan were embroiled in a squabble over stipends more than 10 times as large.

"The Red Sox and A's are playing regular-season games, so I understand they should get more," one Dodgers employee said. "But going to China was just as disruptive to your sleep schedule and your preparations for the season as going to Japan. The difference should have been more like, $30,000 and $10,000, and support people and coaches should have gotten something."

It's too late to whine now. Too late to boycott. Everybody is home from China, including several players who purchased nicely tailored silk suits at bargain prices from the Beijing Silk Market. Yes, the rich do get richer, and wear the nicest threads, too.

That's why the stand the Red Sox took to rectify an obvious slight against the few non-millionaires in their clubhouse was refreshing. Normally, a player's definition of doing the right thing is writing a check for $100 to the visiting clubhouse attendant at the end of a three-game series.

"This was not a case of players being greedy," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "This was a case of players uniting together."

The Red Sox meant business. They would not take the field for their last exhibition game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Ft. Myers, Fla., until the issued was resolved. The game began more than an hour late, but it was played. And, of course, there will be no boycott of the Japan trip. The Red Sox and A's will play March 25 and March 26 in the Tokyo Dome. Red Sox management put up $600,000 to cover payment to the coaches and other staff, and the team could be reimbursed through gate receipts.

The misunderstanding originated from the mistaken assumption that the money for the coaches and support personnel would come from the same pool of money set aside for the players. Apparently, the players' association was responsible for the coaches being removed from the pool when the Red Sox negotiated an increase in the stipends from $25,000 to $40,000 last fall.

Francona was less concerned about blame than a quick resolution when he was informed Tuesday that his coaches – whose salaries range from $30,000 to $150,000 – would get nothing.

When the players got wind of the inequity, they spoke as one, loud and clear, the only way they could.

Can't have a game without players.

''When we voted to go to Japan, that was not a unanimous vote,'' third baseman Mike 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."

The A's, meanwhile, were blissfully ignorant of the inequity until they arrived at their Phoenix spring training facility Wednesday and were informed that the Red Sox might boycott the trip. Once they were apprised of the situation by reliever Alan Embree, who played for the Red Sox and has many friends on the team, A's players voted to follow suit.

"I think it's weak," A's shortstop Bobby Crosby told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I didn't know (coaches) weren't getting paid. That's incredible. It's not the right thing."

There should be plenty of money to go around. The Tokyo Dome seats 55,000 and will be sold out for both games. Japanese promoters will split the revenue with MLB and the players' association.

And therein lays the answer to the "what-about-us?" question the Dodgers and Padres were posing.

The China series lost money. Wukesong Stadium seated 12,500 and many tickets were given to government officials. The Dodgers spent nearly $1 million on the trip and don't expect to be reimbursed.

"The trip was about introducing Major League baseball to a new population," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "It was about goodwill, not profit."

Money-making will come soon enough in China, MLB believes. As for Japan, the profit motive is already in play, and a handful of $40,000 checks won't derail that.

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