Notebook > Sports



Issue: "Iraq: Present and past," June 12, 2004

Halo violation Raul Mondesi went from being a Pirate to an Angel in less than a month. And although he doesn't wear an actual halo, the current generation of ­dissatisfied baseball players may see Mr. Mondesi as their own Curt Flood. With some innovative tactics, Mr. Mondesi forced his way out of the Pirates organization and onto the Angels without a trade. Not only did Mr. Mondesi find a way to circumvent league rules and make ­himself a free agent; he discovered this maneuver apparently by accident. All a jealous major-leaguer needs to follow Mr. Mondesi's lead is an island home, irate creditors, and a vague threat to his family. Mr. Mondesi started the season with Pittsburgh, but soon began to grumble. Then the outfielder fell into financial trouble when a court in his native Dominican Republic ordered him to pay former big-leaguer Mario Guerrero $640,000 for helping Mr. Mondesi become a successful ballplayer. Mr. Guerrero says the outfielder said he'd pay him a tutor's fee if he made it to the big league-­something Mr. Mondesi denies. But on May 7, he abruptly left the Pirates after batting .283 through 26 games. In a short statement, Mr. Mondesi said he had to return to the Dominican Republic to protect his family from what he called aggressive tactics Mr. Guerrero might use to get his payday. About a week later, he admitted he was also unhappy with his $1.15 million contract. Up until the Pirates released Mr. ­Mondesi, terminating his contract, the outfielder maintained he wouldn't play again this season. But in another week, the former Pirate admitted he'd been talking with other teams. "I want a team that has an opportunity to advance to the postseason," he said. By the end of May, he was the Anaheim Angels designated hitter. Contract complaints and a quick signing with another team make it appear that Mr. Mondesi plotted his exit from Pittsburgh, but the Pirates aren't really upset. The club hasn't filed a grievance against the Angels. Nor has Mr. Mondesi complained about Pittsburgh's decision to cut him. The Pirates don't have to pay the veteran this season's salary or next season's buyout. Mr. Mondesi gets to play for a contender and Anaheim gets a healthy bat. The two teams probably could have worked out a trade even without the island stopover. Unlikely pioneers Almost certainly baseball general managers won't let players follow Raul Mondesi's path to free agency mid-season. But if only one or two players follow suit, it would make the aging centerfielder one of baseball's unlikelier pioneers. Here are some others: Moses Fleetwood Walker Decades before baseball's official racial integration, Fleet Walker advanced through the minor leagues to Toledo of the American Association. The 27-year-old catcher became the first-and for a long while the only-black man to play ball in the big leagues. During his first and only season, Fleet Walker batted .263 in 42 games. Albert Goodwill Spalding As the premier pitcher of the 1870s, Al Spalding was a 55-game winner as a pitcher for Boston in 1875. But then just three years later at age 27, Spalding hung it up to become the president of the Chicago White Stockings, manage his growing sporting-goods company, and turn into one of baseball's greatest promoters. Curt Flood With his career slowing down, former all-star Curt Flood filed a lawsuit that helped crumble baseball's long-standing reserve clause that prevented free agency. In 1970, Flood sued the major leagues, saying the rules that prevented players from signing with other teams created an unfair marketplace. He lost his case, but soon free agents became commonplace in baseball. Around the Horn • Will Ken Griffey Jr. be the next major-leaguer to reach 500 home runs, or will newly unretired Fred McGriff catch up in June? Odds are in favor of Mr. Griffey. At the beginning of June, he needed just six home runs to reach the 500 mark, while the Crime Dog needed eight. • If baseball general managers ask, "What have you done for me lately," baseball fans must be asking different questions. Boston's Nomar Garciaparra had not played a single game by the time the first voting was released, but fans made him their top choice in the first ballot for AL All-Star shortstop. New York's Derek Jeter, who was batting near .220 at the end of May, placed second in the voting. Third fell to RBI machine Miguel Tejada and fourth to Texas' Michael Young who was batting .335. • The belly putter has drawn the ire of some PGA golfers recently after Trevor Immelman used one to win the Deutsche Bank tournament. "I think nerves and skill in putting is part of the game," Ernie Els said. "You should take a tablet if you can't handle it."

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