Red Sox stipend dispute resolved
Players sought payment for staff for Tokyo trip; will go to Japan
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox went to bat for manager Terry Francona and the coaching staff on Wednesday, and in the end, they got a result satisfactory enough to avoid boycotting their Grapefruit League finale against the Toronto Blue Jays.
A misunderstanding over whether the Red Sox's coaching, training and clubhouse staffs would receive stipends for making a trip to Tokyo got resolved about 40 minutes after the scheduled start of the game.
"All the things I talked about prior to today about it being a quiet spring and just baseball, you can throw it right out the window," Francona said. "It was a long morning and a long day yesterday. We found out probably by accident that some of the communication was different than we anticipated. Because there's some parties that are in China, some are Japan, some are here, some are in New York, it was very difficult to communicate."
Thanks to the matter being resolved between the Red Sox, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the team will depart for Tokyo as scheduled early Wednesday evening.
"Everyone connected with the trip will be fairly compensated," said Rich Levin, senior vice president of public relations for Major League Baseball.
"I want to make this real clear," Francona said. "This was not a case of players being greedy. This was a case of players uniting together. I think that's part of the reason we're good. There was no disrespect to baseball. We made sure the Blue Jays knew that. It was a very difficult position everybody felt we were in and it got resolved."
The game against the Blue Jays wound up starting at 1:11 p.m. ET, one hour and four minutes later than scheduled. Daisuke Matsuzaka -- Boston's Opening Day starter -- ended up pitching a Minor League game instead of facing Toronto.
It was a chaotic morning and early afternoon at City of Palms Park. The players became upset when they learned that Francona, the coaches and other uniformed members were not going to receive stipends -- worth approximately $40,000 -- for the upcoming trip to Tokyo. The players on both the Red Sox and A's are receiving that amount.
Until Tuesday, Francona and the coaches were under the assumption that they were getting the same stipends as the players.
When Francona informed the players that apparently was not the case, a players-only meeting was held in the clubhouse.
Shortly after that, the Red Sox got on the phone with Major League Baseball and the Players Association and said that unless or until the matter was resolved, they would not play Wednesday and also threatened not to board the flight for Tokyo later in the day.
"It was a misunderstanding," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I don't know who to lay blame on, but there has to be a way to resolve it."
Red Sox player representative Kevin Youkilis and other players were in constant communication with Major League Baseball and the Players Association throughout the course of the morning until the matter was resolved.
Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino, general manager Theo Epstein and other club officials assisted the players on the matter, which Francona and Youkilis both said they appreciated.
Francona also spoke to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig twice via phone.
"He was justifiably concerned about playing the game, which I completely understand," Francona said. "I've known him since I sat the bench in Milwaukee. He was very kind to me, is actually the way I would interpret it. Knowing that he has a lot of responsibilities and a full plate, he was very kind."
Shortly before the regular scheduled start time, several Boston players came into the dugout, but there still wasn't a resolution.
"We have to be prepared to take care of what was ultimately promised to our staff and to everybody else that's on the trip," Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek said before the issue was resolved. "This isn't about us; this isn't about anything besides [the fact] that there's other people involved that are being forgotten about."
Asked if the Red Sox would board the bus for the airport to leave for Japan on Wednesday without a resolution, Varitek said, "We will not."
Early in the morning, the situation had cast a pall over the team's Spring Training getaway day.
"What we want to do this morning is get excited about us playing a baseball game, and what I did was spend the morning apologizing to the coaches and being humiliated," Francona said. "That's all I know."
If the game had wound up being canceled, the Boston players said that they were prepared to sign autographs for all of the fans on both foul lines. It never came to that.
"These guys are outstanding guys, they're standup guys," Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills said of the players. "They do what's right. That's what makes them great ballplayers as well."
Even the Blue Jays were touched by the lengths the Red Sox went to fight for their staff.
"You don't expect to see that, but I was kind of glad it happened and I was kind of impressed with those guys," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "Not only are they a very talented team, they've got something special over there. That's a team. They stuck their necks out for the coaching staff -- those guys they admire and stand by --- and that helps us all. There's only two teams that can get away with that: Boston and New York. That's good to see."
Youkilis spent time during the pregame hours discussing the situation with Vernon Wells, who is the player rep for Toronto. The Jays' players were understanding of the situation and didn't balk at the game starting later than scheduled.
Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling had made it clear how important the issue is to the players.
"They're part of this team," Schilling said of Francona and the coaches. "They're as important as the players in our mind."
Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan was touched by the support from the players.
"To see how the players backed us and how they feel about the work that we do, that meant a lot," Magadan said. "It means a lot. Sometimes we feel like you can have a thankless job, but when things like that are done, you really appreciate and get a feeling for how the players feel about us."
Francona said it was his understanding that the managers and coaching staffs of the Yankees and Rays received stipends for their season-opening trip to Tokyo in 2004.
To Francona, the matter was a lot more about the coaches than himself.
"For a coach, this is, in some cases, two-fifths of their salary for the year," Francona said. "This is a big deal. I don't agree that coaches are second-class citizens. That has never sat well with me, ever."
Francona was the bench coach for the A's in 2003 when they were scheduled to go to Japan, only to have that journey canceled because of the war in Iraq. In that instance, Francona said that the manager and all the coaches were set to get stipends.
Managers and coaches aren't members of the Players Association.
"The coaches never have leverage," said Schilling. "In all the years I've been in baseball, they're the guys usually taken advantage of in situations like this. In this locker room, they're as much a part of this team as the guys on the field."
In this case, the Red Sox's players, to a man, made sure their coaches got taken care of.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.