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THE HOT CORNER: Buffs, Hawks need to just get over it

by Jim Allen (Feb 21, 2008)

One has to be amazed at how much trouble the Jeremy Powell incident has caused. Although mistakes have been plenty, the biggest mistake of all seems to be the parties' inability to get over themselves and realize that dragging this out serves no one's best interest.

The story's twisted nature makes it difficult to sift through what is the best course of action, but here is something to remember: Just because organizations make rules governing the way members and employees should behave, that doesn't make those rules the law.

In the real world, people break contracts from time to time and often go to work for a competing company in the same industry. When this happens, parties can sue for damages, but workers end up working where they choose.

Your typical worker might not lose a single day's work by leaving his company in violation of his contract and jumping to a rival. His former employer can't suspend him and his new employer won't want to.

However, Powell's problem is unusual, because the two companies involved, the Orix Buffaloes and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, are not only competitors but quasi-partners, their actions regulated by the Pacific League and Nippon Professional Baseball. If Powell wants to continue playing within NPB, he doesn't have a lot of options.

Before moving further, it might be useful to clear up a little of the misinformation surrounding the case. Although Powell's agent, Craig Landis, told The Daily Yomiuri two weeks ago the pitcher had signed no contract with financial terms, he was referring to the personal service deal needed to finalize the deal. Landis and two Japanese sources have since confirmed that the Japanese-language uniform player contract Powell signed and faxed to Orix, ostensibly for visa purposes, was for 630,000 dollars.

In a Feb. 13 e-mail, Landis claimed that in the middle of January, the Buffaloes began asking for changes: a portion of Powell's 2008 salary changed from guaranteed to contingent on his playing 20 games. Landis said Orix also wanted to change the terms of the club's 2009 option if he did not pitch 20 games.

"While these arguments were going on," Landis wrote, "we decided to negotiate with the Hawks instead, because by definition of the ongoing talks with Orix we had no finalized deal. Orix was the one that did not want to finalize and sign a personal contract until we worked out the OK of the physical."

Orix has denied asking for any changes to the contract. When the team forwarded its complaint to acting commissioner Yasuchika Negoro a week ago, Orix's statement said there was a deal in principle on Jan. 11.

The team said its evidence for a complete agreement was in e-mails with Landis. That the two sides were close to a deal has never been in dispute. Yet, that begs an enormous question: If Orix had a deal on Jan. 11, why didn't it get it done? Why were the Buffaloes still working out the final paperwork on Jan. 29, when the Hawks announced their own deal?

Compared to the Bumbleos, the Hawks were ruthlessly efficient--perhaps, too efficient, a SoftBank executive said Monday.

"I think maybe we could have been more careful," said the source, who asked not to be named. "In retrospect, we should have checked with Orix. After signing the contract, we could have backed off a little. This has given us nothing but a lot of bad publicity."

However, backing off is not SoftBank's style. The speed with which their deal was prosecuted is consistent with the Hawks' predatory nature. The large number of amateur prospects who swear annually that they will only play for the Hawks is testimony to that team's skill in going out and getting results.

Although the Buffaloes' history of front-office foul-ups is long, this time they have a contract with Powell's name on it. That gives Orix execs the leverage needed to make people listen to them.

But because Powell will not play for them, dragging the dispute out accomplishes nothing but remind us of Orix's failure to do a deal.

All sides would be better served by getting together and quietly reaching a monetary settlement that puts Powell in uniform and puts this unfortunate story to rest.


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