- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

Major League Baseball is conducting an internal inquiry into the Baltimore Orioles' policy of not signing Cuban defectors, but commissioner Bud Selig yesterday declined to specify its nature.

News of baseball's actions first came in a letter Selig sent to Judicial Watch, a D.C.-based public interest law firm. Judicial Watch, acting on the heels of a Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint it filed in May, asked Selig last week to have baseball investigate the Orioles' policy.

Selig sent his response in a letter dated June 9, refusing to comment or take action because of a "pending administrative proceeding."

"It's very much internal," Selig said yesterday when asked if that proceeding was internal or external. "But I don't want to get into that any further. We have received their letter, and we appreciate the interest, but that's all I'm going to say."

Judicial Watch, which has several lawsuits pending against Clinton administration officials, did not put much stock in baseball's response on the issue.

"It seems if you're a woman [Marge Schott] who makes inappropriate racial comments or a young man [John Rocker] who makes politically incorrect statements, Major League Baseball will come down on you like a ton of bricks," said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton in a written statement, referring to the former Cincinnati Reds owner and Atlanta Braves pitcher. "But if you're a politically influential 'good ol' boy' owner whose spokesmen have admitted to actual discriminatory conduct, Major League Baseball will give you a pass."

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, told The Washington Times last month that the club does not pursue or sign Cuban defectors. The policy stems from a desire not to erode the good will created by a two-game series last year between the Orioles and the Cuban national team.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos later sought to back away from Thrift's statements, saying his only intention is to not encourage any player to defect from his native country.

Selig also declined to specify how long the league's look into the matter will take. Orioles officials declined to comment last night.

Selig, in town yesterday to participate in a Korean War memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery, was far more talkative concerning baseball's pending realignment. Several owners have suggested in recent weeks that Selig's goal of realigning in time for next season will not happen, a feeling intensified by last month's postponement of an owners' realignment vote scheduled for this week.

"It's going to happen next year. We're going to have some kind of unbalanced schedule, and we're going to rotate divisions for interleague play," Selig said. "The question is what exactly it will look like. What's taking the extra time is that we have to test each option. We have to run a schedule for each one and see how it looks."

Selig's unbalanced schedule would have divisional foes play each other much more often than any other team, a format used from baseball's early days until the early 1970s. The realignment is simply a byproduct of that aim, Selig said.

Baseball's initial proposal had Tampa Bay and Arizona switching leagues and the National League splitting into four divisions and losing the wild card a plan that was greeted with strong objections from team owners and fans alike. The players' union, which must approve any final plan, two weeks ago released a counterproposal that much more closely resembled the current alignment. The only cross-league movement in the union plan was Houston moving into the AL West.

Selig participated yesterday in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He said baseball's involvement with the national Korean War commemoration, which officially starts Sunday, is the first of what will likely be a long involvement with the U.S. Armed Forces.

More than 120 big leaguers served in Korea, including Ted Williams, Willie Mays and former New York Yankees second baseman Jerry Coleman, who also appeared at yesterday's ceremony.

"Baseball is now flourishing in the Republic of Korea and elsewhere due in no small measure to the sacrifice and achievements of Korean War veterans," Selig said.

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