By Evan Grant
November 5, 2001
Despite accusations on at least two fronts of improprieties in the search that led to the hiring of general manager John Hart and assistant Grady Fuson, Rangers owner Tom Hicks said Sunday that he followed proper procedure.
Both Cleveland, where Hart was the general manager for 10 years, and Oakland, where Fuson was the scouting director for the last seven seasons, have asked for compensation in light of the hirings.
Oakland went so far as to file a tampering grievance over Fuson’s hiring, claiming the Rangers hired him for a lesser job after only obtaining permission to interview him to be general manager.
The A’s asked for prized third-base prospect Hank Blalock as compensation.
“I’ve got a great relationship with the other owners,” said Hicks, who sat with commissioner Bud Selig at Game 6 of the World Series on Saturday. “I kept the commissioner apprised every step of the way. He acted like this was nothing to be worried about. I certainly don’t think anything will be done to negate the hirings we’ve made and there has been no indication of compensation.”
Also, Sandy Alderson, Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations said the league would, as a matter of routine, look into whether the Rangers’ adhered to MLB’s initiative directed at giving minorities equal chance at high-level jobs. While the search firm Hicks retained did conduct an interview with minority candidate Omar Minaya, he was the only candidate not to meet with Hicks.
Hicks, who is going to Tuesday’s owners meeting in Chicago, has suggested a lunch meeting with the commissioner and officials from the other clubs involved to try and settle any remaining issues. Ultimately, the commissioner’s office could be asked to decide the compensation issue and whether to levy a fine on the Rangers.
The Oakland situation appears to be the most serious. At the news conference in which he announced the hirings, Hicks acknowledged asking Fuson a “hypothetical question” about a job other than GM during his initial interview. Oakland GM Billy Beane, who has declined to comment on the tampering charge, said last Wednesday that he had not been contacted about Fuson interviewing for any job other than GM.
Before finalizing the deal, Hicks said he contacted Oakland about the opportunity presented to Fuson, who inherited additional responsibilities with the Rangers and got a three-year contract worth $375,000 per year. That tripled his previous income.
Hicks said he received an angry phone call from Beane on the morning the Rangers were to announce the hirings. Hicks said Beane offered to not file a complaint if the Rangers handed over “one of our very best prospects.” Major League sources confirmed the prospect in question was Blalock. Hart called Beane, but got nowhere.
“They talked very heatedly,” Hicks said. “I don’t know if the A’s are truly upset or if they are being opportunistic.”
Hicks also called Cleveland owner Larry Dolan on the morning of the news conference to inform him of the Rangers’ hirings. Dolan was unreachable. After the conference, the Rangers received correspondence from Cleveland officials requesting compensation because Hart had two years remaining on his contract.
The reason for the complaint: Hicks had permission to interview Hart, but not to hire him without discussing potential compensation.
Early in the year, Hart had announced his decision to resign as GM, but was slated to remain on the Indians’ payroll as a consultant.
“When I first contacted Cleveland to ask permission, I asked if the [remainder of Hart’s contract] would be an impediment to our hiring him,” Hicks said. “I was told it wouldn’t. There was never any discussion of compensation.”
The issue apparently won’t keep Hart from bringing in some of his top lieutenants. Hart has discussed with Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro what members of the Indians organization he can speak to about joining Texas. Hart declined to mention specific names, but he has had long working relationships with special assistants Dom Chiti and Jay Robertson.
Fuson, who will oversee the Rangers’ scouting and player development programs, could try to stock that system with former members of the Oakland staff. Perhaps the most prominent of those names are assistant player development director Dave Hudgens, who could move up in title to Rangers’ director of player development, and A’s bullpen coach Brad Fischer.