Thomas Roberts

From BR Bullpen

Thomas Tothill Roberts

Biographical Information[edit]

Thomas Roberts served as baseball's arbitrator during a turbulent period in the mid-1980s. One of his first major rulings was awarding an annual salary of $1 million to Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela via salary arbitration in 1983, the first time that figure had been reached through the process. On February 21, 1985 he broke that record by awarding $1.25 million to Tim Raines. These ruling were not well received by owners who at the time were willing to engage in all sorts of dubious methods to keep salaries down, including collusion. In August 1986, he was fired when he ruled that owners could not negotiate drug-testing clauses with players individually, but had to do so through the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

At the time of his firing, he was holding the first hearings into allegations of collusion brought forward by players who were unable to find deals at market value when they became free agents after the 1985 season. Owners were nervous that Roberts was showing a bent that was generally favorable to players, and the Players Association claimed that his firing was done to torpedo those hearings. The firing did not help, however, as he was reinstated by one of his successors and allowed to complete those hearings, leading to his issuing a finding of collusion in September 1987. He was fired again after that ruling, but successor George Nicolau would confirm his findings in cases dealing with players who had become free agents following the 1986 and 1987 seasons, forcing owners to pay significant penalties. Roberts was selected to supervise the distribution of these monies, given his familiarity with the case and the fact that he had the players' confidence.

Before his association with baseball, he was a labor arbitrator with a sterling reputation in the industry, having helped to resolve labor-management disputes in industries such as General Motors, NBC, Hughes Aircraft and the University of California system. He began arbitrating his first baseball cases in 1974, when salary arbitration was first introduced. Born in Chicago, IL, he had moved to California at age 10. He served as an aerial gunnery instructor in the Navy during World War II and was a long-time Dodgers season-ticket holder.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Richard Golstein: "Thomas T. Roberts Dies at 84; Ruled That Baseball Owners Engaged in Collusion", The New York Times, February 19, 2008. [1]
  • Valerie J. Nelson: "Labor arbitrator known for baseball rulings", Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2008. [2]