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McDonald, O's agree on contract Draft pick would get $1.9M signing bonus spread over 5 years; U. of Texas to be bypassed; Club officials on way to Denver for signature

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Orioles first-round draft choice Darnell McDonald will bypass the University of Texas and get a jump on his professional baseball career. He has tentatively agreed to terms on a contract with the club that will pay him a signing bonus worth a face value of $1.9 million.

McDonald, who originally had told the club that he intended to play both football and baseball at the University of Texas unless he got a record signing bonus, abruptly changed his mind this week and traveled to Seattle, where he and family advisor, Vance Larimer, apparently put together the deal with club officials early yesterday.

Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels said last night that the club did not yet have a signed contract, but McDonald already was telling friends and family that he had accepted their offer.

West Coast scouting supervisor Logan White and area scout John Green were on their way to Denver last night to meet with McDonald one more time and -- presumably -- get his signature on the contract.

"We're very close," Nickels said, "and we are very hopeful of reaching an agreement."

The deal was first reported by a Denver radio host who is a close friend of McDonald's, but it later was confirmed by an Orioles source. The radio station reported that the package was worth $1.93 million, but the club source said the face value was closer to $1.9 million and the bonus will be spread over five years, reducing the present day value to about $1.67 million.

It is not a record payday for the Cherry Creek (Colo.) High School phenom, who batted over .600 as a high school star and also was one of the most sought-after schoolboy football players. Last year's No. 1 overall pick, Kris Benson, got approximately $2 million, and several college players have taken advantage of a technicality in the draft process to sign for much more than that.

Agent Jeff Moorad, who has served as an advisor to the family, told clubs before the draft to pass on McDonald if they were not prepared to meet his price, but the Orioles chose him with their second first-round pick (26thoverall) anyway.

McDonald was scheduled to report for the first day of football practice at Texas on Sunday, but he instead reported to the Kingdome in Seattle, where he took batting practice Tuesday with a group of Orioles veterans and engaged in a full day of negotiations with club officials on Wednesday.

General manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone still were talking to Larimer and McDonald right up until the team bus left the Kingdome at midnight Pacific Coast time on Wednesday night.

It is an unusual negotiation. McDonald could not be represented directly by an agent or he would risk forfeiting his college eligibility. Moorad has been advising the family, but was not on hand for any of the face-to-face meetings this week. Neither was McDonald's father, Donzell McDonald Sr., who was thought to ** be encouraging his son to accept the football/baseball scholarship to the University of Texas.

The negotiations also were unusual because they were conducted from several locations around the country by several members of the Orioles' front office. Nickels oversaw the pursuit of McDonald, but White and Green apparently were the ones who engineered the breakthrough.

Normally, baseball rules do not permit a club to spread a signing bonus over so long a period, but there is an exception when the player is a legitimate two-sport star who has the potential to play professionally in another sport.

McDonald is projected as an NFL caliber running back, so the five-year spread is intended to discourage him from bolting from his baseball contract to pursue a football career.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Stadium

Time: 10: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (12-4, 3.19) vs. Angels' Dennis Springer (7-4, 5.57)

Pub Date: 8/08/97

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