Background: Drugs, collusion, and one man’s desire
After violating the collective bargaining agreement toward the end of 1985 by refusing to sign other teams’ free agents, baseball’s owners enjoyed the cost benefits so much that they did the same thing a year later. Several players were affected by these events, including the Montreal Expos’ young star left fielder, Tim Raines.
Raines reportedly expressed interest in coming to San Diego as a free agent after his contract expired at the end of the 1986 season. The Padres, after years of being the National League’s doormat, reached their first World Series in 1984 but had now fallen on hard times again. The addition of Raines, who at age 26 was about to win the NL batting title, could help return the Padres to their briefly found glory.
Then, toward the end of a 74-88 season, Padres president Ballard Smith drops this bomb, as related by Marc Appleman in the August 21 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
…the Padres will never take a player that had a substance-abuse problem. Never. Tim Raines is not going to play here.
In a San Diego Tribune article penned by Bob Slocum on the same day, Raines acknowledges his interest in the Padres and expresses disappointment that he won’t get the chance to play for them:
San Diego probably would have been my first choice. They are an excellent club and they could use a leadoff man to become a contender.
Raines also responds to Smith’s comments:
Why in the world would he say that? He doesn’t even know what kind of person I am. And he’s passing judgment on me because as a 22-year-old kid, four years ago in my first full big league season, I made a mistake.
Padres reverse stance, contact Raines
In January 1987, the Padres begin their pursuit of Raines. On January 8, Padres GM Jack McKeon explains their reversal to the Tribune‘s Barry Bloom:
The fact that he (Raines) has a drug-testing clause already in his contract makes things more flexible. Plus, he’s been a model citizen, according to the Montreal people.
This is also where coded phrases hinting at collusion begin to appear. McKeon notes:
I’m interested in signing Raines, but under a fair and reasonable climate. I don’t think anybody in baseball is interested in bidding wars anymore.
On January 23, Smith is quoted in another article by Bloom:
We made him a substantial offer today. We offered him an awful lot of money. Judging by the response of his agent (Tom Reich) on the phone, I’d say he wasn’t too happy with it. He told me that Raines would never sign for anything less than he was offered by Montreal.
Smith also uses more coded language:
I think the era of the $2 million-a-year player is over. I guess Raines will shop around for a while and see what else he can get.
Raines is known to be interested in signing with one of three teams: The Padres, the Dodgers, or the Braves. The Braves are not expected to make an offer.
On January 24, Tom Friend of the Times reports that the Padres have pulled their three-year, $3.3 million offer off the table. Raines and Reich are seeking a three-year, $6 million deal.
Second attempt: Gwynn gets involved
On February 13, Bloom reports that Tony Gwynn has talked to Raines via phone. Gwynn expresses optimism:
I have a gut feeling that he really wants to play in San Diego. I really think it’s going to happen. It’s within reach. I think something is going to shake loose in a couple of days. I spoke to him for 10 minutes. I told him if there was anything I could do, I’d do it.
The Braves, meanwhile, won’t talk to Raines. Reich’s proposal to the Dodgers, believed to be three years, $4.5 million, is met with the news that the club is “satisfied with Ken Landreaux.”
On February 14, Friend reports that Smith has called Reich and left a message. Smith says:
The indication is that Raines is saying he realizes he might have to take less than he was offered at Montreal… Based on that, we have interest.
On February 20, Bloom reports that the Padres have made a new offer to Raines. Smith reiterates his desire to bring Raines to San Diego:
I talked to his agent (Tom Reich) last night. I told them that we were very serious about him playing here and we knew to get him we’d have to increase our offer. There’s no question about it. We want Tim Raines. And I’m going to try to get him.
Meanwhile, fan enthusiasm mounts. McKeon relates an anecdote in the February 21 Tribune:
I was up at a luncheon in Vista, and something like 200 people were chanting, ‘Get Raines, get Raines.’ That’s the same thing I’ve been hearing all over San Diego. I’d love to have Raines. It makes us an instant contender.
A report in the February 25 Times notes that “100 of last year’s season-ticket holders are refusing to renew unless the team signs free agent Tim Raines.” Smith responds:
My reaction to that is we can’t make our decisions based on the fans or sportswriters. We’ve got to try to do what we feel is best for the club.
On the same day, in the Tribune, Smith discusses the free agent market:
What the agents have to understand is that there is a salary readjustment going on in a lot of industries. Not just this one. This one is just so much more visible. You’ve got to remember that all these guys were offered an awful lot of money (by their original teams) and turned it down.
Reich remains hopeful, as illustrated by his statements in the February 27 Tribune:
I expect both players [Raines and another client, free agent catcher Lance Parrish] to be in uniform sometime in the next week to 10 days. I’m hitting the road tomorrow to Arizona and Florida. And I’m not coming home until both of them are signed.
The agent also expresses growing concern about players’ inability to find work:
The great freeze out is not legal. There’s no more striking example of that than Raines. If he’s not the best player in the league, he’s got to be among the top three.
Reich continues with even stronger language:
This is not a skirmish. It’s not even a conventional war. It’s a revolution of the landed gentry. They’re not playing by collective bargaining rules. They’re playing by homemade Park Avenue rules.
Padres stop talking again
The March 2 Tribune brings San Diegans news that the Padres have ended negotiations with Reich and Raines for a second time. Smith explains:
We have no plans to make any further offers to Tim Raines. We believe that our offer of $1.1 million per year over two years is the highest outstanding offer and to bid against ourselves would make no sense.
The Times provides additional explanation from Smith:
I made an honest effort. Remember, ours is the highest offer out there. Don’t lose sight of that. I don’t know what the 24 other teams were thinking. You can draw your own conclusions as to why they didn’t make an offer, but I think Raines wanted too much.
In hindsight, the phrase “draw your own conclusions” seems rather brazen, as does Smith’s additional remark that “If I were Montreal, I wouldn’t pay him what they offered him before.”
With the future in limbo, Expos third baseman Tim Wallach hasn’t given up on the possibility that Raines will return to Montreal. Wallach is quoted in a March 7 Tribune article:
I still hold hope that he’ll come back to us. I mean, nobody else has made him much of an offer. And this guy probably is the best player in the league.
Raines, meanwhile, sounds discouraged by the lack of progress on any front. Still, despite being publicly called out for past drug use by Padres management and being twice rebuked by the team in negotiations, Raines reiterates his desire to play for them:
At this point, I may not go to the team that gives me the best offer. I’m going to go to the place that’s right for me. And San Diego is right on top.
Raines is practically begging the Padres to sign him and confesses in a March 13 Tribune article that this doesn’t necessarily sit well with him:
The thing that really bothers me is that if I sign for $1.1 million, does that mean I shouldn’t play as hard as I did last year? Clubs are going out and offering me less money. But they’re expecting me to play better. The whole thing is hard for me to digest.
And he suspects there is more to his inability to sign with a club other than the Expos than meets the eye:
I’m somewhat of an example. I’m not going to say for sure. Something isn’t right. Everybody knows that.
When you’ve got a man on his knees, do you really need to shoot?
Nearly two weeks after the Padres end talks, Raines approaches them. According to a March 15 Times article, he offers to sign a one-year deal with the Padres worth $1.3 million that could reach $1.5 million if incentives are met—well below his original asking price.
Bloom’s March 17 article indicates that the Padres have rejected Raines a third time. Reich doesn’t mince words:
It’s very, very clear. This is conclusive. They looked at our proposal and told us they were going to go another way.
Smith is less forthcoming
I’m not going to say anything beyond what was written in the statement. What’s important is this: He is not going to sign with us. We just have to move forward.
The prepared statement to which Smith refers includes this nugget:
I took this step based on our basic philosophy, which is that the long-term success of the franchise will be based on the players we develop through our excellent farm system.
You can ask Padres fans how well that worked.
Raines, meanwhile, after mentioning during an appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show” that he might sign with San Diego, is stunned. From Friend’s March 17 article:
This is kind of hard to understand. I was ready. Things were sounding so good. I couldn’t have been happier. To have things going so good and all of a sudden, that’s it? No more? It’s hard to believe. And then it was for no reason. They never really gave a reason.
Locals are not amused
Reaction in San Diego is predictable. On March 17, Tribune columnist Nick Canepa takes Padres ownership to task:
There’s just something nagging at me that won’t go away, and it says the Kroc family hasn’t wanted this fellow from the very beginning. Tim Raines, who has had a drug problem, is not Joan Kroc’s kind of guy. Steve Garvey is.
The next day, Tribune columnist Tom Cushman fires a barb of his own at Kroc:
Unlike some teams set in the bedrock of huge corporations, the Padres are owned by the Kroc family, not by the family business (McDonald’s). They therefore are subject to the whims of a chief executive (Joan Kroc) dealing from a personal fortune, not the bottom-line mentality of corporate accountants.
He also touches on the allegations of collusion:
I have no real knowledge of any blueprint for restoring fiscal control of baseball to the owners, but somebody is orchestrating a symphonic response to free agency by a group that, until recently, reminded one of the Spike Jones orchestra.
McKeon, meanwhile, must deal with assembling his team and notes that with Raines out of the picture, the Padres “want to look at Shane Mack and Shawn Abner a little more.” Of course, a lifetime of staring at Abner won’t turn him into one-hundredth the player Raines is on his worst day.
Bloom offers this tidbit in his March 18 article:
There is also a story going around that when Raines approached the Padres for Round Three of the talks, Smith had all but agreed to a two-year $2.6 million deal, but reneged at the last minute. The reason? Pressure from within baseball.
Bloom again raises the issue of collusion on March 24:
Short- and long-term implications
Amidst various other dramas—mostly centering around Kroc’s attempted sale of the club that fell through toward the end of May because the prospective buyer, Seattle Mariners owner George Argyros, apparently had alienated several of baseball’s biggest power brokers (Uebberoth, Bart Giammati, Peter O’Malley)—the Padres find themselves with a dismal 12-39 record headed into June. In a June 4 article by Bloom, Gwynn laments missing out on Raines:
Those things always seem to have a way of coming back to haunt you. Something just tells me that this year, he’s going to wear us out. He’ll get something like 25 hits against us in 12 games. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit because that’s the way things seem to work out. What can you say? He’s just a great player.
For the record, Gwynn was a better hitter than prognosticator. The Padres were one of the few teams Raines didn’t destroy in 1987, as he hit just .182/.308/.250 against them in 52 plate appearances.
Raines hit .330/.429/.526 overall. McKeon’s young hopefuls? Abner played 16 games, while Mack hit .239/.299/.361 in 267 plate appearances. Smith’s excellent farm system? Outside of Roberto Alomar, the Padres haven’t developed anyone as good as Raines since they failed to sign him in ’87.
The remorse isn’t limited to Padres players. In that same June 4 article, Raines ponders the possibilities:
I’ve known Tony now for three or four years and we’ve had a pretty good friendship. Just the chance for us to play together — two up-and-coming players both on the same side — would’ve have been attractive for both of us. It just happens that things didn’t work out for me or him.
With the passable Carmelo Martinez in left field and the execrable Stan Jefferson in center field, the Padres finish the season 65-97. This represents a nine-game drop from 1986 and the club’s worst showing in a non-strike-shortened season since 1974, when the Padres went 60-102 and were still shaking the expansion team tag. So much for that fleeting glimpse of respectability in 1984.
In September 1988, the owners are found guilty of colluding against free agents. The Padres, based on their treatment of Raines, are cited as major players. From Bloom’s September 6 article:
The Padres evidently were part of the conspiracy which sent Tim Raines back to Montreal in 1986-87. According to the 81-page report issued in favor of the players last week by arbitrator George Nicolau in the Collusion II case, the league colluded against a number of free agents, including Raines.
Raines tried to undersell his services to the Padres, who cut off talks after protracted negotiations. Raines sat out the spring and, when he realized he would be frozen out of the market, re-signed with Montreal and joined the club on May 1.
Baseball fans in San Diego are left to wonder what might have been.
References & Resources
A reader at Ducksnorts named David inspired this article by making an off-hand comment about Raines almost signing with the Padres in ’87. I didn’t know what he was talking about and decided to investigate.
Articles by Marc Appleman and Tom Friend of the Los Angeles Times, and by Barry Bloom, Nick Canepa, Tom Cushman, and Bob Slocum of the San Diego Tribune were indispensable.