Follow the…Buddy?by John Brattain
February 20, 2009
Remember when Barry Bonds was the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse (the four horseman’s answer to Pete Best or Stuart Sutcliffe) and represented all that was evil in this world? There was War, Pestilence, Death, Hades and ol’ Melonhead; now it’s Alex Rodriguez.
And I have one question regarding Miguel Tejada: Where’s the hate? He used performance-enhancing drugs, he lied to the government—where are the calls to exorcise him from the sport? What’s the matter—isn’t he rich enough for people’s scorn? Did the media fail to tell you why you should want to see him in jail since society needs to be protected from medium-size-headed liars?
It just goes to show—unless you signed a deal that makes people jealous or won’t kiss up to the media, you can pretty much do as you please without raising the ire of the enlightened. Tejada should thank his deity of choice that he became a free agent in a tough market or folks would be calling for his head regardless of its current dimensions.
But I digress. This isn’t about that, I just thought it deserved a mention. After all, what about the children, right?
Anyway, this is about Barry Bonds in a roundabout way in that this (potentially) wouldn’t have happened without the charm and winning personality of everybody’s favourite cranial eclipse.
Believe it or not, Jack Marshall and I chat online frequently about these issues, quite amicably thank-you-very-much and we will be doing a post-arbitration ruling (on the Bonds collusion case against MLB) roundtable discussion here at THT. If MLB is acquitted, I will dine on Corvus Corax-a-la-King with Mr. Marshall pouring my choice of whine to wash it down and if Bonds’ complaint is upheld then expect major Selig-bashing from the both of us. We may differ on what has occurred regarding Barry Lamar, but are completely united on the scourge that is the commissioner of baseball.
One of the points Marshall (and others) have brought up is that the major league cartel is filled with Gordon Gekko disciples and as such would sell their daughters’ virtue on e-Bay to make a buck if people didn’t object (or find out about it).
I guess I should state that is a bit of hyperbole to make the point.
With my posterior suitably shielded, we can continue. Anyway, that being the case, why would teams not follow the money and sign Bonds since, despite the protestations of the media (I mean, if Elijah Dukes doesn’t repel fans, nothing will) he could help win games, help a team in a pennant race. And he could sell tickets if for no other reason than that the fans could jeer and lavish him in their self-righteous indignation over his influence over their children before driving home half drunk going well over the speed limit before telling their spouses that they didn’t drink anything but Pepsi at the park since the kids were along.
I mean, it’s follow the money, right? And owners always follow their financial best interests, do they not?
There’s the rub, you see; money doesn’t travel in a linear path, especially in major league baseball. Now, Bonds could have paid dividends for a handful of teams in 2008, as I have alluded to once or twice here. (Hi Hendo! Still not reading THT because of me?)
We’ll pause while he backspaces out of here before anybody notices. He’s saving his comments for Ball-Hype, where he’ll inform me that he didn’t read the article and disagrees with what I wrote unconditionally and completely.
Ain’t I a stinker?
Anyway, so Barry Lamar gives a nice little revenue bump in 2008, but what about 2009, 2010 and beyond?
What do I mean? Glad you asked.
Bud Selig is a politician and as one he accumulates a lot of political capital through a number of means, thereby getting clubs indebted to him. As I have mentioned on a few occasions when bellyaching about the Blue Jays, they received equalization payments when the Canadian dollar was low and doubtlessly are hoping for more; this is the reason they‘re going to do what Bud wants when he wants it.
In the last decade (or so), he’s gone to bat for a large number of franchises to line up public money for stadium construction. For instance: He got the Red Sox and Marlins into his back pocket by engineering the sales of those teams to the second-highest bidder (John Henry’s group) and providing loans to Finky and the Brainless in South Florida that became outright cash grants and hand-picked the group to get the Expos (*sob*) in D.C. not to mention the small matter of the $600+ million stadium there 100 percent paid for by the good citizens of the U.S. nation’s (lack of) capital.
Czar Bud is the great dispenser of goodies and because of this clubs could find that it is more financially prudent to stay on the good (such as it is) side of Selig for years to come rather than enjoy the short term benefits of employing the Antichrist‘s mentor and BFF.
After all, you may find yourself saddled with a massive contract courtesy of a Boras-inspired impulse purchase and find someone willing to take said FISCAL BRAIN FART off your hands provided you pick up a chunk of the deal. You’d better hope you’re in the commissioner's office's good graces when you ask for approval of the trade, since a large wad of bills will be changing hands. Clubs realize that it might be wise to hedge their bets and strongly consider any “informal recommendations” made by the man in charge.
For all his myriad faults, Selig is very good at working a room and building up a reserve of goodwill and favor among the cartel. He has accumulated a lot of political capital among the clubs (only a small fraction ever becomes public knowledge) and he has the chits to call in. Let’s face it: having discretionary control over the Central Fund doesn’t hurt either.
Bear in mind that Bonds is a symbol to Selig and think of precisely what that particular emblem represents: his failure to address steroids, his friend losing the home run record, having probably never imagined that his lack of diligence and lust for profits and his “renaissance” would cost “The Hammer” the crown. He desperately wishes to be remembered as the commissioner who rid the sport of steroids and not the one that allowed it to flourish unchecked. Bonds was a living, breathing indictment of Selig’s failure and true legacy; watching the commissioner's reaction after home run 755 cleared the fence said it all.
In a sense, A-Rod’s travails help insure that his actual legacy will not be forgotten although his harem in the media will do their level best to make sure that the public thinks it’s all the “greedy players'” fault and not the commissioner who makes almost thirty times what his predecessor earned.
It is personal for Selig and he has accumulated enough clout, political capital and chits owed to indulge his feelings and attempt to create a fictitious heritage of his commissionership. On a more practical level, it also allows him to posture for Congress; I mean, how would it look if the poster boy for steroids and Public Enemy No. 1 in baseball was allowed to put the record further out of reach for a clean slugger to top?
If the feds became even more involved in the issue it might bring a level of testing and penalties to the sport that would further unmask the flaws of the current program—Selig’s pride and joy—and bring about more severe penalties resulting from more comprehensive testing that could cost the game the superstar, ticket-selling-level players and the revenues they provide.
He needed baseball to have the illusion of being as steroid-free as possible while the politicos were making hay with the issue for both for his legacy and maintaining the profitable status quo. Barry Bonds potentially served as a convenient scapegoat to that end: Remove the symbol and the “scourge” follows in the public and media’s eye… the ones before whom the government looks to posture.
Selig knows the fourth estate will fall in step because of its dislike of BLB and the public mindset: Get rid of Bonds and you’ve rid the sport of steroids. Just check out the feedback section on articles dealing with Bonds and various message boards. Up to the point when Sports Illustratedbroke the Rodriguez story, Bonds “was” steroids and as such needed to be exorcised with extreme prejudice. The media provided necessary “cover fire” for any collusion to take place, assuring one and all that “common sense” was simply prevailing as it had in the 1980s conspiracy against free agents.
This is why it’s not crazy for clubs that might have been interested in employing him to understand where their financial best interests lie: one year of Bonds vs. staying on Selig’s good side for years to come—and all the more so when they know how strong his feelings are on the matter.
It’s an easy choice. Hence, a team can both agree to a conspiracy regarding a player while simultaneously “following the money.”
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.
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