Maniacally In-Klinedby John Brattain
April 15, 2005
Poor Steve Kline:
“I'm miserable … Sometimes you miss the old places. But you've got to play the hand you're dealt…I'd like to rub that bottle and have that genie come out, and grant me a wish that I could go back [to St. Louis]…It's going to take me a little while to realize what's going on and to put the past behind me. I miss St. Louis. But what can you do?”
Back in the day, I used to work for a nifty little outfit called Bootleg Sports along with fellow THTer Joe Dimino. Here are a few blurbs from a column I did back in 2002 dealing with the situation of some players on the Colorado Rockies. It relates to Kline’s recent comments:
I can almost picture the conversation in my mind....
Owner/GM: “So, how does 6 years/$72 million sound to you?”
Free Agent Stud: “Well, I’m looking for a club committed to winning the World Series. What commitment has [insert team name] made to reach this goal?”
Owner/GM: “So, how does 8 years/$112 million sound to you?”
Free Agent Stud: “Would you like my ring size now?”
One year later....
[I wish I was a] Free Agent Stud: “This team isn’t committed to winning and I’m ticked! The Owner/GM lied to me!”
*simper* *whine* *whimper* *boo hoo*
Now I have no trouble for players going for top dollar, but if that’s what they go for (without mentioning it publicly), I don’t think they should bellyache when "all” they get what they went for in the first place. Caveat Emptor applies to the players as much as it does the owners. If Mike Hampton went to Colorado for the schools, and the schools are still in tip-top shape, then didn’t he get what he [said he] wanted? Not every team has the available revenue of the New York Yankees, so a player cannot expect to go to a mid-market club, demand New York money, get it, and then squawk when the team cannot afford the player infrastructure that large market teams have. The Rockies made four players deliriously happy financially (Hampton, Walker, Helton, and Denny Neagle). In each case, the money flashed in front of their eyes “convinced” them that the Rockies were set on late October baseball.
The fact of the matter is this: You were all free agents. Free to sign with any team that you desired. Heck, if you walked into Montreal and said you were willing to play for the major league minimum, you’d be an Expo right now. You were free to sign with any club, for any amount of money, for whatever length of time, using whatever criteria that turned your crank. You were absolutely, positively, free to choose your destiny. We heard the range of faux reasons why you (and most high-priced free agents) made the choice you did: They looked serious about winning, the school system was to die for, the showed the proper respect toward you and your abilities, you felt you were the final piece in a future dynasty’s puzzle, yada yada yada. However when push came to shove, they flashed you the most jack, your agent--who wanted the largest possible commission--teamed up with the owner/GM and told you about the glories and joys which were just a John Hancock away and you charged in like bull overdosed on Viagra. You forgot that your agent’s job (in his mind) is to get you the most money he can--not get you a ring. It’s no coincidence that two baseball executives (Tom Hicks and Kevin Malone) on big revenue clubs bought into the “program for success” as espoused by an agent (Scott Boras) and those two teams--the L.A. Dodgers and the Texas Rangers--are known for high payrolls and October tee times.
The results have been self-evident for a few years now but you ignored the facts and chased top dollar and hoped that things would work out--and now you’re paying for it. Remember, you folks are fond of saying that owners shouldn’t cry about their lot in life--after all, nobody forced them to hand out large contracts. Well guess what? Nobody forced you to sign those contracts either, so take your own advice and put a stirrup sock in it.
Along these lines, I also railed (I‘ll spare you another clip) against Barry Bonds when his previous contract expired. He was all tears and boo-hoo towards Giants’ fans since he didn’t know if he’d ever play another game in San Francisco.
Am I missing something?
They were FREE agents. Free to choose their destination under whatever terms they felt free to negotiate. If a player wanted to play in Montreal (God rest their souls) he could go to the front office and offer to play for minimum and I’m pretty sure the Expos would’ve found away to add him to the roster.
I can’t help but wonder how much decision making free agent players defer to their agents and the MLBPA? How many times have you seen a player sign a contract and suddenly realize that they’re miserable? Mo Vaughn, Mike Hampton, Jason Giambi, Ken Griffey Jr. (although he wasn‘t a free agent, he dictated his destiny as a free agent could), etc. have been reported examples in recent memory of players who in effect said “D‘OH!!”
I think both the player agents and the MLBPA should look back on their own history to understand their roles in the players’ lives. I’m not minimizing the importance of economic considerations; after all, baseball is a player’s job and career and with these things, we take economics into account.
However, a good number of baseball players enjoy enviable options that the average person does not. Due to the money they make, the bottom line of their paycheck will not have a significant impact on their lifestyle. For a person with a family to support, two jobs offers -- one for $40,000/year and one for $55,000/year -- really doesn’t offer much of a choice at all. If you’re looking at two offers -- one for $4 million/year and one for $5.5 million a year, well regardless of which offer you take, you’re not going to be worrying about whether you can make your next mortgage payment or whether you can afford a vacation this year.
I’m not advocating leaving $1.5 million on the table, I’m just saying that you’re in a position where you can look at a bunch of other factors in deciding what to do without negatively affecting your lifestyle.
However despite the freedom that this affords, it appears on the surface that a notable number of players either choose not to exercise this freedom, or delegate this choice to a third party: either their agent or the MLBPA.
Somehow I don’t think this is what Marvin Miller had in mind and I‘m pretty sure Curt Flood didn‘t short circuit his career so his colleagues could change one set of masters for another. When Flood was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals (with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner, and Tim McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jerry Johnson, Dick Allen, and Cookie Rojas) Flood wasn’t thinking about money. He was upset that a third party could have so much control over his career that he could be forced to relocate to an area undesirable to him with his only other option being finding a different line of work. By the standards of that time, Flood was well paid, but he summed up his circumstances famously when he said: “A $90,000 slave is still a slave.”
I remember an anecdote and it may be apocryphal (in other words, I can‘t substantiate it; it‘s something I came across in my travels back in 1992): Kirby Puckett was a free agent and was mulling two offers -- one from the Minnesota Twins and a slightly better package from the Boston Red Sox. Puckett put in a call to Marvin Miller to get his opinion on what he should do. Miller simply asked Puckett ‘Where do you want to play?’ to which he replied “Minnesota” -- Miller then told him to take the Minnesota offer that being the case.
I’m guessing that agents have more to do with this than the union, but if the MLBPA puts pressure on players to take the highest offer simply because it is the highest offer -- well, they’ve lost their way. Miller preached freedom to choose. If the MLBPA is influencing players where they should ply their trade, they’re no better than the owners pre-Messersmith/McNally. Too many players sacrificed too much to establish and protect future players’ rights. It’s the union’s job to ensure those rights stay with the players and they should remind player agents that the players’ wishes about their career are given priority.
Otherwise we’re subjected to stories like these.
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.
<< Return to Article