Here’s an interesting article about Astros’ President Tal Smith’s second gig — or maybe first gig; it’s hard to tell — representing teams in arbitration cases:
When it comes to salary arbitration in baseball, Smith has seen it all. He argued his first cases in 1974, the year baseball adopted the process, when he was an executive vice president with the New York Yankees.
Over the years, Smith and his staff have prepared more than 900 arbitration cases, with more than 160 going to a hearing . . .
. . . When Drayton McLane bought the Astros in 1994, he recruited Smith back to the organization. Smith was leery to give up his consulting business, which over the years had a staff of as many as 10, including part-timers who worked during arbitration season. McLane said it would be OK for Smith to keep his consulting business, as long as his work was limited to arbitration cases. Smith was named president of baseball operations. He is 75 – although he looks years younger – and this will be his 52d year in pro ball.
Smith’s role with the Astros has led to small amounts of criticism, particularly from the media, that his handling of other clubs’ arbitration cases is a conflict of interest.
“People who raise that issue don’t understand,” Smith said. “When you represent a club in arbitration, you’re acting in the best interests of ownership as a whole. If you prevail, it helps the salary structure for the entire industry.
I suppose that’s right inasmuch as one only views conflicts of interest through the prism of player-owner relationships. But don’t teams compete too, or is that merely a quaint fiction designed to placate the fans? Because I don’t think it’s that hard to imagine a situation in which a person who works for one team doesn’t give his best when representing another team — say, in his own division — with the result being that the competition gets stuck with a much higher payroll obligation than it might otherwise have.
Is this a real risk? Eh, probably not, and it may not even be worth the trouble if it was. But there are a lot of folks out there who believe that appearances of a conflict of interest are nearly as bad as conflicts which actually come to fruition, so I don’t know if we can dismiss it that casually.
Whatever the case, I find it interesting that the President of a major league team so readily identifies players as the opposition/competition as opposed to other teams.