The cost of Bonds issues

Well, once again there was insufficient support to do The Pujols Awards this week—hopefully we’ll get more nominations next week to put one together. So … what do we do now?

I think I’ve gotten over the Blue Jays’ latest (twitch, twitch) edition of “How to Lose Games and Infuriate People” (by the way, the view from the clock tower is actually quite lovely) so I don’t think digital therapy is needed at the moment. Still, to lose 12 ball games in the opposing team’s final at-bat (five times since May 31) is an incredibly creative way to teach Toronto fans new swear words.

But I digress (before I even get started—that has to be a first).

Anyway, there was a spirited thread (just a few injuries—no deaths, a heated debate is when the body bags are brought in) on Barry Bonds over at Baseball Think Factory. Yeah, ol’ Barry Lamar has inspired a few slight disagreements not unlike the mild pique felt by Mets fans after Scott Kazmir was traded for Victor Zambrano a few years back.

A point came up and the more I thought about it, the more interesting it became. A primate (a denizen of BTF) had a thoughtful observation on why it is potentially unlikely that collusion is occurring regarding Bonds. He mentioned that there are also quite a few owners around who still remember the cost of collusion in the 1980s ($280 million) and would prefer to avoid these costs again. Other potential consequences included that it would allow the players to re-open the collective bargaining agreement, it could threaten the antitrust exemption and invite governmental interference in the business of the sport and negative media coverage could negatively impact revenue.

When I meditated on these reasons, I came to the conclusion that there actually is little incentive for ownership not to collude in this particular instance.

To begin with—damages: In the Ueberrothian collusion in the 1980s, the owners paid a $280 million settlement (when revenues didn’t support signing players to $280 million contracts, the dollar was worth more and there were fewer teams to split the costs) as a return for lost wages and several players were granted what was called “second-look free agency.” A collusion settlement for Bonds would be whatever an arbitrator would determine that his salary would be for 2008 and that total would then be trebled.

In short, if Bonds is estimated to have been worthy of a $10 million salary then Bonds would be paid $30 million—or about a million per club. No team would lose players to “second-look free agency” either.

The players would have the option of re-opening the CBA, but would it be in their interests to do so? The union’s vaunted power has become an urban myth in recent years. Their strength in the 1980s-early 1990s wasn’t their unity but the disunity of the other side—and make no mistake, as happened with the owners had begun with the players and financial (salary) disparity had begun to splinter interests. The owners didn’t crumble in 1994-95 and the players needed judicial remedy to overturn the implemented salary cap that may not have happened had a Republican been in the White House.

Since then, despite staggering revenue growth, the last two CBA have been negotiated with substantial disincentives to spending on players. With the Yankees set to open a new park with an anticipated spike in revenues a lot of owners may be getting jittery that player costs are set to make another jump. Many would likely welcome a re-opening to stiffen luxury tax rules or try for a salary cap to keep that from happening.

Right now, with the government making political points with purging sports of performance-enhancing drugs and due to the public and media’s distaste for Bonds, I cannot really see any fallout from these sources. If anything, many from these groups might be of the opinion that collusion would be justified in this case if it meant getting the dirty drug cheats out of the sport even if it is just one guy serving as Azazel for the entire sport.

For what it’s worth—there really isn’t a lot of downside if MLB has decided to collude against Barry Bonds. Bud Selig spent over $20 million on The Mitchell Report to merely make a political statement, so it’s not a stretch to think that the impact of a collusion ruling wouldn’t faze him much were MLB caught red-handed.

Food for thought.

By the way—this is my 200th article for The Hardball Times and I would like to thank my readers for their forbearance. Here’s to 200 more and hopefully one will be a recap of either a Toronto Blue Jays or Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship!

If they meet in the Fall Classic then I will simply fake an aneurysm (although it may not be necessary to do so).

If you have a nomination for the “The Pujols Award,” let us know! who deserves to be honored this week. If you wish to have your blog credited with the submission, we’ll post the link along with your candidate. Let us know why you feel he deserves an Albert, Luis, “Manny Being Manny” or “The Samson.”

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