CHASS: COLLUSION REDUX
Murray Chass continued to cover the possibilites of owner collusion yesterday in his Sunday column. Who should he bring up, but Jack Morris, whose unsuccessful attempt to become a Yankee in the winter of 1986-87, was a sure sign that all was not Kosher in Denmark:
Morris had won 21 games for the Detroit Tigers the previous season, making him a 20-game winner for the second time in four seasons. (He missed a third by one victory.) The Mets had won the World Series less than two months earlier.
The Yankees had finished in second place behind Boston, but Dennis Rasmussen, with 18 victories, was their only pitcher with double-digit victories. Morris, a 31-year-old free agent, was exactly what the baseball doctor ordered. This is what free agency was all about.
…Yet Morris walked out of Room 600 of the Bay Harbor Inn without a Yankee deal. He was a victim of the second year of the owners’ conspiracy against free agents. Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, was not a victim, but he surely was an unwilling participant, given his penchant for lavishing free agents with money.
The owners’ collusive activity of the 80’s serves as a backdrop for current events in baseball because the clubs have once again raised suspicion with some of their activities involving free agents…
Mike Lupica detailed the Jack Morris story in his book, “Wait Til Next Year:”
Boss Steinbrenner kept making headlines, but more and more they were mean-spirited. Colorful as a winner, as a loser, he was a whiner. And the Yankees were losers in Steinbrenner’s mind, much as he defended his record. He still tried to done out on the return to glory his ownership had brought to Yankee Stadium, and a lot of the fans still gave him that. But they were begining to look at Steinbrenner as a big-time phony.
…If Steinbrenner could go through life thinking second place was garbage, so could they.
Only now that was going to change. George Steinbrenner was going to sign Jack Morris, the most succesful baseball pitcher of the 1980s, the same 1980s during which Steinbrenner’s Yankees hadn’te been able to win the World Series.
…Jack Morris wanted a new team. Steinbrenner needed pitching. A meeting was set up for Decenmber 19, at the Bay Harbor Inn in Tampa, Florida, which Steinbrenner owns. Stienbrenner, fittingly enough, would represent Steinbrenner’s Yankees. The other two men would be [Jack] Morris and his agent, Richard Moss.
There was obvious collusion going on between the owners othe major league baseball teams in the the winter of 1986. They were ignoring free agents such as Morris, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Lance Parrish, and RIch Gedman, trying to force them back to their original team, drive down players’ salaries (an arbitrator, Thomas Roberts, would rule during 1987 that the owners had already been guilty of collusion the year before, during the winter of 1985-86).
But those were the other owners. This was Boss Steinbrenner. The Mets had stolen New York from him in 1986, drawn nearly three million fans, won the World Series, become the sexy team in town. Stienbrenner couls still make news by talking. The Mets made news by wining…Now, Steinbrenner couldn’t ignore the Mets anymore. The thing he feared most–other than being ignored in the newspapers–had happened: The monster, freaking Mets were champions of the freaking world.
Stienbrenner had to sign Jack Morris.
This is what Richard Moss told Steinbrenner:
“George, we also have a proposal that we didn’t make in Minnesota,” he said. “It’s a one-year deal, and it’s really predicated on a simple fact: We think that if Jack Morris is added to the Yankees, the Yankees can win this season. Then if you don’t want to pay Jack after that, no hard feelings, we’ll go someplace else. I honestly believe this is an offer you can’t turn down.”
The deal was simple. Morris would become a Yankee, and the two sides would let an arbitrator decide Morris’s value. Steinbrenner would come in with one sum, Moss/Morris another, the arbitrator would decide. Morris would pitch for the Yankees for one seasonl, then be eleigble to become a free agent again at the end of 1987.
…It was the first-ever Jack Morris Sale.
…Steinbrenner: “This is very unusual. Interesting. I’m definitely going to have to think about this one.” Then he reminded Moss that two of the Yankees’ longtime stars, Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph, were also eligible for free agency, and Steinbrenner was presently negotiating with both of them, and Steinbrenner said he just didn’t know for sure if he could afford Guidry and Randolph and Morris.
Moss thought that was funny, collusively speaking. If Jack Morris couldn’t find a new team, how could Guidry and Randolph?
And: When had there been a time, at least befoe collusion, when George Steinbrenner couldn’t afford somebody he really wanted?
Moss smiled, repeated the offer one last time: “One year, George. Arbitration.”
George thanked Moss and Morris and told them that he’d sleep on it.
The next day he turned them down.
“It wouldn’t be fair to Guidry and Randolph,” Steinbrenner said to Moss.
“George,” Moss said, “this doesn’t have anything to do with Guidry and Randolph, and you know it.”
Steinbrenner stuck to his cover, that he had to settle with Guidry and Randolph before he could even think about signing any free agents.
The Yankees resigned Willie and Louisiana Lighting while Morris resigned with the Tigers, took them to arbitration, and walked away with a one-year deal worth $1.85 million.
NOT SO FAST
While George played ball with his fellow owners in the mid-80’s, nothing has stopped him from spending freely this winter. The Daily News reports today that the Yankees once again have the largest payroll in the major leagues, at $164 million. Along with the Mets (who are second at $119 million), the Yanks are the only team that is due to pay a luxury tax.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, any team with a 2003 payroll number exceeding $117 million (this year’s “threshold”) would pay 17.5% on the excess. A team’s luxury tax is based on the average annual value of all the players’ contracts, not on its payroll. As of now, the Mets would have to pay about $350,000. For the Bombers, the penalty would be $8 million to $9 million.
“What we see with the Yankees is that there has been no change in priorities,” a baseball official said. “Certainly they talked about cutting payroll and … there’s no disputing they made an effort to. It was probably always their plan.
“But they still believe the best way to make money is to put fans in the seats with a winner on the field. There are things in place that would deter most teams from spending, but these guys won’t let it compromise their first priority.”
STICK THAT STIRS THE DRINK
Bill Madden wrote a fitting tribute to Gene “Stick” Michael in his column yesterday.
Gene Michael, the Yankees’ VP of major league scouting, and their acknowledged principal talent evaluator, will be honored tonight when the New York baseball writers hold their 80th annual dinner.
“The Stick” is being given the William J. Slocum Award for long and meritorious service to baseball. In many ways, it’s the baseball writers’ most prestigious award, as evidenced by some of its previous winners – Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Judge Landis, John McGraw, Casey Stengel, Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck. And while Michael can be expected to say that all of the Yankees’ recent successes were a team effort, make no mistake about this: Other than George Steinbrenner, no one has had more to do with this latest string of Yankee championships and division titles than Michael.
It’s nice to see Michael honored after all his years of service to the Yankee organization. He was one of George’s most famous whipping boys during the Bronx Zoo years, but he survived the abuse, and ironically helped resurrect the Boss’ career.
As a side note, the William J Slocum award is named after my friend Paul’s great grandfather. Paul also had an uncle who worked in baseball, Frank Slocum, whose named I recently stumbled upon in an old coffe-table book. I wrote to Paul, who I played baseball with in high school (he was a starting pitcher and played short; I played second), and asked him about his baseball bloodlines.
So you found a baseball book with an article written by my Uncle Frank? They’re not easy to find as many of those books went out of print long ago.
My Uncle’s involvement in Major League Baseball (MLB) was largely due to my Great Granfather – Bill Slocum – who was a well known sportswriter in NYC circa 1920. Among other things he was Babe Ruth’s ghost writer. In fact Ruth once quipped that, “Bill Slocum writes more like me than anyone else I know.” To this date, that remains the biggest insult ever levied against the Slocum family name.
My Uncle’s first job in MLB was as an assistant to Ford Frick in the Commissioner’s Office. I believe his primary responsibility was overseeing the men in blue (settling player/ump disputes, that kind of thing). Later, he worked in the front office for the Brooklyn Dodgers – during the time that Jackie Robinson broke the color-line. After that, the bulk of his involvement with baseball was miscellaneous writing assignments – Game of the Week, Baseball World of Joe Garigiola and dozens of speeches – most
famously Yogi Berra’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
During my lifetime, I think my Uncle Frank (who is my Great Uncle) had pretty much segued his way out of baseball and made his living writing television shows for NBC. Towards the end of his life, Fay Vincent sought out my Uncle as kind of a general advisor for his new job. I think my Uncle said to Vincent, “Congratulations, you just got a job saying no to millionaires.” Later, Vincent named my Uncle as the Executive Director of the Baseball Assistance Team (BATS). This program, initiated by Vincent, was set-up as a releif fund for ex-ballplayers who had fallen on hard times. Most of the ex-players drawing off this fund had some kind of dependence induced malady – drugs, booze, debt. Some of these men spoke at my Uncle’s funeral.
Actually, I was watching Jim Abbott’s no-no on ESPN Classic a few months ago. Tony Kubek was calling the game and he gave my Uncle a nice tribute during the game. About 90 seconds of air-time. So if you ever see a re-run of that game, prick-up your ears around the 6th inning – with Manny Ramirez at the plate. It tells you all you need to know.
Incidentally, it was none other than Sandy Koufax who made headlines at the award dinner. Koufax, who presented Randy Johnson with his 5th Cy Young, recieved a long standing-ovation. What did Koufax say? As usual, he was wry and succint:
“Two things absolutely jump off the page,” Koufax said about Johnson. “One, he’s very tall. Two, he’s very good.”