We saw many MLB players react negatively when the Astros cheating scandal became public. But that’s nothing compared to how the players react when the owners collude to keep down salaries. It brings to mind Billy Martin’s great quote about Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, where he said, “One’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.” The players would consider the owners to be born liars about colluding in the recent free agent classes, starting with the one following the 2017 season. And they were convicted for their collusive behavior in free agency following the 1985-87 seasons.
MLBPA ended up filing three grievances over the owners’ collusive behavior in the 1980s. Arbitrator Thomas Roberts heard the first case and ruled for the players. George Nicolau, Roberts’ successor, heard the next two cases and he, too, sided with the players. Afterwards, MLB and MLBPA negotiated a settlement of all three cases for a total of $280 million. Having to pay that money to the players was one factor in the ultimate expansion of the league in the 1990s, as a way to recoup some of the lost revenue.
Anyway, the reason that’s relative today is that the hawks among ownership leading the crusade to collude to keep down salaries were Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf. And of course, we recognize that Reinsdorf was the leading voice against the confirmation of Steve Cohen as the new Mets owner. Sure, some point to his personal relationship with Alex Rodriguez for Reinsdorf’s position. But it’s hard to believe that the real reason wasn’t Reinsdorf’s belief that Cohen would be an active bidder for free agents, driving up costs for the rest of the league.
Of course, we should keep in mind that Cohen also has the insider trading scandal from his previous business attached to his resume. But it’s hard for me to believe that was a major sticking point for any of the other 29 teams. The parable about glass houses comes immediately to mind.
Perhaps as a preemptive strike against Reinsdorf, Cohen announced that he would hire Sandy Alderson as team president. If it was indeed a move to counter charges that he would spend other owners into the ground, one would have to call it a successful one. Needing 22 of the other 29 teams to agree to the sale, Cohen received approval from 25 clubs.
Yesterday, Andy Martino listed publicly who the other clubs besides Reinsdorf and the White Sox to vote against Cohen’s bid. They were: Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels, Bob Castellini of the Cincinnati Reds, and Ken Kendrick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. My initial reaction to that list was … really?
Moreno was signing the checks when the Angels handed out long-term deals to Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton, among others. The Diamondbacks gave out big deals to Randy Johnson, Russ Ortiz and Eric Byrnes. Maybe Kendrick got religion, especially after having to release Ortiz while on the hook for a then-record $22 million, but it sure looks like the pot and the kettle here.
Only Castellini on the surface would seem to make sense as an ownership hawk when it comes to salaries. Still, the Reds have gone from a 40-man payroll of just over $101 million in 2016 to one that exceeded $166 million last year thanks to free agent contracts handed out to Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas prior to the 2020 season, along with an extension to Sonny Gray prior to acquiring him via trade.
So, it’s okay for the Reds to up their payroll $65 million but heaven forbid the Mets want to do something remotely similar.
Perhaps my favorite non-Mets baseball story comes from the 2002 All-Star game when Curt Schilling – another high-dollar acquisition by the Diamondbacks – walked off the mound before facing Rodriguez and told him that fastballs were coming. Schilling struck him out on three pitches. Years later, Schilling told ESPN radio the story:
“The day before the game I went to ARod during batting practice and I said, ‘If you come up with nobody on tomorrow and there are two outs, I’m going to throw you nothing but fastballs,’ ” Schilling said. “He kind of looked at me, and I said, ‘I just want to see if I can get the best hitter playing out with my fastball and he knows it’s coming.’ He said, ‘All right.’ ”
It was the ultimate “my best versus your best” and let’s see who’s better. It’s what sports is supposed to be all about. It’s disgusting to think there are owners who don’t want to be the best or compete against the best. Here’s hoping the Mets sweep the Reds and Diamondbacks this year and do the same whenever they next face the White Sox and Angels.
It’s what they deserve.