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Tony La Russa to the union: Leave Albert Pujols alone!

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He didn’t quite put it that way, but that was the gist.  Here’s La Russa lamenting what he believes to be the union strong-arming Albert Pujols into trying to get as much money as possible:

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association is attempting to “beat up” Albert Pujols and his agent in an attempt to get Pujols to sign a record-setting contract. And that, La Russa said emphatically, “is bull—-. That’s not the way it should be” …

… La Russa said he had no specific evidence that Pujols was being pressured by the players union. But he said his many years in the game have made that “a guaranteed assumption. It’s gone on since I started managing. And I don’t think they’d deny it.”

He goes on to say how bad it is that players look to get the highest salary they can get and how there are more important considerations than that. “I’ve had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money,” La Russa said, “and they’ve regretted it later.”

We’ve heard this stuff before, but not quite as starkly as La Russa puts it.  For what it’s worth, I think that, contrary to the way La Russa says it, the union would deny that they put pressure on Pujols. At least not any undue pressure.  They have no actual leverage over him.  What, exactly, can they do to Pujols other than to encourage him to think about the fact that his deal will, by necessity, help set the market for others?

Which, by the way, is the truth, and it’s something every union member knows when they join a union.  Indeed, once the basics of safe working conditions and workers’ dignity are squared away, the “rising tide lifts all boats” dynamic is at the very essence and purpose of organized labor.  Management hates it, of course, and of course, La Russa is management.  But if management still got what it wanted all the time the reserve clause would still be in existence and ballplayers who drive a multi-billion industry would be making six figures.

To the extent there is pressure — and I don’t doubt that Pujols feels it — it’s not coming from union lackeys filling his voice mail with threats or whatever it is La Russa  is trying to inspire in listeners’ minds (and La Russa never says anything that isn’t calculated).  It’s the passive sort of pressure that comes from the realization of one’s position.  He knows that his contract means more to other players than, say, Curtis Granderson’s does.  He knows everyone is watching.  Because it is going to necessarily be a huge and complicated deal, I’m sure there has already been some interaction with the union about it.

But would La Russa honestly have us believe that this man and his minions are putting the screws to Albert Pujols?  That poor, timid little Pujols is adrift is being “beat up” by a quirky lawyer named “Weiner”?  La Russa complicates everything, but in this case he’s turning what is a complicated situation into something that is black and white and he’s putting the black hat on the union.

It’s applesauce, I tells ya.

UPDATE:  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! just talked to union head Mike Weiner. His comment: “We have had no conversations with Albert or Dan Lozano.”

But … but … Tony La Russa has a “guaranteed assumption!”  Are you saying that La Russa is wrong?!  That can’t be!

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.