Scott Boras rips Tony La Russa a new one

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Michael Weiner has already denied Tony La Russa’s claims that the MLBPA is somehow exerting pressure on Albert Pujols in the course of his negotiations with the Cardinals, and Weiner is the official voice of that.  But there probably isn’t anyone who knows more about the dynamics of high-price player negotiations than Scott Boras, and he was on SiriusXM with Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy this afternoon saying — in his own lawyerly way — that Tony La Russa is full of crap.

He started calmly, saying that it’s “factually undefined to suggest such a notion” and that La Russa’s claims that the union is pressuring Pujols is “mere supposition” and “really not well thought out.”  But after he got warmed up he said in much clearer terms that in his experience negotiating the top contracts in baseball, there have never been calls or pressure or direction of any kind from the union let alone explicit demands of what the union would like to see in a deal.

The reason for this, Boras says, is simple.  The original basis for the MLBPA’s very existence as a modern bargaining entity was to ensure that players can be represented by the agent of their choice when it came time to do a deal.  This was a direct repudiation of and remedy to the old reserve system in which the GM dictated to the player — with no representation whatsoever — that they will make $X next season.  For the union, then, to step in and interfere with the player’s right of independent representation would be anathema to its very purpose.

It’s about freedom, right, and even if the union was agitating for the highest dollar, that limits the players’ freedom.  And lest you forget: that freedom to bargain had its roots in where a player wanted to play, not how much money he was going to make, let alone that he be able to make the top dollar.  The Curt Flood case was about Flood not wanting to report to Philadelphia. Not about the Cardinals or whoever else not paying him enough.

Back to Boras, who then turned his attention to Tony La Russa specifically. When asked by Duquette and Kennedy what might be animating La Russa’s lashout at the union today, Boras said “self-interest.” He noted that La Russa is competitive and wants the best player and that, like fans and anyone else, he’s reacting to the notion that the best player might leave the Cardinals.  But he doesn’t forgive La Russa for this narrow-mindedness like he forgives the fans who just want to watch baseball. Why? Because La Russa is a hypocrite.

“There is a market for managers,” Boras noted. And in that market the managers have every right to take below market deals if they want to.  “The last I remember,” Boras said, “Tony sits at the top of that managerial chain.”  Which is true. And I’m guessing La Russa doesn’t think that he was unduly pressured to take that high dollar deal. He wanted it because he thought he deserved it. And I gotta tell ya: While I respect La Russa’s accomplishments as a manager, Albert Pujols has more of a right to ask for the top dollar in his job than La Russa does in his.

Boras went on to note that, while there is no pressure coming from the union to the players, there is certainly pressure coming from management. He didn’t say La Russa did it, but he said its common for managers and coaches to approach players on the field before games and say stuff like “hey, why don’t you wanna play for us anymore” or words to that effect when contract negotiations are going on.

So, boom, Tony La Russa just got roasted by Boras.  And though I’m not a fan of either one of those guys, I enjoyed the daylights out of it.

Lou Whitaker snubbed from the Hall of Fame again

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Long time Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker has long been one of baseball history’s most underrated players. He and Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell formed one of the best up-the-middle combos ever, teammates since Whitaker’s debut in 1977 to his final year in 1995.

Trammell is actually a great jumping-off point to support Whitaker’s candidacy. Here are their career counting stats:

  • Whitaker: .276/.363/.426, 420 doubles, 65 triples, 244 homers, 1084 RBI, 1386 runs, 143 stolen bases, 1197 walks (9967 plate appearances)
  • Trammell: .285/.352/.415, 415 doubles, 55 triples, 185 homers, 1003 RBI, 1231 runs, 236 stolen bases, 850 walks (9376 plate appearances)

Whitaker also had slightly more Wins Above Replacement over his career according to Baseball Reference, besting Trammell 75.1 to 70.7. FanGraphs’ version of WAR puts both players slightly lower but with Whitaker still in the lead, 68.1 to 63.7.

Trammell, like Whitaker, did not make the Hall of Fame through initial eligibility on the ballot voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, beginning five years after their retirement. Trammell was elected two years ago on the Modern Era ballot. Whitaker fell off the ballot in his only year of eligibility, earning just 2.9 percent of the vote in 2001. Whitaker was again snubbed on Sunday night, receiving just six of the 12 votes necessary for induction. Trammell became eligible on the BBWAA ballot in 2002 and had a 15-year run, with his support running as far down as 13.4 percent in 2007 and peaking at 40.9 percent in his final year in 2016.

Trammell and Whitaker critics cited things like never leading the league in any important categories and never winning an MVP Award as reasons why they shouldn’t be enshrined. That last reason, of course, ignores that both contributed to the Tigers winning the World Series in 1984, but I digress.

Trammell should have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the BBWAA ballot. And, since the distinction matters to so many people, he should have been inducted on the first ballot. Among Hall of Fame shortstops (at least 50 percent of their games at the position), Trammell has the eighth-highest WAR among 21 eligible players. He has ever so slightly more WAR than Barry Larkin (70.4), who made it into the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility with 86.4 percent of the vote.

Now, what about Whitaker? Among Hall of Fame second basemen (at least 50 percent of games at the position), Whitaker’s 75.1 WAR would rank sixth among 20 eligible second basemen. The only second basemen ahead of him are Rogers Hornsby (127.0), Eddie Collins (124.0), Nap Lajoie (107.4), Joe Morgan (100.6), and Charlie Gehringer (80.7). Whitaker outpaces such legendaries as Ryne Sandberg (68.0), Roberto Alomar (67.1), and Craig Biggio (65.5). Sandberg made it into the Hall in his third year on the ballot; Alomar his second; Biggio his third.

Among the players on the 2001 BBWAA ballot, the only player with more career WAR than Whitaker was Bert Blyleven (94.4), who eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. Dave Winfield (64.2) and Kirby Puckett (51.1) were elected that year. Also receiving hefty support that year were Gary Carter (70.1 WAR), Jim Rice (47.7), Bruce Sutter (24.1), and Goose Gossage (41.2) and each would eventually make the Hall of Fame.

WAR is not, by any means, a perfect stat, so the WAR argument may not resonate with everyone. Dating back to 1871, there have been only 66 players who hit at least 400 doubles and 200 home runs while stealing 100 bases. The only second basemen (same 50 percent stipulation) to do that are Whitaker, Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg, Alomar, Biggio, Chase Utley, and Ian Kinsler. Additionally, Whitaker drew more walks than strikeouts over his career, 1197 to 1099. The only second basemen to do that while hitting at least 200 career homers are Whitaker, Morgan, Hornsby, Bobby Doerr, and Joe Gordon.

Whitaker was not without accolades: he won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was a five-time All-Star and took home four Silver Sluggers along with three Gold Gloves to boot. Trammell took home a similar amount of hardware: though he never won a Rookie of the Year Award, he did make the All-Star team six times. He went on to win four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.

In a just world, Whitaker would have been on the ballot for the then-maximum 15 years. In a sentimentally just world, he would have gone in side-by-side with Trammell in 2002. Whitaker’s candidacy certainly shouldn’t have fallen to the Modern Era ballot, and it shouldn’t have been further fumbled by a committee that gave him as many votes as Steve Garvey.