The quarterly owners meetings are going down this week and Jon Heyman tweeted a few minutes ago that “a lesson on the evils of opt-outs” is on the agenda. Heyman correctly notes that it’s too late for that, of course. All the big contracts have opt-outs now.
I’m less interested in the timing of this “lesson” than I am in the idea that someone, apparently, thinks it’s a good idea teach such a lesson at all. Baseball, you see, has a pretty bad history with a bunch of owners getting together at offseason meetings and talking about the evils of certain kinds of contracts for free agents. I mean, it’s pretty on the dang nose:
Shortly after being elected commissioner in 1984, Peter Ueberroth addressed the owners at a meeting in St. Louis. Ueberroth called the owners “damned dumb” for being willing to lose millions of dollars in order to win a World Series. Later, at a separate meeting with the general managers in Tarpon Springs, Florida, Ueberroth said that it was “not smart” to sign long-term contracts. The message was obvious—hold down salaries by any means necessary. It later emerged that the owners agreed to keep contracts down to three years for position players and two for pitchers.
That was the beginning of baseball’s infamous collusion cases, which resulted in three arbitration rulings against the owners which cost them over a quarter of a billion dollars in damages and, many have argued, contributed directly to the environment which made the 1994-95 strike possible, if not inevitable. You’ll note that collusion did not begin with a detailed memo ordering people to do this or not do that. It began with owners getting together and talking about what kinds of contracts were “damned dumb” or “not smart.”
So yes, a conversation about “the evils of opt-outs” at an owner’s meeting is probably worth bookmarking for future reference. Such as when, say next winter or the winter after that, free agents are suddenly unable to get those opt-outs that are being so freely handed out now.