Friday, February 11, 2005

Power Corrupts

The Yankees knew. (if you need to enter passwords, enter sportsprof for both the user name and the password).

That had to be it, hadn't it?

After all, didn't you wonder why the Yankees didn't come out and terminate Jason Giambi's megabucks contract after his testimony in the BALCO case leaked? Most of the pundits thought that's exactly what King George would do, given that Giambi's performance, when coupled with his contract, presents an albatross that any team would jettison in a heartbeat if it could. The reason, or so everyone thought, was steroid usage. It hadn't to be banned from his contract, wasn't it?

It wasn't.

The Yankees could have had the right to terminate Giambi's contract if they had insisted upon, as an exception to the guaranteed money language, the right to terminate if the player embarked upon certain conduct. For example, many contracts ban players from engaging in certain off-season pursuits that might injure them and render them unable to play. Many, I imagine, ban usage of illicit substances.

Remember Aaron Boone? The hero of the ALCS in 2003? Aaron Bleeping Boone to most of New England (except for the transplanted Yankees who work at Harvard). The hero of NYC in 2003. Well, Boone blew out his knee after the 2003 season, rendering him unable to play, and the Yankees invoked the clause in his contract that enabled them to void paying him about $6 million for 2004 because Boone hurt himself playing pick-up basketball, something which his contract prohibited him from doing (or, at least, gave the Yankees the right to terminate his deal if he hurt himself in that pursuit).

So Boone gets booted for getting hurt playing basketball, and Giambi gets a pass for injecting steroids. Helluva world, Major League Baseball, isn't it? Read Murray Chass's article and see what I'm talking about. According to Chass, the Yankees and Giambi (and his agent) eliminated steroid usage as a reason to terminate the contract.

Eliminated it, as in took out the language. What do you think that meant? Do you need a law degree to read the vast gaps in between the lines?

Of course not. The Yankees knew.

And what's worse is the way they're acting about it now.

So what are the messages that we get from all of this:

1. If I am a Major League Baseball player, I'd hire Arn Tellem as my agent in a heartbeat. How he was able to eliminate steroids as a reason to void the guarantee is one for the ages, especially for a baseball player who looks more like a pro wrestler than a first baseman. I mean, Frank Howard, the legendary first baseman (for his size, anyway) for the Washington Senators and others was one of the biggest players in his day, and he didn't look like Giambi. Not even close.

2. The Yankees were desperate to continue their dynasty, and they wanted Giambi's homers and RBIs in their stable and not in Boston's or any other rivals. They were looking for a swing of about 90 HRs and 260 RBIs -- 45 HRs and 130 RBIs they hoped they were getting, and 45 HRs and 130 RBIs that they knew somebody like Boston wouldn't be adding precisely because it was they who were inking Giambi. Of course, this says a lot about the Yankees. First, they do take big risks. Second, they are far from saints and could care less about setting examples for young people. Third, they are stuck, stuck, stuck, with Giambi's contract and Giambi, and, quite frankly, the two deserve one another. You can be sure that while George Steinbrenner put a good public face on yesterday, he had to have ranted and raved like hell to try to get out of this contract when the news broke. Or so it would seem. The Yankees made a big bet and they lost big-time.

3. Hypocrisy in baseball continues. You may recall from reading the accounts of the 1919 Black Sox that White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey wanted the whole scandal over and done with so he could get his players back. Sure, gambling was awful, the implicated players did terrible things, but he had a team to run, and his players were what made his franchise so valuable. He wasn't going to do anything to boot his players from baseball -- the newly hired strong-arming Commissioner did. The strong guess here is that the owners overlooked the steroids issue because it paid them to. After all, baseball was reeling after the 1994 strike, and it took the Lords about 10 years to get the game back to the health it had enjoyed before. Part of the remedy were smaller parks and more home runs. . . and perhaps controlled substances. The home runs certainly brought the fans back. Who cared whether possessing them and using them in an unprescribed fashion is a crime -- it wasn't banned as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the players' union?

4. Fred McGriff. Why do I mention him? Because there probably hasn't been a more dissed player over the past several seasons than the Crime Dog, whom I'll alway remember as one of the best first basemen of his era (thanks to ESPN Radio for pointing this out). I recall McGriff's hitting a home run in the 1993 Series against the Phillies, a blast to the upper deck in Vet Stadium that John Kruk said "took out a family of four." McGriff was a great player, and he clearly wasn't on the juice. All of these scandals help enrich his legend, and, to me, make him a lock for the Hall of Fame. Why? He had hung around trying to reach 500 dingers, because he thought he needed them for admission to the Hall. Now that the truth is surfacing, we should thank Fred McGriff for his integrity. His home runs were real.

5. What will the ban on steroids do? Check out the Sports Economist for his thoughts on the subject. Home runs are down, even though ballparks are smaller than they were, say, 30 years ago. How much the numbers will stay down remains to be seen.

This whole saga stinks to high heaven, and the Yankees didn't do anything to make it better yesterday.

There's a saying in political circles that "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

It might as well have been said about Major League Baseball too.



chris said...

Good stuff!

Don't forget Jim Rice. He wasn't a steroids guy either and now he has to watch Sheffield et al pass him on the all-time HR list?

That has probably kept him out of the HOF and its not fair.

SportsProf said...

Great point, Chris. I agree wholeheartedly. Rice was one of the most feared hitters of his day, but the baseball writers seems to have forgotten that, perhaps because he was surly with them. The baseball writers are a huge problem here; they took a powder on a huge issue, and now they're trying to say they did nothing wrong. They're part of the problem.

The Duke said...

Good thinking, especially about McGriff. I've been reading and listening to the sports press and they seem cold to the implications for athletes who weren't juiced. I think of the American swimmers who were trounced by the juiced East German women and were ignored when they returned home because they only won silver.Why is FloJo still talked about as if she is a goddess,not someone who's brief excellence is very much under a cloud.

Also,When all the homeruns starting being hit, everyone talked about the ball, the pitching, expansion. I don't remember one article implying or even exploring juicing.These guys aren't reporters; they are shills.

Re: Gary Sheffield. He actually said a very interesting thing about steroids, I think in SI, last summer before this whole thing broke open but after he testified to the grand jury about his own alledgedly brief use of a steroid cream. How could a guy comparable to him and older than him (Bonds), outhomer him by 80 homers over such a short span of 5 years. Sheffield said he could understand being out homered by a few homers, but that many?

McGuire shouldn't be immune from suspicion or investigation.A lot of "good guys" cut corners.

Anonymous said...

Not only is Mcgriff a classy man, who didn't use steroids, but he reportedly never even lifted weights! All-natural strength.

SportsProf said...

I hope that the stats guys out there will go through an exercise where they can compare the guys whose numbers stayed relatively constant versus those who went up dramatically (especially among established players, as some on their way up posted better numbers simply because they were improving as players). There are hard lines to draw, but the numbers guys should shed some interesting light on the situation.