A;'s Plight, DeSean Jackson, Bonds Hypocrisy
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 16, 2008

MANY A’S FANS have been irate at the moves made by Billy Beane, but their ire is misdirected. Blame the baseball system, which relegates teams like the A’s and Minnesota Twins to being farm clubs for the big spenders.

The salary cap has been the salvation for both the NFL and the NBA, evening the competition enough that success is dependent on making the right decisions. Teams like the Warriors in the 10 years before their renaissance last year and the current Raiders and 49ers are where they are because of terrible decisions at the top, not because of the system.

That’s not true in baseball, which lost its chance for an equal system in the mid-‘70s.

Until that time, the reserve clause in player contracts had been interpreted to bind a player to a club as long as a club wanted him. It should have been obvious to Bowie Kuhn, a practicing attorney before he became baseball commissioner, that this was legally untenable, but Kuhn was notably obtuse on major decisions. This is the man, after all, who decided to attend a Cleveland Indians fan club meeting rather than be in Atlanta when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run mark.

When pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally challenged the reserve clause, it went to a three-man arbitration panel. Since two of the votes were predictable – one from the owners representative upholding the reserve clause and one from the players’ representative rejecting it – the issue was decided by an impartial arbitrator, Peter Seitz, who ruled that the clause only bound a player to a team for one year after the contract had expired. After that, a player could be a free agent.

Kuhn had no Plan B, so the owners were scrambling to come up with something. A’s owner Charlie Finley proposed that all players be made free agents after each season. Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, feared a less draconian solution, making players free agents after their contracts had expired. Since players at that time were usually signing contracts for only one year (with the reserve clause essentially providing a team option for a second), that would have meant a flood of players on the free agent market.

Miller understood the reality of that situation. With so many players available, the marketplace would determine value. The very best players would get great contracts but the overwhelming number of players would get much lower ones.

Instead, with Kuhn’s blessing, the owners agreed on a much more limited system, with players becoming free agents after six years. That guaranteed that there would be only a relatively few players on the free agent market each year, and those players would get much more than they were worth. Then, players could use those numbers in arbitration hearings (after three years) and get much more than they would have otherwise.

Miller understood all that. Kuhn did not. Yet, the Veterans Committee last year voted Kuhn into the Baseball Hall of Fame and ignored Miller. Incredible.

Since then, another element has come into play: Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mariners have their own cable-TV networks, which bring in enormous revenue. By contrast, in the Bay Area, the Giants and A’s are both on Fox Spots Bay Area, along with other area teams, and their payoff is much lower.

And so, the revenue gap continues to grow, and there’s no hope of a salary cap in baseball. NFL owners got one in exchange for free agency, a deal Kuhn could have brokered in the early ‘70s if he’d been aware of what was going on. In the NBA, Larry Fleischer, then director of the Players Association, agreed to a salary cap because that seemed to be the only salvation for the league. But Donald Fehr, executive director for the baseball Players Association, will never agree to a cap. Why should he, when player salaries keep going up and up, and commissioner Bud Selig talks of “parity” in baseball?

Those A’s fans who are blind to the reality of baseball economics accuse Beane and A’s owner Lew Woolf of a “fire sale” of players. One e-mail which was forwarded to me even compared the situation to 1979, when Finley sold off players because he couldn’t afford their salaries in the free agency era.

Beane is not doing that. As he explained in an interview which ran on this site last week, he’s trying to build a team which can have the same kind of run the A’s had in 2000-2006. I’m confident he’s doing exactly that.

It’s a tough reality for A’s fans, but they should be happy that somebody as competent as Beane is in charge. I think the results are going to show as early as midseason this year, when some of the players Beane has acquired start to show up on the major league roster. But A’s fans have to realize that baseball economics guarantee that a team like the A’s has only a limited window of opportunity against the rich monsters like the Yankees and Red Sox.

THOUGH I would have loved to seen DeSean Jackson come back for his senior season at Cal, it was a no-brainer when Jackson announced that he was turning pro. Only his flair for the dramatic delayed his decision until the very last day.

Jackson had little to gain by staying another year and much to lose, if he suffered an injury which reduced his value. As one example of what can happen, Louisville running back Michael Bush was projected as a possible Heisman Trophy winner before the 2006 season but then suffered a broken leg. The Raiders picked him up on the fourth round last April, and he still hasn’t played a down.

Jackson is already predicted to go as high as the 11th spot on the first round, which will get him a very nice contract. He may even go higher; as I remarked in an earlier column, he’ll wow them at the NFL combine with his athletic skills. It wouldn’t be the first time a prospect has improved his draft position without even playing a down of football.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford gave him his blessing because he knew it made sense for Jackson to leave. Tedford no doubt realized when he first signed Jackson to a letter of intent that he’d only have him for three years. That’s why it was important to get him on the field as a freshman, which is what Tedford has usually done with his most skilled players.

ROAD TO SUCCESS: In the NFL playoffs last weekend, former Raiders coach Norv Turner was notching his second straight postseason win, ex-Raider Randy Moss was continuing his great season which included an NFL season record 23 touchdown passes and ex-Raider Charles Woodson was playing excellent defense as the Green Bay Packers advanced.

Apparently, the road to success leads out of Oakland.

AMUSING COMMERCIAL: Last weekend, I saw a commercial which had two bar patrons arguing about the relative merits of quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The bartender had his back turned, as one patron argued that Brady gets his vote because a quarterback’s play in the postseason was the most important factor.

The bartender said, “Works for me,” as he turned around.

It was Joe Montana.

HYPOCRISY REIGNS:

If there’s one word that best describes the steroids hysteria it’s hypocrisy.

That best describes the idea that a Congressional committee would investigate steroids use, or the fact that Miguel Tejada might not have answered truthfully in a previous hearing. Is our country in such good shape that important time can be spent on this issue? The question answers itself.

Hypocrisy best describes Sen. George Mitchell, who took time out from representing Big Tobacco interests, to do the wordy but mostly inconclusive report on steroids at the request of commissioner Bud Selig. Tobacco is a known killer. Steroids is not.

Hypocrisy best describes Selig’s attitude. After ignoring the situation for years, he’s become like a Born Again Christian, eager to show that he’s a true believer. I’d have more respect for him if he’d stayed in his former position because he was reflecting the owners’ position that money, not steroids, was the most important issue.

Most of all, it describes those in the sports media who have pushed and pushed on this issue, mainly because they saw it as a way to punish their primary villain, Barry Bonds.

You don’t see any of this surrounding the NFL, though steroids are probably at least as prevalent in that sport as in baseball. Football writers understand that it is the game which is important to fans, not what the players might be taking.

But in baseball, certain elements of the media have ridden this story to death. How many times did you hear that Bonds’ drive for the career home run record was a “joyless ride”? For whom? Not for the fans who cheered him in Chicago and San Diego that final week. Even the Dodger fans, who always boo the best Giants players, booed their own pitchers and manager when Bonds was intentionally walked. They wanted to see him have a chance to hit a historic home run.

Now the Mitchell report, though it’s only the tip of the iceberg, has shown what everybody in the sports media already knew: that there are many players, not just Bonds, who are getting help from their chemist. You’ll wait in vain, though, for apologies from any of those who have been pounding Bonds as if he were the only user.



NFL CHAMPIONSHIP games tickets and Super Bowl tickets are available at no risk through the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. If your team doesn’t advance, you can return the tickets. There are several big college basketball matchups available, including UCLA-USC, Jan. 19 and Feb. 17, Duke-North Carolina, Feb. 6 and March 8, Michigan State at Indiana, Feb. 16. In the NBA, the Boston Celtics have big matchups with the Dallas Mavericks, Jan. 31, and the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Feb. 10. In the entertainment field, Hannah Montana is still the hottest attraction, and shows with Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovie and Eric Clapton are also big. Just click on either the Bay Area or national link for these and other shows or sports events in which you’re interested.

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