CD's Connect the Dots...Rank Brings Responsibility

The buck not only stops here… but now if enough bucks are involved, it may also stop at the waiver wire. As in irrevocable waivers. Amid irreconcilable differences. After years of allowing players and agents to dictate terms, amid amounts of money that sounded more like a Monopoly game than real life business, the owners may be waking up to the fact that money can not buy happiness… much less pennants.

The ink wasn't yet dry on the free agency list when the baseball world awoke to a bombshell… the likes of which we never thought we would see. The Boston Red Sox, they of Bill James and Theo Epstein offensive numbers fame, placed Mr. Offensive Numbers himself, slugger Manny Ramirez, on irrevocable waivers and dared anyone to take him off their hands.

The move was as much theater as anything; no one really thought that Ramirez and his 105 million dollar contract would actually be claimed. Oh, King George, amid another Yankee meltdown in post-season play, must have gulped once or twice but when the deadline passed, Ramirez and his monstrous contract were still the property of the Red Sox.

Nevertheless, the message was loud and clear for all high-salaried players to hear… responsibility will now dictate rank… and rank will now dictate salary. The writer believes this is one decision that is well past due. If any clear message was sent by the past two years, after watching the Anaheim Angels and Florida Marlins waltz off with World Series rings, it was this one.

Sport has always been about accepting responsibility but somewhere along the line the message got diluted. Players became the masters of their own fate, and if they chose to dance to the beat of a different drum, well that was just too bad. The exploits of Ramirez, as his teammates were attempting to make a playoff run in early September, were unbecoming of a utility infielder, much less a man making a cool 20 million a year.

When Ramirez should have been leading the Red Sox cavalry into battle, he was feigning injury, though he was later spotted with another player at a late night get together. He then missed a doctor's appointment, and against the Phillies, was asked to pinch hit and refused. It seems he was too injured to play.

This is certainly not meant as a blanket indictment of Ramirez, though the Red Sox could not have painted a clearer picture had they rented an airplane and wrote the words across a blue sky. It still says here that Ramirez will be traded before Opening Day 2004, as both the Red Sox and Ramirez will practice some spin control before announcing a trade.

Other high priced talent on the trading block, if not the waiver wire, includes shortstop Alex Rodriguez, he of the 252 million dollar contract, Jeff Bagwell, and reliever Billy Wagner to name just a few.

Though Rodriguez, Bagwell and Wagner have certainly represented themselves in an honorable fashion, they have a combined total of zero World Series appearances, and none on the horizon. In fact, A-Rod is unhappy because his Texas Rangers, in a cost cutting mood, have announced that they may unload some of their players. A-Rod, through his agent Scott Boras, claims this is unfair and that "he was promised to be surrounded by high-priced talent," if he signed his megabucks contract.

Suffice it to say, it boggles the mind as to how in this day of diminishing resources a team saddled with a 25 million dollar shortstop could surround him with much of anything. If any evidence is needed, just keep in mind that A-Rod alone was paid half of the entire Florida Marlins salary. The Marlins' entire roster was paid a bit over 50 million dollars, while A-Rod, as gifted as any player in baseball, was receiving nearly half that on his own.

This is known in economic terms as financial suicide, and while no one is feeling sorry for the Rangers over their shortsighted decision to pay A-Rod such a contract, they can be applauded for realizing the mistakes of their ways. The next move is up to Rodriguez, and it appears that if he is prepared to accept a change in his financial terms, he could be traded soon.

Make no mistake; there is a coming storm on the horizon. Agents, and the baseball players union, will not easily give up the gravy train that they have been accumulating since the dawn of free agency in 1976. By the same token, the owners may finally realize the folly of their ways and are preparing for this battle.

The immediate repercussions may well be seen in this winter's free agent contracts. In fact, future baseball pundits may well see Jim Thome and the Phils as having negotiated the last mega-bucks deal in the industries history. It should be duly noted that Thome was the classic example of a player understanding that with rank comes responsibility.

A case could well be made that had more players embraced the idea of increased rank equals increased responsibility, this coming crisis could have been avoided. The Ramirez announcement was but the first of what promises to be lengthening battle lines about to be drawn.

For the baseball fan, it should be entertaining at the very least and financially beneficial down the road. As player contracts come down, so will overhead costs. It is expected that the immediate result of this will be a more fan friendly atmosphere, resulting in less costly tickets and greater accountability to the people most responsible for the success of the industry, John Q. Fan.

In the end, John Q. Fan never demanded anything except an honest day's labor for an honest day's pay. That the events about to transpire may pave the way for this can only be a welcome sight for the growing ranks asking for little more than a growing sense of increased responsibility.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast


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