Perhaps you noticed it too. Something remarkable. Pick up the newspaper, and under “baseball notes,” the entire section is devoted to the winners and losers of salary arbitration cases. At last count it was owners 14, players 12, Wade Boggs in the on deck circle.
Funny how things change.
1886, a Midwestern sandlot . . .
“Son. I’d like you to play for our team.”
“You guys got uniforms?”
“Where do I sign?” 1926, a city playground . . .
“Hey, kid. I seen you pitch. You ain’t bad.”
“You wanna play with the Dodgers?”
“I’d have to ask my pop.”
“Ask him. We’ll pay you 400 bucks.”
“Four hundred bucks? Wow.”
“Yeah. What day you graduate high school?” 1956, a clubhouse . . .
“Johnson, you had a good season.”
“I’m gonna give you $12,000 next year.”
“Well . . . all right.”
“But I want you to stop pullin’ the ball so much. I’ll give you $100 for every base hit to right field you get next season.”
“A hundred bucks a hit? Wow.”
“And Johnson? Don’t say nuthin’ to Mulberry. He already knows how to hit to right.” 1966, GM’s office . . .
“But look, I won 16 games.”
“Yeah, but you lost 14.”
“I didn’t get no support. I need runs to win.”
“Tell you what. I’ll give you $24,000. You win 15 by All- Star break we’ll
tear this thing up.”
“Someone said you’ve been seen using a hair blower. I hope that’s just an ugly rumor.” 1976, an agent’s office. The phone rings . . .
“Lazarus? This is George Steinbrenner. You’ve heard of me of course.
“Now look. I know you represent this kid Johnson, the free agent. Listen to me good. Whatever that gray-haired playboy Turner is offering you I’m gonna double, you understand? Whadya want? Five years? Six years?
“Don’t flimflam. He’s trying to buy a team. We’re the Yankees. We have tradition. Besides, nobody watches that two- bit cable channel he owns. Name your price Lazarus.”
“Dammit man, don’t waste my time. There are other free agents I’ve got to get to. How much?”
“Uh, I’m sorry sir, this isn’t Mr. Lazarus. This is the night watchman.”
“But I’ve got a boy who plays base—“
Click. 1986, an arbitration hearing room . . . TEAM LAWYER: Mr. Arbitrator, may I direct your attention to the chart in Exhibit B? The blue line is the league average for left-handed pitchers on rainy days in Detroit. The red line is Mr. Johnson. You see the difference. This is why we feel our offer of $2 million a year plus a medium-sized shopping mall is more than fair. AGENT: Why don’t you guys put a roof up? PLAYER: Why don’t you kill yourself? ARBITRATOR: Which is the blue? AGENT: If I may, Mr. Arbitrator, please watch the screen. Here you see my client actually sliding into second base. Now, you can’t put a price on that kind of effort. But we’ll try. That’s why we’re only asking for $4 million and the state of Rhode Island. LAWYER: He was thrown out! AGENT: Hey, you want speed? It costs more. LAWYER: HE HAS A DRUG PROBLEM! AGENT: OBJECTION! ABRITRATOR: Which one is the red? PLAYER: Can I say something? EVERYONE: NO!
Well, anyhow, that’s what things have come to. Television has mucked it up. Ego has mucked it up. Money has mucked it up. But that’s not the saddest part. You know what is?
In 1955, Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers came in to negotiate his contract with then-GM Buzzie Bavasi. Bavasi was ready to give Hodges $25,000. Hodges asked for $24,000.
“Gee, Gil. That’s kinda high,” Buzzie said. “Tell you what. You’re a gambling man. Let’s put five pieces of paper in a hat — 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26. You pull one out, whatever it is I’ll pay you.”
“I don’t know,” Hodges said.
“Look, you got two chances to go higher than 24 and two chances to go lower.”
Hodges finally agreed. Bavasi drew up the slips, Hodges fished around and pulled out a 26. He was ecstatic. To his dying day, he never knew that Bavasi had written “26” on every piece of paper.
We don’t have stories like that in baseball anymore. That’s the saddest part.