by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So, in other words, he could still be a Detroit Tiger. That’s what we get from Jack Morris’ one-week tour of America.

He went to the Minnesota Twins and they turned him down. He went to the New York Yankees, and they were lukewarm. So he offered that which has never been offered before:

A one-year deal, subject to arbitration.

Which means this: Morris gives a figure, George Steinbrenner gives a figure, and a bozo with a degree on his wall decides which is fair. This has never been tried with a team that did not previously employ the player.

And Morris and his agent, Dick Moss, call it “an offer Steinbrenner can’t refuse.”

Well. First of all, anybody can refuse anything. You simply say, “I refuse.” Or, “Sorry, but I refuse.” Or, “Mr. Steinbrenner can’t come to the phone, but he suggests you go to Philadelphia.”

So refusing is not really the problem.

It is, however, the issue.

What if Steinbrenner refuses? Jack Morris becomes a rebel with a cause, but no contract.

And we’ll quickly see which is most important. Gathering proof of collusion Up till now, both have been equal priorities. But up till now, Morris has not had to burn any bridges. He must burn one tonight. After midnight, he cannot seek arbitration with Detroit.

How will that effect his decision? Well, first understand his thinking. The whole reason Morris shopped himself to only four teams in the first place was to put pressure on those teams to say yes. Why? Because he believes there is pressure on them to say no. Why? Because why else would no team want perhaps the best pitcher in baseball — when it was throwing sacks of money at mediocre players just a few years ago?

Morris and Moss believe there is collusion, owners talking, deliberately limiting the bargaining power of the players and thereby violating the anti-trust laws of this country. That’s Morris’ cause. That’s his rebellion. If Steinbrenner turns down his offer, it will, Morris says, prove the collusion theory. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “it was proved after Minnesota.”

Fine. But what does that get Jack Morris? Nothing he can buy dinner with.

Which is how we return to our opening statement. Jack Morris could still be a Detroit Tiger. He may indeed be one by Saturday morning.

Here’s how: Moss — who, remember, doesn’t get paid if Morris doesn’t get a contract — realizes the Twins are out, the Angels aren’t taking his calls, and the signals from Philly are dim.

He also knows that tonight is the deadline to agree to arbitration with the Tigers — the last chance for a Tigers- Morris contract without the Tigers’ brass having the final say on the figures.

So he makes an arbitration nod to New York, and if the Yankees refuse, he can take the same offer to the Tigers, saving as much face as possible while still assuring Morris at least a crack at the big money he thinks he deserves.

Morris keeps his cause.

He gets a one-year contract.

Then they launch a full-scale lawsuit. Midnight hour close at hand But that’s only one scenario. And reached late Thursday night in New York, Morris seemed to deem it an unlikely one. “First of all,” he said, “Steinbrenner would be crazy to turn us down. But if he did, we plan on talking to both other teams before (the Tigers’ deadline).

“The Angels called us today,” he added with a laugh. “Suddenly they’re interested.”

Morris did not rule out arbitration with the Tigers. That wouldn’t be smart. But by offering it first to the Yankees, he is not only letting us know how little he wants to deal with Detroit, he is showing his determination to break baseball’s hands-off policy toward big-name free agents.

Still, what a difference a week makes. Last Friday, Morris sat in a Detroit restaurant and waved off the idea of arbitration with Detroit.

“It won’t come to that,” he said. “The first team I go to will have a real hard time turning me down.”

Well, the first team found a way. And now the second team is on the brink. And Morris is down to gambling on an arbitrator — and, in reality, gambling on his future — at a time when he hoped to be rewarded for his past.

If today brings a yes, Morris is a Yankee for at least a year. If not — and the other teams stall or say no — he must make a quick decision. Which is worse? A year with the Tigers, and a chance the arbitrator agrees with them
— or the risk of staying adrift for weeks and possibly months more, a rebel ship with no place to dock?

By midnight, one bridge will be burned. Now we’ll see where the heartbeat

of this affair really lies. Morris began this week quite certain he was going elsewhere, and elsewhere he went.

The problem is, he might have to come back.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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