Greatest Fear of the MLB by Bob Ryan

In the 1970’s, one of the greatest fears of MLB free agency …at least to some…was that large cities would dominate the league since they had more money available to them and would use it to cause an imbalance of success for those mega-cities.  But…first… a brief look back @ the evolution of free agency in the MLB. All fans know that Curt Flood…almost single-handily….brought free agency to the MLB. Curt Flood had a stellar career in Major League Baseball. The center fielder made the All-Star team three times in his career, won seven consecutive Gold Gloves and had a lifetime batting average of .293. But Flood’s numbers during his career from 1956 to 1971, all but two of them with the St. Louis Cardinals, are not the reason he is remembered. Flood, despite a set of hard challenges, almost single-handedly ushered in the era of free agency in baseball by suing the league. His battle to take control of his own career, rather than essentially being the property of a baseball team, transformed the game. Flood was a good…not great… player who spent most of his career with the Cardinals.  The CF made the All-Star team three times in his career, won 7 consecutive Gold Gloves and had a lifetime batting avg of .293.  Flood was traded in 1969 by the Cards to the Phils. He rejected being traded and refused to report to spring training. The MLB had used the “reserve” clause which stated that players essentially were owned by teams. The rules, although hazily written, stated that players play the next season for the team they played for in the previous season. Flood went to Marvin Miller, director of the Player’s Association, and said he wanted to sue Major League Baseball. Miller warned him that it would cost him his career and that no team would hire him. Flood said he wanted to do it, anyway. Throughout this significant court battle, NO other players of his time supported Flood. Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, two former players, were the only two to back him publicly. They both testified for Flood in court, as did former team owner Bill Veeck. He asked for the right to consider offers from teams other than the Phillies. Kuhn rejected his idea. I actually had thought that it was this court case that changed baseball. NO….it wasn’t. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Flood lost the case by a 5-3 vote. Eventually, a judge in Federal District Court in New York ruled that players and teams should  negotiate the “reserve clause,” which essentially kept a player tied to a team for years and years unless cut or traded. HOWEVER…. the district court judge’s suggestion that players and teams negotiate is exactly what happened. By the late 1970s, other players sought to end the reserve clause and seek free agency. Flood had lost the case, but opened the free agency door for future players. Unfortunately, he reaped no benefits for himself. He died, in 1997, of throat cancer at the age of 59.  It seems strange to me that Flood hasn’t been honored by the MLB union & players. His lone march, without any other players or player support, led him to some lonely, tough times with his family after the battle but led the players to the mega-bucks money that players now have come to expect…even the mediocre players.

Back to step 1….One of the thoughts at the early time of free agency was that the teams in huge cities, who could generate more money available to them since attendance was the primary source of income, would dominate the league. We’ve had free agency almost 50 years now. Some of those fears may be warranted…the largest city, NY Yankees dominates the AL with a mega-bucks salary structure. The #2 city-LA is the best team in the NL. At #3 in size, Chicago’s Cubs, after years of poor management, now consistently battle for division title. Houston is the 4th largest city in USA….dominant in many of the last 10 years. Now it doesn’t work 100% of the time for major metropolitan areas….a team needs a  GM who is aggressive, smart, good evaluator of talent and fully utilizes all the resources available to them. Some teams that DO have large cities at their disposal have not yet developed the mega-$$ approach—Texas Rangers in Arlington–part of Dallas #9in US-Ft Worth #16 area; Philly is #5 in size in USA; Phoenix #6 (D-Backs);@ #8 is San Diego  The Cardinals really are the only mid-size market that competes on a very regular basis in the MLB post-season.  I believe that’s one reason why commentators laud so much praise on our local boys…they are surprised and amazed!  In fact, both Central divisions (AL & NL)…aside from Chicago are filled with other moderate size cities. So, it’s easier for teams like the Cardinals to make the post-season out of the Central Divisions. Btw….the MLB could adapt a “hard cap”… if they really wanted to do so….to level the playing field a bit….but….they prefer the high return currently that ensures lucrative national television contracts for the league. It almost always comes down to $$$$.

One of the fears of the Cardinal management must be that the Cards MUST continue to win…and win BIG to keep the fans.  Other teams that witness a dramatic drop in attendance..especially from the mid-size market teams….just don’t have the cash (they say)….to acquire multiple major stars.  Bill DeWallet handles the Cardinals in a manner that will generate money for ownership—his teams win (the most important factor), they provide give-aways often aimed at youngsters, they receive outstanding TV coverage (they do own part of Fox Midwest), Busch III is always clean, accessibility to highways is far better than most stadiums. But….clearly winning baseball is the foundation…so looking @ this year–

…..on the bright side, this club is right on the .500 with a 40-40 record. In the NL Central, they are still in the race to win a wild card spot and if things are upgraded slightly…even win the division. On May 1, the Cards were 20-10 after beating Max Scherzer & the Nats.  Paul DeJong (on May 1 was hitting .343, 5 HR an OPS 1.01) while Jose Martinez also was red-hot at the plate in April….holding a .364 average with a OPS of .858 on May 1. Even Dexter Fowler played with some energy. John Brebbia looked like a slimmed down Bruce Sutter as he closed out game after game. Jack Flaherty was 3-1 through April. John Gant(7-0)…..another no-name….code word for “we didn’t pay him much”…came into games at all different time slots and performed well.

….Since May 1, the clouds have darkened. As a team, since May 1, the Cards are 21st in MLB in runs scored; 26th in ISO(hits that are double/triples or HR only); 10th in strikeout%; 23rd in batting avg. StL is as a team, is 23-28 against .500+ teams. Individually, not only the calendar flipped on May 1 but so did the level of Card performance. Flaherty is 1-4, his ERA during May/June was 4.16 & has given up 11 HR during that time; DeJong now holds a .263 mark with .818 OPS….he DID hit only .241 last year but many seemed to ignore that stat during April and looked upon him as the next Cal Ripken. Martinez is now @ .282with an OPS of.748. Matt Carpenter, viewed as a key component offensively in the pre-season, has been largely ineffective….he’s batting .216 for the season with 10 HR and 80 strikeouts. Father Time appears to be tapping Crap (as some call him)… instead of Carp… on the shoulder, he’s 33 years of age. The Cards have played Tommy Edman @ 3B the last 2 nights. Does that signal the beginning of the end for Carp as a regular starter? Or…will Edman be a stunt man…moving from 3B, to SS, to 2b regularly? Harrison Bader’s inability to hit the breaking ball and get on base to use his speed has been a never-ending issue this year. Paul Goldschmidt the center-piece of the offseason acquisitions has been mediocre…at best…to this point. Signing him so quickly to an additional 5 years may prove to be painful. Marcel Ozuna has been the primary power source of the club (hopefully, last night’s injury won’t keep him out of the lineup too long). While he’s a streaky hitter (really–who isn’t—they all get hot then cold, etc), his power numbers stand alone at the top of the Cards. Ya don’t hear it on TV from Danny …the real mouthpiece of the Cardinals as he nightly spins their side of the story… but…..I feel like Marcel can’t wait to get outta the Lou after this season when he’s a free agent….apparently, it’s not his type of town. 

Soooo…back to the original question….how do the Cards alleviate the fears of the fans? ….  Look for a trade of some sort bringing in some starting pitching involving one…or some… of the following—John Brebbia, Andrew Miller, Jose Martinez ,Tyler O’Neill, Miles Mikolas, or Paul DeJong , Daniel PoncedeLeon … maybe even Ozuna…if the Cards.. down deep.. feel like he isn’t returning next year, get something for him now. Many of you want some sucker… oops… team…. to take Fowler, Gyorko, Wacha, or Carp off our hands.  Only the St. Vincent DePaul team would accept those donations J Let’s see how the Cardinals handle those fan fears of watching a .500 team all the way through September. Btw….Mike Shildt is feeling the pressure of this fear of losing….his “explanation” to the fans recently that said in summation “ be patient, we’re working hard, doing all we can, we’ll win, these are good players”….was revised 2 days later by Schildt…to further explain his belief that we’ll win.  Managers only give those types of talks when they KNOW that the team is in trouble.

….But the Cards aren’t the only team dealing with their roster. The Stanley Cup Champions—St Louis Blues….never thought that I’d actually EVER type that expression……have a hard cap established by the NHL to meet. Doug Armstrong annually has to deal with that league cap. Coming off of the tremendous Stanley Cup Championship, he’ll face players with higher expectations of being rewarded after hoisting Stanley around in the post-season. Some seasoned veterans may be “too rich” for our blood and have to be dealt or released. Further, some younger Blues players are bubbling up from the lower levels. Hockey really IS a game for younger players (ya gotta be able to skate fast and recover fast from your shifts). I’m guessing Robby Fabbri, Chris Butler, Michael Del Zotto, Chris Thorburn will be some of the players that “move on”. I think that if Patrick Maroon is willing to take a bit less than he could get on the open market, he’ll return. He may…or may not…want to do that.

…finally…for you guys who want “old school”….the NY Mets just hired 82 year old  Phil Regan to be their pitching coach!  Now…in 2019….this former LA pitcher who pitched in the majors from 1960-72, is hired to work with the NYM pitchers. He’s been a minor-league instructor for 6 years in their organization so he already knows most of the pitchers.  Supposedly, the players love him…..we’ll see!

No fears for you….you made it to the bottom. YOUR thoughts are always welcome. Thanks for the read.

Comments

  1. 3 comments says:

    I got the blog! Enjoyed it! I think there has to be a hard cap! These rich team don’t care about a fine SR
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    Free agency also brought salaries that are out of control. Imagine, Mike Trout makes $65,000 per at bat during the baseball season, and $100,000 a day if you figure it by the day not using per game or per at bat. ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS! $430 million for 12 years. I will only go to games with tickets given to me. It is out of hand. SV
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    Good thoughts, Bob. You were pretty critical of the Cards, but that’s reality. I appreciate your objectivity.
    An interesting way to continue the big vs small market team competition might be to compare/contrast baseball vs NFL vs hockey. Each league wants enough competitiveness to keep all fans interested, so each league will figure out how best to craft it. What do they do differently and how effective is it? Thanks for this! TH

  2. Hi Bob, Liked You remembering Curt Flood. Played CF in the shadow of Willie Mays, who is a HOF’r, over 600 home runs, 3,000 plus hits, just scratches the surface of his career impact onto MLB. Obviously, I don’t expect the owners to recognize Flood, but I am a bit amazed that the players assn don’t recognize his stance on more of a regular basis. He has been named a Cardinal Hall of Famer, but being deceased, he is rarely remembered. Basically, ended his career, followed by many personal troubles… left the country, alcohol abuse, among other sad circumstances.
    The recent Cardinals collapse is worrisome! We are a week from the All Star break with our “ stars” continuing to under perform. Mgr Shildt’s recent defense of his team is somewhat predictable. He’s not going to throw his guys under the bus. I do hope, however, that behind the scenes , he is meeting with select players and reminding them that mgmt’s, his & fans patience is growing thin! It’s a performance business. He did not assemble the roster. Mgmt, DeWitt, Mo & Girsch built the roster, thinking that Goldy and Andrew Miller would lead them to October baseball. It’s a 25 man roster Far too many weak links! Just heard DeJung was named an All Star. Great first month and a half…. The best fans in baseball failed to vote any of their guys in, which sends another message. Unless a major shake up occurs, it’s going to be a long summer! JP1

  3. Coach – Thanks for your thoughts and analysis: it was right on the mark as usual

    Two quick thoughts that have stumbled across my path this week. First, yesterday’s Yankees and Sox game in London. It was an interesting business promotion, but I’m not sure that it sold one season ticket in Europe. Four-plus hours long, players running everywhere, runs being scored by the baker’s dozen, and fans actually throwing recovered foul balls back onto the playing field. An especially interesting moment was the singing of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the 7th inning break. The fans, all 100K of them, didn’t get it. Why is an already long game suddenly stopping to sing a song that almost no one knows; I would have thought that someone would have had the forethought to issue a song sheet with a brief explanation. The fans got more than enough homers, but what were the pitchers doing. Through most of the game it looked like batting practice to us, but I can’t imagine what the Londoners came away thinking. Probably thinking 17 to 13 was just a low score in a Cricket match. The group that sang the US National Anthem did an inspiring job, mascots were running around the field, someone called the Ice Man sprinted around the outfield, and our London neighbors certainly got enough pomp, circumstance, and Tom foolery to last a life time. Pee Wee Keeler was the only missing element.

    Next is the women’s run to the soccer Gold Cup. Admittedly, my knowledge of the finer points of soccer are poor at best, but I do understand what constitutes a win or a loss. When something egregious happens I call Coach Michler for an explanation. So, apparently we’re cruising along toward a semi-final, finals shoot out for the Gold Cup, everyone is supposedly gunning for us, and our players and coaches appear to be up to the task. We even have a player, Rapinoe, who has scored four goals in two games. A singular accomplishment! I don’t know player Rapinoe from applesauce, but from what I see on TV she’s an excellent player. In fact she’s probably one of the leaders on the team. So, why can’t she be satisfied with that amount of notoriety? Why does she have to detract from her playing accomplishments by suddenly thinking that she’s an in-demand political/social commentator? I don’t care about her political or social thoughts, especially when she’s still wearing a US emblazoned soccer shirt. Wearing that shirt doesn’t imbue her with some imaginary ability to be erudite and insightful in fields other than soccer. To me it’s nothing more than an abuse of an image, and an attempt to fraudulently aware yourself a measure of intellect that isn’t warranted. Tell me about how well our other players played, tell me about the toughness of the opposition, and reiterate about how the team is looking forward to its next challenge. Those seem totally appropriate, but don’t use your imagine in a US soccer shirt to portray the breadth and depth of your social/political expertise and persuasive powers. Poor Rapinoe is far from the only one of her ilk who casts such false images. What the Hell does a baseball player with a 12th grade education, a football player who quit working in school at age 14 because he was allowed to, or a musician or actor who at best has a narrow image of life, know that they feel compelled to attempt to proselytize me? At best they couldn’t convince me to change from candy bar A or B. So, please just play your game, sing your song, act your part in a Rambo movie. Those things I may enjoy, but your pompous attempt at political/social commentary should be left to “The Brightest and Best.” Sorry Coach to get so heavy. AS

  4. JP II, III, IV and V says:

    I guess we are going to fear the Yankees/Dodgers World Series in the fall. It could be a beauty!
    Next to Lou Gehrig, Curt Flood was my grandmother’s favorite player.
    I fear no playoffs again for our local nine. I fear this inconsistent lineup (a manager can only run out the guys he is given – and if they don’t hit or pitch, you are in trouble) will not turn things around enough to make any kind of sustained run.
    I fear Manager Mike II is feeling a bit of pressure and the sunshine and lollipops are melting a bit… (I don’t fear for his job) I do fear that the natives are growing restless. Almost to the point of very restless. I fear if the baseball we are seeing continues to be this boring, TV ratings will plummet! (Yeah, I really went out on a limb for that one). I fear there will be no big shake up. I fear our “Time to Fly” is losing altitude!!
    I don’t fear the Blues going after Pat Maroon with a stupid multi-year contract. Let somebody else do that. He could never top what he did here in his one year. Go out and get all the years/money you can. It will be his last chance.
    I am going to stop for fear I could go on and on and just start rambling…

    JP II, III, IV and V

  5. Two more comment says:

    Can we take solace in the fact that the Blues were dead last in early January? DC
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    I guess the Cardinals GM is not aggressive GM. Get rid of him.
    Yes the Cardinals screwed Curt Flood. They could have put in the back office of Cardinals or they could have made him a manager in the minor league. The moral of your blog is for Cardinal is spend there money to buy the best ball players to win a World Series. Get rid of the GM and team manager ( This guy came from the minor leagues) SN.

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