Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Erasing Collusion

It was strange last night to be watching Prime 9 on the MLB Network. Prime 9, for those unlucky enough to not have the MLB (on right now is Pudge Fisk's first game back in Boston after signing with the White Sox, Harry Caray calling Dennis Eckersley vs. Britt Burns), is a weekly countdown show that focuses on a different topic and is allegedly "guaranteed to start arguments, not finish them." One of last night's episodes focused on the "nine best" eligible players not in the Hall of Fame (so no Pete Rose and no Joe Jackson). The weirdness was not necessarily watching guys twist and turn to make a plausible case for Lee Smith Luis Tiant, and Keith Hernandez.

Rather, it came when the show, and its various talking heads (think I Love the 80s with Bob Costas as the only real celebrity, and no snark), talked about #6 Andre Dawson. They talked about his power and his speed. His throwing arm. They talked about his nickname.

Then they talked about his MVP campaign in 1987. Prior to the '87 season, Dawson became a free agent, refusing to resign with the Montreal Expos. Much to his dismay, no one seemed to want him. Dawson proceeded to show up to the Cubs' spring training facility, and gave general manager Dallas Green a blank conctract, and asked him to fill in what a fair salary would be. Green gave Dawson a deal for $500,000 with more than $250,000 in performance incentives.

What was happening, of course, was that Dawson and the other free agents of 1987 were victims of collusion. Major League owners, with the encouragement of commissioner Peter Ueberroth, were refusing to sign free agents from other teams without their rivals' permission.

As these talking heads recounted the '87 season where roundly smacked National League pitching, they repeated the story that "no one wanted" Dawson before the season, and that he had to give the Cubs "a blank contract" to sign him. Just watching this show, a casual viewer might think that Dawson had had a terrible year in '86, rather than the .284/.338/.478 line he put up in 130 games (good for a 123 OPS+. Instead, of course, in a free market many other teams would have wanted Dawson's services. Other starting rightfielders that year included Glenn Wilson (.264/.308/.381 for the Phillies), RJ Reynolds (.260/.323/.400 for the Pirates), Curt Ford (.285/.325/.408 for the Cardinals), Pat Sheridan (.259/.327/.361 for the Tigers), and Lee Lacy (.244/.326/.399 for the Orioles), all of whom were clearly inferior. The Cubs themselves were planning to go with Brian Dayett. Despite mentioning these very specific stories from Dawson's 1987 offseason struggled to find employment, none of the footage mentioned a thing about collusion.

This marks the second time The Common Man has seen the MLB Network skip over stories about collusion, suggesting that there may be a organizational imperative not to acknowledge one of the more sinister chapters in baseball's history. It's going to be increasingly hard for MLB Network to maintain a claim of impartiality and integrity if they refuse to even address the topic, and it calls into question how the network will react if and when there is labor strife with the Players' Association.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

Interesting. You would think since it's already out in the open, that they would be able to discuss it. Then again, maybe they just didn't remember.

lar said...

I understand your point, TCM, and I admit that it has a funny smell to it. But I'm not really one to cry "conspiracy" all that quickly. I like to err on the side of stupidity/ignorance in cases like this, and give the guys the benefit of the doubt. Still, you'd like to think that they did their homework before going on air.

You said the program was about the top 9 players eligible for the Hall but not in it... so did they talk about Raines (because they darn well should have)? If so, was there mention of collusion there? because actually missing the start of a season because of collusion is a little harder to "forget" or "mistake" then what happened to Dawson. The MLB Network has done a pretty good job of addressing the steroids stuff, from what I understand (no digital cable right now, so no Network), so it doesn't sound like they're complete shills...