Sunday, March 15, 2009

Old Timers Tell Us All About It

In Stan McNeal's There's No $ in Team, he researches the changing times in major league baseball. How Marvin Miller changed the way owners bullied their players. And I'll share a few excerpts from the players themselves in this well done piece (in the February 16, 2009 edition of the Sporting News) by the aformentioned Stan McNeal.

Bob Feller: When we played, the lucky ones-those of us lucky to have that kind of ability-generally were taken care of financially. Stan Musial, JoeDiMaggio, me. General managers used to keep a little yellow legal pad in a desk drawer. On that pad, they'd write down all the side deals they would make with the players. When the season was over, a G.M. would pull out that pad and see what extra money players had made. For example, I got a nickel a head for every fan the Indians drew over 500,000 and $100 for every win over 15. All the top guys had a side deal. That was a contract that would motivate you.

Tommy John: When Marvin Miller took over as executive director of the players' union in 1966, he had the player reps go around their clubhouses and get each player to write his salary on a piece of paper. Not name, just salary. He collected all this information and took it to the Sporting News. When the salaries were published, the owners screamed bloody murder, as if a deep, dark secret had been revealed. When it came time to talk salary, if you had won 20 games and were offered $18,000 but you knew someone else had been offered $20,000 you could say, "Wait a minute."

Jerry Coleman: "I laugh when I look at the field before the game and see both teams having social sessions," says former Yankees player, now a San Diego Padres announcer. "There were two (opposing) players in my career I said hello to-Mickey Vernon and Bobby Doerr. And hello was it. I went by Dom DiMaggio 500 times and never looked at him. You did not socialize with the enemy, so to speak.

"It takes a little oomph out of the game. Let's say you're going into second base against a guy who's your best friend. Are you going to take him out? We had a guy whose main job was to take out the second baseman or shortstop when he was put in as a pinch-runner."

Back then, players had another reason to avoid the opposition. They could be fined for violating the fraternization rule. An umpire, in fact, was assigned to monitor batting practice from the stands to make sure players did not get too friendly with opponents. When players crossed the line, a report was filed with the league office.

Former major league umpire (and current umpire supervisor) Marty Springstead said the rule was enforced when he began umpiring in the mid-1960s ($25 fine for the first offense, $50 for the second) but eventually phased itself out. Though a fraternization rule remains in the rulebook. Tom Leppard, MLB director of umpire administration, says that by the mid-1980s, the league had stopped enforcing it.

"I remember, early in my career, I once had to walk to the outfield and tell Reggie Jackson to cool it," says retired umpire Dave Phillips. "It was kind of a pain in the butt because you would have to get confrontational with a player before the game even started."

Jim Palmer: "We know free agency makes it better for the players. But what if you're a fan? Who's paying for it? Tickets are higher, parking is higher, food is higher. I know we live in a capitalistic system, but do you really need $27 and a half million to play baseball?"

Yogi Berra: "I made $5,000 my first year, went in and they offered me $8,000," Berra recalls. "I wanted $9,000. (GM) George Weiss told me I was lucky to be on the team. That was that."

The players' lack of freedom helped teams in ways other than keeping salaries down. The good teams, anyway. With farm systems that fielded more than 20 teams, franchies like the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals were able to hoard players. For example, with Berra entrenched at catcher in the Bronx, Elston Howard had to wait years for his opportunity. And this was after the club traded future All-Star Gus Triandos (in a deal that brought in Don Larsen). Tony Kubek remembers reporters asking manager Casey Stengel who would be his shortstop 10 days before opening day of the 1958 season. "He said, 'Look over there. It'll be one of those guys,'" Kubek says. "There were 11 of us lined up working out. The Yankees were able to stockpile players like that."

(thanks to Stan McNeal of TSN magazine)

Kevin Marquez