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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Going Nowhere Fast? 

By Mark Liptak

Fact: If (when) the 2002 baseball season is played, five clubs should have a payroll exceeding 100 million dollars.....the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Dodgers and Mets.
 
 As Peter Gammons pointed out last month on ESPN.com the average payroll of a team making the playoffs last season was 73 million dollars. The price of playing high stakes poker in October isn't cheap.
 
 A good friend and Sox fan e-mailed me with a possible Sox / Angels trade last week. The trade would be a blockbuster and involve Troy Glaus among others. He asked me what I thought the chances of it taking place were. As is often the case, I had to reply that the chances were slim and none because Glaus signed a large, long term deal.
 
 That set me to thinking about the current dillemma facing Sox G.M. Kenny Williams. It's the same problem that faced former Sox head honcho Ron Schueler, although Schueler, unlike Williams, caused some of the issues.
 
 In its purest form, the problem is this.....how can ANY Sox G.M. make the moves needed to contend for a championship given the restraints (deliberate and unintentional) placed upon him by owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
 
 Granted a lot of clubs can't (or won't) pay the price needed to play at the highest level today but unfortunately the other baggage that confronts and confounds the Sox is more than any other club has to endure.
 
 It's not just the fact that Reinsdorf feels he has to hold the line on salaries until as he has put it, Sox fans show their support (although Reinsdorf has never specifically stated what "good" support is), it's the OTHER restrictions that make life even more difficult for whoever is running the day to day operations of the club.
 
 Reinsdorf has issued an edict that no contracts for pitchers be longer then three seasons. (Unless your name is Jaime Navarro) That doesn't sound illogical. Pitchers are extremely frail today. The effort needed to retire bigger, stronger hitters in smaller ballparks is a lot more today then ten, twenty or thirty years ago. I was watching a tape recently of the Sox / Cubs Crosstown Classic from 1986 and the first thing that hit me was how smaller the players looked. Ryne Sandberg looked skinny! Wayne Tolleson looked like a midget!! Carlton Fisk and Bobby Bonilla were the biggest guys on the field.
 
The fact is, that pitchers do get hurt more often. The problem though, is that the other big league clubs don't subscribe to that philosophy. They are giving three, four even five year deals. If you're a free agent pitcher and all things being equal, who are you signing with? Three years or five???
 
 Then you have the other stipulations facing Sox G.M.'s.
 
 In July 2000, when the rumors were flying that the Sox might be interested in him, Curt Schilling told the "Arizona Republic" he wouldn't accept a trade to the South Side. When pressed to explain why, Schilling said he never forgot what Jerry Reinsdorf told him during a meeting of the owners committee and the players union during the labor impasse of 1994. Apparently Reinsdorf said or insinuated something the personally offended him and Schilling has a long memory. 
 
 Schilling is far from the only player who has a personal dislike of Sox ownership. Ever wonder why at Sox Fest, the only alumni who show up are those who played for the club before current ownership took over in 1981? (Excluding those former Sox players who work for the team in the public relations department and basically have to attend) Why don't you see Carlton Fisk there? or Ozzie Guillen? or Jack McDowell? The point being that the Sox, like the Bulls, are feeling the impact of talk around the league that the South Side may not be the best place to work for a living and that's been the case for a long time.
 
 He may not mean to cause trouble, but often when Jerry Reinsdorf speaks, people get upset and many of those are big league ballplayers.
 
 Scott Boras.....say the name and most people give you a reaction. Past history has shown that the Sox and Boras have mixed about as well as oil and water. Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, Charles Johnson and Bobby Seay are just some of the list of Sox players, represented by Boras, that left at the first opportunity.
 
 Now Boras may not be the best thing for baseball, but like with other teams giving long term contracts, he's a fact of baseball life. Boras has over 150 clients, many of them top flight pitchers who even if the Sox offered comparable salary, probably wouldn't sign with the club. Why? Simple...bad blood between Boras and Sox ownership. It's a matter of public record that Boras has been verbally assulted by just about everyone in the Sox front office with Schueler being the biggest offender. Schueler is still a consultant with the club. What Sox management says about the super agent may be perfectly correct HOWEVER it's not the smartest business move to offend the most powerful agent in the game is it?
 
 Kenny Williams' wondered why Boras and Alex Rodriguez stood him up when the Sox G.M. was trying to meet with them. If he wants an answer, perhaps he should ask his predecessor and the owner. It also wouldn't surprise most Sox fans if it came out, that an "order" was placed on Sox management not to acquire or negotiate with any Boras clients. (Remember Boras represents over 150 players, a sizable part of Major League Baseball)
 
 This columns purpose isn't to defend Williams.
 
 My personal opinion is that Williams was hired because the owner didn't want to pay the going rate for a G.M. like a John Hart or Pat Gillick, that Reinsdorf didn't want a G.M. with an independent streak and that the owner's economic restraints scared off other experienced candidates. But in fairness, all of the Sox problems now, and in the future, can't be laid completely at Williams' feet
 
 In his own way, Jerry Reinsdorf is as much of a "maverick", an "iconoclast" and a "loner" as his predecessor, Bill Veeck. Reinsdorf intends to win a championship his way, without paying large salaries, without having to "lower" himself to dealing with powerful agents, without having to listen to the media and the fans and without doing what the other big league clubs consider standard operating procedure.
 
 He's had about as much success as Veeck had too.

 As always your comments, question etc are always appreciated. Contact me at mliptak1@ida.net


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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