Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Claire's Payrolls: Another Time and Era Compared to $230 Million

       By Ross Newhan

       It is no surprise to any of the check signers among the new owners and management leaders with the Dodgers that their industry record payroll of $230 million has only guaranteed them a series of questions for which they hope to find answers in spring training. Nor is it a surprise that in the approximate 15 years since Peter O'Malley sold the team, ending the club's last period of stability and continuity, that baseball salaries and payrolls would have continued to inflate amid record revenue and attendance, internal revenue sharing, global merchandising and soaring TV contracts.

      Yet, that $230 million compared to what Fred Claire was working with in his last five full years as general manager under O'Malley is staggering--or as Claire said in a phone interview--"even when you consider the number of years and acknowledge that it would have been a surprise if salaries and payrolls wouldn't have continued to rise, the number is somewhere between surprising and shocking."

     Doing his own research and leaning on former assistant Robert Schweppe for help, Claire said the Dodger payroll over his last five full years totaled $194.7 million, a period in which Dodgers had the fifth best record in baseball and spent the second lowest amont of money.

    Instructed to stay under $48 million, the Dodgers had a 1994 payroll of $37,194 million to rank 10th, a 1995 payroll of $30,459 million to rank 18th, a 1996 payroll of $34,647 million to rank 12th and a 1997 payroll of $43,400 million to rank 11th.

   "There is only one thing by which to judge a season by and that's winning the World Series," Claire said. "Yet, there is a natural tendency to measure what you've accomplished against expenditure, and no matter what the payroll I was given, I never felt that was not a reason for not winning. I mean, the World Series is the prize, but we were leading the division when the strike cancelled the rest of the season in August of 1994, we reached the poast-season in 1995 and 1996, and we weren't eliminated until the next to last day of the 1997 season."

   The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988, Claire's second year after replacing Al Campanis, and the years since O'Malley sold and Claire was replaced under Fox in 1998 have been marked by increasing parity throughout the industry.

   In the last two years alone, 13 of the 30 teams have made at least one post-season appearance, and nine teams have won the World Series in the last 12 years, the average payroll of those teams ranking 10th.

   The big market teams still have more room for error in judgements, or as Claire said, "there is still a relationship between winning and payrolls, but it has become obvious that the biggest payroll doesn't guarantee the biggest prize."

   The Dodgers will be putting that to a test this year, but at $230 million they must first decide on a leadoff hitter, the health of Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, the ability of Hanley Ramirez to play a full season at shortstop, the rotation after Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greineke and where they turn if Brandon League isn't the closer that his three year contract suggests he is.

   "I give the Dodgers a lot of credit," Claire said. "The new owners came in expressing a desire to win, to improve the team and to improve the fan experience. They have backed up their words.

   "The signings make the headlines, but given what I know of Stan Kasten's background in Atlanta and based on what he has said, I know he understands that you can't neglect the other part. The importance of scouting, player development and consistency of philosophy and personnel are as old as the game and as important.

    "I give the Angels credit because they understand that their farm system is the foundation of the team despite the big signings of the last couple years, and you can see that the Dodgers understand with the moves they have made to strengthen their international signings."

    Kasten has insisted that the Dodgers do not intend to sustain a $230 million payroll. Who knows? Given baseball's rate of inflation, it could go up before it goes down.         

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Piazza's Rap on Scully Doesn't Ring True

    By Ross Newhan

    No one is perfect, including Vin Scully.

    The iconic Dodger broadcaster is not a complete journalist, and has never claimed to be.

    He is paid handsomely by the Dodgers, and has always believed his primary role is to report developments in the game of that day or night. Off the field controversies affecting the club or players do not fall in his purview, he frequently told me in the years I covered the Dodgers and travelled with the team or covered the industry overall as national baseball columnist of the Los Angeles Times.

    This is not to say that there aren't times that Scully may make a point statistically, leaving the viewer/listener to read into it what he/she will, but the complete reporter?

   When emotions boiled over, for instance, and Don Sutton and Steve Garvey wrestled in the then Shea Stadium clubhouse before a game between the Dodgers and Mets in 1978, neither Scully nor his late partner, Jerry Doggett, reported the incident during their broadcast that night.

    There are a myriad other examples of headline developments involving ownerships or players that were basically ignored or received only a cursory mention in the Dodger broadcasting booth.

    I bring all this up because of a claim by Mike Piazza in his new book, "Long Shot", that Scully, in his broadcasts, turned fans against him during the catcher's 1998 contract stalemate with the Dodgers that preceded his trade to the Florida Marlins in May of that year, a trade that arguably ranks with the trading of Pedro Martinez as the worst in L.A. Dodger history.

   Given Scully's view of his function and job it is difficult to accept Piazza's interpretation, memory or insinuation that the broadcaster would have conducted a campaign against him.

   Piazza, who was eligible for free agency after the 1998 season and hoped to stay with the club, reiterates in the book that he set a Feb. 15 deadline for a new contract and that Scully asked him about the negotiations in a spring interview.

   "He wasn't happy about it," Piazza wrote of Scully, "and Scully's voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles."

    Piazza details the negotiations in his book, confirming what Jason Reid as the club's beat reporter for The Times had written then, or I had in my overview column.

    He then writes in his book:

    "The way the whole contract drama looked to (the fans)--many of whom were traking their cue from Scully--was that by setting a deadline and insisting on so much money ($105 million initially), I was demonstrating a conspicuous lack of loyalty to the ball club. I understood that."

     The Dodgers were willing to make Piazza the highest paid player in baseball with a multi-year offer of $76 million, but the catcher ripped the club in an opening day interview with the Times and also went hitless in his first four games.

    None of that played well with the fans, Piazza wrote, and added,  "on top of that, Vin Scully was crushing me."

    Scully, in a Thursday story in The Times, denied all of that, said he could not recall the spring interview with Piazza, and "as God is my judge, I don't get involved in these things. I can't imagine I would ever put my toe in the water as far as a player and his negotiations. I have no idea where he is coming from.... I'm really flabbergasted."

    It was a tumultuous period. Given the Pizza contract issue and the fact that Fox had only recently bought the club from Peter O'Malley, I was at the ballpark almost every night. I certainly did not hear all of Scully's broadcast during this period.

   However, given his philosophy and approach to ongoing controversies of the Piazza type, and not recalling anyone telling me Piazza was taking a beating on the air, the book interpretation just doesn't ring true.

    Six weeks after the start of the '98 season Piazza was traded to Florida by Fox executive Chase Cary, going behind General Manager Fred Claire's back, and was traded by the Marlins to the Mets about a month later, signing a seven year, $91 million contract in 1999.

    Unlike many books in the player genre, Pizza's (written in collaboration with Lonnie Wheeler), touches on several headline subjects and is worth reading.

    I just don't buy the Scully rap.  


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Steroid Era Rolls On, and Who Believes the Denials Anymore?

      By Ross Newhan

      Baseball's steroid era plods on--synthetics, human growth hormone, deer antler spray--and the only way to slow it, as I wrote to stiffen the penalties, as many players have supported in calls and letters to their union.

     The names of fourteen players--led by Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun (whose explanation seems to challenge belief)--have emerged from the notebooks and records of Tony Bosch, a clinician at the now closed Biogenesis Clinic in South Florida, and it is believed there are more names to come.

     It's another major hit to baseball, whose investigators are scouring the Miami area and meeting with editors of the Miami News Times, a weekly publication that broke the initial story, in an effort to obtain any and all material that the News Times retains.

     The investigators are also following two tracks.

    One leads to the University of Miami, where the strength and conditioning coach, Jimmy Goins, is alleged to have ordered performance enhancers from Biogenesis.

    Four of the 14 players whose names have been revealed to this point---Braun, Baltimore second baseman Danny Valencia, San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal and Detroit minor league pitcher Cesar Carrillo--played at Miami, and Rodriguez has donated about $4 million to the program. The university is conducting its own investigation.

    The second track leads to Seth and Sam Levinson, whose firm, ACES, represents five of the 14 players identified to this point. The Levinsons released a lengthy statement denying any dealings with Bosch and Biogenesis, insisting they would never advise a player to try a PED or condone the use of a PED.

   However, the Bosch notes, according to material that has surfaced so far, contain the names of  Goins and a former Levinson employee, Juan Nunez, who may have provided Melky Cabrera with the enhancers that led to a positive test and his 50 game suspension with the San Francisco Giants last year.

   Much of Bosch's notes take two forms:

   --Either outlining the PEDs that were provided and/or injected a player (and when), such as in the Rodriguez situation...

   --Or denoting money apparently paid or owed Bosch, whose father, Dr. Pedro Bosch, wrote the prescription that got Manny Ramirez suspended in 2009.

   Rodriguez, through his crises management firm, has denied any involvement with Bosch or his clinic and accused baseball of conducting a "witchhunt" designed to drive him out of the game.

   In the case of Braun, the figure $14,000, is listed by his name, and the Milwaukee outfielder has said in explanation that last year, when his lawyers were researching an appeal of his 50 game suspension as the result of a positive test for elevated testosterone--an appeal he won based on a technicality in the handling of his urine sample--his attorneys were familiar with Bosch and hired him as a consultant. One of the attorneys, David Cornwell, has since, in reaction to the Braun statement, said that he had no previous knowledge of Bosch, and the question lingers, even if there was previous knowledge, why they would hire an alleged clinician from a clinic with which Braun insists he has never had any dealings rather than a doctor or expert familiar with chain of custody issues?

    The beat goes on, and there is no predicting how this will play out for any of the 14 named so far.

    Two, Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, drew 50 game suspensions last year for positive tests, and Grandal, the promising Padres catcher, will miss the first 50 games of the upcoming season because of a positive test.

    It is clearer than ever that this remains an era without end, and if more evidence of that is needed, Curt Schilling supplied some on yet another front Thursday, another situation that baseball has said it will investigate.

   Schilling, retired since 2009, said that while battling a shoulder injury with Boston in 2008, an employee no longer with the Red Sox, suggested he try a banned supplement.

    "It was embarrassing to me because that is something I wouldn't do and because other people were present and heard him," Schilling said, adding to the embarrassment that is the daily reading material provided by Tony Bosch.       

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Stiffer Drug Penalty Should Accompany Stiffer Protocols

      By Ross Newhan

      I've been trying to figure out which is the most reckless:

     1. Doing somersaults and other tricks in a 450 pound snowmobile?

     2. Arming every teacher with a gun?

    3. Watching baseball try to eradicate the use of PEDs with tougher protocols and testing as chemists stay ahead of the game in legitimate and illegitimate laboratories and hunters provide deer antlers for spray and pills containing the banned IGF-1?

    Admittedly, all three are pretty reckless, but every time I venture away from baseball the wolves come out, so for the purpose of the blog I will go with No. 3, first recognizing and giving credit to the industry for having the toughest drug program in professional sports.

    I also recognize that total eradication will probably never happen.

    However, an increase in the number of 2012 suspensions--seven major leaguers and 104 minor leaguers--and the current investigation into the Miami clinic that allegedly provided Alex Rodriguez and six other players with synthetic testosterone (and other banned products) gives rise to the belief that the tougher protocols initiated recently should be accompanied by tougher penalties.

    Under the current agreement between management and the union, a first positive test calls for a 50 game suspension without pay, a second positive results in a 100 game suspension without pay, and a third brings a lifetime ban.

    Three strikes and you are out. Isn't that the way the game is played?

   Well, maybe this one should be reduced to two strikes.

   A 100 game suspension without pay for the first positive test, and a lifetime ban for the second.

  Too tough?

  Well, the way it is now, you can cheat fans, teammates and the game--statistically, financially and otherwise--over a period of several years (assuming you are dumb enough to keep using and assuming it takes that long for three tests to turn up positive), but don't bet on the game or you are through for life.

  Shoeless Joe Jackson, at the heart of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, will never get in the Hall of Fame despite judged innocent in court.

  By this time it seems clear that Pete Rose--the alltime hit leader--will never have his gambling ban lifted, although I personally feel that enough is enough despite originally agreeing with the ban.

 Gambling carries a dangerous and implied threat to the outcome of games, but so does cheating by the use of performance enhancing drugs, and it is an insult to teammates who don't cheat.

 Yes, the current agreement gives Commissioner Bud Selig authority to suspend a player for "just cause," and the penalty system includes a heavy salary hit, but in most major league cases the player still takes home a healthy check.

  There are myriad examples. Among the most recent, Melky Cabrera, suspended 50 games last year while with San Francisco, still cleared more than $4 million, and his PED use didn't stop Toronto for signing him to a two year contract for more than $8 million.           

   The union would undoubtedly fight a "two strikes and out" penalty. Only Congressional pressure forced Don Fehr, then the union's executive director, to accept negotiation on a testing program and then only after a year of sample testing in which positive test results had to come in over a certain percentage.

  Marvin Miller, who built the union, went to his grave arguing that the union should never have accepted testing because it violated civil rights and there was no proof that steroids or other drugs improved performance despite the dramatic change, for one, in Barry Bonds' physique and power.

   Michael Weiner, the union's current executive director , has shown a tendency to be more amenable on a variety of negotiated subjects, but that doesn't mean "two strikes and out" would be acceptable.

   Should it?

  Given the belief that a 100 game suspension followed by a lifetime ban--a dramatically more stark penalty--might prompt a potential cheat to think twice, the answer here is yes.                .