Saturday, July 13, 2013
MLB's growing power vacuum
By Buster Olney
Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley took baseball out west, uprooting the Brooklyn Dodgers and, by extension, the New York Giants, and, through the 1960s and '70s, he was viewed as one of baseball’s major power brokers.
By the late '70s, however, union leader Marvin Miller had built the greatest practical power in the sport, through his successful efforts to get the players more control and more money. Don Fehr and Gene Orza inherited that influence and extended it: In the '90s, the sport turned only where they allowed it to go.
On the other side of the aisle, Bud Selig adeptly collected votes through old-fashioned horse-trading and arm-twisting, generally making sure that the new owners who came into the sport were those who played according to his rules. This is a dynamic that remains in place as baseball’s central force.
Selig continues to insist that he will walk away from the sport after his current contract expires, which is after the 2014 season. He will be asked about that, undoubtedly, when he addresses the media before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, and, presumably, he will say again that nothing can change his mind. Some of his employers, baseball’s owners, believe that Selig, who turns 79 later this month, will be coaxed into another term.
But there will be a day when Selig won’t be in power, and when you try to consider the landscape of possible heirs to the game’s central power -- that which was passed on, like a baton, to O’Malley and Miller and Fehr and Orza and Selig -- there is murk.
On all sides. Nothing but murk.
As Jayson Stark wrote in May, there is not a replacement waiting in the wings to take over from Selig. You can ask 10 people about who the possible successor to Selig might be, and you will get 10 different answers, each with one significant qualifier: He doesn’t have the votes Bud has. Selig has quilted together a consensus -- not necessarily agreement, but a consensus -- of big-market teams and small-market teams. This is how it came to be that the teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies and Cubs have been handing over cash to teams such as the Rays and Marlins, and, at the same time, the small-market teams have gone along with a system of player procurement rules that continues to be stacked against them. Every team has reason to hate the system, but Selig’s control has kept them all from diving into civil war.
The strong perception among teams, however, is that, once Selig leaves, all the past alliances and treaties will go with him. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Royals owner David Glass have had tremendous influence because of their relationship with Selig, and once he goes, other owners believe their power will dissipate or even evaporate altogether.
On the union side, Michael Weiner has been fighting cancer, and, as Jeff Passan wrote Friday, the players have been discussing the question of what might come next. Fehr and Orza have been talked about as consultants, players say, but not as possible permanent replacements. Former player Tony Clark could eventually ascend into the role of union leader, with David Prouty viewed as the primary legal muscle.
But the MLB Players Association is in a different place than it was in Miller’s time, or even in the '90s. The players aren’t fighting for the mountaintop anymore; they have it, or at least a significant share, and their work has been to maintain what they have. The players are being paid well, and a significant majority wants some form of drug-testing, as do the owners.
But there has been a subtle shift in the makeup of the leadership. When Miller gained influence among the players, star players were involved in his effort and were seen as integral to strengthening the union -- and this continued into the '90s, with the likes of Tom Glavine and David Cone. These days, however, stars aren’t really in the mix at the top of the union’s chain of command: Derek Jeter, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia are not loud for the union the way stars were in the '90s, when dissenters such as Lenny Dykstra were told sternly to stand down in meetings.
The dynamic among the brethren is cooperative, but looser, because it’s a time of prosperity. It’s not clear how Weiner or Clark or anybody else on the union’s side could galvanize influence.
So a power vacuum within baseball is emerging quickly, more quickly than many expected. The fault lines are in place, and it’s uncertain whether somebody can or will step forward to pull together all the disparate forces, as an ally or a rival, and to lead the sport.
Some baseball owners see potential for confederation, rather than a business strongly operated from the center: Thirty teams tied through necessity as partners, but each pulling in different directions.
This could be a significant problem that manifests itself in the next labor negotiation. History shows that baseball’s most acute labor troubles have come when the owners couldn’t agree among themselves.
Perhaps this is the way the next generation of leaders will develop, among the owners and among the players: through a fight that nobody wants.
Major League Baseball’s power vacuum is growing, and this could be a serious threat to the stability of the game.
News and notes
Major League Baseball is playing tough in its doping inquiry, writes Steve Eder. Alex Rodriguez met with investigators.
Watched a lot of Jarred Cosart’s outing against the Rays, and the fastball command that has hampered him in the past was not a problem in his major league debut.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how he won:
A) A good fastball: He threw it 75 percent of the time, which would rank second among qualified starters over a full season. It averaged 94.3 mph for the game, plus he recorded 20 of his 24 outs via the fastball.
B) He got out of trouble: With men on, Rays hitters went 0-for-6 and grounded into 3 double plays. That was tied for most in a debut since 1992, when Pedro Astacio had four GIDPs.
C) He shut down righties: Not a single right-handed batter got a hit (0-for-11 -- Longoria 0-for-3), and two of the three double plays came from righties -- Longoria and Wil Myers.
Both Uptons got hurt Friday night. And Jordan Schafer has a stress fracture.
Quick hitters from Elias Sports Bureau:
Indians: 12 shutout wins in their first 93 games of the season for the first time since 1968.
Miguel Cabrera (DET): 95th RBI this season (T-fifth-most in AL history before All-Star break).
Chris Davis (BAL): 35 home runs, tied for fourth in MLB history before the All-Star break; he has eight hits in his past 13 games, and seven of them are HRs.
Pedro Alvarez (PIT): 24th HR of season; tied with Ralph Kiner (1950) for third most before the All-Star break in Pirates history (Willie Stargell had 30 in 1971 and 1973).
Patrick Corbin (ARI): Fifth pitcher in Diamondbacks history with consecutive starts of 10-plus strikeouts, joining Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Max Scherzer and Dan Haren.
Clayton Kershaw (LAD): First Dodgers pitcher with sub-2.00 ERA through 20 starts since Don Sutton in 1972.
Aroldis Chapman (CIN): Hit 104 mph on a pitch to Freddie Freeman, the fastest pitch in MLB this year. Overall, 17 of Chapman's 23 pitches were 100 mph or faster.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Yasiel Puig hasn't been the same player since running into the wall in Colorado on July 3. In nine games since hitting the wall, he has only one extra-base hit and is hitting .256.
He left Friday’s game, again.
1. The White Sox aggressively shopped Matt Thornton, according to rival officials, before finishing the deal with the Red Sox. Other teams passed because they felt Thornton hasn’t been throwing well, and felt that the cost outweighed the possible reward.
2. The Phillies should buy one and trade one, writes Ed Rendell.
3. The Pirates made a minor deal.
Dings and dents
1. Jeter’s comeback was halted by injury.
2. Jordan Zimmermann won’t pitch in the All-Star Game.
3. Jesse Crain is still feeling some discomfort.
4. The Padres got some guys back.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Terry Ryan says there are no plans to fire Ron Gardenhire.
2. The Brewers signed an outfielder.
3. The Indians promoted a top prospect.
4. The Jays may or may not be leaving Dunedin, Fla.
1. John Lackey was outstanding again, as Scott Lauber writes.
2. Jordy Mercer walked it off.
3. Doug Fister had a strong outing.
4. Buster Posey and the Giants put up a bunch of runs, again.
The Orioles are looking for a turnaround with their rotation.
A lack of work is costing Glen Perkins money.
Jim Leyland feels disrespected.
Raul Ibanez hit two homers, giving him 24 on the season, already tied for his third most in a single season in his career (career high is 34 in 2009). His first homer was calculated at 423 feet, his longest home run of the season.
Ibanez trails only Ted Williams for most home runs in AL history by a player 41 or older.
Stephen Strasburg had a really bad day.
The Cubs introduced their No. 1 pick.
Mike Matheny cleared the air with umpires.
Todd Helton’s heir apparent is still unclear.
The Cardinals’ top position prospect faces a lawsuit.
David Wright smoothed things over with Pedro Alvarez.
And today will be better than yesterday.