Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top 10 Crooks In Baseball

November 17, 1973, 37 years ago today: Richard Nixon proved he was the father of the modern Republican Party. Reagan, both Bushes, Gingrich, Cheney, Boehner... they're not just crooks, they're all arch-criminals. America cannot trust them. So often, we soon forget... but we always figure it out.

Who are the top 10 crooks in baseball history?

10. Hal Chase. Probably no player ever "threw" more games, or did so over a longer period, than "Prince Hal," who played from 1905 to 1919. He even used his reputation as baseball's best-fielding 1st baseman of the time to make errors, and thus cast doubt not on his own honesty but on the fielding ability of the infielders throwing to him. And he confessed it all.

9. Carl Pavano. If you're talking who is the biggest crook ever among players, there can be no other candidate, not even Chase. Pavano got a $39.95 million contract to play for the Yankees for 4 years. He faced 542 batters for the Yankees in those 4 years. That's $73,708.49 per batter.

He went 9-8 (and the Yankees were a bit more than a .500 team at the time), his ERA+ was 89 (11 percent worse than the AL average), his WHIP was 1.455, and, oh yeah, he crashed his Corvette and broke ribs without telling the team for 2 weeks.

Little wonder he was nicknamed "American Idle." Thief! Fraud! Crook!

8. Walter O'Malley. Face it, if he could have made more money staying in Brooklyn than going to Los Angeles, the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn today. If he could have made more money in London, in Tokyo, in Antarctica, or the freakin' Moon, that's where Dodger Stadium would be today.

Let's not forget that he offered the city of Los Angeles a deal: In return for giving him the 300 acres of land on which Dodger Stadium and its parking lots sit, he would accept only 77 games' worth of parking revenue. In other words, half of the season's games. The city fathers were stupid: It never occurred to him that, in the other half of the games, the Dodgers would be on the road.

Let's remember also that he got the people living on the site of Dodger Stadium evicted from their homes. He'd already done that in his pre-baseball life, as an attorney for landlords. Walter O'Malley was scum. And he was a crook.

7. Charlie Comiskey. No, not the 8 Chicago White Sox players under his employ who took money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. The man who drove them to it. And knew about it. And did nothing to stop it.

6. Scott Boras. His clients have included Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Iván Rodríguez and Éric Gagné -- steroid cheats. (Magglio Ordonez, another of Boras' Bonus Babies, has also been suspected.)

They have also included several guys who got huge contracts and didn't pan out: Todd Van Poppel, Barry Zito (at least, since he's left Oakland, the Giants won this year's World Series despite him), Kevin Millwood (much less successful as a Phillie and an Oriole than as a not-yet-fabulously-paid Brave), both Jeff Fucking Weaver and his brother Jared Weaver, Kenny (Coward of the County) Rogers, and, with the current Mets, Carlos Beltrán and Oliver Perez.

Then, of course, there were the $252 million contract he negotiated for A-Rod with the Texas Rangers, which eventually plunged the team into bankruptcy; and the extension of said contract to $275 million with the Yankees. All this before A-Rod had won so much as a Pennant.

I suppose we can blame A-Rod for, until October 2009, not living up to the contract, but we sure can't blame him for getting a lot of money that no mere athlete deserves. Not even Derek Jeter. Scott Boras is a thief.

5. Jeffrey Loria. First he bought the Montreal Expos, and promised he would never move them. Then he made that come true, but only because he so seriously defunded them that they couldn't compete in MLB. Then, with assistance from Commissioner Bud Selig and his fellow owners, he was allowed to sell the Expos back to MLB at a massive profit, and buy the Florida Marlins (whose owners then bought the Boston Red Sox). This led to MLB taking the team out of unprofitable Montreal.

And whose fault was it that the city was unprofitable for baseball? Not all Loria's, but mainly Loria's -- and move them to Washington, D.C. Washington deserved a team, but not that team.

Now willing to spend a little money (but not that much), Loria bought himself a World Championship in 2003. Being a Yankee Fan, I certainly can't fault him for trying that. But then he broke up that team to save money, and the Marlins have barely been competitive since.

He's getting a new ballpark in 2012, but does he really deserve it? He doesn't deserve a luxury suite at Your Corporation's Name Goes Here Field. He deserves a different suite, like at Sing Sing.

4. Arthur Soden. The owner of the franchise best known as the Boston Braves from 1876 to 1907, and acting President of the National League in 1882 and '83, he decided to move the Troy Trojans (across the river from Albany) to New York where they became the Giants, and the Worcester Ruby Legs (possibly eliminating competition for his "Beaneaters") to Philadelphia where they became the Phillies. So I guess we should thank him for that.

But he was also the man who suggested the reserve clause to his fellow owners, keeping players bound for life to one club (or so the owners wanted the players to believe) unless they were traded or outright released, not to mention a back-door way to what we would now call a salary cap.

It gets worse: In 1890, he practically kept the NL in business by funding several teams, enabling them to crush the Players League and the 1st players' union.

And he capped his career by responding to the founding of the American League in 1901, including another team in Boston, the one that became known as the Red Sox, by... raising ticket prices. The "Royal Rooters," Boston's biggest baseball fan club, deserted the NL club en masse and moved to the AL club.

That, as much as anything else, is the reason why Boston was a Red Sox town continuously from 1901 onward. In the 52 seasons in which both teams played in Boston, 1901 to 1952, the Braves only had the higher per-game attendance 7 times -- all between 1921 and 1933, starting after Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth, and ending the year Tom Yawkey bought the Sox and started rebuilding them. Even as the Braves won their last 2 Boston Pennants, the Red Sox had higher attendance: 6,055 to 5,055 (a 20 percent advantage for the Sox) in 1914, and 20,000 to 19,000 (a 5 percent advantage for the Sox) in 1948.

I suppose that if someone other than Yawkey had bought the Sox from 1933 onward, the Braves might have been the team that survived in Boston, and the Red Sox might have been the one that moved. But Arthur Soden certainly ended the era when the Braves were the unquestioned most popular sports team in New England. And all because he was a greedy crook.

It's just as well, I suppose: As bad as the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is, can you imagine if the Mets and Braves were a New York-New England rivalry?

3. Allan H. Selig Jr. Before becoming Commissioner, or Acting Commissioner, or a powerful force among the owners, or the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, or even the man trying the hardest (and eventually succeeding) to bring Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left town, "Bud" Selig was... a used-car salesman. He even sold a rookie Braves catcher named Joe Torre his first car.

All jokes about "Would you buy a used car from this man?" (which brings us back to Nixon) aside, Selig went on to become the 1st Commissioner in the history of major league sports, anywhere on this planet (including soccer in any country) to cancel a postseason in order to save money for the team owners. (That was on September 12, 1994, a date which lives in infamy. Unfortunately, he was not the last: Gary Bettman canceled an entire NHL season 10 years later.)

And he tore down and replaced Milwaukee County Stadium, one of the most fun ballparks ever, and replaced it with Miller Park, for one reason and one reason only: To make more money.

As a team owner, becoming Commissioner was a conflict of interest of epic proportions. And he looked the other way on steroids, although he certainly had help on that matter from the Players' Association and its director Don Fehr (who could also have made this list). He also looked the other way on the Red Sox' pitchers targeting the Yankees with headhunting pitches -- because he knew that publicity generated by the Yanks-Sox rivalry meant more television revenue, and thus more money for Major League Baseball and the team owners.

I have to issue a disclaimer: In 1993, before most of these reason for my anger toward him developed, anticipating the realignment of MLB's divisions to prepare for the added round of Playoffs, I wrote a letter (this was before the era of e-mail) to Selig, making suggestions as to how the divisions should be aligned. Exactly what my realignment plan was at the time, I can't remember.

But Selig sent me a very nice return letter, thanking me for my idea. This was clearly not a form letter: This required thought in composition. And it was actually signed, not by a robo-pen (or whatever they call signature-writing machines). I really liked him after that: He seemed a Commissioner in touch with the thoughts of the fans. Little did I know that, just a year later, he would commit the greatest crime in baseball history.

2. Rupert Murdoch. Okay, he wasn't that crooked as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1997 to 2004. But this isn't the Top 10 Baseball Crooks, it's the Top 10 Crooks In Baseball. And it takes a special kind of person to buy the Dodgers from the O'Malley family, and become the worst human being ever to own that franchise.

Number 1? Easy choice, especially when you consider who I chose for Number 2.

1. George W. Bush. Okay, he wasn't that crooked as owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1998 (with his ownership in a blind trust after his 1994 election as Governor, hence the team technically didn't reach the postseason while he was the man controlling the team)...
Crook Number 3 and Crook Number 1, in happier times.

But has there ever been a bigger criminal in American history? Nope, not even Richard Nixon himself -- even if he did sort of steal the Presidential election in 1968 by sending Madame Chennault to Paris to sabotage the Vietnam peace negotiations. But he didn't actually steal votes like Bush did.

"Were it within my power to forgive you, I would. But your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me."
-- Joseph N. Welch

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