Baseball hasn't changed: It's still bend the rules if you've got the power to do it

November 17, 1992|By Bill Madden | Bill Madden,New York Daily News

So it is today that the officialdom of baseball descended o our fair city for the purpose of conducting more of their off-season business-as-usual. In case you haven't been watching closely, that is business in which the agreements, rules and by-laws that govern the game no longer apply and, in the absence of any leadership at the top, everyone kind of does whatever suits their own purpose.

On the surface, the expansion draft that was to be played out about some seven hours at the Marriott Marquis has provided baseball with a rare and welcome opportunity to whet the appetites of its otherwise disaffected fan populace. Heck, ESPN even elected to televise the proceedings -- this less than a month after they informed baseball they didn't want to televise the games anymore! How convoluted and crazy is that?

It's just too bad that this draft is stained with the same elements of greed, selfishness and bullying that have pervaded baseball for nearly a year now. Yesterday, in fact, the Yankees sent National League president Bill White a letter maintaining the draft is illegal in their opinion because the Marlins have yet to compensate them for taking over the territory of their minor-league team in Fort Lauderdale.

The Yankees base their assertion on Article IX of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which states: "No territory in which a National Association [minor league] franchise is being operated under protection of this agreement shall be included in any major league until such National Association club is paid compensation mutually agreed upon as just and reasonable compensation." It is just another of baseball's rules that is being ignored because it serves someone's purpose to ignore it.

In this case it is the Marlins and Rockies whose purpose it serves since neither has made any overtures to even negotiate a compensation settlement with the minor-league teams whose territories they have usurped. Nevertheless, they will very much be functioning as major-league teams today when they begin picking away at the leftovers the established 26 clubs have put on the table for them.

But just as it served the Marlins and Rockies to ignore the agreement, it served the other clubs' purpose to bend and flaunt the rules in every which way they could in order to deprive their expansion brethren of as many blue-chip prospects as possible.

Wonder what the Marlins and Rockies thought of all those veteran players with 5-and-10 no-trade rights waiving them (in most cases for an "agreed-upon just and fair compensation") in order that their clubs could leave them off their 15-man protected lists?

It's a classic case of the players and the owners colluding against the expansion teams. And there's no telling how many private handshake deals already have been reached between the established clubs and the free agents they would have had to protect had they signed before the draft.

We can only assume these deals will not escape detection -- and subsequent prosecution -- by baseball's acting "commissioner" Bud "Kenesaw Molehill" Selig and his staff of vigilantes. Yeah, right, just like we can count on the culprit who leaked the expansion protected lists to the Chicago Tribune being brought to justice in this century.

This is not to say, though, that baseball's present state of anarchy is the end result of Fay Vincent's ouster as commissioner by the owners. For nobody in baseball in the past year was more guilty of ignoring the rules or using them for his own purpose than Vincent. Sometimes, the rules he ignored were even his own -- as in the case of Steve Howe.

It did not come out in the initial decision handed down by George Nicolau last week, but the primary reason baseball's arbitrator lifted Howe's lifetime suspension was because of Vincent's total botching of the case.

In particular, baseball's own psychiatrist informed Vincent in 1990 that Howe should not be permitted back into baseball without mandatory testing for drugs every two days. Yet, in the off-season of 1991, when Howe became involved in another drug-related incident in Montana, he hadn't been tested even once.

No matter to Vincent that his office dropped the ball regarding Howe by failing to extend the pitcher the one deterrent and lifeline he had to have to stay clean. You have to wonder if baseball deliberately forgot to keep testing Howe. At any rate, Vincent suspended him for life and then attempted to suspend half the Yankee front office for testifying in Howe's behalf at the request of the Players Association.

Meanwhile, I am told that Steve Greenberg, Vincent's deputy, went ballistic when he read the details of Nicolau's decision -- which is why it has taken so long for it to be released. Greenberg attempted to have the arbitrator's criticism of Vincent and his office tempered or, if possible, expunged altogether from the public record.

So what else is new? A baseball official doesn't like a rule, or in this case a ruling, and he attempts to alter it to his own purpose.

Welcome to baseball, Marlins and Rockies.

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