Chass’ latest affont to Brien’s peace of mind appeared last week, where Chass relayed a story told to him by ex-baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent. According to Vincent, several years ago Vincent had the chance to discuss life with ex-Red Sox GM Lou Gorman, and Gorman told Vincent the following story: (1) after the Red Sox 1986 season, the team offered to sign star pitcher Roger Clemens to a long-term contract at $1 million a year, (2) then-baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth (Vincent’s predecessor as Commissioner) told Gorman that the Red Sox were forbidden to pay Clemens more than $500,000 a year, (3) Gorman was forced to go back on his initial offer to Clemens, leaving Clemens and his agent “crazed”, and (4) Gorman felt that the Red Sox’s failure to go forward with their million dollar deal led to Clemens’ departure from the Red Sox in 1996.
According to Vincent-as-reported-by-Chass, Gorman made Vincent promise not to repeat this story until after Gorman was dead. Gorman passed away the beginning of this month. Vincent waited a decent amount of time (2 weeks or so), then called Chass to relay Gorman’s story. Chass, ever ready to retell tales told out of school, dutifully published this story for our consumption.
If you read the Chass piece quickly, it might make sense to you. Ueberroth was baseball’s Commissioner during its so-called collusion era, when baseball’s leadership and team owners conspired to keep a lid on player salaries.
But in every other respect, Chass’ piece defies common sense. As Brien said, if Ueberroth truly wanted to keep Clemens’ salary at half a million or less, why would he have relayed his order to Lou Gorman? Gorman did not work for Ueberroth. Gorman was an employee of the Red Sox, and took his instructions from team ownership.
Chass’ story is a head-scratcher in other ways that Brien didn’t have time to get to. First things: Chass’ story makes sense only if Gorman’s failure to sign Clemens to that million dollar deal led to Clemens’ departure from the Red Sox in 1996. This is why (according to Vincent) Gorman told Vincent the story of the aborted Clemens deal, because Gorman “wanted someone to explain the Clemens loss by the Red Sox after he [Gorman] was dead.” But how could anyone believe that Gorman’s contract negotiations with Clemens in 1986 caused Clemens to leave the team ten years later, in 1996? Is Chass saying that Gorman wanted to sign Clemens in 1986 to a deal that would have extended past 1996? Chass says only that Gorman wanted to sign Clemens to a “long-term contract”, but in 1986 a long-term contract for a pitcher might have extended out 4 or 5 years. I don’t think a pitcher has EVER received a contract with a term exceeding 10 years. If Gorman had intended to sign Clemens to a 12 year contract, or a 15 year contract, surely he would have mentioned that to Vincent.
Is Chass saying that Clemens was so upset about his failure to receive a $1 million salary in 1986 that it forever poisoned his relations with the Red Sox, but Clemens waited until 1996 to seek his revenge and leave Boston? If so, that’s crazy. First, there’s nothing in Clemens’ personality to suggest that he’d wait 10 years to seek revenge. Second, there were many, many interactions between the Red Sox and Clemens in the intervening years between 1986 and 1996 that were more significant than Clemens’ 1987 salary negotiations. True, Clemens held out during 1987 spring training to get a bigger salary (Clemens was paid $650,000 in 1987, above the cap that Chass alleges was set by Ueberroth). But Clemens got his million dollar salary ($1,350,000 to be exact) just a year later, in 1988. In 1989, Clemens signed a 3-year deal with the BoSox at an average salary of $2.5 million, the highest average salary in baseball history up until that time. In 1992, Clemans signed a four year $20 million deal with the Red Sox. Sure, Clemens did not always get along with the Red Sox brass, but it would be crazy for Clemens – who was paid about $36 million by the Red Sox – to have departed the Red Sox in 1996 over $350,000 he did not receive 10 years earlier.
Chass is also ignoring the fact that the Red Sox did not try all that hard to retain Clemens in 1996. In 1996, Clemens was 33 years old and in the famous words of then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, was in the “twilight of his career”. Clemens had not pitched all that well over the preceding few seasons (at least, that’s what Bill Simmons thinks). Reportedly, in 1996 the Red Sox offered Clemens a 4 year deal at $6 million a year, not all of which would have been guaranteed. The Red Sox knew that Clemens had received better offers from the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays.
It should be obvious that Clemens did not leave the Red Sox in 1996 because he had failed to make a million dollars in 1986. Clemens left the Red Sox in 1996 in order to make millions of extra dollars in 1997, and thereafter. In fact, if you look at this rationally, it’s hard to understand what the heck Lou Gorman was talking about when he revealed his life secret to Fay Vincent. It’s hard to imagine what Gorman could have possibly done back in 1986 that would have persuaded Clemens to accept the fourth best contract offer he’d receive 10 years later.
Another point: Chass’ story makes sense only if it was way out of line for the Red Sox to have offered a million dollars a year to Clemens back in 1986. Unless a $1 million contract was beyond the pale in 1986, there’s no reason why Ueberroth would have stuck his neck out and ordered the Red Sox to pay Clemens $500,000 in 1987. But in 1986, there was nothing crazy about paying a player $1 million. In 1986, SIXTY-FIVE baseball players received a salary of $1 million or more. True, some of those million dollar guys were veterans, while Clemens was only 24 years old in 1986. But in 1986, a 24 year old Met named Darryl Strawberry made $945,000. That same year, Kent Hrbek (26) made $1,060,000, Cal Ripken (26) made $1,150,000, Dwight Gooden (21!) made $1,320,000, Don Mattingly (25) made $1,375,000, Fernando Valenzuela (25) made $1,600,000 and someone named Jose DeLeon (25) made $1,825,000. In 1986, the Red Sox paid nearly $2 million to 33 year old outfielder Jim Rice, $1,350,000 to 28 year old third baseman Wade Boggs and $1 million to 33 year old outfielder Tony Armas.
More details: in 1986, the Red Sox paid over a million dollars to Bob Stanley, who that year posted a 6-6 record with 16 saves, a 4.37 ERA and a sub-par 91 ERA+. (It was Bob Stanley who uncorked the wild pitch the night of October 25, 1986, allowing the Mets to tie game 6 of the World Series. He also threw the pitch that Mookie Wilson hit between Bill Buckner’s legs that won game 6 for the Mets, though Stanley can hardly be blamed for that.) That same year, Clemens went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and a 169 ERA+, and he won both the American League Cy Young and MVP awards. So please tell me, why would then-Commissioner Peter Ueberroth think it way out of line for the Red Sox to offer Clemens in 1987 a bit less than they had paid Stanley in 1986? In 1987, Clemens was entering his fourth season as a major leaguer, just the same as Gooden, so why in the world would Ueberroth require the Red Sox to pay Clemens in 1987 less than half of what Gooden had received in 1986?
It makes no sense.
It’s up to journalist Murray Chass to explain to us why he chose to believe this crazy story. It’s also up to journalist Murray Chass to corroborate this crazy story before repeating in on the net. The closest thing to corroboration offered by Chass is his telephone interview with Clemens’ former agent Randy Hendricks, who said “I remember we had a deal [in 1986], then Lou said he couldn’t do that. He didn’t give me a satisfactory reason about it.” That’s not much corroboration. There’s nothing there about Peter Ueberroth, or the proposed deal being long-term, or the deal being for $1 million a year or Clemens or his agent being “crazed” once the deal was changed. In fact, Chass freely admits that Hendrick’s version of the facts “doesn’t jibe” with that of Gorman.
All we know from Hendricks is that Gorman reached an agreement with Hendricks, then told Hendricks that the Red Sox could not go through with the deal. Maybe the deal was vetoed by Red Sox ownership. Maybe Gorman himself had second thoughts about the deal. We just don’t know.
But the Hendricks quote is the closest thing to corroboration that Chass has to offer. Of course, the best possible corroboration would come from Ueberroth himself. But as Chass reported, Ueberroth has flatly denied the story. Chass might have received corroboration from player’s union officials who had investigated the collusion in the late 1980s by Ueberroth and the various baseball team owners. Such a union official might have confirmed that Ueberroth typically ordered club GMs to overturn their too-generous contract offers. But Chass wrote that Gene Orza, then associate general counsel for the player’s union, thought that the Gorman story was “mistaken”.
Why does Chass choose to believe Gorman and not Ueberroth? According to Chass, “[i]t seems unlikely … that Gorman would tell a tale in which he acknowledged being part of an illegal act and told of how worried he was that he might have to admit it under oath if it weren’t true.” Mmm-hmm. So Chass believes Gorman because he does not think Gorman would lie. Evidently, Chass thinks that Ueberroth would lie and that Orza would lie. Evidently, Chass does not think that Vincent would lie. Evidently, Chass thinks that his opinion of who is lying and who is not is an adequate substitute for verifying and corroborating his story.
So, let’s sum up. Chass’ story makes no sense on its face. There’s no reason to believe the story that Vincent says was told to him by Gorman. It is crazy to believe that Gorman thought Clemens left the Red Sox in 1996 over a $350,000 payroll dispute in 1986. There’s no reason to believe that Ueberroth would blatantly break the law and try to pressure a Red Sox GM to reneg on a $1 million commitment at a time where there were gobs of $1 million contracts. There’s no reason to believe that Ueberroth capped Clemens’ 1987 salary at $500,000, when Clemens was actually paid $650,000 in 1987. Having failed to tell a believable story, Chass then tried and failed to get Ueberroth and Orza to corroborate the story. Clemens’ agent agreed with the story only in small part, and failed to corroborate details of the story that should have been well within his knowledge if those details were true.
All Chass had to go on was a story from a dead man, reported to him after that man’s death by a second man (Vincent) with an evident grudge against Ueberroth and much of the current baseball hierarchy. That’s just not enough to go on. Chass went with it anyway. Which is one reason why Chass is a hack.