Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Two More Words On Soriano

I know, I know... I'm getting sick of him too. Soon enough we'll be able to refocus our energies on hating the style of play, not the players themselves! Before we get there though...

Mike's Baseball Rants tried to put what Soriano was doing into the context of the eternal struggle between labor and management in Major League Baseball. He expresses the same sort of perverse disappointment that I felt with Soriano's decision to play. Now we'll never know what would've happened.

What Soriano was attempting to do was pretty monumental, and was going over uncharted territory. While it's easy to point to his $10 million salary and yell at the bum to move over, it's important to keep in mind that he's still treated like property, having not yet attained six years of major league service time. As a result, he's bound by the contract terms he signed way back in 1998. And while, yes, he freely signed that contract and has cashed checks for many more millions than I'll probably ever see, don't let our envy of his pay affect the principles of the issue.
Back in the day, players argued that they could not be held to a team in perpetuity as some sort of chattel. Fights flared up with John Montgomery Ward and the Players League rebellion in 1890, Danny Gardella challenging being blacklisted after playing in the then-rival Mexican League in the late Forties, and Curt Flood famously refusing to report to the Phils—I can't blame him—after a trade in 1969.

Those players were fighting for the right to play for the team they wanted at a fair market value. That's a right that the players later won to some degree. That is, players must complete six seasons of major-league service to earn the right.

Soriano, though he may not have known it, was fighting for a player's right to play a role that he desired, the one that he felt was best for his career in the long run.

Yes, it's a bit silly in a practical sense to compare what the millionaire Soriano was doing to Curt Flood's momentous stance (if you don't know Flood's story, read this!), but when you strip away the salary, it's the type of battle that might not have looked so out of place thirty years ago. Does a player, who is still his club's property, have any input into where he plays? We won't know now. Soriano's ultimately correct decision to take his place in left robbed us of the chance to find a resolution to that. Another day, perhaps.

  • The other story I wanted to point out is from one of my favorite baseball writers, Buster Olney. When he's not shilling for things his employer pushes on him, he's an excellent writer who sees things that other writers miss. I've heard a few writers who've seen him work, and they speak with a strange reverance about Olney's approach. He's quicker than them, and he sees more than they do. (And he usually writes better than them, too!).

    At any rate, he used to cover the Yankees for the NY Times, and knows Soriano from that. He wrote about Soriano in his ESPN Insider blog. The link works for me, despite its supposed Insider status. (Thanks to Kyle for the link)
    You can already get a sense how the winds of sentiment are shifting in the Alfonso Soriano matter. Some folks are talking about him as if he's baseball version of Terrell Owens, and that is simply untrue. He is a good guy, easygoing, and in the seven years I've known him, I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone else. He's not going to start dumping on Jose Vidro, taking teammates down with him.

    Soriano's a tough and determined person. When he was a teenager, Soriano signed his first professional contract with a team in Japan, and upon arrival there, he found, much to his chagrin, that not a single member of the organization spoke Spanish extensively; one teammate exchanged a few rudimentary phrases with him....

    [Soriano] forced himself to learn Japanese as quickly as possible. When he first came to the big leagues, he would greet some of the players from Japan with great enthusiasm -- Tomo Ohka [me: uhoh, don't tell Frank!], Ichiro Suzuki -- chatting in Japanese.

    He had a great spring training in 2001, and the Yankees, in an effort to find a place to play him, shifted him to left field. Soriano enthusiastically embraced the opportunity and played terrifically at the position, running down balls in the gap; he seemed like a total natural, as if he was the next Mickey Mantle, who had shifted from shortstop to the outfield, like Soriano was trying to do....

    It would have helped the situation markedly if the Nationals had talked to Soriano about the shift before penciling him into left field. The club is saying that they were not given permission to talk to Soriano, but back-channel talks go on all the time in baseball. They could have posed the question through a friend, or off the record through the agent, or through a mutual acquaintance. This apparently did not happen.

    And while the Nationals are justified in thinking Soriano would be better in left field than second base, handling it the way they did was simply disrespectful of Soriano's belief that he is a second baseman, and that his market value as a free agent next fall would be greatest at that position. As a historic offensive second baseman -- and Soriano's production numbers are off the charts among his peers -- he might figure he could make $12 million or so, for five or six years. As a corner outfielder, his market value would be much less than that. You might argue, rightfully, that nobody will pay him that kind of money, but you have to respect that this is what his opinion apparently is. This is why the conversation needed to take place in December, rather than February and March.

    Olney clearly thinks he's a good kid, and from my days as a fan of that other team, I'd agree. It's just been one big foul up after another since we first got word of the trade.

    But it's over now. Soriano's in left, and it's time to move on. He's an exciting, dynamic player, even if you'll gnash your teeth at some of the pitches he swings at. But when he's going well, he'll do something once a week that'll bring one of those subconscious smiles to your face -- the kind where you wind up shaking your head and chuckling out your nose.

    What's done is done. And I'm happy to have him.

    Now about that General Manager....


    • No, no, no, no, no, no...not chattel! Contract signed! Period!!!

      Come on...if my boss told me I was going to be doing something different...and over my career that's happened more than once...I don't think I'm gonna squat in my office, refuse to move and stubbornly keep doing the same job. Nope. I'd be fired or quit...or do the job I am now getting paid for.

      There was nothing in his contract guaranteeing where he was going to play. The contract had all the legalities in it. The basic agreement was negotiated by the union.

      He is no more beholden to stay with his team than I am with my company. He can quit, too. And before you tell me I can go get another job with another can Alfonso!!! Just maybe not MLB. Tough. I wouldn't be guaranteed a job with any organization either. I'm not guaranteed a job in my field of expertise.

      This is NOT a rights issue!!!

      Contract signed! Period! Fulfill it or don't. Get paid or don't. That's completely the player's choice.

      Whew. Sorry. But it is not an issue about chattel. Please.

      By Blogger Jim H, at 3/22/2006 11:46 PM  

    • The fact that he can't get paid for doing the same job is PRECISELY the reason there's a problem. He's NOT free to shop his services around because he's bound by a renewing contract he originally signed 6 years ago.

      No, you're not guaranteed a contract within your field of expertise, neither is he. But YOU can AT LEAST LOOK for a job within that field of expertise. You don't think that if you were one of the ten best people in the world at your particular job (which Soriano is at his) that you'd be unable to find a job?

      It IS a rights issue. We'd probably side with Soriano if he made 1/10 of his current salary, and if the team forced him to move to catcher. This is only slightly different, and even if the particulars of Soriano's contract make him a less sympathetic figure, the underlying principles are interesting.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/23/2006 8:38 AM  

    • I've got to disagree with you. He CAN shop his talents around if he wants to. Sure, he may have to look a little further, but as we now know, he already speaks Japanese.

      If you're looking for the right to play in the field as well as set the line-up, then maybe MLB isn't for you.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/23/2006 11:40 AM  

    • Actually, he can't go the Japanese leagues. They recognize each other's contracts and reserve rights. The loophole that Soriano used to come here was closed IMMEDIATELY, and that's why current Japanese players have to go through the posting process.

      And to assume that players don't have a say in their position or lineup role is a bit ignorant. You don't think that Jose Guillen dictates when he is or isn't in the lineup? It's just that most managers smooth these things over internally, just as the Rangers had done, and just as the Yankees did with Arod/Jeter.

      It's just that Bowden felt that Soriano, as the new guy, didn't deserve any of the respect these other teams showed their players. They didn't respect his opinion, even as they let Guillen dictate where and when he's playing.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/23/2006 11:44 AM  

    • Please don't get me wrong...I'm not praising Bowden. Far from it. I think most will agree this trade was ill advised from the get go. Not the point.

      I suppose we'll need to disagree on this one. I'm proposing that Soriano's field of expertise isn't necessarily playing second base. When you state he's one of the ten best at his job, I'm assuming you're saying that because he can hit. Certainly not because he is anywhere near proficient at fielding the position.

      Just because someone says they are a second baseman dosn't mean it's really true.

      Anyway...I'm going down the wrong road there.

      Salary amount has little to do with it. If he was making 1/10 of what he does, would I feel differently? Certainly not. He's signed a personal services contract that does not guarantee his position. Do the job.

      Just because management disagrees with you and insists you work on a different project doesn't mean you're being professionally abused - especially if you're getting paid.

      Anyway...that's my last take on it. I know we'd all like this issue to die. Sorry to keep performing CPR. ;)

      (By the way...this blog is regular reading for me. Thanks for all the work you do!)

      By Blogger Jim H, at 3/23/2006 12:26 PM  

    • Thanks... I hope my last reply didn't come across as harshly as it sounded when I just re-read it. :)

      I certainly see that side of it. I'm not really trying to defend Soriano per se. I'm just not sure, having weeded through the CBA and the uniform player's contract that it's as cut and dry as Bowden was making it sound.

      It seems like there's a grey area there that could've been an interesting and precedent-setting decision.

      That being said, I WAS ready to boo the hell out of the guy come opening day. You're right, he SHOULD suck it up and play left. I'm glad he did.

      But as far as contractually being obligated to do it? I'm not so sure. That's all. :)

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 3/23/2006 12:30 PM  

    • Thanks... I hope my last reply didn't come across as harshly as it sounded when I just re-read it. :)

      Harsh? No way...this is just the kind of discussion you've got to love even being able to have. There's baseball in DC!

      Thanks, Chris...points well taken.

      Play ball!

      By Blogger Jim H, at 3/23/2006 1:06 PM  

    • Hmmmm, nothing in my agreement with my current employer tells me that they cannot tell me that my new responsibilities include cleaning out toilets... But I would still be pissed if they thought that is the best use of my skills. And what if my current agreement with my employer also prevented me from seeking jobs with other companies in the same field (ie, computer-related field, not toilet-cleaning field) if I were to leave this company? Now, I'm not comparing left field to cleaning a toilet, but still, seems unfair to me.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/23/2006 2:45 PM  

    • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/26/2009 9:08 PM  

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