10,000 days since collusion began

10,000 days ago, baseball entered a new era of management-player relations. It wouldn’t be a particularly long-lived era, and it certainly wouldn’t be a successful one.

10,000 days ago, collusion began.

Collusion. The dictionary defines it as: “A secret agreement between two or more persons for a deceitful or illegal purpose.” Yeah, that sounds about right.

The collusion in this case centered on player salaries. It had been a decade since baseball entered the free agency era, and teams still hadn’t gotten used to that. They certainly hadn’t gotten used to the rising salaries that came with it. So the owners figured that they would stop salaries from rising by crafting a league-wide gentlemen’s agreement not to bid on players from other teams unless that team no longer wanted that player. This approach would keep salaries down.

It’s also flatly illegal. Informal collaborations aren’t supposed to set player salaries; the law of supply and demand is supposed to set salaries. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work. But the owners, who you think would be good capitalists, were more interested in keeping costs down than any theoretical economic implications, or any real-life legal consequences.

Specifically, 10,000 days ago baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave a speech to the owners at their annual meeting. With the offseason signing season about to get underway for the 1985-86 winter, Ueberroth told them it was “damn dumb” to lose money in an attempt to win the World Series. He helped forge a consensus that determined teams shouldn’t make moves toward players from other teams.

Ueberroth would later deny that collusion ever took place, saying that it was impossible to get the 26 different team owners of the day to work together. But the facts belie his denial. Unlike all previous seasons before or after the collusion era, players trying to get bigger contracts for themselves found no takers. This happened in the fall of 1985. And again in 1986. And again in 1987.

The most dramatic case was Expos star outfielder Andre Dawson. Convinced that the artificial turf in Montreal was ruining his knees, he sought to get out but found no takers. Nevermind that he was a future Hall of Famer, he had no takers. In desperation, he targeted the Cubs and showed up at their spring training facility. He didn’t have a contract, so he had to stay outside, but the press photographs of a star trying to sign with the club created a PR nightmare for the Cubs. Dawson went even further, offering the club a one-year blank check if they would sign him. Yeah, Dawson left his club, but his experience showed how difficult it was.

His Expos teammate, Tim Raines, also tried to leave but couldn’t find any takers at all. He ended up missing an entire month of a season in his prime due to collusion.

More that the stories, the legal record is pretty damning. The players union took the owners to court over it, and won. Three times they won, despite the owners being innocent until proven guilty. The evidence was too obvious.

The owners weren’t even able to save money. When they lost their cases, they were ordered to pay fines to the players to make up for lost salaries, and several prominent players were allowed to become one-time-only, no-risk free agents and move to new teams with new contracts despite being in the middle of their current contracts—because those contracts were caused by collusion.

Ultimately, the owners avoided the worst of the financial fallout from the collusion cases. Oh, they paid the fines all right, or rather, found someone to pay the fines for them. Once they realized they owned massive millions in penalties, owners opted for another round of expansion. The expansion fees paid by the new owners of the recently created Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies paid off the collusion fines.

But that’s getting ahead of things. The beginning of the collusion story came 10,000 days ago.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.


1,000 days since a 5.9 quake interrupts a Blue Jays-Padres game in Petco Park in the eighth inning. There is no damage, so after a pause, the game resumes.

1,000 days since free agent Jeff Suppan signs with St. Louis.

1,000 days since Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols appear in a game together, making it the first time that two players with over 5,000 at-bats and a career average north of .330 have been in the same game since 1942, when Paul Waner and Joe Medwick did it.

3,000 days since Boston signs reclamation project pitchers Wade Miller and Matt Clement.

5,000 days since Scott Rolen hits the only inside-the-park homer of his career. It comes in Philadelphia against Terry Mulholland of the Cubs.

5,000 days since Phil Nevin and Carlos Baerga hit back-to-back, pinch-hit homers in the ninth inning of a 15-3 Padres win over the Rockies.

5,000 days since Florida signs amateur free agent Miguel Cabrera. This works out well.

5,000 days since two brothers record decisions in the same game against each other. When Texas tops Seattle, 7-6, Rangers pitcher Jeff Zimmerman gets the win while Mariners arm Jordan Zimmerman receives the loss.

5,000 days since major league baseball announces that umpire Tom Hallion has been suspended for three games for his actions in a recent game when he bumped into a pitcher complaining with a different umpire.

6,000 days since the Orioles top the Indians, 4-3, in 12 innings in Game Four of the ALDS to advance to the ALCS.

8,000 days since Willie Randolph gets his 2,000th career hit. It nearly came in his 2,000th game, too: No. 1,992.

8,000 days since Jeff Bagwell hits his first home run.

9,000 days since Hansin Tigers GM Shingo Furuya commits suicide. He’d been on the job just six weeks but had been heavily criticized in that time.

9,000 days since Jose Cruz appears in his last game.

9,000 days since a strange and rare thing: an unassisted pickoff. Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe catches runner Brett Butler well off the bag and just goes over to tag Butler at second base himself rather than throw the ball.

30,000 days since Cleveland releases future Hall of Famer Joe Sewell.


1857 22 teams form the National Association of Baseball Players at a meeting at 298 Bowery in New York City.

1904 The Giants leave a spring training stop in Mobile, Alabama just ahead of law officials, who have issued a warrant for the Giants for beating an umpire unconscious.

1918 Jim McCormick, 1880s pitcher who won 265 games, dies at age 61.

1930 Babe Ruth accepts the Yankees’ contract offer of $80,000 per year for two years.

1942 In Sarasota, Florida, Ted Williams asks the military for a draft deferment. It won’t take.

1951 Longtime FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover announces he has turned down an offer to become the commissioner of baseball. How is that for a what-might-have-been?

1956 Solly Hofman, former ballplayer, dies at age 73. He played the outfield on the Tinker-Evers-Chance Cubs.

1957 Erskine Mayer, former pitcher, dies at age 67. He twice won 20 games for the Phillies, helping them to their first pennant in 1915.

1958 Steve Howe is born. He’s famous as a talented reliever with a serious drug problem.

1959 Bill Veeck and partners Hank Greenberg and Arthur Allyn buy out the White Sox from Dorothy Rigney, the granddaughter of Charlie Comiskey.

1960 Arnold Johnson, A’s owner, dies.

1966 Baltimore trades young prospect Lou Piniella to the Indians.

1971 Seattle Bill James, pitcher who went 26-7 on the 1914 Miracle Braves, dies at age 78.

1975 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Damaso Garcia, who will become an All-Star second baseman with Toronto.

1979 Doris Kearns Goodwin becomes the first female reporter in the Red Sox clubhouse.

1990 The current baseball lockout hits its 24th day, making it the longest lockout yet on record.

1992 The Royals trade Kirk Gibson to the Pirates for Neal Heaton.

1993 The Giants hire Sherry Davis as their PA announcer. She’s the first female in major league history to have this role.

1994 Longtime umpire Jim Honochick dies at age 75.

1995 Michael Jordan retires from baseball. He goes back to his previous line of work.

2003 The Pirates sign free agent Reggie Sanders.

2004 Union head Donald Fehr refuses to comply with a request from Sen. John McCain about opening the collective bargaining agreement to drug testing.

2005 Rick Ankiel makes his unlikely debut as a position player, going 1-for-2 in an intrasquad game.

2006 Shairon Martis pitches the first no-hitter in the World Baseball Classic, leading the Dutch to a 10-0 victory over Panama.

2008 Washington signs free agent Tony Batista.

2009 In a big upset, the Dutch national team eliminates the Dominican Republic squad in the World Baseball Classic in a 2-1 win in 10 innings. It was 0-0 after nine frames./b>

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9 years ago

“But the owners, who you think would be good capitalists, were more interested in keeping costs down than any theoretical economic implications, or any real-life legal consequences.”

Better save the socialist catch phrases until you understand what you’re talking about. Capitalists, by Webster’s definition, use money to invest in trade and industry for profit. Keeping costs down are at the heart of making a profit—and therefore, at the heart of true capitalism. Capitalism thrives in a free marketplace, and that freedom extends to owners as well as players. If players can unionize, reach consensus on a pfot-driven agenda and collectively bargain to achieve that agenda, guess what? So can the owners—who, btw,  are all equal partners in MLB Inc., a private company. If the players don’t like it, there’s always other sports leagues; or they can just fall back on their education like the rest of our capitalist society.

9 years ago

^^^Make that “reach consensus on a profit-driven agenda …”

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