Friday, June 22, 2007

Tom Hicks – willing to talk about signing Juan Gonzalez but not Alex Rodriguez

On a night when Sammy Sosa hit the 600th home run of his career, in a Texas Rangers uniform against the Chicago Cubs (the only Major League Baseball team Sosa had never hit a home run against), Rangers owner Tom Hicks embarrassed MLB with his innuendos and finger pointing regarding someone no longer playing major league baseball. With Jason Giambi set to meet with Senator Mitchell in regard to Mitchell’s MLB steroid commission (see end of this edition of the Insider Report) – the news MLB commissioner Bud Selig didn’t need to hear -- an owner talking about how he felt about one of his former players’ alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and how that alleged use impacted that athletes performance (and of course how much that owner believes he overpaid that baseball player).

Speaking with Dallas’ Channel 11 Hicks while admitting he didn’t have any proof Juan Gonzalez had ever used steroids – remains a very bitter man when it comes to how much he paid Juan Gonzalez to play for the Rangers and what Juan “Gone” delivered for the Rangers on the field.

"Juan Gonzalez for $24 million after he came off steroids, probably, we just gave that money away," Hicks said in a Channel 11 interview June 10 and reported in The Dallas Morning News Thursday.

Those comments led to Hicks making the following comments Wednesday night.

"I have no personal knowledge that Juan was a user," Hicks said. "The way his body broke down at a young age and his early retirement makes me suspicious. ... In any event, we paid $24 million for him for very few games."

Ironically, if Hicks is upset about paying Gonzalez $24 million, imagine how the Detroit Tigers might be feeling if Juan “Gone” was still on the Tigers payroll. The Rangers Juan’s first big league home traded Gonzalez at the peak of his baseball career.

González's first full season was 1991. It was his first of many 100-plus RBI seasons, proving himself a capable middle of the line-up run producer. He improved his batting average and home run totals over the next few seasons, leading the league in homers in 1992 (43) and 1993 (46). On August 28, 1993, González had the last 3 homer game in the history of Arlington Stadium.

On the strength of González's steady production at the plate, Texas finished first in the AL West division in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Despite an outstanding playoff output by Gonzalez in 1996, (.438 BA, 5 HR, 9 RBI, .526 OBP, 1.375 SLG% in 4 games) the Rangers were still defeated in the American League Division Series by the New York Yankees, as well as in 1998 and 1999. Between 1996-98, González averaged 45 home runs and 144 RBI in 140 games; the most productive period in his career. He won the American League MVP award in 1996 with a .314 BA, 47 HR and 144 RBI in just 134 games and 1998 with a .318 BA, 45 HR and 157 RBI in 154 games.

Fearing they would be unable to meet González's rising salary demands, Texas elected to trade him in the postseason, eventually settling on a deal with the Detroit Tigers. On November 2, 1999, he was traded with Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun to Detroit for Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson and Alan Webb.

The Tigers made González an eight year, $140 million contract offer when they picked up González in the trade with the Rangers. González turned down this offer; a decision he claims not to regret.

The following season was a disaster for González and the Tigers as a team. 2000 was the opening year for Detroit's new ballpark, Comerica Park, and the team's management had counted on strong seasons from the team's new players to draw interest from fans. But, hampered by injuries, and being unable to adjust to Comerica's unfavorable dimensions, González had one of the poorest seasons of his career.

As of the 2007 season, in what would've been the final year of his $140M Detroit Tigers contract. González has earned an estimated $46 million, almost $100M less that what he would have made from the Tigers.

González resurrected his career in 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, where he was asked to fill the void left behind as a result of Manny Ramirez' free agency departure to the Boston Red Sox. González batted .325 with 35 home runs and 140 RBI in 140 games, leading the Indians to the post-season where he hit .348 with 2 HR and 5 RBI in 5 games with a .739 SLG%.

After his comeback season with the Indians, the Rangers signed González to the two year, the $24 million contract Hicks remains upset about. He played in just 70 games and put up meager statistics for a player of his reputation in the 2002 season with the Rangers. In 2003, González got off to a great start but could only stay healthy for half of the season. He finished the season with a .294 BA, 24 HR and 70 RBI in 82 games. After signing with the Royals in 2004, he played in just 33 games. Despite a thorough work-out regimen in an attempt to comeback in the 2005 season, González suffered a major injury to his hamstring and was out for the rest of the season after just one at-bat.

In response to Hicks comments, Alan Nero, the most recent agent to represent González told The Associated Press that he wouldn't respond. ... Then he responded – to the Associated Press

"That kind of rhetoric does not deserve a response, because it's so irresponsible," said Nero, who was not González's representative at the time he signed with the Rangers in 2001.

The Dallas Morning News reported: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig isn't likely to issue any discipline for the comments. Hicks said he told Selig of what he said, and the commissioner had no issues. How great is that? A Major Baseball owner suggests in no uncertain terms he believed a baseball player he had once signed to a multi-million dollar contract had used steroids (even though there is no proof whatsoever). Free speech issues aside, what message with his cavalier attitude is Bud Selig sending out regarding the steroid issue – how objective is Selig. And why not look at Tom Hicks tenure as Rangers owner? Where exactly does Hicks’ responsibility lie as a MLB team owner?

In June 1998, Hicks became the Chairman and Owner of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club of the Major League Baseball’s American League. Hicks purchased the team for $250 million from an investment group that included then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. After the purchase, Hicks changed his large political donations to Bush for the 2000 Presidential election.

Under Hicks’s ownership, the Rangers won the American League West Division Crown in 1998 and 1999, but failed to deliver a World Series. After retirement from Hicks, Muse Tate and Furst, and with the Rangers finished in last place in its division in 2003, Hicks promised to rebuild the team, shipping Alex Rodriguez ($252 million over 10 years) to the New York Yankees.

Hicks signed A-Rod (considered my many the best player in MLB) to a contract that blew the doors and thinking of baseball contracts. When Hicks agreed to the quarter-billion dollar contract, many believed the Atlanta Braves offer (the second biggest offer made to A-Rod’s agent Scott Boras) was for at least $50 million less than Hicks’s offer. At least Selig’s indifference towards Hicks is par for the course. Selig had little to say when Hicks altered baseball’s salary structure in December 2001 when he signed A-Rod.

Five years after Hicks changed baseball’s economic system on his own -- the debate over A-Rod’s contract continued.

"That was the sonic boom of contract escalation," said Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, whose club was in the bidding for Rodriguez in a USA Today report published last year. "We had all talked about how dramatically and irrationally contracts had been escalating, to an unhealthy degree. We saw, we heard and we gasped."

And as the USA Today report suggested published 15 months ago, Hicks’s “offer A-Rod was never going to refuse” forced everyone associated with MLB on every level into action, individually and as a group, the latter with several measures instituted as part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement. Those included increased revenue sharing, a payroll tax and the debt-service rule, which limits how much money teams can borrow.

As an example of the drastic change in baseball's economy that followed, Miguel Tejada signed a six-year, $72 million deal — or three and a half times less than Rodriguez — with the Baltimore Orioles in December 2003, more than a year after his MVP season with the Oakland Athletics.

"Whether it's 15 million or five or 10, if you're at the top (of the salary scale), there's always going to be criticism," Rodriguez says. "It's obviously elevated because of the number and the years, but my contract is something I'm very proud of."

A-Rod has nothing whatsoever to be embarrassed about – why would anyone turn down a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars if someone is foolish enough to make that kind of an offer. Arguably Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year $252 million contract is to date the crowning achievement of agent Scott Boras’ career as an agent. Boras negotiated a contract with Tom Hicks that changed the economics of MLB.

"When we did it, everyone said that contract is exorbitant," Boras says. "I think when everyone looks back on it they say it's very fair, because of the performance."

"When you see a player come on the market who has great defensive discipline and 40-plus home run power and the ability to drive in 120 runs, you're going to see a contract in that range," Boras said in a USA Today report. "Teams have wisely locked up players like (Albert) Pujols, who would have gotten close to A-Rod-type numbers."

The USA Today pointed out the terms of A-Rod's contract, which doubled the largest to that point in American team sports (Kevin Garnett's $126 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997), haven’t come close to being equaled since.

And the domino effect in baseball following Hicks’s decision to offer A-Rod a kings ransom Derek Jeter's 10-year, $189 million pact with the Yankees, signed before the 2001 season, and Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million agreement with the Boston Red Sox, also reached that winter of 2000. That’s not in anyway to suggest Jeter and Manny haven’t excelled for their teams (they have) but if Tom Hicks had offered A-Rod a multi-year contract for $210 million (that would have been the largest contract A-Rod had been offered), the end result wouldn’t have altered the business of baseball.

"The lesson people got out of it is there's only a certain percentage you can allocate to a couple of players," says Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who had the same post with the Rangers at the time of Rodriguez's signing. "You can't have 80% of your payroll going to 20%% of your players."

As talkative as Tom Hicks was in the last few weeks regarding how he felt about spending $24 million on a washed up Juan González two years after he signed A-Rod to the biggest contract in baseball history and being forced to trade A-Rod to the Yankees before the start of the 2004 season, Hicks has had little to say about his decision to sign A-Rod to a contract he ended up believing he couldn’t afford. Hicks’s bitterness towards Juan González and his refusal to talk about the contract many still talk about six seasons after it was signed is a classic example of someone wanting to have his cake – and eat it too.

As for the news Bud Selig wanted to hear regarding baseball players and their alleged use of performance-enhancement drugs – MLB commissioner Bud Selig heard the news he was waiting to hear from Jason Giambi late Thursday afternoon.

“Today, I have agreed to Commissioner Selig's request that I meet with Sen. George Mitchell. In a direct conversation the commissioner impressed upon me the idea that the game of baseball would be best served by such a meeting. I will continue to do what I think is right and be candid about my past history regarding steroids. I have never blamed anyone nor intended to deflect blame for my conduct. I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior.”

“I've come to this decision for a number of reasons. I did not want to put my family through a lengthy legal challenge in support of my position. In addition, the uncertainty of my playing status could detract from the efforts of our team to win the American League East. My focus at this time needs to be on rehabbing my injury, getting back on the field and contributing to the goals of my team. To be embroiled in a legal battle could undermine all of this and I would never put my family, my teammates or the Yankees in that position.”

“Accordingly, I have agreed to this meeting. As I have always done, I will address my own personal history regarding steroids. I will not discuss in any fashion any other individual. My hope is that this meeting will serve as a positive step, as all parties involved seek the best approach in dealing with the issue of "drugs in sport." That has always been the intent behind all of the comments I have made on the subject and it remains so to this day.”

Once Giambi spoke, Selig offered this which very much leaves open the issue as to whether or not Selig intends to suspend Giambi for something he may or may not have done before the alleged offense occurred before MLB ruled it was illegal.

"Following certain statements reported in USA Today on May 18, I directed Jason Giambi to meet with members of my staff. Mr. Giambi did so and, in the opinion of my representatives, was fully cooperative and candid in explaining his personal involvement with performance-enhancing substances.”

"Two weeks ago I asked Mr. Giambi to submit to an interview with Senator Mitchell and I am pleased that Mr. Giambi has agreed to do so. Mr. Giambi has informed me in a phone conversation that he is willing to discuss with Senator Mitchell his personal involvement with performance-enhancing substances. His willingness to do this is an important step forward in Senator Mitchell's continued efforts to provide me with a comprehensive report.”

"Senator Mitchell has assured me that Mr. Giambi's interview will be scheduled promptly. Once the interview process has concluded, I will take Mr. Giambi's level of cooperation into account in determining appropriate further action. I will have no further comment until this procedure is completed."

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today and Wikipedia

Labels: , , , , , ,