Arbitration and Orange Balls


Way back when baseball's Players Association was first winning the right to free agency, and union boss Marvin Miller had the owners on the run, the iconoclastic Charlie Finley of the Oakland A's stood up at a meeting and told everyone what he thought.

He was Crazy Charlie, of course, the modern reincarnation of Bill Veeck. He put his players in white shoes (oh, my) and hired a world-class sprinter to be his designated base stealer and he advocated an orange ball and a million other things.

The other owners regarded him as a cross between between Uncle Fester and Timothy Leary, and they didn't much like him. But Finley stood up and said that, of course, the players should be granted total free agency and, in fact, they should be granted it every year. No player should have more than a one-year contract.

Everyone was stunned, but none more than Miller. The color drained from the labor leader's face because he understood what Finley was getting at. No player would ever get a long contract based on what he had done. Players would get one-year deals based on what they could do. Fortunately for the players, Finley was hooted down. Well, maybe he was harrumphed down. Same thing.

This comes to mind as Ryan Howard once again enters the salary arbitration game. He will get a one-year contract and earn either $14 million (the team's offer) or $18 million (his request), depending on the ruling of the arbitrator.

Wouldn't it be a different baseball world if every player had to go through a similar contract process? The Phillies made two terrible recent long-term signings, Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins. They have to live with those mistakes, rather than have the flexibility to move past them.

There would have to be some mechanism to allow teams an edge in keeping their own players, to allow continuity. The NBA figured out how to do that despite a hard salary cap. Baseball could do the same thing.

In the meantime, the Phillies this week did a very good job of locking up Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton. It was a good week for the Phillies. Better than the week endured by the Eagles. But we've gotten used to that, haven't we?