Sunday, January 01, 2006

SportsMatters Classic: Exile on Game Street

This story was written on March 4, 2005, on my old blog. Some of it is outdated, and some of the links no longer work, but I think it still contains some interesting information. It began as an email from Avi, and went from there.

The Task: Andy - I read this MLB reference in a story on the NHL lockout. I had no idea. You should find out more and write about it in the blog - you know, generate content, not just opinion. Who are these dirty dozen (I want names!)? Do any play on World Series contenders (with the potential to embarrass everyone should they play a crucial role in winning a WS)? Are relations with their clubhouse peers as poisoned as this suggests?

The Answer: Despite the cheap shot by Avi (“generate content, not just opinion”) I have taken up this most interesting task. Whether I succeed or not is another story.

In 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike, killing the stretch drive of the season and the World Series, as well as a fan base and franchise in Montreal. To start the 1995 season, MLB owners decided to call in replacement players to fill in the gap. A short while later, the strike ended, and Spring Training began with union ball-players. Most of the replacement players were sent packing, but 38 did eventually make it to the show.

Replacement Players Who Had No Previous Major League Experience:
Joel Adamson, Benny Agbayani, Tony Barron, Joe Crawford, Brian Daubach, Brendan Donnelly, Angel Echevarria, Charles Gipson, Jr., Scarborough Green, Jason Hardtke, Pep Harris, Matt Herges, Chris Latham, Cory Lidle, Kerry Ligtenberg, Rich Loiselle, Ron Mahay, Tom Martin, Walt McKeel, Frank Menechino, Lou Merloni, Kevin Millar, Damian Miller, Eddie Oropesa, Keith Osik, Bronswell Patrick, Alex Ramirez, Mandy Romero, Chuck Smith, Shane Spencer, Joe Strong, Pedro Swann, Jeff Tam, Brian Tollberg, Chris Truby, Jamie Walker

Replacement Players Who Had Previous Major League Experience
Rick Reed, Joe Slusarski

As the National Post story states, these players have:
“not been allowed back into good standing with the Major League Baseball Players Association. They still qualify for health and pension benefits, but they do not pay dues and cannot appear on any product licensed by the union -- such as trading cards, video games or World Series memorabilia.”
The story also indicates that around a dozen players are still in the major leagues. I have in fact verified* that the “Selig Eleven” do exist, and that some of these players are in fact valuable assets to their franchises.

The Selig Eleven
Damien Miller, Kerry Ligtenberg, Frank Menechino, Kevin Millar, Matt Herges , Brendan Donnelly, Cory Lidle, Ron Mahay, Tom Martin, Chris Truby, Jamie Walker

Replacements In The Minor Leagues
Brian Daubach, Scarborough Green, Shane Spencer

Non–Roster Invitees To 2005 Training Camps
Keith Osik, Eddie Oropesa, Charles Gipson, Lou Merloni

Damien Miller, Matt Herges, Brendan Donnelly, Cory Lidle and Kevin Millar are the standouts. Miller is a solid, everyday catcher who won a World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Herges had one good season with the Dodgers as a starter, and had 23 saves with the Giants last year. He also blew about 6000 saves last year, and I should know. He was on my fantasy team, and he gave me the sweats every time he came strolled out from the bullpen. Imagine how Felipe Alou must have felt. Donnelly is a solid middle-reliever, and Lidle has been up and down after one good season with the A’s in 2001. Millar is a solid first baseman for the Red Sox, driving in 96 RBI’s in 2003 and winning a World Series ring last fall. He makes fun of A-Rod, and likes to drink Jack Daniels before a game, which I like, but he also has that giant muff goatee and uses the expression “cowboy up.” He is also planning on being done over on an episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’” You can see how I am torn on this one. I also have to give shout outs to my boy Dauber (Brian Daubach), a solid catcher and a Nation favorite. My boy Dauber was wicked smart!

The above articles on the replacement players seem to indicate that they have had a pretty rough ride with the players association and their teammates. While I can’t answer for all the replacement players, it seems to me that the level of animosity would depend on several things, including personality and how good of a player they actually were. Millar is a good player, is well liked by his teammates, and will make $3.3 million this year. So I am doubtful that he is hurting. At least right now he isn’t. The same would go for Miller, who made $2.65 million in 2002, and caught for Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. As for a replacement like Pep Miller, I don’t know. To me, the greater question is whether a low end talent would have been treated much better by his colleagues if he had played in the minors for 12 years and then made it to the show. I mean, professional athletes aren’t exactly the most passive lot, and I am left thinking that a bad ball player is a bad ball player, and would be treated as such regardless of their holding of a union card.

There are several other interesting notes to this story. One is that many of the players, when I looked them up, spent some time playing with either the Blue Jays or the Marlins. This would make sense, as most of the players could probably only make it on lower-end teams, which both the Blue Jays and Marlins were at the time. But it may also speak to the willingness by management and players in these places to give these players a second chance. I don’t know. The fact that many played for the Blue Jays (including two who do so right now) is also ironic considering they wouldn’t have been allowed to do so in 1995. Ontario law at the time prevented replacement workers from working in the province.

Which gets us to the most important question of all, which is: Do these guys really count as “scabs”? That is to say, should we really feel sorry for professional athletes when replacement workers cross the picket line? During my short time on this planet, I have been a member of three different unions. My Dad is an electrician by trade, and also worked in a steel-mill for close to 30 years. My family is as solidly blue-collar as you can get: just my cousin and I have made it into University, and that is from both sides of the family. So I think I do have some level of understanding and balance on this issue. I am not exactly working from a bourgeois perspective. And my conclusion is that I could care less if a bunch of millionaires are locked out of their jobs. My old man complains about how poorly workers are treated in this province almost every single time I talk to him. Not once have I heard him complain about NHL players being screwed over by the man. Not once. It takes a lot of nerve, and I am sure my Dad would back me on this one, for a professional athlete to complain about scabs. The entire purpose of a union is to secure a solid package of salary, benefits, pension and working conditions for its members. Do professional athletes lack in any of these categories? I think not. And yet here we have players like Marty Turco stating that the NHLPA will follow the same path as the MLBPA if replacement players cross the line. They can go ahead and do this if they want, but I highly doubt that middle-class union boys like my Pops are going to be taking the day off work to join them on the picket line. Especially considering these NHL prima donnas have no problem stealing someone else’s job over in Europe.

* I have verified this to the best of my ability. MLB doesn't seem to acknowledge that these players were replacements, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of documentation (online at least) about the specific players who crossed the picket line and made it into the bigs.


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