Q&A with Jerry Crasnick

Last week "Baseball for the Classroom" was able to do a little e-mailing with ESPN writer and author Jerry Crasnick, who covers baseball for ESPN Insider, and has written the fantastic book "License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent." As Baseball for the Classroom will be in Albany on Saturday, May 19 for the "Teaching Labor History" symposium hosted by NYSUT, we thought it would be helpful to ask Mr. Crasnick a few questions about the state of the labor of baseball today. We e-mailed questions, and he e-mailed answers…

BC: What kind of impact will the televising of the MLB June draft have on the business side of baseball?

JC: I don’t expect the televising of the MLB draft to have a significant impact.
There’s such a fundamental difference between baseball and the other two major
sports — where fans are so familiar with the draft picks and many of the kids
will have an immediate impact in the NBA or NFL. I’m sure some diehards will
tune in out of curiosity, but I wouldn’t expect a groundswell of interest.
(Although I think my Baseball America buddy, John Manuel, would make a great Mel
Kiper Jr. The guy is an encyclopedia).

BC: Obviously Marvin Miller’s leadership of the MLBPA changed baseball dramatically. From your perspective as a columnist and author who wrote about the world of the baseball agent for  "License to Deal," has the balance of power between clubs and players shifted with the rise of agents in the game?

JC: The balance of power shifted due to changes in the basic agreement through
collective bargaining, and the agents have taken advantage of that to build
lucrative practices and become power brokers in the game. They owe everything to
Marvin Miller, and I think more of the young agents need to realize Scottboras
that.
Nevertheless, a guy like Scott Boras has had a significant impact on the way the
game conducts its business. He’s had a huge influence on the draft, and just
look at events of last winter and this coming winter — when the "opt out”
clauses for J.D. Drew and now Alex Rodriguez are helping to drive the market.
Boras is very innovative at outsmarting clubs and sticking clauses into deals
that will come back and work to his advantage down the road. Now, with Daisuke
Matsuzaka
, he’s extended his reach into Japan, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he
takes aim at the Japanese "posting” system. Love him or hate him, the guy is
brilliant at what he does.

BC: Is baseball better off without the reserve clause and with free agency?

JC: I think baseball is better off without the reserve system and unfettered free
agency. First of all, if you’ve read "Ball Four” and some other accounts from
the 1960s, there’s something unsettling and un-American about the way owners
used to treat players like cattle and lie to them routinely while pocketing all
the money. So we have the matter of principle. And it’s hard to argue with the
state of the game today: Attendance is at an all-time high, baseball has gone
from generating $1.2 billion in revenue in the early ’90s to $5-6 billion today,
and we’ve had seven different World Series winners since 2000. Sure, big
spenders such as the Yankees have an advantage because of their revenue, but
there’s still room for a smart, enterprising GM to build a contending club. It
all starts with developing players on the farm, and you supplement that through
free agency.

BC: When it’s all said and done, do you think the strike of 1994, and any strike or lockout, is good for the game – or business – of baseball?

JC: A strike or lockout can have a positive effect at times, if there are enough
sweeping changes and a "cleansing” effect to overcome the short-term pain. The
1994 shutdown wasn’t one of those cases, because the revenue sharing and luxury
tax system weren’t introduced until later. But it was such a 050511_bud_selig_hmed_7phmedium
difficult ordeal
for baseball, I think Bud Selig, the other owners and the Players Association
vowed to do everything in their power to prevent it from happening again.
They’ve smarted up and realized that an imperfect system is preferable to a
stoppage that could set the game back years. In that respect, I think the
cancellation of the 1994 World Series served a valuable purpose.

BC: The biggest story of the season so far is Roger Clemens’ signing with the Yankees after three seasons (or 2 1/2) with the Houston Astros. Do you think the Clemens contracts of the past few years will mark a new trend for superstars: the half-season, benefit-laden, flexible contracts? Or is this an isolated, tailor-made situation for a future Hall of Famer?

JC: Maybe someone will piggyback on the Clemens arrangement and try it out, but I
don’t think it’s the start of a trend. Just look at recent comments from guys
like David Wells and Greg Maddux, who say they enjoy being part of the clubhouse
cameraderie and have no desire to parachute in every five days like the Rocket.
Clemens is a novel case: He might be the greatest pitcher in major league
history. He’s still an impact guy at 44, but chances are he wouldn’t be nearly
as effective if subjected to the eight-month grind. And this year, the Yankees
were flat out desperate to sign him. Clemens is still good enough — and teams
are sufficiently desperate for pitching — that he can make $4.5 million a
month. But if he goes 6-8 with a 4.75 ERA, the press is going to start ripping
his arrangement, and his sweetheart deal will be seen in a whole new, more
negative light.

To read more words written by Jerry Crasnick, check out his archive at ESPN by clicking here. And for the education program offered by the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Education Department on labor history, "Hardball & Handshakes," click here.

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