The cries are getting louder.
Despite their sweep of the Reds, the Phillies are still in third place, 4 1/2 games behind the Braves, with the trade of Cliff Lee last year looking more dubious by the day.
The criticism of that decision continues to grow.
After all, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason games last fall, including winning two against the Yankees in the World Series. He was also a major reason the Phils were playing October baseball at all.
After the season, fans salivated at the prospect of having Lee and Roy Halladay as the team’s top two starters, an unbeatable combination that all but guaranteed another deep playoff run.
But it was not to be. Instead, Lee went to Seattle.
And last week, the big news was that he was traded to the first place Texas Rangers, bolstering a team that always seems to fade in the second half of the season. Now, they’re a legitimate threat to go all the way.
There’s only one problem. That was a trade that should never have happened.
The fact that it did is a direct affront to every Major League team owner, every player and every fan.
All except the Texas Rangers, that is.
Because the Rangers are in bankruptcy.
So instead of getting their financial house in order and doing the right thing — paying the people to whom they owe money —, Texas just pulled out the most improbable victory of the season.
But unlike most games, when there is one winner and one loser, the Rangers’ achievement came at the expense of the other 29 teams.
How did a team in bankruptcy hit this home run?
That bastion of corruption, Major League baseball, came in as the relief pitcher.
Last year, it loaned the Rangers $18.5 million. That wasn’t enough, however, as the team defaulted on its $525 million debt. So MLB came through again in May with another $21.5 million.
So let’s get this straight.
A team that can’t pay its bills or meet payroll receives a loan from the League — whose money comes from the teams themselves, directly and indirectly — and then uses that money to acquire arguably the best pitcher in the game.
Hmmm. Something with that picture just doesn’t seem right.
The result is similar to what happens when the U.S. government subsidizes companies, such as the GM bailout, in that it victimizes those who have done nothing wrong. In effect, companies like Honda are punished for their efficient operations, fiscal responsibility and turning a profit. Why should they now have to compete against the unlimited resources of the United States government?
But here’s the difference. GM still makes a vastly inferior product, so Honda will continue to rule the day, although its road to success will be substantially hampered.
Not the case with the Rangers. The "product" they acquired — with OTM (Other Teams’ Money) — happens to be superior to virtually all others on the market. And that will lead to a tougher road for a number of other teams.
How many millions in additional revenue is a playoff appearance worth to a given team? Win the League Pennant and it’s even more. Throw in a World Series showing, let alone a Championship, and the number skyrockets.
So if the Los Angeles Angels, second in the division behind Texas, lose out on a Division Title because of Lee’s prowess, or if, say, Detroit misses the Wildcard slot for the same reason, that’s millions down the drain because of what amounts to an illegitimate trade.
Competitors have given the Rangers the rope — in this case money — to hang the rest of the League.
And should we even mention the riot potential in Philadelphia if the Phils meet Texas in the World Series, only to lose Game 7 to Cliff Lee?
Perhaps the most disturbing, but least surprising, aspect of this debacle is the lack of on-the-record displeasure from the other baseball teams.
Unfortunately, too many business "leaders" in this country, if that’s what they can be called, exhibit more cowardice than guts. And since baseball is a business, team owners, presidents and general managers are no exception.
Two things are certain:
1) Most, if not all, of the other owners are furious that the Lee trade was permitted to occur, especially those vying for playoff spots.
2) You will not see any of them publicly voice their opinion — with attribution —on the matter.
Oh, we’ll see anonymous quotes from owners and other executives deriding the decision, but none will dare cross the biggest hypocrite of all, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
(It was Selig, after all, who looked the other way during baseball’s Steroid Era, raking in billions while hallowed records fell, but feigned outrage when Barry Bonds broke the Big One — Hank Aaron’s home run record. But hey, under Selig’s disgraceful reign, baseball finally —FINALLY — got around to outlawing steroids —in 2005, thirty-two years after the Olympics! Welcome to the party, Bud!)
Just look at Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels’ quote, as reported by the Associated Press, when asked if he anticipated any backlash from other clubs:
"I’d guess they’ll be some unnamed sources, but I don’t expect a lot of phone calls."
Or another "unnamed" baseball executive, as reported in the New York Times: "The Rangers are acting as if they can go out and spend money….They’re attempting to try and spend money they don’t have for players."
How typical. And pathetic.
Not only does Selig know he won’t be opposed, he counts on it. So the arrogance only grows.
Need proof? Consider the following:
The Rangers filed for Chapter 11 protection in May, intending to pay creditors $75 million. They would then sell the team to an investor group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and team President Nolan Ryan. But after creditors’ objected to that plan, the Rangers agreed to an auction.
Here’s the part that defies comprehension:
According to the AP, the team’s auction proposal specified that "Major League Baseball would decide who was eligible to bid and set strict guidelines, including a $1.5 million deposit and an opening bid of more than $500 million.
The league could have rejected the highest bidder and selected the runner-up instead."
The motion also included paying a $15 million ‘break-up’ fee to the Ryan group if it was not chosen as the buyer."
Disgusting as the thought is, Nolan Ryan being in bed with Bud Selig clearly has its advantages: bid on a Major League Baseball team, and if you’re not successful, you receive a $15 million payment anyway.
One could say that such a consolation prize smacks of insider-trading corruption.
Thankfully, though in no way due to owners, that auction plan is in limbo. For now.
Bankruptcy experts think the MLB bidding suggestions were a "clever maneuver" to push the sale toward Ryan’s group.
But let’s call a spade a spade. It’s business as usual. And because it continues unchecked, all of baseball suffers.
Do we really think it’s a good idea to have a 2010 Texas Rangers’ World Series Championship blemished with an "asterisk" next to it? That’s a definite possibility.
Asterisks in the baseball record books — delineating that a particular feat was flawed — are becoming commonplace. How many more will it take before the whole sport implodes?
For once, Baseball’s owners would be wise to come in from the cheap seats and step up to the plate.
The integrity — what’s left of it — of America’s favorite pastime depends on it.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes frequent television and other radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]