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Bruce Dowbiggin

Rays Of Sunshine In MLB’s Pointless Lockout

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If you’re a baseball fan planning on going to 2022 spring training to see your favourite team you might want to pause before booking a flight or hotel room. In case you didn’t see the news, MLB has locked out its players again as the two sides jockey for a new collective bargaining agreement.

“We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time,” says MLB owners commissioner Rob Manfred. “This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option.” Sure. Go with that.

Understand that for baseball fans the words collective-bargaining agreement are as welcoming as a reminder that you’re due for a colonoscopy. Labour actions of the past  have ruined seasons and— in the case of the Montreal Expos— doomed a franchise. (See: 1994 lockout )

“The Expos were widely regarded as the best team in baseball that season, prohibitive favorites to win the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Once play resumed, the cash-strapped Expos tore apart their contending team, shipping off their best players in trades for lesser prospects in most cases.” By 2005 they had moved to Washington.

Since that 1994 disaster MLB has managed to avoid losing playing time to strikes/ lockouts. But the pressure has been building since the sport rejected the notion of a salary cap in favour of a much-less-restrictive luxury tax on free-spending terms. While the NHL, NBA and NFL operate more stringent salary cap systems, baseball has gone its own way in controlling salaries.

Concurrent with that has been an explosion of revenues for MLB, sending salaries and franchise values into the stratosphere. (See my book Cap In Hand for a full history of salary-cap economics and how a return to freer player markets is the future of the business.)

In a sign of how loose the financial reins have become, Max Scherzer’s $43-million annual salary with the New York Mets is more than the entire payroll of two MLB teams. With no minimum payroll, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are free to lap up their 1/30th share of MLB’s lucrative digital/ TV package, logo rights and other baubles.

Meanwhile players are concerned that while the stars become rich as Saudi princes the working class of the sport is not getting a proper share of the revenues. They claim owners are using devious practices to delay players getting to arbitration and free-agency. And they decry owners tanking for better draft picks or simply to make money.

None of this says that an early solution is imminent should the sides get past the next few weeks. The only lever for players is cancelling games, and there are none scheduled till next February (spring training) and late March (regular season). Likewise players are paid their salaries only during the regular season, meaning no player will lose any money till the games begin.  Translation: They’re not panicking either. So expect the real negotiating to start in February as camps set to open for 2022.

The hiccup in the debate over highly paid superstars and exploding payrolls is the Tampa Bay Rays. The definitive “small MLB market” Tampa has found a way to get to the 2020 World Series and the 2021 ALDS using a formula that involves dumping their name players (Evan Longoria, Blake Snell, David Archer) and culling prospects and rejects from other clubs.

While teams like the Blue Jays, Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Angels are profligate spenders on big names, Tampa throws around nickels like they were manhole covers. The Rays are so frugal that they’re proposing their summertime games be played in Montreal.

You want more? The cash-strapped Rays traded their stopper at the 2021 trade deadline— even as they led the majors in wins. They virtually invented the notion of reducing the value of starting pitching by creating the “bullpen” day, in which they start a relief pitcher and followed him with a series of other situational pitchers. Picking through the bargain bin they found inexpensive rejects and burnouts on other staffs and thrust them into their lineup.

As Mack Cerullo of Yahoo Sports noted, the Rays used 39 different pitchers last season; of the nine relief pitchers on Tampa Bay’s opening-day roster, only three remained at season’s end. The team’s three All-Stars, Joey Wendle, Mike Zunino and Andrew Kittredge, made a combined $5 million last year. Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena and Austin Meadows, the heart of their batting order, made less than $3.7 million among them.

Despite cutting corners the Rays had the No. 1 ranked system in baseball starting 2021. By season’s end prized rookies Wander Franco, Arozarena, Luis Patino and Shane McClanahan were all keys to TB getting to the ALDS. When they get too expensive the Rays will likely trade them for prospects or let them walk in free agency.

(Although the Rays tarnished their Scrooge reputation by signing the brilliant young Franco an eleven-year, $182 million contract extension, with a club option of $25 million for a twelfth year.)

Which begs the question: why are the tall foreheads of MLB shutting down the sport to save a system that has worked so well for Tampa? There is a ready template to compete and prosper in smaller markets. Why is this news to other owners? Likely it’s easier to lock out players than do the heavy lifting of the Rays. With no threat of losing a franchise via relegation (as in soccer) or being cut off from the MLB gravy train why bother?

So prepare for months of crocodile tears from owners that MLBPA’s demands “would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive”. And prepare to hold your nose when they say they’ve solved the Grand Old Past-Time.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

From The Border To Kevin O’Leary, Canada Is Freaking Out Americans

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Tequesta, Fla.: Those Canadians who spend time in DeSantisLand  know that our American hosts are blissfully unaware of what happens in Canada. Outside blaming the True North for brisk weather like this week’s near-freezing temps in the South.

Then, out of nowhere, Canada and Canadians are suddenly blasting down the pike like an Alberta Clipper. Example: While everyone is talking the bum rush at the southern U.S. border, former GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy was frothing about the steady tide of illegals crossing southward from Canada into the U.S.

He told X ,“The Northern Border is the next frontier for illegals. Career politicians including Republicans derided me for saying it last year. Now we’re starting to see the consequences.” One of the consequences is the PM not talking about our leaky border. But since the Liberals removed visa requirements for Mexicans the flood gates have opened. Canada’s fastest growing industry is human smuggling.

Vermont residents are very engaged with Canada’s dirty little secret. Swanton, Vt. resident Chris Feeley told reporters that “he has been hunting in the area since he was a teen and rarely ran into anyone. Now he sees illegals frequently. ‘The border patrol actually told us, ‘You guys might want to put a pistol in your backpack’ because nine out of 10 of them are just here for a better life, but there’s that one guy that’s got a rap sheet,” he said.

Will Trump build a northern wall as well as a southern barrier? Inquiring minds in Canada want to know. Then came the bimbo eruption from New York’s governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul’s state has the highest percentage of Jews in America (seven percent). One and a half to two million Jews live in the New York City area alone. She has a vested interest in their issues.

So when the heinous Oct. 7 attacks murdered hundreds of innocent Israelis in their homes and communities Hochul (whose ancestry is Irish-American) sought to show her solidarity with her constituents. “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said at an event for the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

“That is a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure that it never happens again. And that is Israel’s right.” Hey, she likes us enough to massacre us in retaliation. Now that’s a caring neighbour. Not surprisingly, when Canada’s media grandees heard the news they plotzed. And Hochul scrambled to clarify her remarks. But for a few days, Canada was a something. Americas would obliterate us for destroying Buffalo. The mind boggles.

Next, the liberals in overheated #TDS legacy media had one of their periodic fits over former president #OrangeManBad . They were left aghast that another Donald Trump presidency might decline to protect NATO partners from the boogey man. Trump even suggested he’d give Putin the A-OK to do his worst on Luxembourg or Montenegro. Shocked and appalled, they declared the end of NATO and McDonald’s McRib sandwich.

What the Jake Tapper Brigade neglected to mention in all this fainting and pearl clutching was that this would happen ONLY IF rogue nations refused to pay their obligations under the NATO charter. (Why ruin a good hysteria over running the full quote? See: Charlottesville, Jan. 6, drinking bleach.)

Now, which American neighbour to the North of Biden’s Bedroom is delinquent in its obligations to NATO? Might it be Trudeaupia where it’s more important than agriculture minister Lawrence McAuley be seen casually gorging on lobster in Asia than paying up for deterrents against the Chinese?

So to all his other self-inflicted miseries Prince Justin of Rideau Cottage was confronted with the pitiful funding of Canada’s military (his government just cut military spending by a billion) and its reliance on the support of strangers when it comes to protecting the Arctic, among other tracts of lands. Trudeau has lobbied NATO to include other spending under its requirements. But so far, NATO is not accepting maple syrup, Melanie Joly desk calendars and Bollywood costumes as applicable contributions to defence spending.

According to reports reaching us in the Land of Farenheit, Trudeau responded to all this scrutiny by flying west in a carbon-belching jet to promote climate something-something. But how would an incoming Trump administration deal with Trudeau (and his paid media) who has made POTUS 45 a convenient whipping boy? Has Canada’s PM said too much already? Might Trump tighten the pressure on paying up— just in spite? Trump? Spiteful? Never!

Next on the screens of Americans was the ubiquitous Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s gift to Shark Tank/ Dragons Den. The recent civil trial of Trump in NYC has vexed him. So everywhere one looks O’Leary is schooling dim liberal hosts on CNN about the idiocy of the decision to fine Trump $354M for cheating no one out of nothing.

“It’s appalling. It’s unjust. I would go as far to say it’s un-American.” Here he is with some place setting named Laura Coates explaining how you do real estate in NYC. “That fact that he was found guilty, you might as well find guilty every real estate developer on Earth,” O’Leary says. “I don’t understand where someone got hurt … What developer doesn’t ask for the highest-price value for any building they built?… If this judgment sticks, every developer must be jailed. They must be found guilty. They must be put out of business. You can’t do this to one but not another. It’s not about Trump.”

O’Leary followed up by saying he wouldn’t be doing business in NYC until the decision was reversed. Others, including Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams followed suit, “100% of people who don’t understand banking, business, negotiating, or the world in general are sure Trump committed fraud. 100% of people who understand banking, business, negotiating, and the world in general saw ‘business as usual’ and no fraud.” Like O’Leary, Adams vowed not to visit nor do business in New York State, setting off an X wave of hysteria among former CDN sports writers and liberal arts graduates.

But Mr. Wonderful discouraging business is different. Hearing O’Leary’s warning to businesses to steer clear of NYC, Governor Hochul sought to reassure real-estate developers that the government will not go after them like they have gone after Donald Trump. Prompting Texas senator Ted Cruz to observe, “In other words, if you don’t make Democrats angry, you won’t get sued. But if you do, you’ll get the Donald Trump treatment.”

It’s almost too much Canada in the news. Luckily, Trudeaupia will slip beneath the waves of American attention again shortly, ignored and dismissed. To think we were that close.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Deal With It: When St. Patrick Talked His Way Out Of Montreal

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Coming soon, our latest book “Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed Hockey”. With my son Evan, we look back to Espo to the Bruins (1967), Gretzky to the Kings (1988) , and St. Patrick to the Avalanche (1995), Deal With It tracks the back story behind the most impactful trades in modern NHL history. With detailed analysis and keen insight into these and five other monumental transactions, Deal With It recalls the moments when history was changed. Plus a ranking of the Top 25 Deals in NHL History.

One of the most memorable occurred 24 years ago, on December 6, 1995: Patrick Roy and Mike Keane from the Montreal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. Trading, arguably, the greatest goalie the Canadiens history was the culmination of organizational dysfunction from which it has yet to recover. It begins with the hiring of former Habs Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle when the Canadiens stumbled entering the 1994-1995 season. It started off well. Then on a November night in Montreal…

“With the team cooling off from their torrid start under (Mario) Tremblay, the Habs were at home for a Saturday night affair hosting a powerful Red Wings team on its way to breaking the NHL single-season wins record set by the 1976-77 Montreal team (62 to that club’s 60). With the closing of the Forum, the arena Roy had once dominated, Patrick’s dominance had become less-than-surefire. (He came in that night at 238-80-34 all-time at the Forum.) All that rich history didn’t help Roy that particular night and before a national TV audience the wheels came off for hundreds of thousands to witness.

Earlier in the day, Roy had had an impromptu breakfast at Moe’s Diner in Montreal with Detroit goalie Mike Vernon, who’d himself been forced out of Calgary after winning a Cup. Roy described his predicament. “It might be time for you to ask for a trade,” Vernon suggested to him. Fast forward to the notorious game. Getting bludgeoned by the Wings attack, Roy had given up nine goals before the game hit its halfway mark. Getting mock cheers for one of his few saves on the night- prompted a seething Roy replied with mock acknowledgement to the crowd. Clearly overwhelmed, Roy was kept in the nets as Tremblay let his star goalie get roasted by Scotty Bowman, who enjoyed getting revenge on his former player Tremblay for some remarks he’d made about Bowman’s coaching style.

Finally hooked after the ninth marker, Roy glared menacingly at his coach as he walked by on the bench. Stopping to take care of more business, he walked back across and, face-to-face, told a distressed-looking Corey that he had just played his last game with the Canadiens. As Roy walked past Tremblay on his way to the end of the bench, Roy and Tremblay glared eye-to-eye. Roy told him in French, “You understand?” This very public moment overshadowed what remains the worst home loss in the club’s storied history, an 11-1 spanking from Detroit. TV highlights that night across North America showed the stare-down.“The whole city was talking about it,” recalled Montreal native Eric Engels. “The team had suspended Roy and said they were going to trade him, and I just remember saying to the bus driver that they didn’t have to go this way, that they could salvage the situation.”

The following days saw the controversy erupt even further. Just months after plucking Houle and Tremblay from outside the organization, Corey sided with his inexperienced newbies and told Roy he would be getting dealt even when Roy apologized for his spat and vowed to mend fences. Typical of the climate at the time for even superior players who “disrespected” the organization, Roy was persona non grata in a matter of days. In his book, Serge Savard: Forever Canadien”, Savard explained the inevitability of the deal: “Patrick had become too important in the club. He took up too much space in the dressing room, had too much influence on the coach. Over the previous years, I had to handle him with kid gloves. I still had the same admiration for him as I did when we won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993, where he played a determining role. But a change had become necessary. The team revolved around him too much. For the good of everyone, he needed a change of scenery.”

Team captain Mike Keane didn’t help lower the temperature at the Forum by claiming the man who wore the “C” with the Canadiens didn’t necessarily need to speak French and that he wouldn’t be bothering to learn it because the dressing room mostly communicated in English (true even in the most predominately French-based Habs teams such as the 1993 Cup winner that boasted no less than dozen Quebecois). Both Keane and Roy would go on the trading block together, joining similarly exiled pieces like Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau (the captain of the ’93 Cup winner, dealt after 1993-94 to the Blues for Jim Montgomery, after flashing the middle finger to a photographer who had eavesdropped on him playing a round of golf). Carbonneau’s successor at captain, Kirk Muller— an Ontario boy through and through— expressed how honoured and proud he was to wear the fabled letter patch. But he, too, would find himself gone to the Islanders partway through 1994-95. In other words, almost no one was sacred in Ron Corey’s world. Only four days after his dressing-down of the team president and head coach, Roy was notified by Houle that he had been traded.

Just like that, Montreal had parted with its franchise goalie as if it were still the “Original Six” days and players that got in management’s crosshairs were expendable. How traumatic was the deal for the rookie GM Houle? He’ll never tell. “And that is what I intend to do forever so that I don’t have to look back at a time that was difficult for me.” As for Roy, his take was “It was clear from the organization that they had made their decision. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll accept my mistake.’ I agree I was the one who made that thing happen on that Saturday, and both parties agreed it was in the best interests of us that we go different directions. I understand that you can’t put ten years aside and give it a little tap and it’s all gone. I lived through lots of good things in Montreal, but, again, it’s a turn I accept.”

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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