Q: One argument fans and owners seem to agree with is that so-called small-market teams canít compete with cash-rich teams like the Yankees. Is this argument valid?
Bouton: I always find it interesting that when people say the small-market teams donít have a chance, they go to the newspaper and they look at the standings, and they pick the teams that are in last place, and they say, "See, they didnít have a chance." But if they had tried to pick at the beginning of the year who wouldnít have a chance, they would have picked the Minnesota Twins, and they would have been wrong. Last year, they would have picked the Philadelphia Phillies, and they would have been wrong.... And look what the Texas Rangers got with virtually the same payroll as the Yankees. Theyíre in dead-last place. So itís not just money. Itís money and brains. Or just brains.
And what prevents an extremely wealthy guy from buying a franchise and simply saying, "This is my hobby. Iíve got billions of dollars. I sold my stock before the company crashed, and Iíve been able to avoid the regulators, and now Iíve got all this money in the bank, and Iíd like to have a $200 million baseball payroll just because Iíd like to have a winning team, and Iíd like to bring this team to Brill, Wisconsin." So heís got a small-market team, but is he a small-market player? No, heís a guy thatís got a lot of money.
Fidrych: Weíre from a town that doesnít have that much revenue, and theyíre from a city that does. Thatís called economics. I donít know the numbers, I donít know why, never got involved in that. Just worried about what was going to go on with the Tigers, you know? Thatís what I worried about. But, okay, let me ask you a question. Now that Iím out of the game, I see, jeez, Iím getting all these new baseball cards that are put out by Upper Deck and all that. Why donít I get any revenue from that today? Itís called economics, and itís the way they run things.
Q: Why, in your mind, is the looming strike mostly the ownerís fault?
Bouton: Let me say that Iím speaking here as a businessman, not a former baseball player. These are a bunch of guys who became multimillionaires in a free-market system, and now they want to deny the free market to other people. They donít want to play by the same rules that got them to where they are.
Lee: The way to solve the whole problem, if you canít do it [by getting the fans to boycott] is ... to eliminate one of these unstable elements. And my theory is: eliminate the owners, because they canít fuckiní play a lick.... In í81, I proposed that to the union. I believed in not striking; I believed in not coming back. I believed in walking out for the whole year and forming our own league. And George Kimball, the writer for the Herald, said, "Weíll do it." He said, "Iíll run the ball club. Weíll have organic food. Weíll have free parking. Weíll have Ladiesí Day on Wednesday. Weíll have Family Day on the weekend, kids get in free." I said, "This is it, George. This is the way to go." And he says, "And my first job as general manager: Iím going to trade your ass to Cleveland." Thanks, George.
Q: What about the claims by owners that they canít afford to pay their players?
Bouton: I say, let them go bankrupt. Itís a very orderly process, bankruptcy, actually. A team goes bankrupt. And a judge says, "Well, you still have players, you still have contracts, you still have uniforms, you got balls and bats, so you, sir, Mr. Bankrupt Owner, need to put your team up for sale. You need to sell your assets ó your house, your car and your baseball team. And by the way, there are nine guys waiting outside the door here who would like to bid on your bankrupt franchise, and Iíll hold an auction, just like I hold an auction for any piece of property that belongs to any bankrupt owner." And the new owner can come in and he can say, "Well, I can whine about the system or I can establish a budget that I can live with." They say that there needs to be a salary cap. Itís called a budget. Every other industry uses it ó why not baseball?
Lee: Do these owners actually have a gun to their heads forcing them to pay these large contracts? I donít think so. Let them go. Let íem go somewhere else. Thatís not collusion. Jesus Christ, I mean, you pay all this for a long-term player. Pay [players] for one year and one year only. Big deal. I donít understand it. I had a one-year contract all the time, and when I finally got a three-year contract, I sucked.
The All-Star Game
Q: The sports media and the talk-show callers had a field day with the tie in the All-Star Game. What were your thoughts on the outcome?
Fidrych: Eleven innings, a nice hit, a nice catch ó the people got what they came there to see. And, hey, leave it as a tie because it goes in the record books.... Now, thereís been many times in a regular season game when you say [to the position players], "Okay, who wants to throw?" But this is one game, and itís for the fans. I look at Canseco when he always wanted to pitch. And what did he do? He went out and pitched and hurt his arm.
Lee: I watched the whole damn thing, and I loved it. I loved the tie. It put egg on the face of the commissioner, and I wanted it to be that way.... But they could have played forever. They structured it right: you had Padilla on rotation, you had Garcia on rotation. Theyíre both starters. Jesus Christ, my guy threw two innings. [Editorsí note: we have no idea who Leeís guy is.] Heís a goddamn starter. His name ainít Milt Pappas "Five and Fly." It just upset me. Thatís when you could hear Ted Williams trying to get out of that beer cooler.
Q: Had you been on the mound at the end of the game, would you have wanted to keep pitching?
Lee: Sure, I would have kept going. [Iíd have] had a chance to win that game. Iím going to be the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game. Iíve got the ball in my hand, and Iím going to beat [the other pitcher] because I can out-hit him. Iím going to get a chance to hit against him, and Iím going to hit a two-run homer in the 16th inning.... I liked the tie from a fanís point of view, but I didnít like it from a playerís point of view. If I was playing, Iíd say, "Goddamn, you ainít taking that ball out of their goddamn hands. Youíd have to pry it out of my cold, dead hand." I would have dropped drawers and mooned everybody.
Bouton: I would have said, "Let me pitch until I drop." I was always willing to risk my career for one more inning. I was stupid. The players today are smarter. And theyíre worth more. Theyíve got an investment in their body. We didnít have any investment at all. We werenít that far away from hanging shingles.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Ted-Williams-being-frozen controversy?
Lee: I think itís hilarious. I can see him there. Heís in with the full body of Walt Disney and the head of Jayne Mansfield, since she was decapitated.
Fidrych: If he wanted his remains burned up in ashes and thrown over the ocean or that place where he used to fish a lot is, you do that. Itís the manís spot. Itís the manís wishes. When youíve got in your will that you want your ashes scattered over the ocean or whatever it was ... well, thatís where he should be. If there had been any changes, there would have been a new will.
He was a beautiful man. To me, he was the godfather of baseball. He helped me out one day when my father and one of his best friends came to visit me, and Ted was there. I said, "Ted, my fatherís here and blah, blah, blah." "Hey, hey, Mr. Fidrych. How yaí doing? Paul, thatís right, your name is Paul." And those guys took two pictures with Paul. And my father had a ball, and he got it signed. And they had a great conversation. And afterward, my father and Red both said, "My lifeís complete."
Jose Cansecoís tell-all book
Q: The recently retired Jose Canseco is writing what he says is a tell-all book about drugs, women, and other savory parts of the game. He says heís going to "name names," and that "itís going to blow Ball Four out of the water." Your thoughts?
Bouton: I think itís going to be impossible for Canseco to write a tell-all book because the newspapers are already doing their job of [telling] whatís happening, pretty much. When I said players used greenies, everybody said, "Greenies? What are greenies? Oh, my God." Cansecoís going to say players are using steroids, and everyoneís going to go, "Oh, we heard that all ready." ... [As for naming names], I donít think thatís a book. Sounds like a magazine article. A list of players? Okay, thatís one page. Whatís he going to do on page two?
Lee: Shoot, he should come out with it. Then I could have something to fall asleep with. I guarantee reading thatíd put me to fucking sleep. Wow. Alert the media. Talk about a shitty fucking book. You can put that on the cover.
Q: If thereís a strike, will that be the final nail in the coffin for baseball?
Bouton: No, because new people will come along who donít recall the strike or werenít interested in baseball at that time. Theyíll turn on the television set or go to a ballgame, and theyíll say, gee, this is a great game. Look at this. You have a pitcher and you have a batter, and thereís a moment of tension every single pitch ó something could happen. And then a ball gets hit. Everyoneís running. It involves a nice distance. Action could take place 400 feet away from home plate or it could take place two feet in front of home plate. Itís not confined to a place like basketball. Thereís no clock; itís not confined to that. Itís a marvelous game. And thatís why it wonít die out.
Fidrych: I wouldnít say itíd be the end. Thatís like back in the í60s or whatever, when they said Californiaís going to fall off the map. Know what Iím saying?
Mark Bazer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org