Bad contracts in baseball leave long-lasting stench
By JOHN ROMANO
Published May 15, 2005
You, too, have been screwed. You didn't get the view you were promised, you didn't get the color you asked for, you didn't get the pizza you ordered.
So you ask for the manager, you demand to see the supervisor, you want to know, by gosh, how long before you get your refund.
You know how it works. You have been through it a thousand times. Eventually, you will have your satisfaction.
Except in a case such as this. How, exactly, do you return a bad Giambi?
Because, I'm telling you, no one from Oakland is working the refund desk on this one. I'm not even sure his parents would take him back. The Yankees are stuck with this lemon, and they still owe about $82-million on the bill.
It has, quite possibly, become the worst contract in baseball history. Maybe world history, although I hear the Peloponnesians were big spenders.
The Yankees gave Jason Giambi a seven-year, $120-million contract in 2002, and they regret it a little more with every passing third strike.
Their consternation at what to do with this bloated contract got me wondering about other bad baseball deals. Is this really the worst of the worst? Have there been other teams stuck with more useless appendages?
So, in the name of consumer affairs, I have compiled a list of some of the most odious contracts to ever stand on the mound or step to the plate.
The list, as you might suspect, is heavy on the present. Before free agency in 1976, most contracts were one-year, one-way, take-it-or-leave-it deals. A bad deal in April, was done by October.
This is why you used to see more holdouts. Joe DiMaggio used to spend spring by a hotel pool in St. Petersburg because he rarely came to terms with the Yankees until mid March or later. Home Run Baker led the American League in homers for four consecutive seasons, but missed a chance for a fifth because he was a holdout for the entire 1915 season.
Contracts were based not on future potential, but on recent performance. Mickey Mantle hit 31 homers in 1959, but that was a dropoff from 42 the year before. So he took a pay cut from $72,000 to $65,000 in 1960.
In other words, teams used to hold all the leverage. With that in mind, here is a list of some of the worst purchases.
JASON GIAMBI: Putting aside, for a moment, that Giambi was a one-dimensional player. That he had a reputation as a partier. That his agent apparently requested the Yankees remove any references to steroids in his contract. Even ignoring all that, this deal still looked bad. The Yankees backloaded the contract so they would owe him more money the older he got. That makes Giambi, 34, virtually untradable. New York is not halfway through a seven-year, $120-million deal with a player who can't hit his weight.
HACK WILSON: The Depression-era Giambi. Wilson also had a hefty body and a penchant for the night life. After setting a National League record with 56 homers and 191 RBIs in 1930, the Cubs made Wilson the highest-paid player in the NL at $35,000. Legend has it, most of the money was left in saloons. Wilson hit 13 homers in 1931 and was traded. Four years after one of the greatest seasons in history, Wilson was out of baseball.
ANDY MESSERSMITH: He challenged baseball's reserve clause and ushered in the era of free agency in 1976. While signing Messersmith to a three-year, $1.75-million contract, Ted Turner says he will be a Brave for life. Messersmith wins 16 games in two years and is traded to the Yankees. Baseball's first free agent was also the first bomb.
THE ERA OF INSANITY: Take your pick. Kevin Brown (seven years, $100-million), Mike Hampton (eight years, $121-million), Ken Griffey Jr. (nine years, $116.5-million), Mike Piazza (seven years, $91-million), Mo Vaughn (six years, $80-million) Shawn Green (six years, $84-million) and Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $250-million) signed absurd deals between 1998-2000.
WARREN SPAHN: Sometimes, even Hall of Famers will fool you. Coming off a 23-7 season, Spahn signed an $85,000 one-year deal with the Braves in 1964, becoming the highest-paid pitcher in the game. One problem. He's 43. Spahn went 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA.
PAUL PETTIT: Usually, it's the prospects who fool you. Pettit of Lomita, Calif., was such a hot commodity coming out of high school in 1950 that a Hollywood producer signed him to a personal services contract. The Pirates then gave Pettit a $100,000 signing bonus. To put that in perspective, a year earlier DiMaggio had become baseball's first $100,000 player. Pettit pitched in 12 games for the Pirates, winning one.
MATT WHITE: From the they-never-learn department. Nearly 50 years after Pettit flopped, the Devil Rays thought they had the next school-boy legend. In 1997, the Rays signed White to a $10.2-million deal, the largest bonus ever given to an amateur free agent. Eight years, and a sore arm later, White is still in the minors.
MARK DAVIS: A wrong move can send a franchise into a tailspin. From 1976-89, the Royals won six division titles, two pennants and a World Series. They never finished lower than third. Then came Davis. A nondescript pitcher who had a career year with 44 saves for the Padres in '89, Davis was signed to a four-year, $14-million deal. He had 11 saves the rest of his career. The Royals finished sixth, and have yet to return to the postseason.
THE DUELING DOPES: They were young, exciting and brash. In 1990, Jose Canseco and Darryl Strawberry were also the highest-paid players in history. Canseco had a five-year, $23.5-million contract with Oakland and Strawberry signed a five-year, $20.25-million deal with Los Angeles. Both would soon be traded and their legacies are now a lesson in wasted talent.
YES, MAYBE EVEN WORSE THAN GIAMBI: You can make an argument to overpay a superstar. You can make an argument to overpay the hottest prospect. You cannot, in any way, excuse the overpayment of mediocrity. Chan Ho Park (five years, $65-million), Darren Dreifort (five years, $55-million) and Kevin Appier (four years, $42-million) are personal favorites. Wilson Alvarez (five years, $35-million)? Call that a sentimental favorite.
[Last modified May 15, 2005, 01:21:24]
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