Reporting Sketchy in 2004 on Player Discipline by Major League Clubs
In 2004, the rules of big league clubs to keep their players in line were reported on to a mild degree, baseball team discipline historian Howard W. Rosenberg has found for a third consecutive year. In a methodical search of article databases, he found the most interesting new bent in coverage to be about clauses in player contracts that nullify them in case of offseason injury.
The new emphasis on the subject stemmed from a torn ligament suffered in January by Aaron Boone, then of the New York Yankees, while playing basketball. Because his one-year, $5.75 million contract listed basketball as a prohibitive act, the club was able to void the contract.
Rosenberg, who analyzed discipline data for 2002 in his book Cap Anson 1, which featured the alleged ``iron hand'' rule of longtime Chicago captain-manager Cap Anson, and the first player to reach 3,000 hits, said, ``Big league clubs used to exercise their greatest power during the regular season, and the 19th century, before there was ESPN, is loaded with amusing stories about players violating team rules, especially about drinking. Now, with the exception of activity that will cause physical injury, clubs during the regular season seem to tiptoe in their efforts to keep players in check. Reporters seem to tiptoe too, as they hardly report on player escapades on road trips, a staple of baseball fun in prior decades. Maybe the players are that well-behaved, but that would be interesting to read about in any event at least once per season per team. As things stand now, readers pretty much have to wait until years later, when someone happens to write a book.''
As of this writing, a late-season issue similar to Boone's has yet to play itself out: Early in September, Kevin Brown of the Yankees broke ``two bones in his non-pitching hand when he punched a wall in the clubhouse,'' the Associated Press reported. While he had successful surgery, he is still expected to miss a few weeks.
As far as the possibility of being fined or otherwise disciplined, Brown said, ``Whatever actions they take, I'll handle it and I'll understand the team's position.''
The Newark Star-Ledger said some Yankee officials are thinking of seeking ``to have a portion of Brown's contract voided, though that likely would unleash a furious fight from agent Scott Boras [Brown's agent] and the Major League Baseball Players Association. It's more likely the Yankees will fine Brown.''
While there is no maximum on how much a club may fine a player, fines of $1,000 or more cannot be collected until exhaustion of the grievance process, according to the 2002-to-2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
As described in Rosenberg's 2003 book Cap Anson 1, the CBA, since the first one in 1970, has recognized the right of clubs to impose discipline. Clubs can impose a reasonable fine or suspension, not to exceed 30 days, by virtue of regulations in the Uniform Player's Contract. A club can terminate a player's contract for failure to conform to standards of good conduct or citizenship, for failing to keep in condition, or failing to obey training rules.
The CBA, in turn, has allowed players to file a grievance against management, in any case of discipline. If not satisfied with informal resolution, the player can appeal to Major League Baseball's Player Relations Committee and then to binding arbitration.
As quoted in Cap Anson 1, Gene Orza, the now-chief operating officer of the MLBPA, said while clubs may have lots of rules on the books, many related to working conditions are in the end unenforceable, should players challenge them by filing a grievance. The basic problem with club rules, Orza said, is that clubs have decided them unilaterally, and modern U.S. labor law gives union members strong protections against being punished severely based on rules that have not been explicitly decided in collective bargaining. Orza does contrast those rules that lead to potentially big fines and suspensions to incidental ones more in the spirit of being harmonious around teammates, such as wearing nice clothing and listening to music with earphones. Rules on that order often serve a ``valuable purpose,'' he said.
About the possibility of Brown being fined by the Yankees, Orza told the New York Times that ``the simple and singular question is whether or not Kevin Brown's injury is considered to be in the scope of his employment -- whether or not a club can reasonably expect that a highly competitive individual will sometimes exhibit what the courts have called 'animal exuberance' while performing for the club.''
In Cap Anson 1, Rosenberg concluded that through 1900, reporters referred far more often to club restrictions on player behavior, and reported hundreds of violations. Much of the most interesting detail was about drinking, in violation of team rules, which were liberalized in the 20th century. Drinking could still be a fun subject as recently as the 1970s. As Mickey Herskowitz of the Houston Chronicle wrote in 2003, ``Drinking was part of the culture in the 1960s and '70s, and a humorist like Bob Uecker [Herskowitz co-authored a book with the former player] could do a whole monologue on getting plastered and waking up the next morning with a bird flying around his room. But booze isn't funny anymore, partly because the public relates any kind of substance abuse to drugs and steroids.''
Rules reported today tend to fall in three categories: proper attire, proper grooming and proper ways of listening to music.
There have been a few noteworthy reports on club discipline so far in 2004:
In light of Boone's basketball injury, the Washington Times said, ``Teams influencing players' off-the-field lives is not a product of the salary boom of the 1990s, however. The prohibitive clause preceded free agency in baseball [in the mid-1970s], dating to a skiing accident suffered by Boston Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg following his Cy Young Award-winning 1967 season. Clauses became more comprehensive over the years and were finally perfected in the 1990s,'' it said, paraphrasing agent Ron Shapiro, who has represented Hall of Famers including Cal Ripken.
Continuing to paraphrase Shapiro, it said, ``Most teams frown upon activities like boxing, sky diving, mountain climbing, skiing, hunting, scuba and skin diving, horse racing and tackle football. The most stringent team -- perhaps draconian -- is the Yankees, whose list ranges from the leisurely (table tennis and shuffleboard) to the unusual (spelunking) [the sport of walking and climbing in caves].
``As for gardening, there is a clause commonly referred to as the `Bobby Ojeda Clause,' which bans the use of electric hedge clippers. In 1988, the New York Mets left-hander missed the playoffs after severing the middle finger on his pitching hand in a pruning accident the day the Mets clinched the National League East championship.''
Shapiro did tell of getting an occasional exception, such as for Ripken, ``because his entire offseason workout program centered on basketball.''
The Washington Times also said that former Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina signed with the Yankees ``only after the club permitted him to play basketball in his backyard gym'' and first baseman Jason Giambi did so after forcing the club ``to back down on its anti-motorcycle policy.''
In February, Mussina told the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., that on the Yankee list of restricted activities are things ``I've never heard of. It's going to get to the point where the only thing you can do is sit on the couch and watch television. Then what happens if you get carpal (tunnel syndrome) using the TV remote?''
The Journal News said, ``The Yankees' list includes such risky activities as swimming, shuffleboard, roller skating, hunting, barroom darts and golf. During the season, the Yankees don't even want their players lying by the pool or at the beach.''
``Nobody is denied anything,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at the time of the Journal News report, apparently in response to the charge. ``Nobody is prevented from doing anything they want to do. Nobody's rights are being denied here. What this means is we're telling a player these are high-risk activities for injury, and if he were to be injured doing them, it would give the club the right to make the contract non-guaranteed.''
Among the most-invoked team rules of today are those related to the orderly conduct of the team, especially players being on time. In February, new Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli ``and his new charges emerged from the clubhouse and ran -- in obedience of a new team rule prohibiting walking to assignments -- to their stations for the first workout of spring training,'' the Washington Post said. By the way, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Mazzilli bans loud music in the clubhouse. So Oriole pitcher Sidney Ponson, ``before his season-opening start, had to use headphones to get motivated by [the metal rock group] Metallica.''
In March, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Atlanta manager Bobby Cox ``has few rules -- no [blasting of] music, no jewelry in the clubhouse, be on time, play hard -- and doesn't sweat the small stuff.'' In June, the Augusta [Ga.] Chronicle reported that the Braves' clubhouse ``is absent the distractions of cell phones, loud music, video games or widescreen TVs, giving off a constant professional vibe.''
Recalling the Milwaukee Brewers' hiring of manager Ned Yost in 2003, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the rules he implemented on his first day ``were vintage Cox, right down to the dress code for players arriving at optional early workouts (spikes instead of turf shoes; uniform pants instead of shorts; caps mandatory) and banning loud music in the clubhouse.''
Rosenberg came across three newspaper reports on potential fines in 2004:
1. In spring training, the Houston Chronicle reported that Houston pitcher Jeriome Robertson ``knew he had earned himself a fine as he rushed into Osceola County Stadium [in Florida] late for practice Wednesday morning. He barely missed the 10 a.m. deadline to be on the field for the start of practice. On his way to clubhouse, Robertson snitched on himself to manager Jimy Williams, who expects his players to be at workouts on time.
```As soon as I came in, I said, `Jimy, I'm sorry I'm late,' Robertson said. `I told him my alarm didn't go off, and my backup plan isn't here yet. I just said, `What do I owe you?''' The Chronicle added, ``Williams has only a few rules for his players, but showing up on time is an important one. Robertson expects to be fined.''
2. Days later, the New York Mets fined outfielders Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer fined $500 apiece ``for an incident with a pizza deliveryman in Port St. Lucie, Fla.,'' the New York Daily News reported.
``Eric Vidal, 20, who had been on the job only two days at Big Apple Pizza, accused the players of what constitutes misdemeanor simple battery. He claimed a drunken Garcia urinated in front of the shop, and that both Garcia and Spencer later hopped out of a Hummer [General Motors truck] after a verbal exchange and attacked him, with Spencer punching him three times in the side.''
Mets General Manager Jim Duquette, after fining the players, ``pronounced the matter closed,'' the paper said.
3. In May, White Sox pitcher Jon Rauch, in a 5-1 loss, ``left the clubhouse after his 3 2/3-inning outing, igniting the fury of general manager Ken Williams,'' the Chicago Sun-Times said. ``He severely hampered his chances for ever pitching for the White Sox again,'' an angry Williams said in a statement after the game. ``If any team has any interest in Jon Rauch, they should contact me.''
After the game, Williams went to the team's clubhouse to talk to Rauch ``and tell him he would be optioned back to Class AAA Charlotte. But instead, Williams learned the 25-year-old right-hander had left earlier, a taboo in the game.''
``Rauch not only was optioned to Charlotte, he was fined an undisclosed amount and handed an uncertain future.''
The following reports did not include any mention of possible fines:
In April, new Red Sox manager Terry Francona blamed himself ``for not making sure ace [pitcher] Pedro Martinez was aware of a team rule requiring players to remain at the stadium until the game is over,'' the Houston Chronicle said. ``Sometimes the manager is responsible for communicating some things that are maybe taken for granted,'' Francona said. ``That's my responsibility.''
Later in the month, Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella became ``visibly annoyed'' when ``he heard a group of Rays playing dominoes in violation of a team rule that all such games should end by the time the team bus arrives, usually around 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours before first pitch,'' the St. Petersburg Times said. ``If they want to play they should join a social club,'' he said.
Perhaps the most colorful observation of the year, about a club's overall policy, was by the Los Angeles Daily News. It reported that Cincinnati General Manager Dan O'Brien and manager Dave Miley ``have demanded a more professional approach from a team that used to be known as much for [former General Manager Jim] Bowden's outrageous behavior as for anything that happened on the field. All alcoholic beverages have been banned from the clubhouse at home and all women banned from team charter flights. Club insiders say those policies haven't been so well received by the players. But in another example of how drastically things have changed, those rules remain in place, however unpopular they might be. Under Bowden, there often were different rules for different players.''
As far as players and their particular qualities:
The Boston Herald said Johnny Damon of the Red Sox ``isn't your everyday center fielder. He is one of the true free spirits in baseball, which is rare and somewhat threatening in this game. The beard -- the most talked about mass of facial hair in baseball history -- spawned fan groupies but Damon could never play for the Yankees, who have a rule prohibiting facial hair below the lip.''
In July, the New York Daily News said that when Yankees newcomer Kenny Lofton ``put loud music on in the clubhouse while on the road at the beginning of the season, he was quietly -- but quickly -- told by a teammate that that's a no-no.''
Howard W. Rosenberg, who invites reporters to forward their articles relating to team rules, is the author of Cap Anson 1: When Captaining a Team Meant Something: Leadership in Baseball's Early Years (2003) and Cap Anson 2: The Theatrical and Kingly Mike Kelly: U.S. Team Sport's First Media Sensation and Baseball's Original Casey at the Bat (2004). His definitive data for the 2002 and rough data for 2003 are available by contacting him by telephone (703-841-9523) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Author's contact information:
Howard W. Rosenberg
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(703) 841-9523 (telephone)