SELIG’S THREE-CITY CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN

By Murray Chass

October 23, 2011

We interrupt this World Series to bring you the Bud Selig follies: the three-ring fiasco that the commissioner has allowed to fester and flourish and overshadow his game’s premier event.

“This is in the middle of baseball’s sacred period,” said a veteran baseball man with great respect for the game. “The commissioner issues guidelines and ignores them himself. We’re into the World Series, but this is all we’re talking about.”Theo Epstein2 225

The subject of Selig’s follies is the effort of the Chicago Cubs to wrest Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox to be their president of baseball operations. The Epstein epic has been an all-consuming subject of notoriety in a minimum of three major league cities – Boston, Chicago and San Diego.

San Diego is involved because Epstein plans to hire two Padres executives, general manager Jed Hoyer and assistant general manager Jason McLeod, as soon as he is permitted, which may be when the World Series is over.

I question, though, whether Epstein should be permitted to hire Hoyer and McLeod because it seems obvious that he tampered with them, lining them up for Cubs jobs before he had permission to do so. More on that subject later.

The transfer of Hoyer and McLeod to Chicago would lead to an internal Padres’ move, the elevation of Josh Byrnes and A.J. Hinch to the positions vacated by Hoyer and McLeod.

Now fans in Chicago, Boston and San Diego may be more interested in their teams’ front-office developments than in the games between the Rangers and the Cardinals, but rules are rules, and what good are they if the man who makes them ignores them?

In short, Selig allowed the Epstein saga to roll merrily along until it crossed the starting line for the World Series when he could have sidetracked it until the Series was over. Selig’s misguided effort went beyond approving – or ordering – announcements when he had banned them.

The Cubs’ quest began as a legitimate effort to lure a successful, though perhaps overrated, general manager to see if he could duplicate the success he had in Boston.

They succeeded with Epstein, agreeing to pay the 37-year-old executive $18.5 million over 5 years – $3 million a year plus a $3.5 million payment they picked up from a termination provision in his Red Sox contract.

But they were unable to reach agreement on compensation the Cubs should pay in a player or players because the Red Sox were releasing Epstein from the last year of his contract. The Red Sox wanted more than the Cubs were willing to give, and the negotiations dragged on to the start of the World Series.

Selig has a long-standing policy banning major developments during the World Series. There’s a good reason for that. The World Series is Major League Baseball’s showcase event, and Selig doesn’t want announcements of front-office or managerial appointments, or player trades, to intrude on it.

bud-selig-finger-225But the commissioner did nothing to prevent the Cubs and the Red Sox from hijacking this World Series. In fact, he contributed to the fiasco. In a radio interview before Game 2, he was asked if he expected to step into the talks and mediate them.

“It is a possibility,” Selig said. “No question, it is a possibility.”

Incredible. Instead of playing down the issue so it might, if not go away, be toned down, Selig thrust himself into it, making it even bigger with his remark, which was reported in probably every newspaper and on every Web site. After all, if you have the baseball commissioner inserting himself into an issue, it’s going to attract greater attention.

Somebody thinking on his feet, or on his butt if he was sitting down, would have replied to that question by saying something like “I’m not going to talk about it because it’s an issue for after the World Series.”

Which, I believe, would have been the appropriate stance for him to take on the entire matter. When the Cubs and the Red Sox reached the eve of the World Series without an agreement, Selig could have ordered the clubs to stop talking until after the World Series. The talks and Epstein’s status would have been on hold until the Series ended.

It would have been like an Indycar race when officials post a yellow caution flag, under which drivers must maintain their positions and not try to pass other cars.

Unfortunately, Selig did not return a telephone call on the Series off-day Friday to comment on the issue so I don’t know why he allowed the Epstein issue to get out of control and take control of World Series week. However, another baseball official offered an explanation.

“Bud interprets his rule as being official announcements,” the official said.

All right, let me see if I have this straight. If the Cubs had wanted to announce the hiring of Epstein at any time during the World Series, Selig would have denied them approval to do it. It was all right, though, for the matter to act like the Energizer bunny. It makes no sense to me.

As it turned out, the commissioner’s office let the teams know it was not happy with what they were doing and told them to do something already on the Friday off-day. That evening, they issued a joint news release:

“The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs jointly announce this evening that, effective immediately, Theo Epstein has resigned from the Red Sox in order to become the new President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs. The Clubs also have reached an agreement regarding a process by which appropriate compensation will be determined for the Red Sox and that issue will be resolved in the near term.

“Both the Red Sox and the Cubs intend to hold press events on Tuesday, October 25 during which the Cubs intend to announce Mr. Epstein, and the Red Sox intend to announce his successor as General Manager.

”Out of respect for the World Series, both clubs have agreed to forego further comment until Tuesday, the next scheduled non-game day. Further information on each club’s media availability for Tuesday will be distributed on Monday.”

The first sentence of the last paragraph, I assume, was for comic relief. Out of respect for the World Series? The clubs – aided and abetted by the commissioner – had already disrespected the World Series. What was left to respect?

Another question: Will the commissioner order an investigation of possible tampering by Epstein? A few years ago I asked Selig about another alleged tampering incident involving Epstein. That was when J.D. Drew opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed a bigger contract with the Red Sox.

Selig wouldn’t investigate because he said the Dodgers didn’t file a complaint, and the only way he could order an investigation was if a club complained. Dodgers officials were certain that the Red Sox had tampered, but their owner, Frank McCourt, declined to pursue it.

This current case of alleged tampering seems to be so blatant that Selig’s common sense should prompt him to act without waiting for a club to complain.

For one thing, the integrity of the game is at stake. For another, the Padres aren’t going to file a complaint because Jeff Moorad, the Padres’ part-owner and chief executive officer, is happy to replace Hoyer with Byrnes, who was his general manager in Arizona.Jed Hoyer2 225

I don’t know for a fact that Epstein talked to Hoyer and McLeod before he was announced as the Cubs’ new baseball chief, but for days before the announcement the news was all over the media that that Hoyer and McLeod would join Epstein at Wrigley Field.

Everyone wasn’t guessing or speculating. Even I acknowledge that you can’t believe everything you read in newspapers or on their electronic alternatives, especially the latter, but there was just too much information for there to be no substance to the tampering allegation. Here was a typical report:

“After the World Series, the Cubs will bring in Padres’ GM Jed Hoyer, who also will receive a five-year deal as their next GM, and his assistant Jason McLeod. The Padres reportedly have agreed to a list of Cubs minor league players to choose from as compensation for Hoyer and McLeod.”

These reports appeared earlier in the day of or the day before the joint news release announcing Epstein’s defection to the Cubs. As late as Thursday Moorad said no one had sought permission to talk to Hoyer or McLeod.  The next day the Cubs were reported to have asked for and been granted the necessary permission.

No matter what seems obvious to an objective person, Selig is as unlikely to launch an investigation as he was in failing to derail the runaway Theo train. His failure to act when people he likes are involved (Frank McCourt is not among those) prompts me to paraphrase a comment the great columnist Red Smith once wrote of then commissioner Bowie Kuhn, “If Bud Selig were breathing today, these things wouldn’t happen.”

I attempted to reach all of the principals in these developments, but these people didn’t return calls: Tom Ricketts, Cubs’ chairman; Larry Lucchino, Red Sox chief executive; Moorad, Epstein, Hoyer.

I also tried Crane Kennedy, the Cubs’ president, and he actually answered his office telephone (secretary must have been at lunch). He said he couldn’t talk to me just then but promised he would call back. It’s not the first promise a baseball executive has broken.

Since I didn’t hear from Lucchino and couldn’t ask him the question I wanted to ask him, I asked another Red Sox executive, who agreed to speak but only off the record.

“Instead of haggling with the Cubs over compensation for Theo,” I asked, “why not just say ‘If you want him, this is what it will cost you. If you don’t want to pay the price, he stays here for another year.’ Your failure to take that stance only makes me think you no longer want him there and are trying to get rid of him for the best possible deal.”

Not at all, the executive replied. “We did everything we could to keep him,” he said. “That’s where he wanted to go.”

So, in Boston, the inmates are running the asylum? Epstein had a contract for next year. Was he not going to honor it?

No, that’s not it at all. According to an executive of another club, “They didn’t want Epstein to stay. They wanted to be rid of him.”

So they are. And now that he is the Cubs’ No. 1 baseball executive, Epstein can perform a unique task. He can negotiate his own compensation.

MOORAD AND HIS MEN

Incest may be too strong a word, but the Padres’ part of the three-way front-office development with the Cubs and the Red Sox seems to have a touch of baseball incest to it.

jeff-moorad-padres-225Jeff Moorad, the Padres’ part-owner and chief executive, doesn’t mind his general manager, Jed Hoyer, and Hoyer’s assistant, Jason McLeod, leaving the Padres to join Theo Epstein in Chicago because he can put in their places two people he hired and liked when he operated the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Moorad, a former player agent, hired Josh Byrnes as the Arizona general manager in November 2005 and gave him an unheard of eight-year contract extension two years later when the Diamondbacks reached the National League Championship Series.

Hinch ran the Diamondbacks’ minor league system for three years before Byrnes surprisingly named him their manager in May 2009. Moorad left for the Padres in February 2009 and was in place there to hire Byrnes and Hinch late last year after the Diamondbacks fired them.

Byrnes, Hoyer and McLeod were all aides to Epstein in his early years as Red Sox general manager.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.