I agree with Bill Conlin, dammit

Well, okay, that’s not true. Just the opposite of that is true, as you’ll see. And it will probably never be true. But I do agree with his headline:

In desperate times, Nationals must throw cash at Strasburg

The article itself is a meandering, incomprehensible mess full of contradictorily ridiculous assertions (which qualities could fairly be summed up by calling any article like this “a conlin”; in fact, I think I’ll use that from now on), so you can’t really coherently “agree” with the meat of it. If you thought I was crazy for saying that Strasburg is worth considerably more than $11 million, you’ll love this.

In a perfect world, owner Ted Lerner would transfer about 500,000 Benjamins to the account of Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras. Then the new face of the franchise would make a couple of starts before full houses and go off to the minors to learn about pitching every fifth day for 6 months.

But cf. Conlin, a few paragraphs later, after rambling about a huge top prospect he once covered who in the end could only manage to be Lew Krausse Jr.:

Nationals owner Ted Lerner can only pray he gets a little more bang than that for the 50 million Stephen Strasburg bucks Scott Boras is about to pry out of him.

So I find the first quote almost offensively stupid. Conlin’s “perfect world” is essentially a system of something like indentured servitude. I know, it’s hard to sympathize with a 21 year old kid making half a million dollars, but focusing on the figures involved just obscures the brain-exploding wrongness of this line of thinking.

I’m not going to get all philosophical about what would really be a “perfect world,” but there’s certainly no arguing that in the most perfect version of our own capitalist system, everyone would be free to obtain the highest price his or her services could bring on the open market. For Strasburg, that’s a hell of a lot more than $500,000. It’s a lot more than $11 million. And it may be even more than $20 million. You could draw a lot of frightening conclusions about Conlin, if you wanted to read that much into it, from the fact that his “perfect world” involves robbing a young man of something like 98.7% of the value of his services (and transferring that cash directly to the young man’s billionaire bosses).

That’s a little unfair, since one presumes that by “perfect world” he means the perfect world in Ted Lerner’s head, not a utopian society. But if that’s the case, why stop at such a ridiculously low figure? In Lerner’s “perfect world,” wouldn’t every player just play for free?

In my opinion, it’s because of the effect I alluded to on Wednesday (more directly discussed in the comments): writers like Conlin and former players like Harold Reynolds just don’t want a kid making that much money. It offends their delicate sensibilities, which in turn mangles their capacity to reason (if Conlin ever had that capacity, which I kind of doubt). They get this figure in their head of what a young player “deserves,” and what he’s “earned” by his play on the field. These ideas have nothing to do with concepts of value and everything to do with their own preconceived notions of merit and hard work and the value of a dollar (dagnabbit).

But Conlin’s ultimate point (apparently, though I think he forgot to actually make it amidst all that pointless blather about Krausse) is that, as offensive and horrible it is, the evil Strasburg and the eviller Boras have the Nationals over a barrel, and they have to pay him as much as he wants. To Conlin, that means paying him $50 million, a pipe dream of a figure that Boras kind of alluded to in a roundabout way in comparing Strasburg to the bidding on imports like Dice-K.

Saying he’ll get $50 million is, in a way, even dumber than saying he should be getting 1% of that total (and the fact that he said both those things in the space of one article is what makes him Bill Conlin). Boras consistently has incredible success at getting his clients hilariously huge amounts of money, but when has he ever gotten the top figure he’s asked for? And he hasn’t even asked for $50 million; that’s just a pie-in-the-sky number he floated in an interview, hoping to make the $18 or $20 or $25 million Strasburg will eventually get sound more palatable by comparison. Conlin is the only dude I know of who has even considered for a minute that $50 million might even be somewhere on the far-right, fading-to-zero tail in the bell curve of possible outcomes of these negotiations.

As Mark noted in the comments to the Wednesday post, Strasburg isn’t really in a much better position than any other draftee. Yeah, it would look terrible for the Nationals to fail to sign him, but Strasburg’s alternative is to play independent ball for a year for almost no money and hope he doesn’t blow his arm out (and inevitably watch his draft position slip in ’10 even if healthy, since the Nationals are pretty much locked into the top pick in that draft too). It’s an alternative I don’t think he’ll hesitate to take if the Nationals really lowball him, but it’s not exactly an attractive one.

So I guess it’s just kind of an army of straw men Conlin has set up here. Strasburg should be getting half a mil, but Conlin has resigned himself to the fact that, in this modern world gone mad, Strasburg will be getting $50 mil. It’s just lazy, bad, brainless, worthless writing. And it makes it just a little harder to feel sad about the impending death of the newspaper industry.

Also, Conlin once said he wished Hitler were still around so he could kill all the bloggers. Essentially. So, you know, there’s that.

BLACKBERRY EDIT: ha! As Mark points out in the comments below, I’m not nearly as up on my mid-90’s lingo as Conlin is. Of course “500,000 Benjamins” is just a really lame way of saying “$50 million.” So while I have no interest in being “fair” to a guy like Conlin, I guess I should axknowledge that he’s only dumb about one of these two things. The rest only applies to almost every other newspaper writer out there…

2 Responses to “I agree with Bill Conlin, dammit”

  1. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I'm not sure where you're getting the $500,000 from. I think he said "500,000 Benjamins", which is an overly poetic way of saying $50,000,000. Just to be fair to Conlin.

    Otherwise, he doesn't really seem to make much sense.

    I have kind of a rebuttal on this lined up for Sunday. Just thoughts on the draft and how we actually kind of contradict ourselves by wanting the players to make as much money as possible but then get mad at owners for trying to do the same thing. That's an overly simple preview, but oh well.

  2. Ron Rollins Says:

    I don't really care what Conlin says one way or the other, but I will listen to Harold Reynolds.

    Reason being, Reynolds actually had to go out and perform to earn any big contract he had, just like most players have to.

    Strausburg hasn't proven anything. They're asking $50 mil who might be the biggest bust of all time, and he's not worth the money.

    I hope the Nats lowball and him, and Boras has to make the decision of taking less money or having him sit out the year.

    No college or high school 'deserves' that kind of money, no matter how good they were at a previous level.

    Players today get big arbitration and free agent contracts by putting up numbers at the major league level.

    Last time I checked, Strasburg had 0 professional wins, 0 professional strike outs, 0 professional shutouts, etc.

    How is he worth anything more than a basic contract and a chance to prove himself?

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