Thursday, February 10, 2000

Deal became too good to pass


Obstacles removed by agent

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

griffey
Ken Griffey Jr.
... MLB profile

        Ken Griffey Jr. made no sense as a rent-a-player. The cost was too high and the commitment too brief. You couldn't put all of your eggs in that basket without worrying about winding up with egg on your face.

        The Cincinnati Reds couldn't afford to get serious about acquiring baseball's most dazzling player until they could be sure he wanted to be here for the long haul. They couldn't justify sacrificing the talent it would take to get him and they couldn't reconcile the risk of losing him as a free agent after one year.

        They needed to know that his intentions were honorable.

        The big deal is tentatively agreed to because Griffey's agent removed all of the obstacles. Brian Goldberg persuaded the Seattle Mariners to let him pitch the Reds directly, and then announced Junior's willingness to take a below-market, long-term contract. The move was clumsy, desperate and likely constituted tampering, but it was a breakthrough.

Deal was going nowhere
        Reds Chief Operating Officer John Allen was considering an announcement Tuesday morning. The Griffey deal was going nowhere, but it was dominating all conversation about the franchise. It was disruptive, counterproductive and starting to frustrate the fans.

        “I've got to put this to rest,” Allen said.

        Before Allen could draft a press release, however, Goldberg preempted it with a public declaration. He said Junior was prepared to take less money, much of it deferred, to come home and play for the Reds. With that single statement, Goldberg cancelled most of the Reds' reservations. It was the proverbial offer you can't refuse.

        If Carl Lindner had any lingering doubts about the wisdom of this deal, all he had to do was turn on the radio or sit in at the switchboard to hear fans beseeching him to make it happen. One radio station staged a bake sale on behalf of Project Junior. Numerous fans vowed to patronize Lindner's other businesses if he would give them Griffey.

        You don't get to be a billionaire by misreading the mood of your customers. Maybe the numbers don't add up as neatly as the accountants would like, but Lindner could not have failed to feel the passion of his public if he had spent the last three days in a closet.

Find a way to make it work
        The customer is not always right. The customer is often a little bit loopy. But when the customer is pleading for a particular product, you find a way to make it work. Where there is demand, supply usually follows.

        Before Griffey's longterm commitment was made clear Tuesday, fans were almost evenly divided on the advisability of acquiring him. For every person eager to proceed, another complained that Seattle's price was exorbitant. No one who followed the Reds through the stirring summer of '99 could have parted with Pokey Reese or Sean Casey without worrying that they'd have nothing to show for those young stars by the spring of 2001.

        When Griffey trimmed the list of teams to whom he'd accept a trade to the Reds, he stripped Seattle of its bargaining power and compromised its ability to save face. When Goldberg said his client would come cheap and stay long, any Reds fan who could read a box score had to start salivating.

        In order to end the impasse, something had to change. Griffey applied pressure last week when he disclosed a death threat and complained about criticism, and the exasperated Mariners renewed their search for an exit strategy. Finally, struggling to find common ground, Seattle President Chuck Armstrong authorized Goldberg to open discussions about a long-term deal with the Reds.

        Technically, this was tampering. Baseball rules require that teams agree on the specific players to be swapped before agents are allowed to start haggling about contracts. As a practical matter, however, the ability to agree on a long-term contract sometimes makes the specific players to be swapped less significant.

        With Goldberg's offer on the table for everyone to see, Carl Lindner could not look away. Reds fans wouldn't let him.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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