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Is Boras alone wearing the black hat?

The MLB Players Association plays a powerful, but almost-invisible role in placement of top free agents.

Scott Boras (without hat - Getty Images)In Saturday’s post, I included a Jack Clark quote noting the pressure he received way back in 1987 from the union, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), to take the largest contract offered him. It required a very uncomfortable move from the environment he and his family favored, St. Louis and the Cardinals, to New York and the Yankees. It was a decision Clark still regrets to this day.

This important factor in free agent negotiations and deliberations never seems to draw the publicity that the high-profile agents in chase of the best camera angles, biggest headlines and highest dollars receive.

Of course, that has to be the way the union wants it. Just as the owners have their collusion, uh collaboration, so do the players. I call your collusion and raise you one.

The most eye-opening piece I have ever read about the subject was written by former National League pitcher Mark Knudson and ran in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan on July 20, 2008. Knudson had spent parts of eight seasons in the majors with Houston, Milwaukee and Colorado, where he ended his career in 1993.

Unfortunately, the article has since been taken down*, but following are some of my summary points from Knudson, repeated from a July 23, 2008 subscriber-only article I wrote about Rick Ankiel at

* This post is being pre-empted by an Andy Rooney moment. Why do so many papers take down relatively-recent articles? Good luck trying to find a Post-Dispatch article from 2008, for example. I know money is tight for the mainstreamers, but someone needs to inform them that archival disk storage is really inexpensive these days.

…Knudson probes a little-understood angle – that of slotting and pressure by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Fans are most familiar with the term “slotting” as it relates to the First-Year Player (amateur) Draft. In that case, MLB sets “suggested” bounds for the clubs to follow in awarding player bonuses…

In the case of free agents, the MLBPA plays a comparable enforcer role to stamp out hometown discounts and ensure that the big money players get their fair share compared to others. It is the old analogy that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Thereby, the Players Association help all their constituents earn more money, if not today, then down the road. Interestingly, the former MLB pitcher Knudson characterizes Boras as merely the “front man” behind the powerful Players Association.

Michael Weiner (AP Photo/Richard Drew)Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone about the negotiating tactics of free agent Matt Holliday’s agent, Scott Boras, and will surely continue to be. Yet, if Knudson was anywhere close to the truth, and I have no reason to question him, the aggregate anger of Cardinal Nation aimed at Boras should at least be shared with new MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner (pictured) and his associates. Instead, the union leaders remain behind the curtain likely pushing their share of the buttons.

I can envision Holliday and his sequestered family huddled up in a bomb shelter somewhere waiting to be told by all those making decisions for them when sirens have sounded the all-clear, indicating it is safe to re-emerge from the nuclear winter.

And here we thought the game was so simple. Just see the ball and hit it.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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