Last week during a fairly optimistic press conference inside a seventh-floor conference room at his headquarters, commissioner Rob Manfred spoke for about 20 minutes to about 15 reporters.
The topics were wide ranging such as the debacle of aligning sponsorships with FTX, which had its logo on the shirts of all umpires as part of a sizable financial loss Manfred declined to specify the exact amount of while also being glad his sport was not named in the lawsuit that includes the likes of Tom Brady and Stephen Curry.
Another topic was collusion, perhaps one of the dirtiest words in the long and often tense history of player and owner relations.
The topic came up because on Nov. 3 an article on the website of SportsNet New York (SNY) — the television station that has aired Mets’ games since the 2006 season — essentially stated that friendship and respect between Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner and relatively new Mets owner and free spender Steve Cohen would result in a “mutually respectful relationship” when it came to the Mets considering and not pursuing Aaron Judge, who is being wooed by the San Francisco Giants with some potential help from Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
Earlier this week, TIME Magazine reported that the investigation wrapped up with MLB not finding any evidence of collusion. In a simple statement to TIME, a senior executive at MLB said the following: “We’ve completed our investigation. And we’ve notified the MLBPA that there is no basis for any claim of collusion.”
The sense was this would come to a quick end, mostly because when Manfred answered a few questions about the topic, he certainly took it seriously but also seemed like the allegations were a minor inconvenience to when he went from annoying fans with a lengthy lockout that threatened the season and ultimately delayed it by a week to a sport whose revenues were reported as $11 billion thanks to newfound streaming deals and an expanded 12-team playoff field that added an extra round consisting of nine additional games.
“I’m absolutely confident that the clubs behaved in a way that was consistent with the agreement,” Manfred said last week in reference to the current five-year collective bargaining agreement that was ratified in March.
“This was based on a newspaper report. We will put ourselves in a position to demonstrate credibly to the MLBPA that this is not an issue. I’m sure that’s going to be an outcome, but obviously we understand the emotion that surrounds that word (collusion) and we’ll proceed accordingly.”
Before Manfred made his comments that seemed to indicate an open and shut case in their view, the Athletic reported that the union asked MLB to inquire about correspondence between Cohen, who purchased the Mets from the Wilpon family for $2.4 billion in 2020 and Steinbrenner.
Anytime the word collusion appears in baseball it brings shudder to fans who certainly remember the events following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. After the Royals, Mets and Twins won World Series titles in those seasons, virtually no free agents changed teams.
Before players were paid $280 million for CBA violations in those seasons, eight free agents changed teams following the 1985 and 1986 team, including Hall of Famer Andre Dawson who won the 1987 NL MVP after taking a reduced salary to go from the Expos to the Cubs.
Even the freewheeling Yankees were involved as the Sporting News back then reported White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf called George Steinbrenner to rescind an offer for Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk.
Perhaps the best known case involved Tim Raines, who wound up returning to the Expos in 1987 after missing the first month of the season. Raines re-signed on a three-year deal on May 1, 1987 because that was the first day teams could negotiate with former players.
A day later, Raines made a memorable season debut on the NBC game of the week at Shea Stadium. He ended his debut with a grand slam off Jesse Orosco, capping a 4-for-5 showing that featured a triple on the first pitch he saw from David Cone, who was making the second of his 419 starts.
The topic appeared to resurface a few years ago when free agents were slow to sign following the 2017 and 2018 seasons – the offseason that wound up with Bryce Harper signing in Philadelphia and Manny Machado signing in San Diego. Ultimately there wasn’t any proof just like there apparently wasn’t any involving the Mets and Yankees based on MLB’s brief investigation which started shortly after Manfred’s conference room appearance.
The Mets do not seem to be viewed as major factors in the Judge sweepstakes, especially since retaining Jacob deGrom is considered their biggest priority. Based on MLB’s quiet findings, the Mets do not need an informal agreement of mutual respect to stay out of the bidding for baseball’s most prominent free agent.