About Tom Brady’s contract, umpires, and ‘Major Houk’

Here’s a handful of items beginning with the thought that in the Tom Brady contract hassle – now fast blossoming as pre-season camp arrives – we could have one of the mothers of the dubious art form in the offing. Not that we’ve been deprived of our proper share of such fun over the annals, mind you.
We’ve had money wars ranging from the entertaining (Bird & Yaz) to the sorrowful (Bobby Orr) by way of the merely ridiculous (Derek Sanderson, Hawk Harrelson, Irving Fryar) and the ruinous (Brothers Lynn, Fisk & Burleson) ad nauseam.

The Brady flap, however, has the potential of exceeding them all in terms of latent bitterness and pious protestations spiced with media polarization, all of it guaranteeing overkill. What a fabulous combination.

While no toady of management (which you may also have noticed over the annals) I’ll never go to the barricades for an athlete, no matter the dodge, who has been dragging down $10 million large a season for the last half dozen of them. That’s what our oft-deified QB has averaged from the $60-million pact he signed in 2005.

It was a landmark deal when it was made. That it has been exceeded and even made to seem (gulp) inadequate by the contracts since landed by the Brothers Manning is no one’s fault and can only be ascribed to the tides of avarice that run amok in our sporting universe. At the risk of seeming cruel may I further suggest that had not the Mannings notably out-played our hero on historic occasions during the period in question the lad might have a better case for claiming now that he’s been wronged.

Of course, Brady is not actually saying that allowing others to gleefully do it for him. He’s nimble at walking the tightrope, too smart to say things that are dumb. If he’s no longer the Young Galahad who can do no wrong he’s still rightly perceived as a classy character by the ragged standards of contemporary sport. His ambitions stretch beyond the playing field and he won’t further tarnish his image with weak theatrics like job actions or sitdowns. He’ll tread carefully. Meanwhile, the word leaks that he’s saddened by the contract anxieties and if Tom Brady is sad, Patriot Nation weeps.

The legions only too eager to run the ball for him include self-appointed media surrogates skilled at mushing the facts. As the dispute takes shape, reports stress Brady will only make $3.5 million performing for us this fall, which is shockingly only a quarter of what Lord Peyton is hauling down in Indianapolis. Glossed over is the fact that Brady has already received a $3 million advance for the coming season’s service, paid in March. Thus his total football earnings for the year will be $6.5 million, not $3.5 million. Feel free to sneer when you see it mis-reported again, and you will.

But even less noted is the essential fact that when he signed the six -year, $60 million deal in 2005 he got more than half of the total dough – $31.5 million – up front. So, if you insist on believing he’s now grossly underpaid at the end of his contract, you then must concede that’s because he was grossly over-paid at the beginning of the thing. The operative term is “the average per year” and that has been $10 million, which does not constitute unfair labor practice in my book.

It’s being suggested that it’s an outrage that Brady’s being asked to play the final year of his old contract without a new contract. Why? Derek Jeter is playing out his contract with the Yankees. So’s Mariano Rivera. Paul Pierce just did that with the Celtics. In all his years, Raymond Bourque did it contract after contract. Where’s it written that a player who signs for six must only honor five? In what other business does it work that way?

Management is always free to give any employee a new deal at any time. But they don’t have to. Brady is 33. He’s damaged goods. He doesn’t have the bargaining power he had six years ago. This is not unfair. It’s in the natural order of things in sport. The discussion is just beginning. It could get ugly or it could be settled soon with civility. Having been around too long, I’m betting on the former.

***
Another Tour de France goes into the books with cycling’s new titan, Spain’s Alberto Contador, sweeping the laurels and bringing new honors to his country which is having a heck of a sporting year. Chaps from Luxembourg, Switzerland, Russia, Belgium, Netherlands, and Canada follow with little trace of those angry Americans who have helped make this spectacular pageant something of a sham in recent years. Performance enhancements are a legitimate issue in this terribly grueling sport. Where so much is demanded PED violations can be expected nowadays.

Doubtless Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis are not the only international cycling elites who have crossed this line. But they have turned the issue into their own personal circus with their charges and counter-charges and malicious contempt for one another. They have essentially destroyed each other while assuming most of the disgrace of this issue. They are the new ‘Ugly Americans’. That they simply faded away hopelessly out of the running and with little fanfare in the last Tour they’ll ever enter was perfectly fitting. Unhappily, the rest of the world will say “Good riddance!”

***
Railing about baseball’s umpires may be weak. Real life is not a Grade B movie starring William Bendix. “Kill the umpire” may actually be a term of endearment in the culture. And most fair-minded folks will concede that the biggest problem major league umpires have is the advanced technology available to television that brutally dissects every call endlessly, and invariably to their detriment, whereas they don’t have such advantages when they make the call.

Still, the torrent of umpiring controversy this season is hard to ignore. It has been a major sub-plot of the season and it’s growing. If umpire-baiting is not admissible, the problem can’t be so lightly dismissed.

In a single week examples pile up. In San Francisco, the Mets win a game because the Giants winning run is rubbed out by a clearly awful call. In four cities on one given evening, managers are sent to the showers on very short notice. In Oakland, a Red Sox game ends in a rage over the umpiring. The next night, the Orioles Ty Wiggington wigs out when a runner he has clearly tagged out is called safe. Soon enough the ump admits his blunder. But Wiggington is still suspended three games for his intemperance. Yet another bad call – the error subsequently verified by instant-replay – ends a game in New York that otherwise would have brought Alex Rodriguez to bat with the bases loaded.

This is not what people seek for the money they’re paying to see ball games in these times. But that shouldn’t be the umps’ concern. It’s their precious duty to make every game, no matter how insignificant, conform to every last rule. It’s why they are there and if they blunder here and there so do batters who strike out and pitchers who serve gophers. On the other hand, it may be time for the umps to admit that too many of them have too fast a hook and too short a fuse.

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Lastly, a word on Ralph Houk, who departed the other day at the tender age of 90. He managed the Red Sox and Tigers with wisdom and grace but he peaked with the Yankees, presiding over the last years of their post-war dynasty, which was the mightiest in the history of sport.

Still, it was what he did far from the playing field that most distinguished him. As an Army Ranger in the last months of World War II War through the Battle of the Bulge, Ralph Houk rose from second lieutenant to major, earning within a three-month span a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, Oak Leaf clusters, and a Purple Heart.

Lots of sportsmen served. Few more brilliantly than Houk. It’s why to the end he was known as “the Major.” He bore it well.