Bowie The Tout has struck again. The man who, disguised as commissioner of baseball, handicaps pennant races; has said the Cincinnati Reds can, too, catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West this season without Vida Blue. That is news to the Reds.
Oh, Cincinnati can have Blue, the commissioner ruled again Monday, but only if it adds another player or so to that deal with CharlesO. Finlay and substracts much of the $1.75 million in cash. The prime rate for players,Bowie Kuhn has hinted, shall not exceed $400,000, or about $2,000 per pound.
Kuhn has been most active lately, but hardly has left a trail of logic. He has poked his nose where it does not belong, again "in the best interest of baseball's rules.
The Mets clearly broke Rule 3(a) when they made a bonus agreement with pitcher John Matlack that was not in his contract and by promising him bonuses that are forbidden by baseball law.
When that was brought to Kuhn's attention after Matlack was traded to the Texas Rangers, the commissioner declared a moratorium on the rule! Then baseball's conscience nailed Finley again.
There are countless reasons to be critical of Finley, but one can understand the actions he took over the last two years that have been countermanded by Kuhn. Here was a man who was going to lose Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi and Blue to free-agentry, so he sold them for what he could get - a total of $3.5 million!
No baseball rule says an owner cannot do what he blessed well pleases in these matters, but Kuhn vetoed the sales! And a court upheld his action, because owners such as Finley gave the commissioner exceptional power in Article 1, Section 2 of the Major League Agreement.
Now Finley, who has lost nearly $2 million the last two years but who cannot - at the moment - sell his team to a Denver oilman because of a lease in Oakland, tries to pitch Kuhn a curve with a "trade" of Blue to the Reds.
As a free agent, Blue could get $1.75 million from the Reds andn Kuhn could do no more than mumble about fan unrest over inflated salaries! If a desperate owner gets $1.75 million from the Reds for Blue, Kuhn cancels the deal in the name of "competitive balance."
The commissioner's action was only a surprise in that it took so long to become a fact, probably because he was quietly pushing - or at least hoping - for either the Reds of Finley to bend. Kuhn could not allow the trade and remain consistent with his ruling on the prior Oakland sales - and Finley has an appeal pending on that case.
If Kuhn is so obsessed with competitive balance, he ought to involve himself with the Yankee bullpen, which now has so many talented arms that Sparky Lyle wants to be traded. Give one to the Orioles, Bowie.
The most amusing person in the Kuhn - Finley - Reds saga, however, has been Cincinnati general Manager Bob Howsam, one of baseball's loudest fiscal preachers until he gets smacked in the standings.
In the dark ages before Peter Seitz, Howsam was almost violently opposed to multiyear contracts. Then came free'agentry; Howsam lost his ace lefthander, Don Gullett, to a six-year contract to the Yankees, and - most significantly - the Reds finished 10 games behind the Dodgers.
All of a sudden, Joe Morgan signed a three-year contract, as did George Foster, Ken Griffey and Cesar Geronimo. Pete Rose signed a two-year contract; Johnny Bench and Dave Conception are working on five-year contracts.
Because he failed to sign GUllet, Howsam all of a sudden was willing to part with $1.75 million just for the right to sign Blue. And anything less than $2 million over several years is regarded as an insult these days.
Now Howsam is wailing "public confidence in the game be destroyed ... when the public realizes that the commissioner, if he can do what he proposes to do in this (Blue) case, in effect would have the ability to dictate where a team can end up in the standings.
"I don't think that baseball intended for the commissioner to decide which teams would be alowed to win pennants and how often."
The commissioner said: "In my view, it would not be in the best interests of baseball to allow one club to alleviate its financial problems at the expense of the entire game."
The chaos Kuhn foresaw with free-agentry failed to materialize. In fact, it probably has helped baseball, in terms of the sort of dollar signs and commas Kuhn and Howsam appreciate. Baseball thrives in spite of itself.