Sorry for the blog blackout this week. Very sensitive negotiations were going on that just concluded last evening. For my career over the past year, this has proven to be a typical negotiation. But instead of jawing about it, or writing about it here, I used some decent judgement and kept a lid on my thoughts until all was through. Had I lifted a finger toward my keyboard, you know I would have been unstoppable. That's not good when you're negotiating with management.
Let me start from the beginning of this particular saga. I had an agreement with the team that I would be called up from Nashville on May 1st. No ifs, ands or buts. On May 1, I am in New York with the Veterans. My super agent, Jack Perry, received an email - not a phone call, an email - from GM Alvin Kirby last Friday, April 25th. The team, looking for more consistency from me, wanted me to stay with the Nashville club for an extra two to three weeks. Jack, a reasonable man, did not forward the email to me on account of my most likely making it public seconds later. Instead, Jack called Alvin and ripped into him for wanting to break an agreement and not being professional enough to call Jack about it. Apparently, someone hung up on someone, because the story didn't end there.
I received a call from Jack on Saturday (not an email) and was filled in on the new development. I called QVC and had my new luggage order put on hold while I sat on my hands and waited. Well, I didn't sit on my hands because I pitched Saturday night. My head, which as you know has not been as clear as it should be for someone being paid many millions of dollars for throwing a piece of dead cow at someone holding a dead tree, clouded over even further as I took the ball on the mound in the 9th inning. Before I walked off the mound 39 pitches later, our 2-run lead had somehow turned into a loss by three runs (in other words, I gave up five runs). Thank goodness we were in Omaha. I could pretend the cheers for the three run home run by what's his name rehabbing for K.C. were for me and not what's his name rehabbing for K.C.
I got back to my hotel room and starting posting a furious post in this space about how the team is screwing with my head and has been ever since this winter, when they offered me an extra buyout so I wouldn't opt into my contract; how I've been, in my head, demoted to relief pitcher, picked on by the front office, and languished in the minor leagues for a month with a (finally) healthy arm. And now I'm told the team wants to extend my stay in AAA by two to three more weeks.
Vanessa, my rock, my steady influence, my counselor, the one who will only enable me if what I'm trying to do is good for the greater good of society, our family, and me (not always in that order), told me to immediately delete the post. Do not upload it, no matter what. After arguing about it for ten minutes, I acquiesced to her wishes and threw my laptop out a second story hotel window in Omaha (just because I was mature enough to listen to her doesn't mean I was mature enough to like the decision).
We had a day game on Sunday. I didn't pitch because I'd thrown too many pitches on Saturday. So I sat, grumbling and mumbling and stewing, in the dugout. My Nashville Hounds manager, Dusty Graves, tried to cheer me up by letting me manage the 8th and 9th innings. Under my direction, the team blew a 2-0 lead and turned it into a 3-2 loss. By the time we'd made it onto the bus to the airport, I was no longer the only man over the age of 40 who was grumbling and mumbling and stewing.
I hit rock bottom on Monday. Back "home" in Nashville, I was booed by the 5000+ fans who came to see me pitch on what was supposed to be my final three games with the Hounds. We were losing 9-0 in the top of the 9th when I only needed to throw five pitches to get us to the bottom of the inning. The cheers I heard after that effortless half inning were sarcastic. I've been so inconsistent, the lack of pain I've felt (a good thing) has been outweighed by the fact that some nights I'm great and some I'm awful. Down by 9 runs, the fans are thinking, what pressure is there for a guy to throw a meaningless 1-2-3 inning? Answer: On this night, all the pressure in the world. Because...
By this point, Jack had gotten the Players Association involved. Legally (not in the real world, but in the baseball world), the team had to call me up on May 1. I've been down here on a minor league rehab assignment. The maximum number of days a player can play under those terms in the minor leagues is thirty. 28 days were complete and the team didn't want to call me up. Because of issues on the big league roster, they didn't want to cut another player because they had to call me up. They wanted two more weeks to "evaluate" the team (at that point, the Vets were 11 and 14) before making decisions. Their pitch to the PA was that I was still injured. I physically couldn't play in New York. My 1-2-3, 5-pitch inning on Monday kind of proved the flaw in their thinking.
But I stayed quiet. I was furious - still am - but didn't say anything to Dusty or you or any teammates. "Let Jack deal with this," I said.
I shouldn't have sent the email to Alvin Kirby. You don't tell yourself you're going to let your super agent fix a situation and then go behind his back and email your GM about what a jerk he's acting like. But I did it. Alvin, this time acting professional, didn't respond to me. He went to Jack. Called him. Apparently, they went at it pretty good. Just like Vanessa and me when I told her about what I'd done. (I would reprint the email here, but cooler heads have convinced me to delete it from the hard drive of my (then) new computer, which was found the following day in a dumpster behind the stadium hotel in a condition the police would later state as "mangled beyond recognition.")
Tuesday comes. Nothing. No news. I hate that. Just when you need to hear something - anything - you hear nothing. I think in this case, Jack and Alvin purposely kept me in the dark as punishment for the email. While that would be unprofessional, I wouldn't put it past either man. Because when you hear no news, you become paranoid. By Tuesday night, I was more paranoid than a serial killer at a detectives convention.
Wednesday drops by. It's now April 30. Do I stay or do I go? We have a very weird 10:30 AM game time. Stadium still sold out. I pitch the 9th inning, us down 3-2, and get out of a man on third, no outs jam by striking out three consecutive Mountain Men (on 11 pitches). Standing ovation as I leave the mound (this ovation for real; no sarcasm). Yes, they all believe I'm done in Nashville, my beyond-the-bleachers, Pepsi Field parking lot trailer home to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to a local food bank. They love that I was here and are probably happy that I'll be gone (just because the team has been horrible this April). I don't know whether to smile or cry. Where will I be on Thursday?
I found out an hour later (while taking a taxi to a Best Buy to get myself a new laptop). Finally. A deal was made. After the game, I was removed from the DL, called up, and placed back on the DL. While the Vets had to make a corresponding roster move for the thirty seconds that I was up on the team - a move they hadn't wanted to make - they got their ultimate wish for me to stay in AAA for 15 more days.
What did I get? The Players Association approved my receiving a "special bonus" for my troubles, a bonus of $1 million. Jack, my super agent, never budged from that ridiculous sum of money. All along, the team wanted to pay me nothing extra. So I went from two weeks at my base pay to two weeks for $1 million. I can't cry over the deal. After all, it's a million dollars.
Thus, I began my official final two weeks for AAA Nashville by pitching a second day in a row Thursday night, my Hounds down 5-0 already, and mowing down the Mountain Men in order. My head has cleared somewhat. My wallet has bulged quite a bit (don't get all upset, after taxes and commissions, I'm donating the full amount to the same Nashville food bank that's receiving the proceeds from the auctioning off of my trailer). I know for sure now that with my health and this final 15 (now 14 and not the 21 the team was insisting on) days with the Hounds, I'll be that much better for the Vets. I can feel it.
As per my relationship with the NY front office? It stinks. But you know what? That's why I have a super agent. Let Jack deal with the vermin who run the Vets. I'm a player. The clock is ticking down to my first appearance in a year with NY. I think you're going to be happy to see me. Lord knows, I'll be happy to see you.