But Steinbrenner's recent spate of activity is precisely what sets him apart from baseball's other executives, particularly the likes of Boston owner and General Manager Haywood Sullivan, who allowed the hard-hitting Watson to skip town. "George is very forceful," says Tom Reich, who negotiated Watson's move from the Red Sox. "He knows what he wants and he goes full bore in trying to accomplish it. He applies his executive and entrepreneurial skills much more directly and decisively than the vast majority of owners."
With Steinbrenner dealing, New York's activity in the free-agent reentry process has been significantly different from that of Detroit, which has selected no one the last two years, and Cincinnati, which has never signed anyone from the draft. They represent the old-school approach that says baseball teams should be improved solely through trades and minor league development.
The traditional criticisms of the reentry draft have been that it would hurt the competitive balance of baseball and that it would send some teams to economic ruin. Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, argues however that "Not a single one of these fears or worries has come true. It's just the reverse." Miller points out that although the average player salary has increased from $50,000 in 1976 to approximately $121,000 last year, owner revenues also have gone up tremendously. This resulted from an increase in average club attendance from 1.3 million fans to 1.7 million over the same period. The larger crowds poured in despite ticket-price rises that increased the average from $3.44 to $4.12. Nevertheless, Ray Grebey, director of the owners' Player Relations Committee, counters, "While baseball teams as a group are doing well, there are some very sick clubs." But Grebey does not name the teams or offer any supporting data.
As for competitive balance, a comparison of the 1976 and 1979 final standings shows a marked decrease in the total number of games separating not only the first-and second-place teams in three of the divisions but also the first-and sixth-place teams in all four. Furthermore, six teams finished in exactly the same places in the standings.
This is not to say that the reentry draft has not had a profound effect on some teams. Oakland lost 31� games in the standings after seeing such players as Don Baylor, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Sal Bando move on. Meanwhile, the two most improved teams over the 1976-79 period, Montreal and Milwaukee, were very active in the marketplace, even though their successes this year can be attributed only partly to the work of free agents.
This year's group of 44 free agents tests the acumen of even the most astute front-office tactician. Watson, the best hitter, is already gone. Among those remaining, former Expo Tony Perez will be 38 next season, and ex-Red Joe Morgan, 36, is coming off two mediocre seasons. Morgan, a two-time MVP, was drafted by only four teams and will probably wind up in Los Angeles or San Diego. Among the pitchers, Ryan has more glamour than consistency, Bruce Kison, late of the Pirates, is rumored to have arm trouble and Reliever Al Hrabosky, formerly of the Royals, may have misplaced his out pitch. Reliever Don Stanhouse lost a lot of prestige—and possibly money—with his sorry postseason performance for Baltimore. Former Twin Dave Goltz, a 20-game winner in 1977, gained stature when he became the first player ever selected by the maximum number of teams allowed—13—in the first round. "I looked for six to eight teams to draft me," Goltz says, "but when I laid my cards on the table they all came up aces."
Now he, Ryan and the Yankees all seem to have the deck stacked in their favor.