In a perverse sort of way, Yankees president Randy Levine did Dellin Betances a huge favor the other day.
With one ill-advised and mean spirited conference call, Levine — the poster boy for bad winning — taught Betances a hard truth about life that it normally takes people a lot longer to find out.
That truth is that a baseball team is not a family, your employer is generally not your friend, and that no matter how much money you are making, unless you own the team or the business you essentially are the hired help.
This lesson was clearly not lost on Betances, although judging by his reaction to Levine’s gloating and belittling, it caught him like a sucker punch. It’s never pleasant to hear what your bosses really think about you when it comes time to talk money. But at least now, he is disabused of any notion that he would be treated specially by the team he rooted for as a kid, and when his free agency comes up in 2020, I would guess that the hometown discount is out of the question.
Which, of course, is as it should be. Baseball teams don’t employ players because they like them or are doing them a favor, and they don’t pay them millions of dollars because they are overly generous.
Alex Rodriguez got more than a half-billion dollars from the Texas Rangers and the Yankees because the owners of those teams calculated that he would be worth many times more than that to their bottom line.
And assuming Betances continues at his current level of production, he will reap his reward in three years, perhaps even from the Yankees, with or without Randy Levine at the helm.
The reason, of course, is that baseball is a true meritocracy. The best 25 players, regardless of personality, looks, race, creed or country of national origin, will make the roster. The best of those 25 will get the most playing time. And the ones in the greatest demand will be the ones with the biggest paychecks. The odds are that in three years, Dellin Betances will be able to check off every one of those boxes. (And besides, “losing” in arbitration still earned Betances a $3 million paycheck, a rather healthy kick-up from the 500 grand he made last season. So all is not as bleak as it may appear).
Still, Betances is a human being, and somewhat sensitive, and the things he heard in that arbitration hearing had to sting like a slider off the handle on cold night. There is no rule that requires a player to be present during an arbitration hearing, and in truth it might not be the wisest choice for a player to make, but most choose to be there if only to show the arbitrator how much they care about the proceeding and its outcome.
In a way, it is not unlike the type of annual performance review many of us have to endure in our jobs, although unlike professional athletes, we don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to send a representative in our stead. We have to sit there and take it, and hope for the best.
Betances, to his credit, chose to face the process head-on, and it could not have been fun. Hearing your employer enumerate your flaws while downplaying your assets is the adult version of discovering that Santa Claus is really your mom and dad.
I know exactly how he feels; like him, as a young man I wound up working for an employer I had long coveted. I grew up on Long Island reading Newsday, delivered the paper after school as a teenager, and was overjoyed to be hired to cover boxing there in 1985. When they elevated me to columnist a few years later and told me I would be their home-grown superstar, I was elated beyond words.
But when another New York paper came calling — it was the New York Post — I found that Newsday wasn’t prepared to back up their verbal sentiments with cold, hard cash. All they needed to do was match the money and I would have stayed. Instead, the managing editor scoffed at the very idea that I would leave Newsday for the Post with a dismissive, “The ink comes off on my hands.” That’s when I realized that if Newsday and I were family, it was most likely the Addams Family. Or the Corleones. It was a painful rite of passage, but one that in retrospect was quite necessary. Since then, I’ve never viewed any employer as anything more than a temporary stopover and the source of a paycheck.
Hopefully, Betances, who grew up in Washington Heights and was in Yankee Stadium 2.0 the day David Wells pitched his perfect game, will come to see this sorry chapter in his Yankees career the same way. I have no doubt he will be professional enough to set his emotions aside when it comes time to go to work. At the same time, I fully expect that the next time he heads into a similar situation he will go in with his eyes wide open.
And the next time he and the Yankees sit down to talk turkey, my prediction is that Betances is going to feast on them. Randy Levine may have won this battle, but he is destined to lose the war.