Bock’s Score: The No Trade Clause, Baseball’s Hidden Enemy

Some years ago, the great cartoonist Walt Kelly created a comic strip that starred a possum named Pogo. Now Pogo wasn’t some ordinary possum. This possum was a philosopher with deep political thoughts.

One day, Pogo offered this succinct observation about the state of his little world. “We have met the enemy,’’ the possum said, “and he is us.’’

He might just as well have been talking about baseball.

The proprietors of the greatest sport ever invented have a habit of getting themselves in hot water. Remember contract collusion? That cost them a bundle. Now it’s something simpler, a little matter called the no-trade clause, an otherwise innocent contract paragraph that can cause big trouble.

Giancarlo Stanton is a New York Yankee today, gift-wrapped for the holidays by a no-trade clause that Miami Marlins management gleefully inserted in his $300 million contract. Art impresario Jeffrey Loria, who owned the Marlins at the time, never hesitated to include it. You know the old saying. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The no-trade was small stuff, no problem. The $300 million, now that was big stuff, a problem for a team with limited resources. Loria solved that one by selling the franchise. Then it became somebody else’s problem.

So when the Marlins’ new owners found themselves swimming in a sea of red ink, the logical thing to do was to dump some of those top heavy contracts. Time for a fire sale, purging the roster. Second baseman Dee Gordon was first to go, shipped to Seattle. Next up was Stanton.

The Marlins found no shortage of takers for the reigning National League MVP who hit 59 home runs last season. They negotiated a deal with St. Louis. Handsome ballpark. Team is always a contender. Seems like a good fit. Stanton turned it down and the Cardinals’ pretty good consolation prize was outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

Well, then Giancarlo, how about San Francisco? Great town. Wonderful restaurants. Terrific ballpark. World champions three times in six years. There is a deal in place. No thanks, said Stanton.

This, the slugger explained, was how it would work. He had this no-trade clause a sort of right of first refusal. He would accept a deal to one of four teams – the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees. No other teams need apply.

He had Marlins management cornered. If they wanted to unload the remaining $295 million in his contract, they would have to trade him to a team of his choice, not theirs. Otherwise, he would stay right where he was in Miami. South Beach is swell this time of year.

The rush to judgment around baseball is Derek Jeter, the front man for new Marlins ownership, gave his old friends, the Yankees, a holiday present. That’s just not the case. Stanton, not Jeter, had the upper hand in this affair, thanks to his no-trade clause.

He picked his landing place and created a modern Murderer’s Row lineup for the Bronx Bombers. He will be surrounded by sluggers like Aaron Judge , Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird in a minefield of a batting order that should score runs by the fistful.

Other teams screamed foul. The Evil Empire is at it again, stacking the deck against the rest of the league. Don’t blame the Yankees. Stanton fell into their lap, thanks to the no-trade clause in his contract, baseball’s hidden enemy.

Somewhere, Pogo is chuckling.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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