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THE GREAT HOLDOUT
Buzzie Bavasi
May 15, 1967
The outspoken general manager of the Dodgers, currently baseball's most successful executive, begins a four-part series on his joys and troubles in the front office with an account of the famous contract hassle in which pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale 'came at me as a pair'
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May 15, 1967

The Great Holdout

The outspoken general manager of the Dodgers, currently baseball's most successful executive, begins a four-part series on his joys and troubles in the front office with an account of the famous contract hassle in which pitching stars Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale 'came at me as a pair'

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Donald said, "I'll call Sandy in the meantime."

So we made our calls from the pay phone in Nicola's and everybody agreed, and an hour later we announced the signing at a press conference in the Dodgers' office. I'll never forget Sandy's first words when he showed up. He said, "Oh boy, am I glad! Now I won't have to act in that movie!" When they had signed for their movie, Chuck Connors had said, "They'll be sensational," but Chuck is as good at judging actors as he used to be at hitting against lefties. I mean, to put it kindly, Sandy and Don were not born for the stage, and the Dodgers ought to get an Oscar for keeping them out of the movies.

The double holdout was over, but I can't say that I felt good about it. We wound up giving the boys much more money than we had intended, and if you had to pick a winner in the whole argument, you'd have to say it was Drysdale and Koufax. Donald got a $30,000 raise and Sandy got a $40,000 raise, and neither would have commanded that much money negotiating alone. After all, they got the biggest raises in baseball history. To that extent, the double holdout worked, although they gave in on the three-year contract for $1 million, which I don't think they ever meant, anyway. But, as I said before, the plan only worked because the greatest pitcher in baseball was in on it, and also they caught us by surprise. Believe me, Walter O'Malley and I have talked the problem over many times, and no double holdout will ever work again on the Los Angeles Dodgers. We're firm on that. The next time two of them come walking in together, they'll go walking out together. Koufax and Drysdale took advantage of a good thing, that's one way to look at it, and another way to look at it is, why shouldn't they? All's fair in negotiating, as I have also said before. This was a unique situation, and it will never happen again.

Anyway, the double holdout didn't cost the ball club quite as much as the figures would seem to indicate. In the first place, I had anticipated the possibility of having to come up with high figures for Don and Sandy, especially after the season they had had, and therefore I had not been quite as generous with some of the other players as I might have been. I don't mean I cut anybody just to get money to pay the two pitchers. It worked more like this: let's say a kid comes into my office and I've got him penciled in for $27,000, and he sits down and says that he wants $23,000. This happens all the time, believe me, and my natural inclination is to say, "I've got you down for $27,000, and that's what you are going to get." But not this time. This time if the kid said he'd sign for $23,000 I'd let it go at that, or maybe I'd sign him for a thousand more. The net result was that our 1966 budget for ballplayers went up exactly the $100,000 I had planned on, with Koufax and Drysdale getting $70,000 of the increase and the other 24 guys getting the rest. I'd have liked to give the other players more, but a budget is a budget and I stuck to it.

Just how much the other boys were worth in winning the pennant and drawing two and a half million fans is hard to figure. That was one of the things that irked me in some of the published stories about the negotiations. They were saying that every time Donald pitched in Dodger Stadium he drew 3,000 extra fans, and every time Sandy pitched he drew 8,000 extra. Since each fan figures to spend an average of $4.50 on parking, admission and food, this comes to $13,000 to Donald's credit and $36,000 to Sandy's. Well, hold on there! I could make an argument that Donald had actually cost us fans in our first five years in Los Angeles. He was so grouchy and temperamental that some people refused to come out and see him pitch. And as far as Sandy was concerned, one important reason that he drew more people was the fact that we tried to use him whenever we could in crucial games, and more often than not the other teams saved up their best pitchers to go against him. Now does that mean we should have sent money to Juan Marichal or Jim Bunning? I mean, those figures about who brings how many into a ball park are highly conjectural. What about those other Dodgers on the field? How many fans do they bring in? Let's say Sandy comes to the ball park and the other 25 players stay home, then how many people is he going to bring in? The whole thing can get to be a joke.

What really confused me was the holdout chapter in Sandy's book. To read that version of baseball history you'd think that Sandy and Don had won the biggest victory since Guadalcanal. Now, I'm not the vainest person in the world, and I've already admitted that Sandy and Don racked us up pretty good financially. But according to Sandy's book they scored all kinds of other points, too, and established several precedents. The book tells how I refused to negotiate through their agent, which is 100% true, but then it says that "just before the Dodgers broke camp, Buzzie came back to Los Angeles and called Bill Hayes." In other words, after refusing to negotiate through their agent, I gave in and telephoned him.

Well, if I did that, I opened the door to more trouble than baseball ever dreamed in its worst nightmares. If I gave in and began negotiating baseball contracts through an agent, then I set a precedent that's going to bring awful pain to general managers for years to come, because every salary negotiation with every humpty-dumpty fourth-string catcher is going to run into months of dickering. Sandy knows I've got better sense than that, and Sandy knows I have never in my life called his agent. It happened exactly as I have told you; I called Don Drysdale from Vero Beach, and Don and I got together the next day in Nicola's. And yet Sandy's book says, "There's a certain irony, of course, in having Don go in to negotiate from friendship immediately after we had established the right of dealing through a third party." I can only assume that Sandy made an honest error. To the best of my memory, and I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, I have talked to Bill Hayes three times in my life, and each time on the telephone, and each time about some minor matter brought up by him. Once, I recall, he wanted to know if it was all right for Sandy to make some kind of television appearance, and another time there was something about an endorsement, and our third conversation was about a matter of such monumental importance that I can't even remember it! Sandy's contract to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers has never been discussed with Bill Hayes, and nobody ever "established the right of dealing through a third party." They had not established any "right" to come at me in pairs, either, as anyone who is interested can find out in the future by trying it. I do remember that Sandy's book was written at a very crucial time of his life. He was getting ready to quit baseball, he was negotiating a job with NBC, he was taking his turn on the mound every four days and he was battling his arthritis, and, in between all this, he was helping to put a book together. Under the circumstances, it is easy for me to understand how the chapter on the double holdout could wind up as just about the most jumbled history of any financial dealing I have ever read, full of wrong data, wrong amounts, wrong conclusions, wrong interpretations. It is so wrong that I hated to bring up the subject, but I had to discuss it, because that chapter also makes me look like some kind of a rat, a guy who was unfair and deceitful to Sandy and Don, two of my favorite human beings.

Sandy came to me himself one day and apologized for one sentence in that chapter that really stung. After a long narrative about salary negotiations in which the book had made me look like some sort of southern plantation owner dealing with one of his slaves, he wrote: "There is no law that says you have to like your boss...."

Sandy came to me and said, "Buzzie, I want you to know that I didn't mean you." That was a surprise to me; after all, it was me he had been talking about all through the chapter.

By now, so many legends have grown up about Sandy Koufax that I hardly know where to begin in sorting them out. I suppose the main legend is that Sandy pitched through agonizing pain and that he finally had to quit baseball because he could stand the pain no longer. Now, let's be absolutely clear about this. I am not saying that Sandy had no pain. After he had pitched a long ball game and plunked that elbow of his into the ice water, that arm must have hurt plenty. Even a nonarthritic has pain in his arm after throwing 130 or 150 pitches in a long ball game.

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