WOW’s Book of the Month – Built to Win (2/4)

WOW’s Book of the Month – Built to Win (2/4)

(Last week, I covered the prologue and first two chapters of “Built to Win.”)

I actually don’t recall if I bought “Built To Win” at Barnes & Noble or at Goodwill. On the cover of the book is a sticker suggesting a Bargain Price from the former. The original price was $24.95, but it was down to $5.98. Inside the book is a receipt that I have been using as a bookmark that further lowers the price by 75% on a promo, meaning that whoever bought it spent $1.57 (with tax). But I can’t recall if that was me back in 2009 or if I then found it at a Goodwill and probably spent a buck.

I guess that was a long way of saying I didn’t spend much of anything on this book largely because I wasn’t all that excited to read it. But because of this series, I am giving it a chance and today, we storm through three chapters. I will say that I am happy to have this book for at least one chapter.

Chapter 3: A Rotation for the Ages

You can’t write a book about the 90’s era Braves without focusing on The Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The three are all enshrined in Cooperstown and are remembered as a unique collection of some of the best arms of a generation all on one team. John Schuerholz spends some time covering Maddux, Smoltz, and even Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, and Kevin Millwood before landing on Glavine.

Glavine becomes the star of this chapter as we re-live the defection of Glavine to the New York Mets. The positive relationship between the Braves and their home-grown star deteriorated to the point that Glavine and Team President Stan Kasten had a yelling match. There were a lot of things done by both sides here that are covered by this book, but some other things that aren’t touched on. While Schuerholz does bring up an “evergreen” policy where Glavine would pitch X amount of innings and his option year would vest, he doesn’t cover the original offer the Braves gave Glavine a few months before free agency.

That original offer was $9 million per season for each year Glavine pitched like, well, Glavine. If he reached certain goals, his deal would vest for the next season and, in effect, Glavine would sign a one year deal with an undetermined amount of option seasons. When he retired, the deal included a permanent job in the front office. That’s certainly unique, though it likely also caused some issues on Glavine’s end. As Schuerholz says, Glavine was miffed that the Braves gave Smoltz a four-year deal just the season before.

Meanwhile, two divisional rivals, the Phillies and Mets, were chomping at the bit to take Glavine away. The Mets put the full court pressure on, promising Glavine at least $35M over three seasons. The deal included an option season based on innings pitched. Schuerholz doesn’t mention the Mets effectively had an “evergreen” clause in their deal – though much simpler – which essentially matched what the Braves were giving. However, Atlanta was offering $5M less over the first three years while requiring some deferred money along the way. The fourth-year option was between $6M and $10M. In the end, Glavine chose the Mets.

Schuerholz details a lot here, but I feel like he leaves out a lot of details that don’t make the Braves look good. The bush league initial offer and the deferred money are especially left out of the discussion. Instead, Schuerholz blames the union and Glavine’s agent, Gregg Clifton, for pushing the lefty to take the richest deal available. A common theme of this book is how Schuerholz seems to hate agents and the union for doing their job, but says nothing of the owners willing to pay big bucks. Of course, he had no problem with the agents and the union when Ted Turner was signing the checks.

The real revelation from this chapter – which is old by now – is that Glavine waffled at the last minute on his decision to join the Mets. He had informed the Mets he was signing their deal and would travel to New York for a physical, but before he did that, he reached out to Bobby Cox. Glavine wasn’t so sure he wanted to leave Atlanta, which had become his home. Cox relayed the message to Schuerholz, who sat down with Glavine at his home. At this point, the offer becomes a two-year contract with no conditions. While Schuerholz doesn’t detail the salary offer, it was likely around the $20 million range.

Glavine decides to stay and the Braves began the process of setting up a press conference. Clifton phoned Schuerholz, angry as hell. Clifton, who had negotiated the contract with the Mets, bluffed filing tampering charges because Glavine was already with the Mets. Nobody was buying that, but by the next day, Glavine had once again changed his mind and went to New York.

Schuerholz focuses on a few other things in this chapter, including his own defection from Kansas City to the Braves and the recruitment of Maddux. He also touches on Maddux accepting arbitration, forcing the deal to deal away Kevin Millwood for next-to-nothing (sorry, Johnny Estrada). He doesn’t refer to that deal as his worst one – his trade of David Cone for catcher Ed Hearn gets the honors. If this book was written a few years later, I wonder if the Mark Teixeira deal would have replaced the Cone one.

Chapter 4 – The Diary of a Major League Deal

By The Suss-Man (Mike) on Flickr [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I haven’t finished this book, but this might be the best chapter. You’re given an inside look at the Tim Hudson contract extension after the Braves traded for him. The actual trade isn’t given much time – it’s not the star of this chapter. Instead, we go into what the Braves were thinking when they offered an extension to Hudson and how things progressed. At times, the deal seems likely and at others, it seems the two sides are making no progress. Hudson and his agent have given the Braves a March 1 deadline to complete an extension.

It’s funny in a way to read Schuerholz speak so fondly of Frank Wren. He refers to his Assistant GM as “Gadget Man.” He’s done it all (played, coached, worked as a minor league executive, international scouting. John Hart highly recommended Wren to Schuerholz after Dean Taylor left the team for the Brewers. Wren is painted as an ultra-bright figure in this book. Further, he is heavily responsible for moves like the Hudson extension for the work he did.

Here’s a timeline:

  • Hudson’s agent gives the first proposal – 5 years, $60M. Or 6 years, $66M.
  • The Braves responded with 4 years, $44M with a fifth-year option based on either reaching certain incentives or pitching an average of X innings during the final three years of the deal. Further, Atlanta would have to back-load the contract to fit the payroll.
  • Hudson counteroffers with $53M over four years with no option. Again, Schuerholz seems convinced the union was pushing Hudson to go for more.
  • Chipper Jones offers to defer some of his contract to add Hudson. He says this to the media, not to the Braves’ brain trust. Schuerholz tries to shut up Chipper and also explain to Huddy’s camp that Chipper’s offer wouldn’t have an impact here.
  • The Braves get creative. Hudson’s latest proposal included $3.5M that would go to his charity through things like tickets, boxes, etc. But that was after-tax money. Once you take out the charity money and taxes, you’d be at $47M over four years. Atlanta ups their offer to $46M over four years and Wren explains the tax angle to Hudson’s camp. The offer included the fifth year option. The two sides are agreeable to the salary and basic terms. At the last second, though, Hudson’s agent wants a trade escalator put into the contract. It would take away the “hometown discount” Hudson was willing to play for (closer to $14-$15M per year rather than $11.5). In addition, a $2M buyout came with the fifth-year option.
  • The Braves balked with Schuerholz comparing the trade escalator to a no-trade clause. They took that out and decreased the buyout to $1 million. The deal was effectively complete at $47M over four years with a fifth-year option that could increase the value to $57.5M. The Braves also bought an insurance policy over the first three years for $2M each year. And that…is how a long-term deal happens.

Again, I love this chapter because it’s the kind of stuff I love to see. Inside looks into how things happen. I could have read an entire book of these type of chapters.

Chapter 5 – Dog Bites Man! Teacher Quits for Less Money

This is a quick chapter.

Schuerholz details how he landed in baseball – name recognition. In Baltimore, the Schuerholz name had value so when, as a teacher, he wrote to the Orioles expressing an interest in a job, his name got him an interview. He landed the job, which paid less than he was paid as a teacher. However, his career was off and running.

The other tidbit Schuerholz focuses on is with Rush Limbaugh. Apparently, early in the commentator’s career, he worked with the Royals in their in-game media department. And Schuerholz wants you to know that Rush set up the first VCR in the Schuerholz’s home.

There are a few other tidbits in this chapter, but they just fall flat in my opinion. I really didn’t find much to like about this chapter except that it was so short.

What did you guys think of these three chapters? Feel free to read along and comment below. Next week, I’ll focus on Chapters Six and Seven.

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