|Monday, February 3
Updated: March 13, 12:41 PM ET
McClatchy says collusion didn't happen this winter
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy says the economy -- not any desire by major league owners to undermine the free-agent market -- led to the downturn in salaries this winter.
A number of free agents who formerly made millions per year have signed for far less, even though some stars, such as Philadelphia's Jim Thome, did get huge contracts.
The Pirates, for example, signed right-hander Jeff Suppan to a $1 million guaranteed deal last week. Last season, he made four times that with the Royals. Roberto Hernandez signed a $600,000 deal with Atlanta -- one-tenth of the salary he received in 2002 from Kansas City.
"It's the economy,'' McClatchy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Money is tight. Teams are no different than any other business. Look at the challenges the NHL is facing right now (with the bankrupt Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres). We need to watch our bottom line in order to be able to continue to operate and be successful. In the long run, that's in everyone's best interest -- including the players.''
There have been hints that players might file a grievance, as they did during the 1980s, that owners colluded to hold down salaries.
McClatchy said there was no such collusion, and he is more disappointed than worried about the players' possible collusion grievance.
"No, unequivocally no. That happened several years ago, before I came on board. I'm sure everyone learned their lesson,'' McClatchy said.
Arbitrators ruled owners violated their labor contract by acting in concert against free agents after the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. Owners settled the cases in 1990 for $280 million.
McClatchy didn't buy the Pirates until 1996, and he said Monday that he has no knowledge of what owners did in the 1980s. Pirates spokesman Jim Trdinich said McClatchy was speaking offhandedly to the Post-Gazette, and referred to the cases in the 1980s only because it was well known that owners paid damages.
"I never said there was collusion,'' McClatchy said. "I wasn't involved in the game then and I can't talk about it. I'm not a lawyer. I have no idea what was going on then.''