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October 10, 2003

Breaking Balls

T-Long Speaks Out

by Derek Zumsteg

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Terrence Long wants more respect and a guarantee for more playing time. Maybe not in that order. And if he doesn't get them, he wants a trade.

Long signed a contract that pays him $11.6 million from 2002 to 2005. A quick retrospective on Long's performance before and after:


Before new contract
Year	AVG	OBP	SLG
2000	.288	.336	.452
2001	.283	.335	.412

His minor league numbers, almost entirely with the Mets, weren't eye-popping either: .274/.317/.435. I didn't understand why Oakland was trying to lock him up then, except perhaps they were hoping that by getting his 26-29 years, they'd have him for his peak and be able to trade him somewhere quickly. Hasn't happened so far:


After new contract
Year	AVG	OBP	SLG
2002	.240	.298	.390
2003	.245	.293	.385

So back to Long. He said that manager Ken Macha shook everyone's hand but his after the last game of the ALDS, when Long struck out looking with the bases loaded, and the team lost 4-3.

I'm throwing this out there, but maybe if this is true, and there isn't some innocent explanation for this like Long was hiding in his locker from the rest of the team, or that Macha did the smart thing, knowing that if he stopped to talk to Long it would have gone badly for both of them:

"Hey, coach, sorry about that."
"No problem, could have happened to anyone. Here."
"Coach, that's my neck. Coach, you're hurting me!"
"You're so bad, years I've put up with you..."
"Ack... aaaack... aaaaaaaaacckkkk...."

Long wants respect from the team. I want respect from my co-writers here at Prospectus Labs, but if I consistently turned in awful work, I wouldn't go strutting about the place in my white lab coat, Icehouse longneck in hand, demanding that Nate Silver bow properly to me as I passed his supercomputer cluster.

And this thing about being guaranteed more playing time: what organization in their right mind guarantees playing time to ineffective players? You may remember this scene from earlier this year:

"Mr. Womack, I understand you wanted to talk to me?"
"Yes, Mr. O'Dowd. I demand you re-sign me and guarantee me a full-time starting job."
"Or what?"
"Or I will take my services elsewhere!"
"What services are those, exactly?"
"Shut up."
"Could you try and take your services to the Dodgers or the Giants, please? We could use the help."

I know that to be one of the best athletes on the planet requires arrogance, that there aren't many baseball players that are insecure about their abilities and believe there are better players at their position (well, I'm sure they're at least sort of aware, with Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez out there). But the raw insanity of demanding a trade or...or what? Is Long going to dedicate himself to being a worse hitter and fielder?

"Mr. Beane, I want more playing time."
"We'll be honest with you, Terrence--you're useful to us in some situations defensively, but you are one of the worst offensive outfielders regularly playing left field, and you're not that good at center field. If we have better options, we're going to use them."
"Then I demand a trade."
"To where? Where am I going to find a home for a three-million-dollar outfielder who can't hit and can't field in center?"
"Uhhh..."

Playing time demands remind me of players wanting to know their roles. I have a little more sympathy for this, because it must be a little strange if you're one of the tweener players, say a guy who can't field enough to play third but can pass at first or left field, and hits well against left-handers but not right-handers. What is your role?

Well, you're going to platoon at first for our lefty first-baseman and get some spot starts at DH and left, and if our third baseman and our backup third baseman go down with injuries or something, we might start you there. Your role is a bench player.

This is where a good agent would really help: telling these guys it's not such a bad gig in today's player market to make a couple million for a flexible bench role is much better than making a couple thousand if they're on the unemployment line tomorrow.

What if this catches on, though? If Long can demand a trade, what's to stop other, often better players from asking for crazy stuff?

  • Mike Mussina wants an attractive female Ivy League Yankee intern to follow him around during the pre-game, reading aloud from Modern Library selections to stimulate his mind as he warms up the pitching arm.
  • David Wells wants a stack of ham sandwiches exceeding his own height before every game.
  • Al Martin wants an additional wife at the start of every homestand.
  • Jeff Kent would like someone to wash his truck for him during games.
  • Carl Everett could demand local natural history museums take their fake dinosaurs off display while his team's in town.

Are any of those demands any more ridiculous than a trade demand by Terrence Long? So he wants respect and more playing time. I want someone out there to pay me $150,000 a year to shoot my mouth off and include free beer along with the standard 401(k) and medical-dental benefits, but who's going to give me that?

I can't think of a team out there that needs an outfielder with Long's limited contributions who'd also be willing to pay his salary for the next two years. L.A.'s the only place I can even think might have the payroll and a possible fit to squeeze Long into their Tilt-A-Whirl outfield situation, and even then, if they found a better option, he'd be out on the street.

If Long wanted to make a real difference, he'd demand that he play better than the team's other options, and if he was concerned about the team's competitiveness, he should be so good as to offer to tear up his contract, allowing the A's and Long to go their separate ways.

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