The Chunichi Dragons did the right thing in giving up the contract of outfielder Kevin Millar. Sure, the team had a legitimate beef, and owner Bungo Shirai had every right to insist Millar honor the agreement to which he had committed. But, really, why try to force the guy to play here when he clearly did not want to come?
You know the story: Millar was put on waivers by the Florida Marlins and subsequently agreed to play in Nagoya for two years on a $6.2 million contract. Then the Boston Red Sox claimed him on waivers, the player at first rejected that claim, then changed his mind and told Chunichi he would like to go to Beantown and would not report to spring training in Okinawa.
Then followed a tug-of-war with the Dragons insisting he show up as scheduled by Feb. 1, and the Red Sox trying to pull him out of the deal in Japan.
Shirai said he would not give up the contract but finally relented and sent Millar’s contract back to Miami on Feb. 14, ending the standoff. Good idea.
Yes, the Dragons thought they were getting, statistics-wise, the best new foreign player scheduled to appear in Japan this season.
Millar led the Marlins with a .306 average in 2002, hitting 16 homers and marking 57 runs batted in. He played 126 games and batted 438 times; a major league regular. But they are better off not getting him.
There was no guarantee Millar would be a great, or even good or mediocre, player in Japan under normal circumstances. If he had to be forced to appear in Japan, playing here against his will in spite of the more-than-decent contract, he would already have had two strikes against him.
It is very difficult to succeed at something when you are not happy doing it.
The last time Chunichi shelled out millions of dollars ($4 million, actually) for a bona fide major leaguer, they got burned badly.
That’s how much they were said to have paid ex-big league All-Star catcher Dave Nilsson in 2000. Nilsson, “Dingo” as he was known here, came with a good attitude, wanted to be with Chunichi and tried his best to adjust and have a great year.
The result was Dingo “produced” a grand total of one home run, eight RBIs and a .180 average while spending most of the year on the Dragons’ Western League farm club.
A similar fate could have been in store for Millar, especially if his heart was not in it.
By giving up Millar’s contract, Chunichi will reportedly receive a payment of somewhere between $1.2 and $1.5 million and will get to save that $6.2 million salary.
The Dragons can use part of that $7.4 to $7.7 million to get another guy, and late Tuesday it was reported that they had agreed to terms with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Alex Ochoa.
Prior to landing Ochoa, Chunichi was taking a look at Sherman Obando, who was a proven succes in Japan, having spent three and a half seasons with the Fighters, and he’s shown what he can do.
In 2000, Shellin’ Sherman hit 30 homers, had 101 RBIs and batted .332 as the runnerup to Ichiro Suzuki in the Pacific League batting race. His problem is he’s prone to injury, always pulling a hamstring, turning an ankle or fouling a ball off his foot and breaking a toe.
Meanwhile, all the preseason guide books have been printed with Kevin Charles Millar’s name on the Chunichi roster and his photo in the profile section, but we’ll never know how he would have fared here.
Had the Red Sox not jumped in to throw the Florida-Chunichi deal into chaos, I’ll bet Millar and his family would have liked Nagoya. They would have been taken good care of by Dennis and Takako Lischak, proprietors of the popular Shooters Sports Bar & Grill and “godparents” to foreign players on the Dragons.
The bottom line, however, is the Dragons should not have brought in an unhappy player. It is much better to do what they did; give up on him, get your money back plus a little extra, get another player, move on and concentrate on winning the pennant and Japan Series.
Before ending this, though, I must say there were some comments reportedly made during the scenario which I found distasteful:
1) According to published reports, the Major League Baseball Players Association was supposedly threatening to force cancellation of the March 25-26 American League openers in Japan between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics if the Dragons insisted on keeping Millar.
2) Millar was quoted as saying he would not go to Japan because he did not want to be overseas if the United States goes to war with Iraq.
I don’t believe the MLBPA should be able to wipe out an entire tour involving two teams, inconveniencing the organizers and sponsors and thousands of fans, because of a problem involving one player and one Japanese team.
I understand a union should have a “one-for-all, all-for-one” philosophy, and the MLBPA is one of the most powerful labor organizations on earth, but threatening to cancel the tour should have been a tactic of last resort, not something thrown out there so early. No need to play hardball that soon.
As for Millar’s overseas comment, it was also not necessary to bring the war issue into play. If he didn’t want to come, fine; just say so. You don’t require an excuse, especially one like that.
In the end, I believe the result of what happened will be Millar’s loss and not the Dragons’ disadvantage.
We’ll see. One thing is for sure, though. The episode will go down as a black eye on American-Japanese baseball relations.
Good for the Dragons for letting go of Millar before it got any worse.
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