Skip to main content
Original Issue


A movie actress was surprised when the Dodger general manager told her what a baseball star is paid, and sometimes the player is surprised, too. Fame may be a spur, but cash can be an even bigger incentive

The Koufax-Drysdale holdout was the most serious contract discussion I was ever involved in, but it sure wasn't the only one. Money is a big thing in baseball, and you have some ballplayers who respond to nothing much except the long green. You can holler at them until you're blue in the face and you can pat them on the back till you've got a callous on your hand, and nothing happens till you come up with the cash on the line. I would have to put Ron Fairly, our great Dodger redhead, in that classification. And maybe that's why he fell into the job of player representative on the Los Angeles club. When Ron first came up, he was the college hotshot from the University of Southern California, and who was he to knuckle down and pay attention and concentrate on his job? Stars from the University of Southern California didn't have to go to all that trouble! Fairly was running the bases with all the speed of a Mack truck and all the alertness of a sloth.

Walt Alston was unhappy about him and so was I, so I took him out to dinner. "Ron," I said, "as a first baseman you still have the first dime you ever played on. You're never going to be accused of doing the Swan Lake at first base." I didn't see any reaction, but I plowed full speed ahead. "And you're going up to the plate like the pitchers owe you a living. Who do you think you're playing against, San Diego State?" He didn't bat an eye. "Pay attention to me. Ronnie," I said. "I'm going to make a bet on you." Now he perked up. "I'm betting that Walter Alston is wrong about you. Walter doesn't think you have it. I'm betting $10,000 you do." By now he's on the edge of his seat. I mean, you have never seen a young man concentrate the way Ron Fairly was concentrating. "If you hit this season the way I know you can hit, that's what you'll get," I said, "10,000 big ones right off the top." I almost had to restrain him from running out to the batting cage right then and there. Why, $10,000 was as much as his annual salary! And he went out and earned it, too. He hit .322, got the bonus and won himself a starting job.

I tried more or less the same approach with Lou Johnson, "Sweet Lou," one of the nicest things that ever happened to Los Angeles. We were desperate for an outfielder when Tommy Davis broke his ankle in 1965, and the boys at Spokane recommended Lou, who was then 31 years old and in his 13th season with his 19th club and not exactly burning up the league. When I had my first talk with Lou I said, "No one on this club can hit the size of his cap, so you're bound to look good." Then I told him I would double his pay the minute he showed me something. Well, his seventh home run after we brought him up showed me how to beat the Cubs and put the Dodgers in first place, and then on the 28th of September he showed me how to beat Cincinnati with a home run in the 12th inning to put the ball club in front to stay. Who got his pay doubled and won a World Series share to boot? Sweet Lou, that's who!

Willie Davis was another one who responded to cash. Willie has told the story on himself: "I was a swinging man with the foxes hanging on to me and my money was going fast when Buzzie called me in. He offered me a hell of a piece of cash if I'd get married and buy a house. Man, there was a wedding in nothing flat! And I've been a happier player since." And a better player, too, those famous three errors in one inning against the Orioles in last year's World Series notwithstanding.

It's great to be able to take a kid like Willie and by some little stratagem, some little maneuver like giving him a few grand, turn him into a productive major-leaguer. Money makes some players go. But that doesn't mean you can lay $10,000 incentives on the line for everybody. Baseball doesn't have that kind of money. I remember when we were still in Brooklyn and Leo Durocher was married to Laraine Day. One day the two of them introduced me to the actress Joan Caulfield, and we got to talking about ballplayers and their salaries. The club was playing in Ebbets Field—capacity: 32,000, jammed to the roof—and nobody was making a whole lot of money, including me and Walter O'Malley, though I couldn't make anybody understand that, including Miss Caulfield. "Joe Black had a good year," she said. "How much are you going to pay him next year?"

I said, "Oh, about $12,000. In fact, he's already signed for $12,000."

She looked shocked. "Only $12,000?" she said. "Why, after my first year in Hollywood I got $100,000 a picture."

I said, "Yeh, but none of your pictures ever got rained out."

She probably thought I was some kind of a New York wise guy, but it was true that a few extra rainouts at Ebbets Field over the course of a season could make all the difference on the year. The profit margin was slim in a ball park that seated only 32,000.

Through my years in baseball I've been blamed for everything except the Black Sox scandal, but when it comes to holding salaries to a minimum at Brooklyn I plead guilty. Beyond the limited seating capacity there was a good reason: our farm system was anemic, and I wanted to use every nickel I could scrape up to pump some life into it. Even after we moved out to Los Angeles and began drawing record crowds I still kept a tight clamp on salaries, and I figure I saved something like $2 million in my first 10 years. While the team was consistently near the top or at the top of the standings, both in won-lost and attendance, our payroll was about fifth or sixth in the league. The money was going into our farm operations. I looked at it like a man looks at his future. Maybe he makes $100 a week, and he needs all that to live on. Now he gets raised to $150 a week, but he still lives on $100 a week and invests the other $50 in his future security. That's what our farm operations were—an investment in future security. Our payroll began to shoot up about five years ago, when I figured the farm system was set, and in 1965 and 1966 we had the highest payroll in the National League. We wound up paying two pitchers $235,000 for the 1966 season alone. You remember them.

To me, the best time of the year is when we're negotiating salaries with our ballplayers. Just on the face of it, you'd think I'd be miserable, arguing and cajoling and disagreeing with the guys I like the best in the world, but I like to argue and cajole and disagree, and so do most of my ballplayers. They bring their competitive spirit right up to my office, and sometimes you can hear us all over town screaming and shouting about money. As far as I'm concerned, anything goes at salary time. It's just like love and war. I honestly don't think I'd hold it against a ballplayer if he pulled a knife on me and ordered me to sign him up at a higher figure. He knows I'd pull my own knife the next year, and we'd both wind up laughing about it later. We always do.

What the players don't seem to know is that I've got the whole budget worked out in advance, and I know almost to the penny what each player is going to get. I don't say I'm completely inflexible, but I figure a budget is a budget and when you start changing it all the time you have no budget. That's one of the things that annoyed me about the book that Ed Linn wrote with Sandy Koufax. They wrote something to the effect that a budget is merely a set of figures arrived at by administrative decision, and one administrative decision can be changed by another. Maybe so, but then don't call it a budget. I mean, if you say to yourself that you're going to live on a budget of $100 a week and then you go out and spend $200, do you still have a budget? And if you change your $100 budget to a $200 budget and then go out and spend $300, do you have a budget then? Sandy knows better than that.

Before salary-and-negotiation time comes around each year, I lay out a budget, x number of dollars, and that's it. I put down a figure for every ballplayer, and that's what the ballplayer is going to get nine times out of 10. Then the fun begins: they come storming into my office with all their tricks and stratagems and facts and statistics ("Last year, Buzzie, my average wasn't so high, but you'll see right here in black and white that I led the club in sacrifice flies and putouts"). Before they even start the sales pitch I know what they're worth and what we're going to give them. Sometimes the amount I've penciled in is more than the player asks for, and if you think I'm kidding, ask Ron Hunt. When we got him from the Mets this year he came in with a salary demand, and I told him it was lower than my budget called for and we'd have to pay him more, whether he liked it or not. Sometimes when all the negotiating is over, I find out that I have not used up my entire budget. Now, according to some people, I guess what I should do at that point is make another administrative decision and reduce the budget. But as a rule I don't. I add a little here and a little there till it comes out even. Ask John Roseboro. He got one of those raises last year.

In all my years with the big club, we've hardly had any holdout problem at all (although I must admit that when we finally did get one, it was a peach). In 15 years I have never had a ballplayer miss a single regular-season game because of a holdout. Of course, we had a few guys like Sandy Amoros who would almost automatically send in their contract late and show up late for spring training, although in his case I was never convinced it was anything more than a language problem. Amoros is Cuban, and he doesn't speak English too good. I'll never forget the time he arrived four days late at Dodgertown, and I had to fine him. The conversation went like this:

"You are four days late."


"Yes. What is your excuse?"


"Your excuse! Why were you late?"

"Late. Yes."

"Well, it will cost you $100. Understand?"

Sandy put on that wide grin of his. He always grinned at the sound of money. "One hundred dollars," he said. "Good."

"No, it's not good. It means you are fined $100. Do you know what fined means?"

"Fine!" he says. "Hundred dollars! Fine!"

He thought I was going to give him $100. He got an awful shock when the first payday came around.

The toughest part of salary negotiations, at least for me, is guarding the treasury against fringe ballplayers who have been hanging on through sheer hustle or personality. These guys can put you to sleep. They're players you like to see around, players of limited ability who wind up every day wearing the dirtiest uniforms. Guys like Rocky Bridges. I always figured Rocky extended his own career by five years on sheer hustle, and when he came in at salary time I had to keep telling myself what his batting average was. When Rocky played for me at Montreal we had to have his uniform cleaned every day because he worked so hard. Don Zimmer was the same, and Gino Cimoli was another. When those guys came in to talk money I always had to pinch myself to keep from being swept off my feet by the way they rolled their eyes. The thing a general manager always has to remember is that those guys are also full of hustle in the money department, and if you let emotion overcome you the end result is you have to take money away from more talented ballplayers later on just to keep the budget in line.

I have become so accustomed to certain little negotiating tricks the players use that I take them in stride and even turn them to my own advantage. Like the way ballplayers are always playing themselves off on each other. They'll come in and tell me that they happen to know that so-and-so is making such-and-such, and if that so-and-so is worth all that such-and-such, why, then I'm worth such-and-such more. To begin with, they almost always have the figure wrong. I don't know how they manage to come up with the wrong information so often. Don Newcombe comes in one year, off a real good season, and he says he doesn't care to negotiate at all, he simply wants what Sal Maglie is getting for the Giants. I push a contract at him, and he looks at it and he laughs. "Just give me what Sal is getting," Newk says. "You know I'm as good as Sal or better."

Well, it so happened that I knew what Sal was getting—I used to have a drink with him now and then—and it was a lot less than Newcombe thought. So I said, "O.K., Newk, I guess you're right. You call up Sal right now, and whatever he says he's getting you can have, too. All right?"

Newk hemmed and hawed around, and finally he said, "Gimme that contract!" He didn't know it, but he signed for more than Maglie made that year.

We had one stubborn ballplayer who came in after a fair year and, just as though he was in his right mind, he demanded $25,000. I told him to rest up for a day, stay out of the hot sun and come back and see me when he felt a little more rational.

Tommy Davis had just won the National League batting championship, and the next day I told my secretary, Edna Ward, to fix me up a phony contract calling for $9,000 for Tommy Davis. I told Edna, "Now, when that stubborn kid comes into my office today, wait about 10 minutes and then call me outside so I can leave him in there alone." I carefully put the Davis "contract" on my desk where it could be seen, and I marked its exact position. The kid came in, and he and I talked for a while, and then Edna came in and said, "Mr. O'Malley wants to see you for a minute."

"Oh, excuse me," I said and stepped out. I gave it about five minutes; then I coughed loudly and walked back into my office. Sure enough, the fake contract had been moved. And all of a sudden the kid is saying, "All right, Buzzie, maybe I'm being unreasonable." He said he would sign for $12,000. I wound up giving him $18,000.

I've pulled that phony-contract stunt a dozen times, and I'll do it every chance I get, because this war of negotiation has no rules. The ballplayers pull dirty tricks on me, too, and if that kid hadn't been snooping around my private papers he'd never have fallen for the trick in the first place.

Once Charlie Neal and Johnny Roseboro showed up at the office together and made the mistake of figuring that I was predictable about salaries. In those days we had a dumpy little office in Los Angeles and you could hear everything that went on. Neal waited outside while Rosey came in, and I said, "How much do you want, John?" I found out later that he was shooting for $11,500, but they always ask for $500 more, so he said, "Oh, about $12,000."

I said, "Twelve grand?" I said, "Damn, what the hell's the matter with you?" I called Edna in, and I said, "Bring me a contract for $12,500!" And Johnny gets $500 more than he asked for.

So now he goes outside, and I can hear him talking up a storm to Neal. He's telling Neal that Buzzie's in a good mood and if you just ask for $500 less than you want Buzzie'll add the difference and everybody will be satisfied, and you'll wind up looking like a reasonable guy. Charlie wants $13,000, so he comes in and tells me he wants $12,500. I said, "Are you kidding, Charlie? Who do you think you are? Jackie Robinson?" I called to Edna: "Bring me a contract for $12,000!"

Neal signed, and you should have heard the free-for-all in the hall when he left! I heard him hollering at Rosey, "You so-and-so, damn you, anyway! You told me to ask for $500 less. Why, what's the matter with you, you low-life rascal, you!" That caterwauling went on until they got out of the building.

Of course, with certain guys you just felt like telling them to go ahead and quit, they acted so badly. I mean the real stubborn cases, the ones that were always telling you that they could make more money outside of organized baseball anyway. Luis Olmo was like that; he threatened Mr. Rickey that he would jump to the Mexican League, and Mr. Rickey blew a cloud of cigar smoke and just listened. "You don't understand, Mr. Rickey," Luis said. "I'm leaving the Dodgers!"

"I understand," Mr. Rickey said, "but there's something you don't understand. If you walked out of this office right now and went out on the street and were hit by a car and were killed, the Dodgers would still play next year."

There are times like that when you have to call their bluffs. I had to do it at Montreal one year with Tommy Lasorda. He said he would quit baseball rather than play for what I was offering him. So I said, "Fine, Tommy, what are you going to do?"

He said, "I'm going to go to work for a brewery."

I said, "Any special one? I've got some good friends at Rheingold. Maybe I can help you. How much do you think you'll make?"

He said, "Oh, about $55 a week."

So I said, "Fine. Let me help you." I picked up the phone and said, "Operator, get me the Rheingold Brewery, Mr. Al Moore."

Tommy turns white, and he says, "What are you doing?"

I said, "I'm going to get you a job, and it'll pay more than $55 a week. Of course, it won't pay what you're making at Montreal."

He says, "Put down that phone! I'll sign." He figured that $800 a month for playing ball was better than any amount he could make in a brewery. Knowing Tommy, I think he'd have played baseball for nothing, as long as we kept him fed and replaced the uniforms he was always ripping up.

Ballplayers frequently threaten to quit and go home; Nate Oliver did it this year when I sold him outright to Spokane. He sent back their contract and told the general manager, "If you think I'm playing for that, you're crazy!" A little bit later he called up and asked for a $1,000 advance, and then he signed. Once Kirby Higbe sent his contract back to the front office with an explanation that his father-in-law ran a string of pharmacies in the Carolinas and he regretted leaving the Dodgers but the old gentleman had offered him an excellent position and thank you very much for the contract offer but he was quitting baseball because he could make much more money working for his father-in-law. The letter had a P.S.: "Please send $2,000 advance."

Some ballplayers just don't understand money at all, or they don't stop to figure things out, and if you wanted to you could take advantage of them something frightful. Years ago a real good hitter was playing for me at Montreal. and when I went into the Brooklyn front office I put him on the Brooklyn roster and sent him a contract calling for $900 a month. The major league season lasts six months, and $900 a month for six months is $5,400, right? So he writes back indignantly and points out to me that the major league minimum salary is $5,000 a year and he's not going to sign for a penny less. So I sent him a $5,000 contract, and he wound up signing for $400 less than I had offered. He figured he was a smart fellow; he could count. He was so smart that I sold him for $45,000.

Not long ago we had a similar case. We sent a kid down to Triple-A and offered him $7,500 for the season. That's not a bad salary for a kid, $1,250 a month. But he comes into my office and he explains that he's quitting baseball and that he's going to work for the Los Angeles district attorney in some kind of youth program.

I said, "Fine, what's the new job pay?"

He says, "It pays $6,000, but that's 12 months of the year."

I said, "Well, look, suppose I make out your contract at $7,500 for the whole year?"

He says, "Let me think about it," and the next day he comes in and signs.

You may think you know a ballplayer, but you never really know him till you've negotiated salaries with him. Years before the world ever knew that Chuck Connors was a good actor and a zany fellow I knew it, because every year I was fighting him over his salary and every year he would do some crazy thing like mailing me a contract signed in blood. I mean, it was only red ink, but he'd come in my office in Montreal and swear up and down that he had opened a vein and signed the contract because "you might as well have my blood, you've got everything else," and then he'd moan and groan around my office like Hamlet's ghost or somebody. I think the most we ever paid him at Montreal was $450 a month, and for this we got a pretty fair first baseman and all the theatrics we could stand. It was a bargain. I'm glad we don't have to pay his salary now.

Even the nicest guys would surprise you by doing downright nasty things to get more money, and then everybody'd wind up being sorry. Take a guy like Danny McDevitt. One year he sends his contract back to the office in 50 pieces. No letter, no nothing. I was furious. I wrote him: "You sent that torn-up contract back to my assistant, Dick Walsh. If you had sent it to me, you'd be out of baseball for a long time. But I'm going to give you another chance. Enclosed are the pieces of your contract. When you get it all pasted back together again, we'll talk business." We did, too.

One year Carl Erskine sent his unsigned contract back without a letter, a very impolite thing to do, and I ask you: Is there a nicer guy in the world than Carl Erskine? I mean, if there were ever a contest to find the nicest guy alive, it would have to be between Carl Erskine and Gil Hodges. And when I get this contract back, without even the courtesy of a little scribbled note, I can't understand it. I write Carl a letter saying that of all the people I know he is the last I expect to treat me like that. So a few days later I'm in Chicago at a meeting and the phone rings, and it's Erskine, calling from his home in Indiana. He can hardly talk, he's so upset with himself. "Buzzie," he says, "I don't know what got into me. I didn't mean it. Send me a contract right away!" So I did, and he signs. And the nice thing about it is simply this: if I don't get mad, Carl gets more money, right? As it was, I had him at a disadvantage, and I got off easy. As I've said, we don't negotiate by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Then there are the little things you say and do that come back to haunt you years later. One year Duke Snider visited me in Montreal after he had made the big club, and he told me he was making $9,000 a year for Mr. Rickey. I said, "Duke, when you get your contract next year, you tell Mr. Rickey he should double it. Be firm! He'll give in. You're worth every penny of it."

When next year's contract time came around, who do you think is general manager of the Dodgers? That's right, and I send Duke a contract for $15,000. He's got a memory like an elephant, that guy, and back comes a polite letter informing me that he had been advised by a very wise baseball executive to demand $18,000 this year, "and I was led to believe I'd get it." What could I do? He got it.

Of course, the easiest players to deal with are the ones who leave it all up to you. They have enough faith in me to know that they are going to be paid what they're worth. The rest of the guys get what they're worth, too, but not till they've argued and hollered and raised hell to their delight, the newspapers' delight and mine. I cherish a wire from Johnny Podres: ACCEPT TERMS FOR 1963. I hadn't mailed his contract yet. Willie Davis is another one who puts the signed contract on my desk every year and I fill in the details. Johnny Roseboro has done that, Sandy Koufax has, and so have plenty of others. On a few occasions I have reversed the procedure and passed a contract across my desk and told the ballplayer, "Just write down what you're worth, and I'll sign it." You have to pick your spot; you don't want to give a contract like this to a guy who'll fill in $1 million and cause some kind of ugly scene when you renege. The funny thing is, almost invariably the player will put down a figure lower than you had expected to pay him. He gets so carried away by your faith in him and your good sportsmanship, and he's not going to repay you by being a louse, is he? So he puts down a fair price, and everybody's happy.

It never seems to occur to my ballplayers that I also have a boss to negotiate my own salary with, and if I did as well with him as they do with me I'd be financially set for life. But money doesn't mean a whole lot to me, so long as the family's getting three square meals a day, and in my own salary discussions I play it pretty much down the line. I don't use some of the tricks that I could. Like last year I got a terrific offer to become general manager of another ball club and I turned it down, and everybody around the office heard about the offer through the grapevine. So one of the other front-office guys says to me, "What did Mr. O'Malley say when you told him about it?"

I said, "I didn't tell Mr. O'Malley about it."

He said, "Well, you must be nuts! Aren't you going to discuss it with him?"

I said, "There's no reason to discuss it with him. If I went in there and told him I'd turned down another job, it would look like a broad hint for more money, wouldn't it? It would look like I'm coming in there and saying, 'Gee, what a good boy I am!' I don't play like that, and Walter knows it."

Anyway, I was sure Walter had heard about the offer, and I knew he would take care of me in the money department. One day Walter and I sat down and discussed the club's budget for 1967, and when we got everything straight he said to me: "Oh, by the way, Buzzie, about your own salary. I want you to give yourself a raise, and make it a nice one. You've got it coming. Give yourself whatever you think is right."

I figured if I did nothing he would call the auditors and tell them to give me a good raise. That was my strategy. He figured I would put myself down for a modest raise; that was his strategy. I put myself down for no raise and, much to my surprise, that was what I got. So much for my skill at negotiating salaries!




Bavasi tells of his adventures with Maury Wills and Leo Durocher, two of the most volatile personalities he has dealt with.