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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Larry McLean's Unusual Baseball Contract Demand

Haggling over contracts is nothing new in professional baseball. For years, players and management have gone back and forth over getting the perceived upper hand when it comes to determining worth. In the days before free agency and player representation, teams could more or less dictate the terms, which could lead to some pretty unhappy exchanges and counter proposals. Perhaps none were as bizarre as hard-drinking catcher Larry McLean, who tried to negotiate the payment of 25 cents for every drink he refused during the 1911 season with the Cincinnati Reds.

McLean was a towering (6’5”, 230-pound catcher), who broke into the majors with the Boston Americans in 1901. He eventually gained a reputation as a good-hitting and fielding receiver with a penchant for the bottle. To say he had a taste for the drink and trouble would be an understatement. He was involved in saloon brawls during his playing career and was eventually killed in one in 1921 at the age of 39, when he and a friend mixed it up with a bartender who happened to have a gun with him behind the counter at his near beer joint.

Despite his troubles, McLean’s talent kept him in the game for 13 years. His career came to an end following the 1915 season with the New York Giants after he got into a violent free-for-all at the team hotel with manager John McGraw and a dozen other participants. The donnybrook only ended after Dick Kinsella, a Giants scout, broke a chair over McLean’s head.

“I am done with Larry McLean,” McGraw said the following day. “He will never play with New York again.” He was true to his word, and the burly receiver never played another professional game. But anyways, back to the story at hand.

1910 was the best season of McLean’s career. He appeared in a career-high 127 games, batting .298 with 71 RBIs, which were good for ninth in the National League. Justifiably, he felt that he was due a better contract than the previous year’s, which had included a clause requiring him to pay the team $25 for every drink he had during the season. Although the potential was there for him to have been in steep debt by the end of the year, it’s unknown how much, if any pay, he was docked for indulging in libations.

Based on his big year, the catcher decided to try and turn the table on the Reds, telling reporters, “I will play for the Reds only under the terms of the contract I have made out. Last year they made me sign a fool contract after I had a little trouble at Hot Springs (their spring training site). This year they will sign my contracts or not at all. I want 25 cents for every drink I refuse.”

McLean wasn’t finished, “I’ll pay a man $50 a week just to be with me all the time and keep a tab on how many drinks I refuse, and I’ll forfeit all claims to any salary if I take one drink during the playing season.”

“I figure my salary would be about $25,000 (In 1911, the top-paid players in the game, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie, only made $9,000) a year on this basis, and think I’m worth that to the club. I’m tired of being dictated to, and will now do some dictating. Since I have made the announcement of the only terms I will sign under, I would have made $89, just by turning down offers to take a tumble off the aqua aeroplane, but nix for me. I’m going to put my contract to Mr. [August]Herrmann (the team owner) as soon as I can and see what he says.”

Not surprisingly, McLean wound up playing under the Reds’ terms once again during the 1911 season. He had another fine year, batting .287, but finally wore out his welcome the next year, even getting to the point where Cincinnati suspended him before the end of the 1912 season and then had a hard time finding a taker for him when they attempted to rid themselves of him that offseason.

Unfortunately, McLean was a troubled soul who only stayed in the game as long as he did because teams found his production on the field outweighed the trouble he caused off it. While his proposed 1911 contract got quite a few laughs, in the end it was emblematic of a man who could have probably benefited from such a ridiculous clause.

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