Editor’s Note: Draft holdouts have largely become a thing of the past, but when looking back on draft history you’ll never find a more protracted or nastier holdout than the one involving the Rockies and California high school righthander Matt Harrington. Harrington was the seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft, and he turned down a seven-figure bonus offer from the Rockies and went back into the 2001 draft. Then he was drafted by the Padres in the second round, and again he did not sign. He went on to get drafted by the Devil Rays in 2002 (13th round), Reds in 2003 (24th round) and Yankees in 2004 (36th round), but he never signed a contract with a team in Organized Baseball. He did play several seasons in independent leagues while waiting for a minor league opportunity that never came. This is former BA national writer Alan Schwarz’s story from the summer of 2001 on what went wrong.
BY ALAN SCHWARZ
SCHAUMBURG, Ill.–Bill Harrington has no regrets. He doesn’t sit in his Palmdale, Calif., home ruing his decision to decline millions of dollars from the Rockies, who selected his son Matt with the No. 7 overall pick in last year’s draft: “No. Not at all. How do you regret when you feel right?”
Dan O’Dowd has no regrets. The Colorado general manager doesn’t wonder how his organization, which needs arms more than the Venus De Milo, let the nation’s top pitching prospect get away: “It really is in Matt’s best interests he didn’t sign with this organization. It just wasn’t meant to be. And I’m glad we didn’t sign him because I think it would have been a bad investment.”
Tommy Tanzer has no regrets. No second thoughts as to whether, as the agent for a player whose family, he claims, “has barely a dime,” he should have figured out some way to get him signed: “I ended up with a more important job–protecting him from unscrupulousness and the lack of respect he was shown by these people . . . (The Rockies) are dangerous people.”
Josh Byrnes has no regrets. O’Dowd’s assistant GM doesn’t question whether comments he made to Tanzer before the draft implied any deal between club and player, a gap in understanding that kept the two sides apart all summer, ultimately costing the Rockies the best amateur pitcher they had ever drafted. “I was like, ‘Tommy, You know what? You know what your problem is? You start too many sentences with the word ‘I.’ This is about Matt.’ “
Even Matt Harrington has no regrets. Sure, he might have cost himself several million dollars by sitting out a year, re-entering the draft and sliding to No. 58 overall in the second round to the Padres, but he retains full faith in Tanzer: “We felt like we were lied to (by the Rockies). That trust was never there. Principle-wise, we have to go with our principles.”
From such little regret grew one of the most regretful spectacles in the history of baseball’s amateur draft–a nasty, vitriolic affair that casts the Crusades as downright chummy. A morality play? Too generous. This is more of a profanity play, with accusations and threats and screeds that would make Larry Flynt blush; where the Harrington family watched Tanzer, O’Dowd and even officials from other clubs, all of whom in baseball circles are rarely called anything but professional and honest, call each other names like “character-assassinator” (Tanzer by O’Dowd), “loan-shark operation” (the Rockies by the Tanzer camp) and “liar” (an equal-opportunity slur). Fearing the Rockies would make public a tape of him threateningly spewing obscenities, Tanzer warned them, “You play that tape for my client, or anyone in baseball, I’m gonna own your f–in’ team, and I’m gonna give Coors Field to the f–ing homeless.” The indigent of Denver could be in for a treat because the text of the tape appears later in this article.
In many ways this is all the fallout from a conversation between Tanzer and Byrnes, a clandestine exchange that, in various forms, has become so commonplace before the draft as to contribute to the affair’s increasing obsolesence. The agent suggests an asking price for his prospect, he finds a team who leads him to believe they will pay it, and he scares away teams picking beforehand so the kid falls to the prearranged club. Both sides benefit. “It just gets worse every year,” one team official says. What happens when one side doesn’t remember the conversation properly? You get the Harrington Hullabaloo.
Tossed about like a mitt in a Maytag, Harrington just wants it all over with.
He looks back in frustration and forward in doubt. Sitting in a restaurant in Schaumburg, Ill., the day before this year’s draft, having no idea where he’ll be taken and how much he has lost, it was hard for him to believe he had been baseball’s top pitching prospect, celebrating his multimillion-dollar payday with Colorado, almost a year ago to the day. He shook his head and sighed. “It seems like forever.”
It’s an hour before gametime at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo, N.D. Three days before the June 5 draft, this is Matt Harrington’s last chance to audition for the skeptical scouts who wonder if he’s the same kid they saw last year. After not coming to terms with the Rockies and then signing with the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints–the same sanctuary of famed holdout J.D. Drew four years ago–Harrington has barely thrown in competition for a year. If he’s worth $4.95 million, he’d better show them now.
This is just Harrington’s fourth outing for the Saints, the previous one coming in a cold, heavy downpour and contributing to his unimpressive velocity (88-91 mph) and results (two innings, two runs, three hits, two walks). He knows what’s at stake. His 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame uncoils with a determined leg kick and powerful drive.
He comes out throwing hard. His first five pitches increase one mile an hour each from 90 to 94. But these experienced Northern League hitters are several steps ahead of a 19-year-old. They don’t swing at his first 16 pitches; their first is an RBI single following two walks. A sacrifice fly puts him down 2-0.
Harrington also shows a fine curveball, but the layoff has sabotaged his command. Leaving with a 4-0 deficit on three hits and four walks, he exhausts his 60-pitch limit in two innings, throwing 28 balls and 31 strikes. Siberian prisoners didn’t labor this much.
Bill Harrington will never forget Draft Day 2000.
His modest house in Palmdale was crammed to the gills, with family, friends, media, you name it, waiting to hear where Matt would get drafted. Good thing it wasn’t one of the High Desert’s all-too-frequent 110-degree days, because the Harringtons rarely use their air conditioner. “We can’t afford to use it much,” Bill says.
An estimator for a pool-repair company, Bill and his wife Sue, who works at the nearby Target, took the morning off as everyone waited for the phone call. It came at 10:20 a.m.: the Rockies, No. 7 overall. “This house was five feet off its foundation,” Bill recalls. “The men were high-fiving each other and the women were hugging and crying. Special. Very special. Unbelievable.” Everyone drove to Palmdale High to tell Matt, who was between civics and geometry. His mother gave him a big hug as the news was read over the school intercom. A roar rumbled through the corridors.
Four Rockies officials–Byrnes, scouting director Bill Schmidt and two scouts–went to the Harrington home to meet and greet the family on June 8. Everything appeared fine until Tanzer spoke with Byrnes the following day. Claims Tanzer, “He says to me, ‘Tommy, I just want you to know, we’re not gonna be able to do what we talked about.’
“I said, ‘Josh, what are you talkin’ about?’ He goes, ‘Tommy, we’re not gonna be able to do the 4.95 million . . . We’re not gonna slot the kid. He’ll be above everybody else. But we’re not gonna be able to do the 4.95.’ We started fighting that day, and we’ve been fighting ever since.”
Byrnes corroborates only the fighting. He claims he made no commitment to Tanzer for $4.95 million or any specific figure before the draft. “A total lie,” he says. Byrnes made an initial offer to the Harringtons of $2.2 million–a perfunctory “slotted” offer representing the approximate market for the No. 7 pick–and quickly learned of Tanzer’s impression a deal had already been made. Byrnes wrote a letter to Tanzer on June 21 that praised Harrington’s talent before it hinted at the escalating tensions: “The draft has evolved into a high-stakes leverage game where clubs focus on money more than talent, agents compete with one another to preserve their reputations, and families develop a sense of entitlement that leads to inevitable disappointment.”
While Brynes went on to write that Colorado considered Harrington the best player in the draft and planned to pay him a corresponding deal, for means of perspective he also cited signings of former high school pitchers, pitchers drafted around Harrington, and that the No. 1 overall pick (Adrian Gonzalez) got a $3 million bonus from the Marlins. Byrnes saved the answering-machine tape on which Tanzer exploded his response:
“I understood everything that you wrote in there, and everything you wrote in there might be your opinion. It’s not what we talked about before the draft. It’s not what we’re gonna talk about after the draft. There’s not gonna be any visits by anybody till we make progress. Just because (another first-round pick) is a dumb-ass and because the other stupid f– s– in his pants doesn’t have anything to do with me. Now, we’ll talk about visiting once we’ve blown Adrian Gonzalez away. Until that happens, I really don’t want you to have any more contact with the Harringtons . . .
“You talk about a reasonable timetable, but all you talk about is Bobby Bradley. F–, I don’t care about Bobby Bradley. Bobby Bradley’s 5-foot-3 and Bobby Bradley’s not goin’ anywhere, OK? For me, if you want to talk about Matt, let’s talk about Matt. If you don’t, let me get him into the USA Baseball and insure the s– out of him, and then we’ll go from there. I don’t know what else to tell you, Josh. But your tone has changed totally from the time that I chased away six teams, put my s– on the whole line here. I put my reputation on the line with three or four people here by acting like a fool in order to get him away from those people who were gonna slot him, and now I keep reading the same thing over again . . .
“I’m gonna spend today explaining to them how they’re not supposed to talk to you guys anymore–and that when you want to make progress, if you want me to come to Denver, I’ll come to Denver. But these people aren’t coming to Denver, nobody’s got anything to talk about till we hear something with a four in it. Once we get into the fours, then we’ll talk about it, and at that point we’ll make some progress. If not, this thing’s gonna go on and on all summer . . . You want to talk about it, you call me. Otherwise let’s go in the f–-in’ deep freeze and wait for everybody else. This letter pisses me off and you knew it would. Goodbye.”
Just four scouts are in Fargo to watch Harrington pitch.
Many top officials are holed up in predraft meetings, but this still is not exactly encouraging. Baseball doesn’t take kindly to a 19-year-old turning down millions of major league dollars; in fact, one scout in attendance was left the following message on his voicemail the week before: “Under no circumstances will (you) be in the ballpark if Matt Harrington has a ball in his hand. If he warms up or steps on the mound, you are to leave the stadium.”
The reviews are ambivalent at best. “He looks better than last week–he held his velocity for a stretch, and the curve showed something,” one says. Adds another, “I think that tonight we saw how that year off killed his command.” Scouts did prefer to see power over polish. After all, Harrington had reported to St. Paul workouts only three weeks before, and three weeks into spring training Roger Clemens wouldn’t be topping 95.
Outside the Saints clubhouse after taking the loss, Harrington remains upbeat. “I’m happy with my outing,” he says. “I showed what I wanted to show. The fastball was finally popping for the first time in a while”–despite his heart popping out of his chest.
“Today was the most nervous I’ve ever been before a baseball game,” he says. “I’ve never been one who has to impress scouts. I don’t see them. But in the back of my mind, I know this is my last outing before the draft to show scouts that I’m still me.”
Teams were feeling the pressure before last year’s draft, as Harrington was dealing from a position of strength. His 11-0, 0.54 season for Palmdale High, thanks to a fastball that occasionally hit 98 mph, made him the highest-regarded prospect in the nation. Meanwhile, most clubs at the top of the draft sought to avoid lengthy negotiations by signing predraft deals with prospective picks. This by definition violates major league rules–which forbid “any explicit or implicit promise as to contract terms” by a club, and go so far as to limit officials to asking only what players are looking for: “(An official) may not offer an opinion as to whether the player’s ideas are too high or too low; nor may he ask leading questions, such as . . . ‘would you sign for $2,000?’ “
Despite such restrictions, most clubs in the top 10 last year still managed to make intricate agreements with prospects before the draft. The Marlins found high school slugger Adrian Gonzalez amenable to their $3 million budget for the top pick. At No. 2, for $2.5 million, the Twins locked up college righthander Adam Johnson. But he wasn’t their first choice. Their first choice was Matt Harrington.
Like every GM must in today’s cat-and-mouse draft game, the Twins’ Terry Ryan asked Tanzer what Harrington would sign for. His answer was a $4.95 million bonus–the $3.96 million that went to the No. 1 pick the year before (the Devil Rays’ Josh Hamilton) plus 25 percent. Ryan wanted to stay somewhere in the $2.5 million-$3 million range–a slotted offer encouraged by both Twins ownership and Major League Baseball. He tried to get Tanzer to budge and finally, the night before the draft, worked on the family in a two-hour conference call.
“I don’t like agents making these decisions–I’m not drafting the agent, I’m not signing the agent,” Ryan says. “(Matt) asked us to pass and we did. I could have taken him, but if he doesn’t want to play here, then we’ll go another direction. Why fight the battle?”
Ryan wound up with a battle anyway, fighting with Tanzer afterward as Tanzer claims Ryan told him, “I could just take him and f–- you up, couldn’t I?” (Ryan denies saying that.) Tanzer almost giddily describes his reaction: “I motherf–d him–I go berserk when I get mad,” he says. “I started yelling and screaming at Terry Ryan. I had two neighbors come over to see if I had a domestic abuse case at my house.”
Tanzer saved enough breath for another call. Knowing (like everyone else in baseball) that the teams drafting Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 were already far down the road in selecting other players, he immediately phoned the Rockies’ Byrnes and said, “I think we’re in the clear, buddy. I think this is gonna work out.”
Harrington isn’t operating on much sleep.
The Saints arrived in Schaumburg at 4 a.m. after a 10 1/2-hour bus ride from Fargo. Harrington taking his own car certainly was no option–the $400 1984 Buick roadster, “five different colors of gold,” he jokes, probably couldn’t make it 50 miles. One short drive almost left a teammate asphyxiated.
Harrington has maintained his rigorous workout program all year–he throws a weighted ball 100 feet and long-tosses a regulation ball a whopping 340 feet and more–save for when minor elbow pain shut him down in April. His warm-ups the other day felt fine, he says. He was throwing great. Then why was he so upset after every pitch?
“I reach for perfection,” he explains, resolutely folding his cloth napkin into a tiny triangle. “I reach for the stars.”
“I think Harrington’s gonna fall.” Byrnes walked into Dan O’Dowd’s office with the fantastic news–the six teams drafting ahead of Colorado were too scared of Harrington’s price to draft him. They’ll pass? We’ll pounce.
Under instructions from O’Dowd, Byrnes says he made a point not to talk dollar figures with Tanzer before the draft. “I feel that’s ethically wrong,” O’Dowd says. “It’s everything that’s wrong with the draft.” Tanzer says they repeatedly and specifically discussed the $4.95 million bonus and that Byrnes “knew what it would take.” Pressed that knowing an asking price and agreeing to it are two different things, Tanzer clarifies what he remembers Byrnes saying: “I don’t have a problem with that,” “It won’t be a problem,” and “Do what you need to do to get him to me.”
“No. I said, ‘Use this information how you want to use it: He will not get past our pick,’ ” Byrnes counters. “I was trying to be as noncommittal as I could, honestly, but give him the one indisputable promise, ‘He will not get past our pick. Tommy, that’s what you want to do? Fine. That’s what you’re looking for? Fine. I hear you. Just know this: He will not get past our pick.’ ” Reminded that Tanzer’s claims become plausible in light of how teams cross the line every year, with great incentive, Byrnes responds, “But I wouldn’t do that.”
One thing’s for sure: Tanzer did use the information. Harrington fell past six teams that probably would have taken him had Tanzer not, as he puts it, “scared them away.” While it appears as if no team but the Twins had any interest by that point, this was a maneuver other agents had mastered. It was the 50-year-old Tanzer’s first chance to join the fun.
A player agent since 1984, Tanzer has 23 major league clients, most notably Diamondbacks outfielder Steve Finley and Astros righthander Shane Reynolds. Asked about his character and truthfulness, six of six non-Rockies major league executives say that while emotional, Tanzer has never lied in a negotiation. Now staking his claim in the draft arena, he has represented several premium picks in recent drafts, charging 4 percent of their eventual signing bonus above the club’s first offer, and 4 percent of any major league salary.
Bearing some resemblance to singer Paul Simon, Tanzer stands 5-foot-5 with sparse brown hair and a wrinkled forehead above close-set green eyes. He speaks so quickly and enthusiastically that he often contradicts himself within the span of a few sentences. Asked if Byrnes discussed the $4.95 million bonus during a predraft, cell phone conversation while Tanzer sized up a putt on the 11th green, he explodes, “During the golf course? Absolutely! I mean, you know, but he . . . on that particular call, I’m not even sure we went there. We went there a little later when I got home.”
He ascribes his combativeness to being “a Jewish Buddhist,” 5,000 years old. “I didn’t make it long,” he claims while driving down an Illinois highway. “I didn’t last long in the concentration camps. I’m one of the first guys who got shot in the back. I got my six years of rest and came back in 1950, and here I am. I keep coming back. I keep coming back. You find a new calling every day.”
At 11 p.m. the night before the draft, after Harrington returns from a dreadful Saints 12-1 loss, he drives with Tanzer to a local TGI Friday’s for a final strategy session. The pitcher munches on a plate of ribs, onion rings and dip, while Tanzer’s Cobb salad goes untouched.
“We talked to 28 or 29 teams today,” Tanzer bubbles. “Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. But going into the day we had four possibilities: 1 and 2 we liked a lot. We’d go anywhere from No. 7 to No. 23 and get a major league deal. We’d be flexible with the money and we’d be paid. Scenario No. 2 is 24 down to the sandwich round, maybe later, and we’d get a major league contract of two years and $2 million, so with the spinoff that’s 5.75. Scenario 3 . . . “
“I really just want to get it over with,” Harrington groans.
“I know. I know,” Tanzer replies. “Part of what some teams talked about today is they’d want to see you for three more starts–then if you can show what you can do, you’d be right up there. That seems like a good option to me, rather than to jump on something just to get it over with.”
Harrington looks skeptically at a fried shrimp as Tanzer continues. “I was talking to a team today, and I said, ‘If you agree to the number is that the number? Will you take him?’ The guy said, ‘No, I can’t tell you that. He’s one of five guys. I need to weigh the number against everybody else, so just tell me the number.’ I said, ‘Then I won’t tell you the number.’ “
Harrington listens for a while before furrowing his brow in confusion. “But it’s the same way both ways. If we don’t tell them the number, then they won’t pick me. If they don’t tell us they’ll pick me, we won’t tell them the number.”
“We just gotta stay the course,” Tanzer says. “There’s nothing else we can do at this point . . . If you panic and want to get it over with, that’s what we’ll do. You want that hung around your neck the rest of your life?
“I still see us in the thing with the Yankees at 23, the Yankees again at 34 and the Yankees again at 41. Cleveland has five picks before 51. I don’t see us at 17 or 27 but then we’ll talk 35 and 42–”
“Ooooh! That’s horrible!” Harrington yelps.
“What? What’s so wrong with that?”
“No–it’s the ranch dressing. Ecch, that’s awful.”
Tanzer’s and Byrnes’ crack in understanding soon became a chasm.
Whether mistaken or lying about what was said, the two sides said little for two months. In late July, the Rockies offered a $3.2 million bonus, more than Gonzalez at No. 1 but far less than the $5.3 million Stanford outfielder/quarterback Joe Borchard was about to receive at No. 12 from the White Sox.
“It’s not 4.95,” Tanzer replied.
The Harringtons say that for months thereafter they were bombarded by calls from the Rockies, trying to get them to consider their offers, so much that they started screening every call into their home. Reading local newspaper articles that portrayed the family and her son as greedy, Sue Harrington often wound up in tears. The standoff slithered into August.
On the 21st, the Rockies made their first offer worth as much as $4.9 million, a major league contract through 2008 that Tanzer turned down because it locked up Harrington’s first three arbitration years. Tanzer’s counteroffer was a $5.835 million major league deal–reflecting Borchard’s bonus plus 10 percent–over those seven years that protected Harrington’s arbitration rights. Ten days later, the agent arranged for Harrington a $5 million disability insurance policy. On Sept. 5, O’Dowd wrote back with two offers: a similar major league deal through 2008 worth $5.3 million plus incentives, or a flat signing bonus of $3.7 million, $3 million to be deferred one year with $300,000 interest.
“We never got close to taking that,” Tanzer says. “It was never considered. It was never considered by them, and it was never considered by me.”
Says O’Dowd, “When I presented, I thought, an offer that would get this thing done, their first reaction immediately was to run back to Tommy, whose first reaction was, ‘They’re screwing you again.’ . . . This was not about Matt Harrington ever. I can’t express that more clearly. This was always a story about Tommy Tanzer. Matt was the vehicle for Tommy to create a market for himself and his career and his identification and his sense of values, worth, self-esteem.”
Having never met Matt or his parents face to face, O’Dowd arranged for them to fly to Denver on Sept. 21 for a meeting with him and Rockies ownership at Coors Field. Tanzer demanded they meet at an off-site hotel: “After fighting with people this long, you don’t have a party with them,” Tanzer says. “You go and have a business meeting with them.” The Rockies not only insisted the meeting be at Coors, but also that Tanzer not attend.
O’Dowd knew the demand probably violated Article 4 of the Basic Agreement, which guarantees players the right to representation in 40-man roster contract negotiations, but he felt it necessary. “We weren’t going to get anything done as long as Tommy’s in the process,” he says. “We were never able to really say what we wanted to say, and as long as he was involved that wasn’t gonna change.”
The Harringtons insisted Tanzer be at the meeting. “You don’t go to trial without your lawyer,” Bill Harrington explained.
The morning the meeting was to be held, the Rockies canceled the Harringtons’ plane tickets. Tanzer says that O’Dowd warned him, “If you show up at Coors Field, we’ll have you arrested.”
The draft begins in 10 minutes. Harrington has just ambled back from the team’s workout into his hotel room, ready to listen to the proceedings via the Internet on a borrowed laptop. How does he feel? “Right now I’m just . . . just shoot me,” he laughs.
Harrington lies prostrate on his bed, clothes strewn everywhere, alternately clutching a pillow and burying his head in it. His cellphone screeches a Beethoven concerto–his girlfriend Danielle. “It’s coming up soon . . . A few minutes . . . I don’t know . . . I just want it over with . . . Are you gonna be in Mr. T’s class for a while? . . . OK . . . I love you . . . OK . . . I love you . . . Bye.”
The first round flies by–30 picks–without his name being called. Beethoven again. Tanzer. “Yeah, we listened to most of it, yeah . . . Oh, all righty . . . Yeah, I’m just listening . . . OK . . . Bye.”
Thirteen supplemental-round picks come and go. No Matt Harrington. He doesn’t know which it is–no one wanting to deal with him anymore, or no one believing in him anymore. The second round starts ticking away. His cellphone goes off again. “Screw it,” he says. “Let it ring.”
The canceled meeting infuriated the Harringtons. They were tired of the phone calls, tired of what they believed was a misleading $4.9 million offer, tired of how the Rockies spoke of them in the papers. “They made us look like idiots,” Bill Harrington says. He also wonders if the first meeting after the draft allowed Colorado officials to assess the family’s financial situation and decrease their offer, a charge the Rockies deny: “I’ve been told that by some scouts, too,” Bill Harrington says. “Whether or not that happened, I don’t know. But how do you prove that? You can’t prove something like that.”
However unacceptably long-term the $4.9 million offer was at that point, the Harringtons still had the option of a relatively simple $3.7 million bonus. But after entering the draft not wanting a major league deal, they now wanted it–or at least a guaranteed 2002 callup, which only delayed the same significant benefits. “The other contracts were always a major league contract,” Bill Harrington explains. Tanzer says he demanded the callup “so they didn’t leave him down in the minors to rot.”
Matt himself says he never considered seeking another agent. “Loyalty runs big in my family,” he says. While maintaining that he has been consulted by either Tanzer or his father on every decision, he admits to occasionally feeling almost ancillary: “It was like a fighting match between O’Dowd and Tommy. And it stopped being about me at a point. It wasn’t about getting me signed. It was about winning–who’s gonna get the other one to break?”
On Oct. 10 Tanzer made O’Dowd three counteroffers: A $5.3 million major league deal with no arbitration drags, a $4.95 million flat bonus or $4.5 million with a 2002 major league callup. His subsequent meeting at Coors Field involved no handcuffs but perhaps could have used a straitjacket. “The Rockies staff, when I was done with them, looked like highway pizza–they were all laying by the side of the road like they got hit by a Lincoln Continental going 100 miles an hour,” Tanzer boasts. He claims his anger was justified: “If you screw with somebody, and you screw with them and you screw with them and you screw with them over a period of time–and then they get mad at you and then say, ‘I’m not dealing with you anymore because you got mad at me,’ hey, what about all you did? That’s what I think what happened here in a nutshell.”
On Oct. 12, O’Dowd, believing that Tanzer had not explained the club’s offers fully to Matt and his family, sent them a five-page letter directly. It began by claiming that Tanzer “has returned to his angry and threatening ways,” summarized the club’s take on events both before and after the draft, and ended with O’Dowd’s parting shot: “Talent, commitment, trust and sacrifice are necessary parts for championship teams. We know you have the talent. Because of Tommy, we are left to guess about the commitment, trust and sacrifice.”
At 12:58 Central time, midway through the second round, a voice squawks through the computer speakers:
“San Diego selects redraft 0306 . . . Harrington, Matt . . . from Palmdale, California.”
“Who was that?” he says, almost surprised. “San Diego?”
The draft continues on, with Toronto making its pick, but Harrington is already pecking out his father’s phone number.
“Hello? All right . . . I just got drafted again . . . About 54th, by San Diego . . . Huh? Is that good? That’s fine. I was sitting here waiting and waiting and wasn’t sure . . . I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him. It just happened about two seconds ago. I don’t know if Tommy knows . . . Hold on, I think Tommy’s trying to call me.”
By November, having missed the minor league season and instructional league, Harrington wanted to pitch. Tanzer got him a spot on Team USA for a Thanksgiving tournament in Panama, an assignment O’Dowd discouraged during a phone call with USA Baseball executive director Paul Seiler. “I have a philosophical problem with players that don’t sign in the draft to use Team USA as a vehicle, as only a vehicle, to improve their draft status,” O’Dowd explains. Seiler removed Harrington from the roster, prompting Tanzer to solicit the involvement of the union. Harrington made the trip.
Team USA coach Marty Scott, who not coincidentally is the Saints’ executive vice president, was less impressed by Harrington’s seven scoreless innings than with his passion for the game. “On days he wasn’t pitching,” Scott says, “he’d go, ‘I got dibs on batboy.’ ” Scott says Harrington showed no ego at all and hasn’t with the Saints, either: “The only difference between him and anybody else is that in kangaroo court, a four-pitch walk should cost him, instead of 50 cents, like a hundred grand. We did the same thing with J.D. Drew. He still owes the club close to $2 1/2 million.”
Harrington couldn’t pay even a 50-cent fine with anything the Rockies gave him. He and Bill Harrington finally agreed to visit Coors Field without Tanzer in January. They met Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, manager Buddy Bell and even star slugger Todd Helton. The family felt good about the meeting until it received the Rockies’ next offer: a seven-year, $4 million contract with a $500,000 bonus that extended through two arbitration years. The club had taken the straight $3.7 million bonus off the table because of restructured budgets in the wake of signing major league free agents Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle for $172.5 million combined.
Tanzer countered with $4 million over four years. The two sides barely spoke again. Harrington reported to the Saints on May 10 and made his four appearances before he got a fresh start June 5.
“Tommy? Yeah, I heard.”
“This is good news,” Tanzer tells him. “Every one of the teams knew what it was gonna take. They know what you’re looking for.”
Harrington listens silently as Tanzer continues for a few minutes.
“You’ll see, buddy–if we do this right, we have a chance for this to add up to more than the Rockies ever proposed.”
After a few minutes Harrington wants to call Danielle. “OK,” he tells Tanzer amiably. “I’ll catch you later.” He delivers the word to Danielle and then a few friends. After those rounds, Harrington is asked how he feels.
“I don’t know. I’m happy I was drafted again. I’m glad it wasn’t the 50th round,” he jokes. “And the team, I’m kinda more happy–they’re in Southern California. And it’s the National League, so I get to hit.
“It’s not 7 or 8 or 10, but at the same time I don’t know what they’re gonna do, either. For all I know they could–”
Harrington decides to look up what bonus last year’s No. 58 got. The Internet page takes excruciatingly long to load. He scrolls down, down, down, and there’s the answer: $600,000.
His eyebrows rise before he grasps at whatever better news he can find. “Yeah, but the Padres gave their No. 2 1.1 right near there,” he says, pointing at the screen. He thinks silently for 10 or 15 seconds, the events of the past year–the screaming, the promises, the threats–no doubt flashing past him.
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he finally says, getting up. “We’ll see what happens.”
Harrington returns to the bed. He lies down, face-first, clutching his pillow again.