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Angels '87 : Free-Agency Call Throws Boone a Curve

April 03, 1987

Bob Boone, as you know, is out of work. He's also out of touch, out of time, out of luck, out of sight and out of mind. He's out of options. He's out of uniform. He's even out of the Angels' media guide.

About the only thing Boone is not out of is shape.

For the first time in 20 baseball years, opening day will come and go without Boone, who is holding squatter's rights these days at some high school in Placentia rather than by his rightful place and plate in Anaheim Stadium.

If Boone knew then what he knows now about baseball and economics, life would be different. But he never professed the ability to read tea leaves or the minds of baseball's owners.

Boone is a catcher, and a good one. Good enough, even at age 39, to warrant employment somewhere. But his phone is silent. And that's the shame of it.

Boone, as you know, tested the free-agent waters last January and found them chilling. He remains one frostbitten free agent.

Though he is perhaps baseball's best defensive catcher, Boone has not received a serious offer from another club. Not a one.

So he sits, and waits, and squats, and wonders.

"I fully believed I would be playing some place else for less money," he said. "Zero wasn't exactly the number I had in mind."

As he discovered, not without complete surprise, the free-agent market is closed for business. If teams are not willing to sign the likes of free-agent stars Tim Raines and Bob Horner, they aren't about to sign a 39-year-old catcher.

A guy can take a hint, so that's why Boone expected to be packaged at a discount price. But no one is even running for blue-light specials these days.

"From that standpoint I guessed entirely wrong," Boone said, "because the offers have been basically zero."

Boone says he's not bitter, only bewildered.

It appears now that his only recourse is to return to the Angels, though he can't negotiate with his former team until May 1. That's the price you pay for missing signing deadlines.

If it gets down to that, Boone says he'll return with his head up. He likens his venture into free agency to a night in a Las Vegas casino. In other words, Boone walked in, sat down, played his hand against the dealer (the Angels) and lost.

He says there's no shame in it.

"If a guy turns over three aces and you've got two pair, you throw your hand in," Boone said. "You don't go over the table and beat the crap out of the guy. That's just the way it is. If I go back, shoot, it will be easy. It's like, yeah, I made the wrong perceptions and you kicked my butt. Here I am. I don't hold grudges. Business is business."

If Boone could have foreseen the future, he might have changed it. If he would have known that not a single team would be interested in his services, he would likely be an Angel today.

"I have never claimed to have done the smart thing," Boone said. "For myself, though, I know I did the right thing. Smart and right don't necessarily give you the same thing."

The Angels, as it turned out, had the market played right. They let Boone go, figuring that they could probably get him back on May 1, if they so chose.

On Wall Street, that's good business. Of course maybe, as Boone suggested, the Angels are privy to some inside trading tips.

"Somebody obviously knew more about the rules than I did," said Boone, who would offer no more on the word (pssst, it's collusion) everyone is talking around these days.

Boone never figured it would come to this in the first place. He should have re-signed with the Angels. He wanted to re-sign.

"I figured Bob Boone was the easiest sign they ever had," he said.

He hit only .222 last season, but Boone did wonders with the pitching staff that led the Angels to the American League West title. He seemed the one free agent the team really needed back.

Boone, in what may be the sincerest show of flattery, still receives phone calls from his pitchers.

There was and remains with his staff a bond that Boone admits is "tremendous."

Yet, Boone said the Angels played a game with him that he didn't like. They basically waited until five minutes before the Jan. 8 signing deadline to offer him a new contract.

Boone said it was never a matter of money with him. He simply didn't like being backed into a corner, with no time to discuss the contract or his future.

Even at that, the Angels' offer of $883,000 was hardly chicken feed.

"I will never say what I turned down was not a lot of money," Boone said. "In fact, it was a tremendous amount of money. It just wasn't a money issue to me. I can't explain that to anyone. It's not even worth trying. There were a lot of reasons for the breakdown, and I thought it was totally unnecessary and ridiculous."

Did he leave out silly?

Mike Port, the Angels' general manager, elected not to return phone calls to state his side and perhaps throw in a few fancy words of his own.

Anyway, with time running out before the deadline, Boone said he had no time even to dispute that the Angels were offering a raise.

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