The Greatest Outfield That Almost Was

In the mid-1980s, the Montreal Expos were in danger of losing two-thirds of their outfield. Both Andre Dawson and Tim Raines were free agents after the 1986 season. They were All-Stars, two of the best players in the National League, with speed, power, and defense. They should have been the darlings of the free agent season, but neither got an offer. We now know the reason: collusion.

Peter Ueberroth was the worst commissioner baseball has ever had, which is saying something considering the collection of boobs and racists who have held that position. At any rate, Ueberroth presided over an infamous meeting after the 1986 season, where he suggested to owners that they should stop paying outrageous sums of money for ballplayers. Ueberroth convinced the owners that they were hurting each other by driving up salaries. He outlined a strategy that demanded 100 percent participation. Urged by Pesky Pete, the owners agreed to not bid on free agents from other teams.

Dawson and Raines discussed the possibility of signing with the same team. Dawson wanted to go to a team that played on grass, Raines wanted to get paid like one of baseball’s superstars, which he was. Their agents had conversations with the Braves’ owner Ted Turner, and a tentative deal was drawn up that would have resulted in both players signing with Atlanta. The Braves were broadcast across the country via superstation TBS, and the prospect of both Dawson and Raines on TV almost every night prompted Turner to drool all over his bushy mustache. But then Ueberroth stepped in with his plan. The Braves stopped talking to Dawson and Raines, and the deal died.

Had the Braves signed the two Expos’ outfielders, their outfield would have been Raines in left, Dale Murphy in center, and Dawson in right. They would have played together in a tiny home run friendly ballpark. All three were still under 32 years of age, all three had several years ahead of them. They were all great defensive outfielders, all three could run and hit for power. They could have been the greatest outfield in baseball history. That’s what Peter Ueberroth took from us: the chance to see three great players, two future Hall of Famers and another who probably should be, play together in the same outfield.

Instead, Dawson gave the Cubs a blank check and asked them to write a number on it, just so he could play somewhere with grass under his feet. Raines withered on the vine, failing to get an offer from anyone. The winter passed, spring training passed, and the season started with Raines in civilian clothes. The rules dictated that he had to wait a month and could only negotiate with Montreal. He came back and batted .330 with 18 home runs, 50 stolen bases, 90 walks, and 123 runs. One of his best seasons. The owners colluded again in 1987, but eventually they got caught and paid nearly half a billion to the players as a penalty.

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