This week’s showdown in Phoenix with Ross Ohlendorf was the Pirates’ first arbitration hearing since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and got $1.85 million.
The Pirates have worked hard in recent years to reach agreements with players rather than go to a hearing. One reason for that is the bumpy experience the club had with the arby process in the early 1990s.
In 1991, Cy Young winner Doug Drabek won his arbitration case against the Pirates. Drabek got a $3.35 million salary, which at the time was a record sum for arbitration.
Two days after Drabek’s hearing, Bobby Bonilla lost his case and got $2.4 million. A day later, Barry Bonds, the reigning NL MVP, also lost his hearing and got $2.3 million instead of the $3.25 he’d requested.
Bonds was insulted by the outcome of the hearing and by the fact that the Pirates chose to take it that far. Tempers flared during the hearing, which reportedly turned into a shouting match at one point.
Bonds’ relationship with the Pirates soured after his stormy hearing in ’91 — remember his spring training faceoff with Jim Leyland? — and that played a role in his departure after the ’92 season. Drabek and Bonilla also left as free agents, as their salaries escalated through the arbitration years to a point beyond what the Pirates were willing or able to pay.
It’s too soon to say what aftershocks, if any, will be felt from Ohlendorf’s hearing. So far, both sides are saying the right things.
“It’s part of the business,” GM Neal Huntington said. “It’s something you try to avoid. But when the decision of the panel is announced, you turn the page and move forward.”
“(The hearing) was something I spent a little time thinking about each day, but I wasn’t dwelling on it,” Ohlendorf said. “It would’ve been nice if we could’ve resolved it before (the hearing), but that didn’t happen. We had a difference of opinion. I understand where the Pirates were coming from and I hope they understand where we were coming from.”