As Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo begins his holdout from training camp, we look back to some memorable St. Louis sports holdouts. There are a couple of things that have come out of the contract impasses that are notable. Number one, fans usually come down on the side of the team. Even now, fans seem to be on the Blues’ side based on 101 ESPN Blues Insider Jeremy Rutherford’s report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the team is offering Pietrangelo $6 million a year, but he wants more than $7 million. If Petro is out for an extended period, he can count on having a damaged relationship with his fans. He also can plan on having some physical maladies if he misses camp. Pretty much every player who holds out winds up with an injury, and teams believe they are a result of not being in good enough shape.
The worst result for a holdout for a local team happened to the Cardinals. Steve Carlton was brilliant in his first three years, winning 44 games in his first three full seasons and helping the Cardinals to a world championship in 1967 and a NL pennant in ‘68. However, after a 17-win season in 1969, he held out of spring training in ’70 in an attempt to get more money. He didn’t get it, and reported late, only to go 10-17. Cardinal owner Gussie Busch never got over the perceived slight, and Carlton – after winning 77 games for the Cardinals – was sent to Philadelphia for Rick Wise. With the Phillies, “Lefty” went 241-161 and became the first NL pitcher to win four Cy Young awards. Carlton held out, won his financial battle, and then killed the Cardinals on the field. He saved his best for the Redbirds, going 38-14 with a 2.98 ERA against them after being dealt. The moral of that story: Don’t take holdouts personally.
The Blues have had their contract issues in the past. Back in 1992, Adam Oates became unhappy with his contract and spent the first half of the season complaining about it. Finally, he said that if the team didn’t renegotiate his deal, he’d walk out after the All-Star break. In his first home game after that announcement, Oates was booed lustily by the home crowd. Before he could play another home game, the Blues traded him to Boston for Craig Janney.
Oates was being paid well and knew the Blues had a policy of taking care of their guys. Brett Hull, Garth Butcher, Brendan Shanahan and Ronnie Sutter had all secured big deals, and all Oates had to do was keep playing well, and he would have eventually been taken care of. But he alienated the fans, making it easy for the Blues to deal him.
Perhaps the worst holdout for both sides was Jerome Bettis’ with the 1995 Rams. “The Bus” was great in his first two years in Los Angeles and, as the team moved to St. Louis, he didn’t join his teammates at Maryville for their inaugural training camp here. Bettis missed 14 days, and then paid $56,000 in fines upon reporting without a new deal. Bettis suffered a foot injury early in the year, and wound up getting shipped to Pittsburgh the next offseason. If Bettis would have simply showed up in camp and gotten in shape, he could have had his amazingly productive career here in St. Louis. But the holdout caused friction with the franchise and the fans, and the opportunity to watch his Hall of Fame career eluded Rams fans.
Not all holdouts end up being a disaster. In 1999, after being acquired from the Colts, Marshall Faulk held out for 12 days of camp before agreeing to a seven-year, $45.15 million deal. The holdout was quickly forgotten when Faulk set an NFL record with 2,429 yards from scrimmage and helped lead the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Steven Jackson held out of training camp for 27 days in 2008, while he was still under his rookie contract. Jackson finally showed up and signed a new deal for six years and $44 million. But he got hurt in the sixth game of the season and was never the same that year. In fact, interim coach Jim Haslett blamed the holdout for SJ39’s injury issues. Some fans never viewed Jackson the same way after the holdout, either. And in the long run, he would have been better off taking the Rams’ seven-year, $50 million offer the year before. If everything else would have been the same, he would have made more money through 2012 than he did with the contract he ultimately signed.
Pietrangelo is in dangerous territory here. He’s a key part of a Blues team being picked by some to win the Stanley Cup. If he’s going to take a stand, he better wind up performing to a Faulk-type level rather than a 1995 Bettis level. If he’s not going to be here in the preseason, show us how much you’re worth once you start playing.