Back in the early 70s, George Steinbrenner came close to buying the Indians. The deal fell through, and he bought the Yankees soon thereafter. While this series of negotiations was ongoing, the two teams made a series of trades that were, to put it generously, one sided. Among others, the Yankees obtained Craig Nettles, a brilliant defensive third baseman who, if people back then looked at statistics the way we do today, might be in the Hall of Fame, and Chris Chambliss, a first baseman who amassed over 2100 hits in his career and who hit the home run that won the American League pennant in 1976. In exchange, the best guys the Indians got were Charlie Spikes, a power hitting prospect who had two decent seasons and then faded; and Fritz Peterson, a pitcher who had won twenty games at one point but whose main claim to fame was that he swapped wives with one of his Yankee teammates. That’s right, Mr. Peterson married Mrs. Kekich and Mr. Kekich married Mrs. Peterson. And they never even made a reality show. That wife swapping episode was one of the reasons the Yankees felt compelled to trade Peterson, of course. So what did the Indians do? They traded for Kekich a few months later.
Anyway, after all these trades were made, Gabe Paul, the general manager of the Indians, resigns his position and takes the job as the general manager of (wait for it) the Yankees, who had just been bought by George Steinbrenner. So for the past forty years, conspiracy theorists in Cleveland have surmised that while Steinbrenner was negotiating to buy the Indians he crossed paths with Paul, and they decided between them that, rather than work together in Cleveland, they would gut the roster and then win together in New York.
Those who have studied this entire history will tell you that the dates don’t line up right for this entire conspiracy to have actually taken place, but you will find absolutely nobody in Cleveland who believes that.
So the other day I was walking in the woods and trying to figure out what the hell had happened between Dan Gilbert and David Griffin of the Cavaliers, and guess who popped into my head? Gabe Paul! Every other explanation I have heard about why Griffin left the Cavs seems ridiculous, but this one actually makes sense. Tell me what part of this conversation could not have happened:
DAN GILBERT: David, we sure have made a mess of this salary cap. How do you expect to get us the players we need to keep up with the Warriors?
DAVID GRIFFIN: Well, the only guy available is Carmelo Anthony, but in order to get him we would have to give up Kevin Love.
GILBERT: Is Anthony better than Love?
GRIFFIN: Well, he’s older, makes a lot more money, he doesn’t shoot as well, or rebound as well, or defend as well, but LeBron really likes him.
GILBERT: Is there any way we can get him without giving up Kevin Love?
GRIFFIN: Well, we can give up Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson, and Iman Shumpert. Or we can wait and see if the Knicks buy Anthony out next year.
GILBERT: I don’t want to wait that long. We spent all last season waiting for you to get a backup point guard, and I had to listen to LeBron whine about it every day.
GRIFFIN: Well, there is one thing we could do.
GILBERT: What’s that?
GRIFFIN: You know how you won’t pay me what all the other general managers make, and you won’t pay for my health insurance, and you make me pay for my hotel rooms when I go on scouting trips?
GILBERT: David, I told you that if you win another title we would talk about the health care.
GRIFFIN: Well, my wife says if I don’t make more money I have to start working at UPS at night, so I came up with an idea where I can make the money I need and you can get the players you need.
(Gilbert flashes a sinister grin)
GRIFFIN: It’s called the Gabe Paul ploy. You fire me, I get hired by the Knicks for a zillion dollars. I trade you Carmelo and Porzingis for Richard Jefferson. Then the Knicks fire me, because they fire everybody, and you hire me back. You won’t even have to pay me.
GILBERT: That’s a great idea! But wait, Richard Jefferson is our fourth string small forward. Won’t that look strange?
GRIFFIN: It’s the Knicks! Nothing they do surprises anyone.
GILBERT: That’s true. But how do we make that work with the salary cap?
GRIFFIN: Let me think about it. I know! You could sign Jefferson to a $40 million contract for next season right before you trade him. That way he makes more than Carmelo and Porzingis together. Then when we make the trade it all fits.
GILBERT: How about I sign him to a $60 million deal then we put Joakim Noah in the trade, too? I don’t really want him, but it would be funny to see him live in Cleveland.
GRIFFIN: It’s your money, sir. You’ve saved so much money on general manager salaries that you can afford anything you want.
GILBERT: OK, so tomorrow we’ll announce that you’re leaving. How soon do you think the Knicks will hire you?
GRIFFIN: I’ll play hard to get so they give me more money. Should take about two hours. I’ll call you as soon as I’m allowed to make trades.
GILBERT: This is great! Maybe after you get fired by the Knicks you can go to Utah and trade me Rudy Gobert. I really like that guy.
GRIFFIN: One thing at a time, sir.
TWO WEEKS LATER:
GRIFFIN: Sorry, Mr. Gilbert, our plan isn’t going to work out.
GILBERT: Why? What happened?
GRIFFIN: I know we were banking on the Knicks being crazy, but did you see that Tim Hardaway deal?