Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized

The beauty and ugliness of baseball

BaseballThe Opening Night curtain is about to go up on the 2015 Major League Baseball season, and we’ll have six months of pennant races, record chases and amazing achievements to enjoy.

For the first time in a generation, there is more excitement about the New York Mets than the New York Yankees. (For posterity, I will note that the Mets had the best record in the Grapefruit League this year at 19-12… since we are already sensibly forgetting about exhibition game wins and losses.)

And it’s a good thing that the games will be underway soon, because we badly need something to talk about besides the ugly stories that have dominated the baseball discussion for the past week.

Although it’s hard to imagine watching the Chicago Cubs host the St. Louis Cardinals tonight without mentioning Kris Bryant. (In case you’ve missed the discussion, Bryant is supposed to be the next Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. The 23-year-old mega prospect hit nine Cactus League home runs, with a .425 batting average and a 1.175 slugging percentage, but don’t look for him in the game being broadcast on ESPN2 – Bryant will be starting his season on Thursday when the Iowa Cubs take on the Memphis Redbirds.

Cubs GM Theo Epstein will cite the precedent of any number of star players who’ve started the year in the minors before being called up to their major league team, but there’s only one imaginable reason you wouldn’t want to have Bryant on your team on Opening Day. Under baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement, one year’s service time equals 172 days. There are 183 days in the MLB season, so if Bryant spends the first 12 with the Iowa Cubs, the Chicago Cubs can delay his free agency by one season.

Are the Cubs acting in accordance with the rules? Yes. Are they acting in the best interest of Bryant? No. Are they acting in the best interests of their fans? Debatable, but doubtful. Cubs fans are being asked to forgo two weeks of Bryant’s performance now for an extra season later… of course, the Cubs should have enough money to sign Bryant if he turns into the superstar people believe he will be, so his free agency eligibility date shouldn’t be a big concern for fans.

Bryant’s case is far from unique. The Rockies did the same thing (with much less fanfare) to maintain control of pitching prospect Jon Gray for an extra season. The Astros and Pirates did it with outfielders George Springer and Gregory Polanco, last year. I’ve watched the Mets delay the callups of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, again with service time seeming to be the primary consideration.

I expect this issue to feature prominently in the negotiation of the next CBA… hopefully, somebody will remember all of the minor leaguers making poverty wages when they start talking about how to treat the next generation of MLB millionaires fairly.

But Bryant isn’t the only one who got a raw deal from major league baseball this spring.

Last week, an arbitrator ruled that Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton did not violate his drug treatment program. Hamilton, a recovering addict, self-reported cocaine use to league officials this winter and then saw that information leaked to the Los Angeles Times in violation of confidentiality provisions of the program.

Major League Baseball – and presumably the Angels – wanted Hamilton suspended, which would have saved the team at least a portion of the aging star’s $23 million salary.

“The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision, and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the Program in the collective bargaining process.”

Does it sound Rob Manfred cares about Hamilton’s well-being to you?

Angels GM Jerry DiPoto did express support for Hamilton in a prepared statement, after first condemning the former All-Star’s commitment to his teammates and fans.  Hardly sounds supportive to me.

For years, MLB teams looked the other way in regards to the use of performance enhancing drugs – steroids and amphetamines – but now the powers that be are outraged over a player trying to take responsibility for a mistake in his battle against addiction? Please. Again, it’s easier to believe that it comes down to money.

Major League Baseball generated a record $9 billion in gross revenue last year, yet the percent of that pie that goes to MLB players has shrunk almost 33 percent in the past 12 years and is expected to fall below 40 percent this season.

It’s hard for me to get too worked up about a potential battle between millionaires and billionaires over amounts that I have difficulty imagining, but it’s not hard at all to demand that people try to treat each other decently.

When baseball’s next labor dispute occurs – and I certainly believe it’s coming – I hope that it’s about more than just dollars and cents.

3 thoughts on “The beauty and ugliness of baseball

  1. It’s amazing how we care so much for a sport that doesn’t have an effect on the world or our lives in any meaningful manner.

    Anyway I’m sure that for the new CBA issues like keeping talent in the minors to obtain an extra year of arbitration or to avoid super twos will be discussed. As will (most likely) the luxury tax threshold in this new era where even the Padres and Marlins can spend money like nobody’s business.
    Although I’m 99.9% sure that the financial issues minor leaguers face (especially from foreign countries) will continue and the union will continue to bargain away the rights of amateurs to do accomplish their goals. After all, there is that new International Draft to get to work on as well, and we know full well how the US draft it screws over domestic draftees, those poor guys in the DR, PR and Venezuela are in for a rough future.

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  2. “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty.” It’s opening day and that is a boo-ti-full ting. Everybody is tied for first (except in the NL Central, now) and all things are possible.

    Do I care that Kris Bryant didn’t make the trip north? Nah, I’d rather the major league clubs take MORE time developing their youngsters than less (especially pitchers). Think about all the players who might have been great but for the rules in the fifties and sixties that “bonus babies” had to be carried on the major league roster. There were guys who, in their first year of pro ball, got like 11 at bats. 11! Heck, one “bonus baby” who was carried for two years on the major league roster (which was the rule) got into exactly two games over that span–both as a pinch runner. And how many guys who kicked butt in spring training went north only to suck canal water once they got there? Too many to count. Spring training is not real baseball. People want their dessert before dinner, I get that. But you tell me that you wouldn’t do exactly the same thing. From a business standpoint, you’d have to be a stone cold fool to do anything different. And it IS also in the interests of the fans. You can have your cake and ice cream now or you can wait 12 stinking days and have it for an extra year. I’m for waiting the 12 days and getting the extra year. I’m sure it will be a subject of conversation at the CBA talks. Make a service year a service year, period–one day=a full year. But, even if that were the rule, I’d still rather be cautious.

    Does it bother me that Josh Hamilton didn’t get suspended for recreational drug use? Not in the least. Its not that I don’t care what happens to Josh. I most certainly do. But society is, right now, in the process of re-examining what is and what isn’t a harmful drug. I can’t speak on cocaine, but should a player be suspended for marijuana use when that drug is now legal for recreational use in two states and for medical use in a whole bunch more? I don’t think so. Alcohol is far more dangerous than canabis, as are most every prescription drug and the crap trainers routinely shoot up ballplayers with. And Josh’s problems are medical. He should be treated like anyone with an illness. Put him on the DL, if you think its warranted. Do I care that MLB would’ve preferred a suspension? Nah. They’re just wrong. A suspension is for discipline. And discipline does NOT move an addict in the direction you’d like. It would be far more likely to push him in the other direction. That’s why the arbitrator got it right. Besides, suspend him and you’re likely to look at a challenge that could take down the monopoly exemption once and for all (not that that’s a bad thing).

    Do I care about the poverty wages in the minor leagues. Yeah, that I do. That’s why minor leaguers need a union. They also need a second job and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    But its not as if what’s happening in baseball is any different than in any other workplace (or any different than baseball, itself, historically). The owners are always going to squeeze as much blood from a stone as they can. And baseball players are going to have to fight to get their due. And, yes, at its core, the next labor dispute will be about dollars and cents. Me, I’d be fighting for lifetime health care coverage, since it is the athlete’s body and health that is being traded. But that’s still about dollars and cents. That’s what everything boils down to, eventually. At least major leaguers have a union, which most regular folks do not (and most definitely need). Thank GOD for Curt Flood and Marvin Miller.

    None of it detracts from opening day and the promise of the season ahead. Especially not for Mets fans. Why, its gotten so that even the Wilpon haters are having trouble finding things to criticize about the team. Oh, they do. They’re committed to it. But its not as easy for them as it used to be. The Mets are right where I said they’d be now when Alderson took over. They’ll be competitive this year. They may snag a Wild Card or they may fall just short. Next year, though, to paraphrase that great Indians catcher Jake Taylor, they’re going win the whole freakin’ thing. Grab yer popcorn and Cracker Jack, the Mets are gonna be Amazin’ once again.


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