Thoughts on Henderson and Rice and the Hall of Fame

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Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted into the Hall of Fame
yesterday. A lot of folks were either hoping or expecting that Rickey
would say something silly or arrogant or what have you, but that was
always going to be a longshot. While never one to suffer from
self-esteem problems, it’s been close to 20 years since Rickey has been
the hot dog in the Oakleys we all remember, and anyone who watched and
listened to him carefully as his career wound down knows that he
(eventually) grew into a rather mature player with a sense of history
and even, dare I say it, humility about him. I mean, how can you not be
humble when you play in the independent leagues in your 40s like
Henderson did?

Anyway, I thought his speech
was very genuine and, at least on the Rickey scale, quite appropriate
to the occasion. Indeed, given the man Henderson seems to have become,
an instance of true “Rickeyspeak” probably would have seemed forced and
wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun as a lot of commentators are
snarking about today. I especially thought his nod to Billy Martin —
“Mr. Billy Martin always got the most out of me. I miss you very much,
and I wish you were here with me today” — was quite nice.

What can you say about Jim Rice? For a couple of years a lot of folks
have been saying that he wasn’t truly Hall of Fame worthy. Bill James
called him “the most overrated player in the past 20 years” when he
wrote his “Historical Baseball Abstract
in the late 1980s. I tend to agree with that assessment, but it’s
probably not worth getting all worked up about. His worthiness, or lack
thereof, is a function of what any given person thinks the Hall of Fame
is all about. If it’s truly about “fame” he’s a fine choice, as anyone
who is around my age certainly grew up with him being talked about as
one of the best players in the game, rightly or wrongly so. If you’re
more into the whole Hall of Merit thing, well, he probably doesn’t belong there.

That argument is irrelevant now, of course, as he now and forever will be Jim Rice: Hall of Famer. As for his speech:
Pretty much par for the course as these things go. An argument could be
made that he showed less humility than Henderson, but I don’t feel too
strongly about making it. I did not know that his real name is Ed, so I
guess you really do learn something new every day.

Overall, the best speech of the day came not from a player, but from
a player’s daughter, as Judy Gordon, daughter of Veteran’s Committee
inductee Joe Gordon, said her father “insisted against having a
funeral, and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball
Hall of Fame as his final resting place.”

That statement struck me just the right way yesterday. It seems so
spot on. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Cooperstown, but when I
was there as a kid, I got the same feeling I get when walking around an
old graveyard. I mean that in the best of ways, mind you — I love old
graveyards. The dead seem to speak there, and if the setting is
pleasing — as Cooperstown certainly is — you can’t help but feel good
about humanity as you tread about and think about those who came and
went before.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.