Are the Astros hypocrites for signing Brett Myers?

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The Astros blog Crawfish boxes raises an interesting question regarding the Astros’ signing of Brett Myers, who as most of you know, has a domestic violence history:

Considering the Astros once designated a player for assignment before
the story of his domestic violence charges even broke, this seems very
hypocritical . . . you can’t have it both ways. The Astros made the decision to deal with
Julio Lugo’s situation by immediately cutting ties with him. A valuable
player, Lugo was let go as the organization made a decision based on
off-the-field behavior. They drew a line at what’s acceptable behavior.
If that’s how they want to run things, I’m fine with it , but you lose
any moral high ground when you sign another guy with an alleged
incident in his past.

In the case of Lugo and Myers I can see a distinction in that Lugo’s thing was happening in real time while Myers’ was some time ago and maybe, just maybe, he’s made some kind of showing of rehabilitation or whatever that Lugo had not yet had a chance to do. And it’s probably worth noting that, though no one ever disputed what happened with Myers and his wife, the charges were dropped.  That aside, I have to be honest and say that I have no idea what I’d do about guys with domestic violence issues if
I ran a baseball team.

On the one hand it’s really easy to say “screw
him, I don’t want him within 100 yards of my clubhouse.”  But if you’re not merely sitting back and casting judgment — say, if you’re running a major league baseball team — you have to make some tough moral judgments about people. About their accusers, if the matter hasn’t been fully resolved by the justice system yet. Hell, about he justice system itself.  Then you have to weigh that against the fact that your mission as a general manager is to win baseball games first and foremost, and that the jobs of many others depend on you carrying out that mission. Then you have to re-weigh that against the fact that, as a professional sports team, you do have some sort of public mandate however vague it may be. People notice what you do, and that matters. It’s the sort of mission for which a baseball front office isn’t really designed, so I’m not at all surprised that there has yet to be a definitive rule book written about this yet.

Personally I wouldn’t invite Brett Myers or Julio Lugo to my house for dinner. Hell, I’m a longtime Braves fan and the most I can muster for Bobby Cox — a guy who was charged with punching his wife the year the Braves won the World Series — is a cold admiration of his abilities while harboring more or less ill feelings for him personally.

But it’s one thing to cast judgment from afar and another thing altogether to run a ballclub. If I had to make a choice right now I’d probably cut Lugo, say no to Myers and steer clear of anyone else with that kind of history.  But I think the issue is a bit too complicated in practice for the Astros to be accused of hypocrisy on this point.

How not to enjoy what Aaron Judge is doing

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been one of the biggest and best stories in all of baseball this year. While he held promise entering his rookie season, most experts figured he’d provide some low-average, low-OBP power. That he’d be a guy who, based on his size, could send a pitcher’s mistake 500 feet in the wrong direction, but who would probably be shown to have big holes in his swing once he’d been around the league a little bit.

Judge defied expectations, however, and has put together an amazing rookie season. He broke the rookie home run record yesterday with his 50th blast. He still strikes out a lot but so does everyone. He nonetheless has hit for a great average and has gotten on base at a fantastic clip. He has also showed some uncommon resilience, overcoming a lengthy slump in July and August and returning to the dominant form he showed in the first half while helping a Yankees team not many figured to be a strong contender into the playoffs. Such a great story!

Sadly, however, this sentiment, which appeared from a commenter on my Facebook page yesterday, has become increasingly common:

I’ve seen it in a lot of comments sections and message boards around the Internet too, including our own comment section. From yesterday:

This is not exactly the same thing we’ve seen in the past with other breakout home run hitters such as Jose Bautista a few years back. This is not an accusation that Judge is taking drugs or anything. It’s more of a preemptive and defensive diminishment of excitement. And I find it rather sad.

Yes, I understand that past PED users have made fans wonder whether the players they watch are using something to get an extra edge, but it really does not need to be this way. We’ve had drug testing in baseball for over a decade and, while no drug testing regime is perfect, it just seems bizarre, several years after Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did their thing — and a few years after Alex Rodriguez and others were caught and disciplined for trying to do more — to assume, out of hand, that great baseball performances are the product of undetected cheating. Yes, it’s possible, but such assumptions should not be the default stance, only to be disproved (somehow) at a later date.

The same goes for the juiced baseball, right? Yes, there is strong evidence that the baseball was changed a couple of years back leading to a home run spike, but aren’t all players using the same baseball? It’s also worth remembering that the season Mark McGwire hit 49 homers — 1987 — is strongly suspected of being a juiced ball year as well. It’s a concern that may be based in fact, but it’s a large concern over a fact thrown out with little regard for context to sketch out a threat that is either remote or without consequence.

The point here is not to argue that Aaron Judge is undeniably clean or that the baseball isn’t different. The former is unknown and the latter is likely false. The point is that it’s super sad and self-defeating to qualify every amazing feat you see with preemptive concern about such things. Years and years of sports writers writing McCarthy-esque “Yes, but is he clean?” articles does not require you, as a fan, to do the same. You can enjoy a cool thing in the moment. If it’s found out later to have been tainted, fine, we have a lot of practice in contextualizing such things and we’ll do so pretty quickly, but what’s the harm in going with it in real time?

I suspect the answer to that is rooted in some desire not to look like a sucker or something. Not to find oneself like many did, in the mid-2000s, being told by sportswriters and politicians that they were dupes for enjoying Sosa and McGwire in 1998. But that’s idiotic, in my view. I enjoyed 1998 and all of the baseball I saw on either side of it, as did most baseball fans. When the PEDs stuff exploded in the 2000s I reassessed it somewhat as far as the magnitude of the accomplishments compared to other eras in history, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed what I had seen any less.

Likewise, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching Aaron Judge this year. Why can’t everyone? Why is it so hard? Why have we been conditioned to be skeptical of something that is supposed to be entertaining? When your personal stakes are low like they are with respect to any sporting event or form of entertainment, it’s OK to enjoy things while they’re enjoyable and worry about them being problematic if and when they ever become so. And hey, they may not!

I promise you: if Aaron Judge walks into the postseason awards banquet this winter carrying a briefcase that unexpectedly opens and 200 syringes full of nandrolone fall out, no one is going to say you were dumb for cheering for him yesterday. It will really be OK.

Yadier Molina leaves game after taking two foul balls to the mask

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The St. Louis Cardinals have been eliminated from contention for the NL Central crown and are hanging on by the thinnest of threads in the race for the second NL Wild Card, two and a half games back of the Rockies with the Brewers in between. Last night those dim playoff hopes took what may have been a fatal blow thanks to a couple of foul balls that knocked Yadier Molina out of the game and, possibly, out for the season.

In the seventh inning of last night’s Cubs-Cardinals game Molina took a Kris Bryant foul ball off of his mask. It sent him to his knees. He gathered himself, set back up and, on the very next pitch, took a second foul ball, right to the mask. He was much slower in rising that time and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny immediately — and wisely — pulled Molina from the game.

Molina is being monitored for a concussion. Whether he has one or not, prudence would dictate sitting him down for the rest of what are likely the Cardinals final six games of 2017.