Shaughnessy compares steroids to Hitler. I think.

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Shaughnessy1.jpgThank God we finally have Dan “the voice of reason” Shaughnessy’s take on the McGwire business.  Take it away, Dan:

Why wouldn’t a guy cheat? Steroids made McGwire rich and famous. The
performance-enhancing drugs probably will cost him Cooperstown, but
‘roids got McGwire where he wanted to go. Is there a Triple A
ballplayer who’d say no to artificial help if it would elevate him to
the big leagues? Is there a fringe big leaguer who’d resist an
opportunity to become a full-blown star with a long-term contract?

See, Shaugnessy is dead-on with this. There were clear, rational incentives to take steroids. Ask yourself: if you thought taking steroids would make the difference between an $80 million net worth at age 40 and selling cars for a living at age 40, wouldn’t you do it? If you said no, you’re either in an infinitesimally small minority or you’re lying.

Yet despite being perfectly able to grok the incentives in play, Shaugnessy (and many others) still paint steroids users as heartless cheaters and fraudsters, not just in the effect of their actions, but in their very intent. How someone can acknowledge that taking steroids was a perfectly rational thing to do on the one hand, but call them monsters on the other is puzzling to me.

Start with Big Mac. Does anyone believe him when he says he did not do
this to gain strength? Does he expect us to nod and agree when he says
that he would have been just as good without the stuff? Sorry. The “I
just did it to get back on the field” defense is the juicer’s version
of “the dog ate my homework.” Nobody is buying.

As I asked yesterday, why do you have to buy? Who cares?  And if Shaughnessy doesn’t agree with my take on this, the least he could do is to read his SI colleague Posnaski’s take on what forgiveness really means (note: it’s way less significant a thing than Shaugnessy makes it out to be). It’s frankly brilliant.

If this junk didn’t help McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, why was he
compelled to apologize to members of the Maris family Monday?

I would bet the lives of my children that Shaughnessy would have raked McGwire over the coals if he hadn’t apologized to the Maris family, so seeing him use that as sword against him now is rich.

Please, let’s have no more baseball players telling us that steroids
don’t help with hand-eye coordination. That’s not the point.
Professional hitters are able to square up the baseball.

Wait, I thought “professional hitters” were mediocre journeyman who hit the ball the other way in a manner that makes the color commentator say “that’s a nice piece of hitting right there.”  I’m so confused!

We all cringe when Bud Selig says that the steroid era “is clearly a thing of the past.” Bud sounds like Neville Chamberlain before World War II.

Ooh! Analogies! I aced this part of the LSAT. Let’s play:  Selig is to Neville Chamberlain as ballplayers who take steroids are to (a) kittens; (b) rainbows; (c) hugs; or (d) Adolf Hitler at Munich. So glad to see Shaughnessy is keeping things in perspective here.

Tony La Russa needs to stop enabling McGwire. Barrister Tony is simply
too smart to believe the things that come out of his own mouth. Tony
helps no one when he says he didn’t know anything about this until
Monday.

As was the case with Canseco, I can’t help but agree with Shaughnessy here.  Of course, if you combine this observation with his earlier acknowledgment of the incentives in play, and marry it up with the fact that baseball knew that McGwire was taking steroids as early as 1993, you would think that the rhetoric would be less weighted against the players.  It was a big systemic problem and very few people’s hands were clean. Let’s level out the criticism a bit, then, shall we?

He has been held out of the Hall because of steroids and that’s not
likely to change. So what happens when Bonds’s name appears on the
ballot? A-Rod? Clemens? Sosa? Are they all out, or will the voting
membership eventually bend on cheaters because there are so many of
them and, well, it was “the Steroid Era”?

I still don’t get how, on the one hand, someone can say that the whole era is tainted and that no player is beyond suspicion — Shaughnessy says “they’re all dirty!” — yet can’t acknowledge that some players were still head and shoulders above everyone else.  Sure, McGwire and Bonds and their fellow travelers had help, but so too did Larry Bigbie and David Segui.  Is it that hard to acknowledge comparative greatness, steroid use notwithstanding? Maybe McGwire and Palmiero are tough cases — who knows what they would have done without steroids — but does it really take a leap of faith and a denial of your morality to say, hey, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and A-Rod are Hall of Famers?

Dock them slightly for character issues if you must, but in this I’m of the same mind as Rob Neyer, who notes that if, 20 or 30 years from now we have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include the undeniably best players of their time, you have a pretty useless and irrelevant Hall of Fame.

OK, that’s all the Shaughnessy I can stomach for one morning.

Unprecedented sanctions: MLB bans former Braves GM for life, makes 12 signees free agents

Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has slammed the hammer down on the Atlanta Braves as the result of their violations of rules on the international free agent market.

Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella has been placed on the permanently ineligible list — the same list Pete Rose is on — banning him from a job in baseball forever. His assistant, Gordon Blakeley, will be suspended for a period of one year. Each had already been dismissed by the Braves. Other Braves’ international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct could still be suspended as the league finishes its investigation.

As reported earlier, 12 of the clubs’ international signees are now free agents. The Braves will lose the following players, signed during the 2015-17 international free agent signing periods:

  • Juan Contreras;
  • Yefri del Rosario;
  • Abrahan Gutierrez;
  • Kevin Maitan;
  • Juan Carlos Negret;
  • Yenci Peña;
  • Yunior Severino;
  • Livan Soto;
  • Guillermo Zuniga;
  • Brandol Mezquita;
  • Angel Rojas; and
  • Antonio Sucre

As reported earlier, Maitan was the number one overall international prospect in 2016. The Braves have, for a few years now, had among the top international signee classes. Obviously that came by virtue of cheating the system, and obviously that will lead to a reevaluation of where the clubs’ minor league system stands, talent-wise.

The penalties are not limited to the loss of those players. Commissioner Manfred is imposing what amounts to punitive damages going forward. From Commissioner Manfred’s statement:

“While the remedies discussed above will deprive the Braves of the benefits of their circumvention, I believe that additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the Club for the violations committed by its employees. Accordingly, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

There was also what appears to be an unrelated draft violation, imposing penalties along those lines as well:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves offered impermissible benefits, which were never provided, to a player they selected in the First-Year Player Draft in an attempt to convince him to sign for a lower bonus. As a penalty for the Club’s attempted circumvention involving a draft selection, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

The gist of the violations against the Braves involves the bundling of signing bonuses, in which the Braves got players — through their representatives in Latin America — to take lower than the amount typically allotted in one year in order to use the money to sign other, highly rated players in subsequent years, with money they wouldn’t have otherwise had. MLB’s statement describes the scheme thusly:

“The investigation established that the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017. During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves signed five players subject to the Club’s signing bonus pool to contracts containing signing bonuses lower than the bonuses the Club had agreed to provide the players. The Club provided the additional bonus money to those players by inflating the signing bonus to another player who was exempt from their signing pool because he qualified as a ‘foreign professional’ under MLB rules.

“Consistent with the rules, the Braves could have signed all of the 2015-16 players for the full, actual signing bonus amounts. Had the Club signed the five players to contracts containing their actual bonuses, however, the Braves would have exceeded their signing bonus pool by more than five percent and would have been, under MLB rules, restricted from signing any players during the next two signing periods for contracts with bonuses greater than $300,000.

“As a result of the 2015-16 circumvention, the Braves were able to sign nine high-value players during the 2016-17 signing period who would have been unavailable to them had the Club accurately accounted for its signings during the 2015-16 signing period.”

The scheme continued like this:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves: (i) agreed to sign six players to inflated signing bonuses pursuant to an agreement with prospect Robert Puason’s agent in exchange for a commitment that Puason would sign with the Club in the 2019-20 signing period; and (ii) offered prospect Ji-Hwan Bae extra-contractual compensation. In order to remedy these violations, I am prohibiting the Club from signing Robert Puason when he becomes eligible to sign, and disapproving the contract between Bae and the Braves, which has not yet become effective.”

This is, by far, the most serious set of scouting, drafting and signing penalties ever imposed by Major League Baseball. It speaks to the sheer audacity of the Braves’ scheme to circumvent signing rules. It also sends a loud and clear signal to other teams — many who have been rumored to have engaged in similar conduct on a smaller scale — that MLB will not tolerate it.

The Braves lower minor league system has been decimated. It stands, essentially, as the head on the pike outside of the castle.