Players' Union to Arizona: modify or repeal your immigration law

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Arizona outline.jpgMLBPA head Michael Weiner has issued a statement opposing Arizona’s recently-passed SB 1070 immigration law:

“The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of Major League players who are citizens of countries other than the United States.  These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association.  Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans.  All of them, as well as the Clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law .

“The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team.  The international players on the Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October.  In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing Major League teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks.  And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 Major League teams are now in Arizona.  All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal.   Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status.  This law also may affect players who are U.S. citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent.

“The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written.  We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly.  If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

“My statement reflects the institutional position of the Union.  It was arrived at after consultation with our members and after consideration of their various views on this controversial subject.”

Unlike the Super Bowl being moved out of Arizona 20 years ago due to the state’s failure to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday, I had felt that there was very little chance that baseball would move the 2011 All-Star Game as a result of the controversy surrounding the new immigration law.

For one thing, Major League Baseball is not the sort of institution that tends to take stands unless it feels that it is reflecting a clear majority sentiment. And while time and information may change people’s minds on this new law, unlike the situation with the King Holiday, it certainly can’t be said that there’s anything approaching a consensus on it. Many loathe it. Many love it. They all buy baseball tickets, so Bud Selig wasn’t likely to say anything if he could help it.

But if Baseball is afraid of wading into controversy, it’s even more loathe to be the source of controversy. And the player’s union taking a clear stand on this means that, unless baseball takes the same stand, controversy is inevitable.  The sort that comes from players threatening to boycott the All-Star Game, for example, which would be a totally different deal than random people protesting or boycotting a Cubs game.  Different in terms of the media coverage, and certainly different in terms of the effect (i.e. 20 players agreeing to not participate in the All-Star Game means a lot more than 20, 200 or even 20,000 people agreeing not to buy Dbacks merchandise).

In other words, this changes everything, at least from baseball’s perspective. And it certainly puts the ball in Bud Selig’s court.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.