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  We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly.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.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.