Keith Hernandez wants to contract four teams. Does it make any sense?


I missed this the other day, but Keith Hernandez was quoted in the USA Today saying that if baseball really wants to speed up the game it needs to stop pussyfooting around with the rules and simply axe four teams, thereby eliminating the worst 45-50 pitchers in the game.  You know, the ones who can’t throw strikes.

Notably, Mex doesn’t say which teams he’d contract, probably because that would be hard and controversial.  You find this sort of lack of specificity with anyone who talks big about hard issues, be it contraction, the collective bargaining agreement, drug policy and the like. It has its analog in politics with people who talk big about reducing the deficit but never say what, exactly, they’d cut.

But I’ll cut Hernandez some slack here because he actually goes on more about how long games are a function of pitcher usage rather than pitcher quality, saying that the real problem is when a starter who is cruising is lifted due to a pitch count and the bullpen takes over. I’ll join in with that complaint. Less so on pitch count grounds — you have to be careful with young guys — than on the grounds that La Russian hyper-substitution and specialization are just total game-stoppers that lead to more innings being thrown by worse pitchers.

I’d still like to hear who he’d contract, though.  Or you too, by the way, if you agree with a contraction scheme.  Put your contraction arguments in the comments. But let’s keep it pragmatic. Everyone can name the four worst teams in baseball. But it’s not like you can just contract anyone. Most teams have new ballparks that make contraction a political impossibility. Many of the usual suspects — the Marlins, the Pirates, etc. — also tend to be quite profitable, meaning that their owners would likely fight tooth and nail against such a thing.

Really — and I’m not advocating this at all, so don’t jump all over me — the only teams that seem like they could even arguably be contracted, politically speaking, are the Athletics, Blue Jays and Rays. The A’s and Rays each have stadium problems, and messing with the Jays wouldn’t have U.S. political repercussions. At least not those as immediate and severe as those arising out of attempts to contract any of the other 29 teams. The A’s, Rays and Jays also have the added benefit of rhyming, and that might make the media cut a contraction plan more slack because we like little rhyming headlines and stuff.

Ultimately I don’t think you could do it, even if there was a will on the part of baseball to try. Which there is not.  But I would love to hear your arguments.

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

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We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.