Boras sulking

Scott Boras allegedly loaned Dominican players money. Is this a problem?

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The New York Times is reporting that Scott Boras, possibly in violation of MLBPA rules, made loans to Dominican prospects “raising questions” about whether his company “exploited the prospects.”  A spokesman for Major League Baseball said that “this is a serious issue that raises concerns about the business practices of agents who have played a prominent role in the game.”

The article outlines a loan Boras made to Braves’ shortstop prospect Edward Salcedo, to whom Boras made a $70,000 loan prior to his getting a $1.6 million bonus. At the time, Salcedo was seen as damaged goods, as an earlier deal had fallen through with the Indians because he turned out to be older than he previously said he was. Boras made the loan, the report says, time passed, during which a third party — trainer Edgar Mercedes — helped resolve the age issue — and then Salcedo signed his deal with the Braves. Boras then demanded repayment of the loan. Salcedo is still represented by Boras, even though Mercedes tried to get him to sign with a different agent. The loan has still not been paid back.

I get the potential seriousness of an agent giving big money loans to poor Dominican prospects: there is a potential for exploitation if the agent uses the leverage of the loan to coerce the player or to limit choices. Like any dealings with teenage athletes and their families, there are a number of sensible reasons to have rules in place regarding such transactions, regulating them, and requiring some sort of approval process or oversight to ensure that no one is being taken advantage of.  And, according to the report, the MLBPA apparently does have such rules.

But even if Boras violated these rules in the Salcedo case, I’m not seeing any evidence in this article that (a) anyone was taken advantage of; or (b) anyone was actually harmed.  Salcedo was hard-up. Boras loaned him money. Salcedo signed with the Braves. Boras asked for the money back. In the interim another person did some work that perhaps Boras should have been doing (i.e. helping resolve the age issue).  Again, this all may have been in violation of MLBPA rules, and if so, that’s serious in and of itself, but the article tries hard to cast this as an exploitation piece, and I just don’t see how, in this particular case, the loan to a prospect was exploitative in any way.

Indeed, the only hint at that that there was pressure of any kind comes in the last paragraph of the article, where it is suggested that Salcedo felt obligated to stay with Boras as a result of the loan. But that part is all based on quotes from that trainer, Edgar Mercedes, who is affiliated with another agent who wanted to snag Salcedo for himself.  That’s not exactly a damning indictment. And the fact that Salcedo continues to be represented by Boras despite the ability to fire him if he wanted to and having the financial means to easily repay the loan if he so chose, cuts against the notion that he is somehow shackled to Boras as a result of an overreach by the agent.

Could there be a problem here? Absolutely. If Boras has broken union rules regarding loans, that’s bad and should be investigated and punished if the allegation is borne out. But this piece was not written simply to highlight a potential violation of union rules. It was designed to be of a piece with the authors’ last article, regarding U.S. investors making money off of Dominican players by setting up training academies, casting it all into a “U.S. Baseball Exploits Dominican Kids” narrative.  While I said before that I believe there are serious problems with the training academies — i.e. in those cases, unlike Major League Baseball and even agents like Boras, the investors have no incentive to look after kids’ welfare after the signing bonus is paid —  this Boras story does not fit the narrative that the Times is trying to create. This merely points out a possibly troublesome  incident and even then doesn’t establish that anything untoward occurred.

So, unless and until we learn more, I’m not going to get too worked up by this. Just because kids in the Dominican Republic are involved does not mean they are being exploited. Just because Scott Boras is involved does not mean something bad is happening. We need to know more before getting out the torches and pitchforks.

There will be Under Armour logos on the front of baseball uniforms

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Yesterday’s announcement that Under Armour will be taking over the MLB uniform business brought with it an added bit of news: for the first time, beginning in 2020, baseball uniforms will feature the maker’s logo on the front of the jersey. From Paul Lukas of UniWatch:

While the Majestic logo has appeared on MLB sleeves, the Under Armour logo will be appearing on the upper-right chest area.

Lukas has a bunch of Photoshopped images of MLB players wearing uniforms with UA logos on it to give us a sense of how it will likely look.

It’s certainly weird and in some cases even a bit jarring. It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put corporate logos — including paid advertisements, not just the logos of the companies which make the gear — but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.

As I wrote back in April when the NBA approved ads on uniforms, there may even be a bright side to all of this.

Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.

I’m not holding my breath about that, but anything that takes away even a bit of the faux public trust luster that sports leagues and teams use to manipulate their fans is a good thing. Maybe it’ll make, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers look less venerable and sharp. But maybe it’ll remind people that they’re just business units of a $10 billion industry, not some fourth branch of government or whatever.

Bud Selig is still, laughably, pleading ignorance about the Steroid Era

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig speaks at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Yesterday I raked Bud Selig and the Hall of Fame over the coals. Selig for his considerable responsibility for the prevalence of performing enhancing drugs in baseball during his tenure and his failure to take responsibility for it, the Hall of Fame for inducting Selig while continuing to bar the door to players who used PEDs.

Later in the day yesterday a remarkable story was written by Jayson Stark of ESPN. It was based on a one-on-one with Selig in which his legacy with respect to steroids was discussed. It was framed by Selig talking about how the students in the baseball in history seminar he teaches at The University of Wisconsin recently grilled him about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs and what could have been done to stop the proliferation of the stuff in the game.

What makes it remarkable is that, until yesterday’s interview, Selig believed that he had done everything he possibly could have done to deal with PEDs. It took Jayson Stark telling him that, maybe, he could’ve done more:

“Now let me ask you a question,” he said. “And I’m being serious. If you had been me then, what would you have done?”

Frankly, I was amazed that he asked . . . So that, I told him, was what I thought he could have done. He was the commissioner. So the one thing he could have done, without needing a bargaining table to do it, was raise this issue, speak about it more, admit to it earlier and bring it to the forefront.

And Selig, as if he had never considered the notion, agreed:

“That’s fair,” Selig replied. “That’s very fair.”

A moment later, he looked me right in the eye again. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should have said more.”

It’s incredible that a man as honored and lauded as Selig has been — a man who has been praised for his savvy and effectiveness as a leader and, eventually, a negotiator — had never considered using the bully pulpit to deal with what he has claimed to be his most vexing problem as commissioner before yesterday. And when I say “incredible” I do not mean “amazing.” I mean “literally not credible.” As in, I believe he is simply lying when he implies that the thought never occurred to him.

Rather, I believe that he had little if any interest in speaking out about steroids until, years later, he had no choice but to thanks to Jose Canseco and BALCO and all of the rest. Steroids served baseball admirably. They increased offense and made big stars out of marketable men and helped everyone forget that, just a few years before, Selig and his fellow owners drove baseball off a cliff and cancelled a World Series because of it. The men who employed Bud Selig, baseball’s owners, made a lot of money off of that juice and, as such, Bud Selig standing up in, say, 1998 and saying that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were cheaters and that PEDs were a scourge that must be addressed was simply never going to happen. Not because Selig was in the dark or at a loss, but because, as it was with the players who used the drugs, it was in Bud Selig’s own self-interest not to speak.

Selig’s mendacity in that interview yesterday was even more remarkable than that, actually. Indeed, in addition to claiming he had no idea how to act back then, he claimed that, back in 1998, he was totally in the dark about why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were shattering Roger Maris’ home run record:

“I talked to the Cubs about Sammy,” Selig recalled. “The Cardinals were thrilled with McGwire. It was a big civic celebration.”

And no one on either team mentioned a word, he said, about what was really driving those two men toward the threshold of history. So Selig said he turned to his “baseball people” in the commissioner’s office.

He says he asked, “What’s causing this?” And they reeled off what we would now describe as the usual, everything-but-the-elephant-in-the-room, theories: Expansion. The dilution of pitching. Questions about whether there was something different about the baseball.

“They gave me a whole bunch of reasons,” Selig said. “And I kept asking about steroids.”

Why Selig was asking people about steroid use in 1998 is a mystery, because Selig knew damn well that Mark McGwire was using PEDS as early as 1993, several months after he took over from Fay Vincent and became acting commissioner.

We know this thanks to an interview with former FBI agent Greg Stejskal, who was extensively quoted about his investigations into steroids in the early 1990s. Investigations which revealed Mark McGwire’s drug use dating back to 1989, which Stejskal told Major League Baseball about:

Stejskal said federal authorities, through their undercover operation, learned of McGwire’s steroid usage by 1993. A year later, Stejskal recalled that he shared information from the investigation related to baseball players with Major League Baseball’s then security boss, Kevin Hallinan, though the sport had no drug testing program at the time.

That story was written nearly seven years ago, by the way. No one associated with Major League Baseball has ever explained how the league did not know that McGwire was using PEDs in 1998 as a result. They clearly knew for five years by then. Unless you think that an MLB security chief, when informed of player being caught up in an FBI drug probe, wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.

Despite all of this, Bud Selig is walking around the Winter Meetings this week, getting his attaboys for his Hall of Fame induction and spinning unadulterated bull crap about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs in baseball. He’s gotten away with doing so for so long, so why should he change course now?