Cliff Lee phillies throwing

AP Writer: Cliff Lee should be ashamed that his salary isn’t going to starving children in Africa

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I’m with the Associated Press’ Tim Dahlberg to the extent he’s critical of those who are lauding Cliff Lee for making some sort of financial sacrifice to go to the Phillies. Sure, there’s a bit less guaranteed money, but we’re not in sainthood territory here.

Dahlberg completely loses me, however, when he goes off on a jag about how the money going to Lee could be better used for charities benefiting children in Africa. After listing several examples of how far the money Cliff Lee will make for a single game can go if spent for humanitarian purposes, Dahlberg writes:

I’m not picking on Lee, who is simply the latest poster player for what ails sports. It’s a seller’s market in baseball and anyone who can sell themselves for $120 million certainly has the right to do so.

But I’m also not going to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize for leaving behind a pile of money (much less than $30 million, actually, after agent fees and taxes). His salary is still so far out of whack with that of paying fans, even Lee had to acknowledge that much.

I agree that, as a society, we have some pretty skewed priorities. I also agree that there is no better time to think about these sort of things than around Christmastime. I was out doing my shopping last night and was struck, as I am every time I venture out into retail land, at how much waste and karma is floating around.

But why are we singling out Cliff Lee and “poster players” here?  Where is the outrage for the ownership group who parlayed a $30 million investment in the Phillies 30 years ago into a $500 million+ business today? Where is the outrage for baseball as a whole, which is now a $7 billion industry?  Why are their revenues not too much to take? Why doesn’t Dahlberg write an editorial saying that Bill Giles’  income is “out of whack,” and calculating how many mosquito nets the Phillies’ annual revenues could supply to a village in west Africa?

The fact is that baseball is a huge business and the players with elite talents are the biggest reason for it. Why shouldn’t they reap financial rewards for it? Why are they singled out as greedy when the owners and executives are making even more?  For that matter, isn’t it the case that everyone who makes a living off of a game is taking money that could, ideally, be better spent feeding starving children?  I make my living as a result of baseball. I bought a Blu-Ray player last night. That was nowhere near as productive a use of my money as providing malnourished children with specially formulated peanut paste.  I’m guessing Dahlberg has used his salary for a few things besides charity as well.

Yes, it is mind-boggling and a bit depressing that our society values entertainment so highly and humanitarian efforts so little by comparison. But neither Cliff Lee’s salary nor any other individual player’s salary was the tipping point on that. Nor is he the proper target for complaints like Dahlberg’s. Even if one is going to limit his targets to professional sports figures, there are bigger fish to fry than Lee.

Dahlberg’s failure to acknowledge that suggests that he’s less concerned about our priorities as a society and more interested in using emotionally-manipulative examples to make a tired old “ballplayers make too much damn money for playing a kids game!” argument, the likes we’ve heard for decades, and I find that to be pretty shameful.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: