Terry Leach

Yes, Terry Leach will be included in the 1991 Minnesota Twins anniversary bobblehead set

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This story is less interesting because of the baseball and bobblehead angle than it is for something else, but first the background:

The Twins are selling a set of bobblehead dolls commemorating the 1991 World Series championship team. And it has every player plus manager Tom Kelly! At least now it does. At first it was only going to have 24 players plus Kelly, leaving out one: reliever Terry Leach. They subsequently fixed that, and now Leach will be included, but why was he originally left off?

Here’s where it gets interesting to me.  Here’s the story from the Star-Tribune:

At first, team spokesman Chris Iles said the collection was limited to 25 dolls, so the team bumped Leach to make room for Kelly … A few hours after the announcement, the Twins executive in charge of the promotion said Leach was omitted only because the team mistakenly sent to the factory in China a roster that included just those who played in the ALCS [which Leach did not].

While it may be more polite to Leach to suggest it was an oversight, does the second explanation make sense to you?  If you’re commemorating the World Series champions, why would you look at the ALCS roster?  At the same time, it does make some logical sense to me that a special order of some plastic knicknack from some Chinese (or wherever) factory would have to come in lots of 25, because that’s the kind of number that lots of things might come in. Part of me wonders if someone said “crap, if we go to lots of 26 the packaging is all messed up, we have to order custom and that’s gonna cost a lot. Who do you think we could leave off without someone noticing?”

To be clear, I have no idea what really went down and I am not for a moment suggesting that the Twins were doing anything sketchy. The part of me that wonders that sort of thing is the part of me that is cynical. And the part of me that gets a good chuckle at silly stuff, such as the prospect of people having meetings about bobblehead policy in which nefarious plots are hatched.  That part of me thinks that the first explanation was the truthful one and that someone made the judgement that Leach was expendable, never thinking it would be a big deal.

But even more interesting to me in this the role of the public relations professional.  I’ve had some dealings with these sorts of people in the past. Mostly corporate spokespersons, but some political too.  It’s a tougher job than you think, because they’re so rarely given complete information.  Sometimes by design — it’s not a lie if the person saying it doesn’t know better! — but usually it’s because stuff that needs PR attention happens fast, it’s hard to get full information from the people in charge and the PR person is forced to think on their feet. Often that leads to explanations of things that are plausible but aren’t exactly, well, truthful.  They did their best with the information given, ya know? Like this, which is one possible thought process that went into that second explanation:

“Why is this my problem?  How am I supposed to know why there’s no Terry Leach bobblehead?  I’ve been working on this Justin Morneau rehab update all day.  OK, think. Think.  Hmm, maybe Leach wasn’t in the World Series. I was five-years-old when that went down, so let’s look that up.  No, he was in it. Damn.  ALCS?  Hmm, he didn’t pitch in the ALCS.  That might work.  Heck, it’s not like anyone will notice this or make a big deal out of it. I mean, who has so pathetic a life that they they’re going to sit for 25 minutes and scrutinize a press release about a freakin’ Terry Leach bobblehead doll?”

Oh. Man. I hate it when I actually insult myself when writing other people’s imagined inner-monologues.

In other news, you can buy the bobblehead set — Terry Leach included — for $391 starting Monday at 9 a.m. at www.twinsbaseball.com/1991. Proceeds will go to the Minnesota Twins Community Fund.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.