A half hour ago I referenced Godwin’s Law and Smoltz’s law, which are rules designed to keep people from making inapposite or inappropriate comparisons. While I quibble with them — like I said, they place off-limits signs on certain areas of comparison for no compelling reason — I understand them. After all, they exist mostly to help keep you from making a fool out of yourself via bad analogies so it’s probably worth making your peace with them.
I think the same can probably be said of comparisons to Jackie Robinson.
To be clear: I don’t think anything should be off limits when it comes to the general discourse, so don’t go crazy on a guy simply because he compares something a current ballplayer faces to that which Jackie Robinson faced. But do understand that 90-95% of the time you make such comparisons to Jackie Robinson, your comparison is going to be a profoundly poor one that is going to cause you no small amount of trouble. And that’s even if your point isn’t about race (if it is about race, God help you).
That’s the lesson that a couple of Washington Nationals front office people are going to learn pretty soon, as they said the following about what Bryce Harper’s march to the major leagues entails to Tom Verducci in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Here’s Nats’ minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco:
“Jackie Robinson … You have to go back to Jackie Robinson to find anybody who goes through this much scrutiny. It wasn’t like this for [Stephen] Strasburg. Wasn’t like this for Alex Rodriguez.”
Here’s Nats’ director of player development Doug Harris:
“This is really unfair and it’s totally different, but if I can make a comparison to one guy that has been scrutinized like this, it would be Jackie Robinson. And it’s unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn’t have Internet, didn’t have cellphones … Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I’m not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”
I’m sure Bryce Harper faces a lot what with being so young and having such expectations placed on him. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the Jackie Robinson comparison is a bit too much. And either way, these guys are going to probably get murdered by the chattering classes for invoking the name of Jackie Robinson with respect to this kid.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.