Must-click link: Rob Neyer on “integrity” and “character”


We hear so much about the steroids guys being kept out of the Hall of Fame because they fail the “integrity and character” test.  Specifically, the language right on the ballot that instructs the voters to consider “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Over at SB Nation, Rob Neyer asks why, all of a sudden, that standard is being considered when it was never considered before. At least not consistently.  And this isn’t about Ty Cobb being a racist or any of that stuff we usually hear. This is specifically about the character and integrity shown by baseball players — or rather, the lack of it — in a manner which had a material impact on the game.  His example: Mickey Mantle:

But integrity and character? Really? Even leaving aside Mickey Mantle’s thousands of infidelities and the fact that he essentially turned all of his sons into alcoholics and drug addicts, there’s the little matter of him abusing his body throughout his career. Mantle is famous for arriving at the ballpark with hangovers. In fact, those stories are often told as jokes; it’s so funny that a well-paid superstar routinely wasn’t in condition to play his best. Hilarious stuff.

Just so we’re straight on this, though … If you routinely drink yourself into a stupor and show up for work half-drunk, you’ve got more integrity and character than if you do whatever you can to play as well as you can, within the established norms of your contemporary colleagues?

People like to grab on to the word “cheating” when it comes to steroids and claim that it makes what the PED guys did so much worse than anything that came before.  But the standard itself isn’t about whether a rule was broken. Lots of rules have been broken in baseball and we don’t care all that much.  The standard is about “integrity and character.”

Rob submits — and I agree with him — that letting your teammates down by not taking care of yourself shows just as much if not more of a lack of integrity and character than taking PEDs do.  And if we’re OK with the Mickey Mantles of the world behaving in such a way and making it into the Hall of Fame, then we should not treat the PED guys any differently.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.