The Ryan Braun saga tells us something about the culture of baseball

77 Comments

We’ve heard a lot since Thursday evening about how Ryan Braun was such a lucky dog for beating the system and all of that. We haven’t heard a ton, however, about that system itself.  But Grantland’s Charles Pierce has some pretty strong opinions.  Notably:

From its very beginnings, the “war” on performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and especially in baseball, has been legally questionable, morally incoherent, and recklessly dependent on collateral damage to make its point.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Pierce fires a lot of bullets at baseball and the drug testing system. Some hit, some miss.  But there’s an overarching truth to what he’s saying here that resonates with me, and that’s that Major League Baseball has always been a paternalistic and even authoritarian organization in many ways. Indeed, much of its history can be explained by people in charge making arbitrary, self-interested rules and then reacting poorly to it all when someone dares challenge them.

Much of the Ryan Braun reaction has been that way.  “Who cares that the rules weren’t followed?  It’s all fine, and how dare you say differently?  You’re upsetting a perfectly fine apple cart here, Mr. Litigious!”  It happened with segregation, free agency and collusion.  In some ways it’s happening with drug testing too:  this presumption that the authorities are correct and the one challenging the system is the troublemaker. Or worse.

No, this isn’t to make an equivalency between drug testing system and things like segregation and collusion.  Those latter things were awful and drug testing’s aims are noble.  But they are similar in terms of how someone challenging the system makes the establishment downright indignant. And I think that says something fairly revealing about the culture of baseball.

Each owner will get at least $50 million in early 2018 from the sale of BAMTech

Getty Images
2 Comments

Earlier this year Disney agreed to purchase the majority stake in BAMTech, the digital media company spun off from MLB Advanced Media. We know it as the source of the technology for MLB.tv and MLB.com, but it’s far more wide-ranging than that now. At present it powers streaming for MLB, HBO, NHL, WWE, and, eventually, will power Disney’s and ESPN’s upcoming streaming services.

The company was started by an investment from baseball’s 30 owners, so they’re getting a big payout as a result of the acquisition. Earlier this morning Jim Bowden dropped this regarding how much of that payout is in the offing in the short term:

That’s probably on the low end, actually. Some people I’ve spoken to who are familiar with the acquisition say the figure is more like $68 million in Q1 of 2018.

Good for the owners! It was a savvy, forward-thinking investment that, in the past, baseball owners might not have made. Bud Selig, Bob Bowman and others deserve credit for convincing the Jeff Lorias and Jerry Reinsdorfs of the world to think big and long term. It’s money out of the sky, raining down upon the owner of your baseball team for, basically, doing nothing.

Money which should be remembered when your buddy complains about a relief pitcher getting $6 million for only pitching 65 innings. Money which should be remembered when your team’s GM says that he has to cut back on payroll in the coming year.