Scenes from Spring Training: We hate your favorite team

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I ate that thing pictured to the right last night. It’s a chilaquiles verde, and yeah it has a fried egg on top. Between that and the In-N-Out the other night I realize I’m going to die soon, but it’s worth it. I’ve lived a good life.

Dinner last night was with Keith Law of ESPN and Jonah Keri of Grantland. You can probably guess the reason for our dinner meeting: to plan this year’s strategy of hating your team and cultivating our overall biases in such a way as to be unfair in anything we write.  It’s a pretty good system, actually: Keith handles the prospects and postseason awards voting bias, Jonah handles the long form, in-depth team-specific bias and I handle the day-to-day bias.  Summit meetings are great.

But I did have some actually serious thoughts about bias yesterday. It came after I interviewed Orlando Hudson. He, like Torii Hunter the day before, was so nice and so accommodating, making what for me is kind of a nerve-inducing task — interviewing someone — much, much easier. When I left their presence each time I thought “man, what a great guy.”

But then I thought “now that I’ve had a nice personal interaction with them, if one of those guys did something bone-headed or worthy of criticism, I wonder if I’d go after him the way I go after someone else.”

This thought matched up with what I’ve heard and observed while in the presence of beat writers over the years. Most of them — even the best of them whose writing never seems to be infected with any kind of bias at all — talk openly about who is nice, who is surly, who makes time for interviews, who gives you good quotes, who tries to be a wise ass and all manner of thing that affects only how easy it is for the reporter to do his job.  How can those considerations not color the coverage? It has to, right? Even a little, even on an unconscious level?

All of which makes me question — as I think I do every year around this time — the nature of baseball writing and the desirability of access.  I like going into the clubhouse and sitting in the press box some because (a) it’s cool; and (b) I feel like I should at least have some presence and accountability given how often I rip people.

But I don’t think I’d be able to do the sort of writing I do while working as close to ballplayers as the beat guys do. And if I were running a newspaper’s sports section, I’d think hard about how deep into the clubhouse I’d want my columnists and opinion writers to be, lest they pull punches in the same way I, even after five minutes around them, worry that I might pull my punches regarding Torii Hunter or Orlando Hudson.

Anyway: off to Goodyear today to visit the Cleveland Indians and to take in the Angels-Indians game.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.