Deep thoughts: what the heck is “Old School Baseball” anyway?

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When Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper, he defended himself by saying it was just a case of “old school” baseball.  Others said that by Harper taking his base and then stealing home, it was “old school baseball.”  Some others — most notably Cal Ripken, earlier today — said that they were unaware of any tenet of old school baseball that involved throwing at guys. Of course, any number of Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson fans would beg to differ.

The point is that I don’t think there is any agreed upon definition of Old School Baseball.  Rather, I think it’s just a slogan people use to justify whatever the hell it is they want to justify, with the claim — well-intentioned or otherwise — that it conforms to some tradition or another.

I understand the impulse, of course.  Indeed, in this it’s one of the most basebally things imaginable, because baseball as we know it would practically cease to exist if we were to pretend that what goes on now is unconnected to what happened in the past. The ballparks, the uniforms, the strategies and the language of the game would be totally different if they were devised new today. It’s a game whose very essence requires a historical connection.

But that reference to history becomes meaningless if we rely on it too much.  If, instead of justifying his actions, a player or his fan or media surrogates simply say “hey, old school baseball.”  Or, less flippantly, “that’s the way it’s always been done,” they’re saying nothing. They’re saying “we don’t have to think about what just occurred, or defend it.  It’s fine because it’s always been that way.”

We don’t accept that in most walks of life. When it comes to on-field strategy, we are accepting it less and less these days. But we seem oh so willing to accept it when it comes to deportment or the unwritten rules or any of the culture surrounding the game.

I wish we’d be as critical about that as we are with just about everything else in life.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.