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Quote of the Day: Some meta-bloggy things

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As always, give this one a pass if you don’t care about the navel-gazing stuff about blogging (and a bit of politics, but not directly), but I find it fascinating, so whatever. And yes, this rambles a bit, but I think I get to a point that is useful for our purposes.

This quote came from Andrew Sullivan today:

A blogger who is not prepared to make a total fool out of himself is not a real blogger.

It’s a satisfying quote in and of itself, but it’s made more fascinating in context and I want to unpack that a bit.

For those who don’t know him, Sullivan is a political blogger. One of the first political bloggers, actually, and one of the most widely read ones at that. And he’s terribly controversial too for any number of reasons. Some of the controversy is rooted in his personal life, career path and history. In more recent years it’s because he’s kind of an odd duck, politically speaking: he’s a long-time conservative who, since the middle of the past decade or so, has more or less gone to war with the conservative/Republican establishment (and they with him).

Part of this is philosophy and a big disagreement between he and his peers regarding what conservatism truly is. Part of it is Sullivan’s repudiation of the Iraq War, of which he was originally a staunch supporter. Part of it is that he is a huge fan of Obama and sharp critic of the current GOP. Part of it is that he’s just unique: you don’t find too many dudes who are Oxford-educated, devoutly Catholic, openly-gay (and HIV-positive), pro-gay marriage with a long string of conservative bona fides, jobs and positions who suddenly becomes a champion of a ton of lefty causes while still claiming to be a conservative.  We love labels in this country and Sullivan doesn’t wear many of them well.

The context of that quote:  Sullivan has taken some hits recently for claiming to be highly critical of Obama while really being a fanboy. I actually see both sides of this. He is critical of Obama on a lot of things. Torture, civil liberties, some cowardly foreign policy positions and some other things.  But it’s also the case that it seems like nothing short of Obama killing someone in cold blood with a Glock on national television will cause him to change his view of the man. Kind of a tough position to be in when you claim — as Sullivan’s personal motto does — that he’s “of no party or clique.” Fact is, he’s emotional. People try to slam him (with some homophobia implied, I believe) by calling  him “excitable”, but he’s basically an emotional writer.

Today Sullivan copped to a lot of that, but offered this defense (and here is where this starts to be relevant for us):

A blog updated every 20 minutes or so can only reveal a blogger’s human gyrations in the kind of granular detail a weekly columnist or less frenzied blogger can avoid. It is not always pretty; but I always try to keep it honest and open. Maybe I should be ashamed. I certainly feel exposed. And I wish I were omniscient and prescient and never had emotional responses to events … but that wouldn’t be much fun would it?

I agree with Sullivan on some things and disagree with him on others.  But it is an absolute fact that, as a blogger, I model myself after him. This was a conscious decision back when I started out in 2007. Originally in terms of blog frequency — I think Sullivan’s popularity has a lot to do with the fact that he posts A LOT — but eventually in terms of temperament too.

No, I’m not as emotional as he is, but I really do believe in the idea that a blog is an organic, reactive medium that should best be read as a whole over time. That the blogger, if he wants to create and speak to a community, has to be willing to react quickly and from the heart even if it means being wrong sometimes. To not try to be omniscient or pretend that he didn’t totally whiff on something once when writing about that topic again. To believe what you believe and to state it strongly, but to be prepared to change your position when the facts change on the ground and to not spend too much time trying to tortuously bend old positions into new ones as if they were always consistent. Human reasoning and learning doesn’t work that way.

I don’t always do that, of course. I have blind and stubborn spots. And of course this is a baseball blog not a political blog like Sullivan’s, so the stakes aren’t exactly as high, meaning that one need not look as fearless or foolish when those inevitable “human gyrations” occur.  But that is the goal and it is the thinking.

And it’s why I usually criticize writers who approach baseball from a position of authority, as if they know it all and you readers don’t. It’s why I laugh at people who slam me in the comments because I’m changing my position on something. What, we can’t learn too?  It’s just baseball.  Sure, I thought Bryce Harper was a punk when I first encountered him, but that was a kneejerk reaction. I feel differently now. So what? You never change your mind?

OK, enough of that navel gazing. I just like to throw this kind of stuff out there from time to time in order to make sure people know where I’m coming from.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.