David Ortiz doesn’t give a [expletive] about what you think makes a leader


David Ortiz has, what I think anyway, is some righteous anger. It came out last night after the Sox beat the Orioles, and it came in response to reports that he called a closed-door meeting a couple of weeks ago in which the hitters yelled at the pitchers.

Since that meeting, by the way, the Sox have won 9 of 11 and the starting pitcher has been back on point.  Which, if you’re into these sorts of stories, makes David Ortiz look a hell of a lot like a team leader.  And, while he has done nothing to proclaim himself a leader  publicly — indeed, he was irked that the story of the team meeting leaked out  — Ortiz bristled at the Boston media’s notion of what a leader looks like. From Gordon Edes’ article:

“Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call ‘leaders’ in this town,” he said. “Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it’s not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?” …

… “No. 1, I don’t agree with that,” Ortiz said. “And No. 2, what I do I don’t do for people to know. I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders …

He went on to say “I don’t get no respect.” Which, while if it was said in an isolated way, could come off petty or self-centered.  But I think in context with all of this other stuff, he has a pretty good point.

Our ideas about leadership in sports are kinda screwy. When things go well for a ballclub, we look at certain people and call them leaders. When they go poorly, we rarely blame them for their lack of leadership. A couple of writers asked where Jason Varitek was when it was allegedly all going to hell for the Sox last September, but it was certainly a minority view. For the most part, guys who are cast as captains are only talked about in those terms when things go well. When things go poorly it’s because of screwups like Josh Beckett.

And, as Ortiz may or may not have intended to imply, it’s funny how the people we call leaders on ballclubs tend to fit a certain type. Everyday position players who, coincidentally or not, are often scrappy or fiery players. And, coincidentally or not, are usually white dudes. Why couldn’t David Ortiz be a leader? Why must someone like Dustin Pedroia be assumed to be? Why must it be a vocal person as opposed to someone who leads by example or behind the scenes? Why must it be one person? I often get the sense that we writers unconsciously project leadership on people who have traits that we understand or share ourmselves because it makes something amorphous and complicated a lot more understandable to us.

Anyway, I’m not saying that Ortiz is a great leader. I have no idea what he does along those lines. Maybe he had a good moment with that team meeting and the rest of the time he’s like everyone else.  Maybe the Sox’ good play of late is a total coincidence (if the Sox played poorly for the past week, would the narrative be “Ortiz sows dissension in the clubhouse?”).

But I can certainly see how he or other players could get a bit rankled when it comes to the leadership talk we like so much in the media.

(Thanks to reader Big Leagues for the heads up)

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

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We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.