John Smoltz says smart things about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown


John Smoltz was on NBC SportsTalk last night and gave his opinion of shutting down Stephen Strasburg, and it’s a pretty smart, informed and nuanced one:

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I think Smoltz made a key point early: “maybe if they had to do it over again [the Nationals] would have done something without alerting everyone to what was going to happen.”  They didn’t, of course, so here we are. It makes me wonder if the Nats realized that they’d be as good as they are and if they didn’t just figure that the season could be functionally over by late August so, hey, why not let him pitch regularly until shutdown as opposed to pacing him differently?  Regardless, I agree with Smoltz’s point: if you have an innings limit, great, enforce it. But do so in a way that gets him through an entire season so as not to bollocks-up competitive expectations.

Also fun: when Eric Kuselias brings up Steve Avery and his heavy workload at a young age, comparing it unfavorably to the young workloads of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux. Smoltz was not impressed with the analogy, noting that Avery had a different kind of motion — higher up, which was harder on the shoulder — and that he tried to pitch through injury.

That flowed into Smoltz’s general point, which was a good one: every pitcher is a different case. Some guys could throw 300 innings a year and never get hurt. Some guys could be treated as gently as can be and disintegrate. Genetics, physics, physiology and pure dumb chance all play into it, making it impossible for anyone to say for certain that a given workload will either hurt a guy or save a guy.

Fact is, Stephen Strasburg could be shut down now and destroy his arm on the first pitch of next season. Or he could be let loose for 250 innings this year and never feel so much as a twinge in his elbow. Or anything in between.  Neither those of us who hate shutting down an ace in a pennant race nor the Nationals and Scott Boras who are relying on doctor’s advice have any real certainty about this.  If we did, we’d have an insight into pitching and injuries that has thus far eluded every team, doctor and pitcher who has ever weighed in on the subject.

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.