Ohio Governor John Kasich goes to bat for Al Oliver with the Hall of Fame

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Warning. Long story ahead. But it’s the offseason and I’m bored and anyone who has read my stuff over the past 5+ years know that I tend to do this between November and February.

I’m not exactly a huge fan of my governor, John Kasich. He’s OK. A nice man and, despite his best efforts, has done little if any harm to my state, but I didn’t vote for him in 2010 and, unless the Democrats put up a real tomato can next time around, I likely won’t vote for him in 2014.  But I will give him this: the man follows through. Before the baseball part of this, a rambling story from my youth:

Back in 1993, when I was a college sophomore, a couple of friends of mine and I took part in some little global affairs conference for honors students at Ohio State. Think of it as a mini-model United Nations or something. Teams of four were given a topic of global interest and were asked to give some sort of presentation on it. John Kasich, who was then a congressman, was the keynote speaker at the event. Before the presentations he gave some talk about how bad it was that the incoming Clinton Administration was seemingly all wimpy and rudderless when it came to defense and foreign policy.

That year the topic of the conference was some vague question about whether rising nationalism in Eastern Europe in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union was a good thing. My teammates and I found this boring, so rather than answer the question we decided to come up with a military solution to the war in the former Yugoslavia, which was in no way a part of the question the conference organizers were asking.

We dove into it with the enthusiasm and flaming ignorance and naivete that only college sophomores can muster. I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot is that while every other team gave carefully-worded and politically correct answers about “balance” and “sensitivity” with respect to the varied cultures of the former Soviet satellite countries, our presentation was solely concerned with bombing the living crap out of anyone who did not love and embrace peace. We didn’t even give a nod to internationalism in our warmongering: it was to be a United States mission only.  It was truly something that only kids who watched a lot of “Iron Eagle” and “Red Dawn” on HBO in the 1980s could have put together. And it was glorious. At one point, due to us misreading an old DoD map, we had Trieste, Italy as a bombing target.

The judges and organizers of the event — scholars and diplomats who were committed to peace in an uncertain world — listened to our presentation with jaws agape. I’m sure at some point someone was asked where in the hell these little Reaganite warmongers came from, but we were oblivious to their horror. Someone weakly thanked us. We left the stage and gave each other high fives. And then we didn’t win any awards or anything at the end and felt totally ripped off about that.

Feeling slighted, we decided to print out our presentation and send it to Congressman Kasich’s office, attaching a cover letter that basically said “We were inspired by your talk at the conference. You’re right, Clinton doesn’t have a plan. Here’s ours. Feel free to use it and let us know if you want any other ideas.”  We had this vision that we’d be hired to be some sort of secret military think tank because, dudes, genius like this doesn’t grow on trees.

A couple of weeks later someone from Congressman Kasich’s office actually called me in my dorm room. I assumed he wanted to give us jobs, so I riffed about a few other equally-awesome proposals we had and explained how deciding the fate of the world like this our calling, just as much as it was America’s.  He thanked me and hung up. We never heard from him or Kasich again.  In hindsight I think he was more interested in making sure my friends and I weren’t some sort of crazy, homegrown terrorists in training.

But the biggest takeaway from all of this — other than the fact that we were actually right about what would end the crap going on in the former Yugoslavia — was that John Kasich, whatever his faults, follows through.

And so it is with baseball too.  For, once upon a time, Pittsburgh native and Pirates fan John Kasich told former Pirates star — and Ohio native — Al Oliver that he would do whatever he could to support Oliver’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame.  And he has now done that, writing the Baseball Hall of Fame on Oliver’s behalf and following through with Oliver just like he did with those dumb kids back in 1993:

Ohio Governor John Kasich has gone to bat for former Pittsburgh Pirates great and Portsmouth native Al Oliver, by writing a letter to the Baseball Hall of Fame, urging Oliver’s election. Now, the Hall has responded with a response to Kasich.

“We thank you for taking the time to write and share your recommendation and suggestion with us,” Brad Horn, Senior Director of Communications and Education, said. “Your letter will become part of materials that are available to members of the Historical Overview Committee and the Era committees that consider candidates for Hall of Fame election.”

Based on his quotes in the story, Oliver was clearly surprised and impressed that Kasich followed through like that. Which, even if you don’t have anything positive to say about Kasich’s policies, is pretty damn admirable. I’m guessing, however, that Oliver’s chances of making the Hall of Fame are far less than the chances that a crazy, half-cocked military proposal cooked up by four 19 year-old kids would one day be adopted by NATO.

OK. Gonna go see if there’s any actual baseball news going down.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.