Ken Caminiti

If you judge a players’ character, you have to acknowledge the forces which shaped his choices

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Tom Verducci has a major piece on PEDs and baseball today, all of which serves as a preface to his Hall of Fame choices.

Obviously he and I disagree on the issue, but his take is cogent, well-reasoned and strong. Which makes sense given that Verducci was way, way ahead of all of his media brethren when it came to reporting on steroids and has thought about the matter more than just once a year when his Hall of Fame ballot shows up.  If you consider PED use to be a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, you basically have to follow Verducci’s lead here: presume innocence, then act on actual information or evidence rather than playing parlor games.

But I do take issue with Verducci when he takes the exceptions to his position one-by-one.  He does an acceptable job explaining his differences with the “it wasn’t against the rules,” “everybody did it” and “the Hall of Fame already has bad apples” arguments.  Again, I disagree as a matter of opinion on some of these points, but I think his position is a coherent one based on the opinion he holds.

I think he errs, however, by portraying baseball players as having made the free, moral choice to either take drugs or not take drugs, consulting only their conscience and a syringe. That’s because steroids in baseball was never just about players’ choices, but the knowing acquiescence of clubs and the league as well, and that necessarily impacted players’ choices, no doubt forcing many of them to make bad choices.

Indeed, the Mitchell Report detailed instances of clubs being well-aware of players’ steroid use, but only caring about it insofar as the player going off the juice may hurt his production. Managers, coaches and front office players knew or should have known about it and did nothing. Well, they profited from them of course, but they never, to my knowledge, punished a single player for violating the rules Verducci so clearly explains everyone was well aware of.

I don’t offer this as just another excuse — “hey, no one else cared, so why should we?”  To the contrary, this is important specifically to those who do care. People like Verducci, in fact. Because if you take seriously the ethical and moral choices players made, you have to appreciate the context in which those choices were made. Yes, some players probably sat back and said “hell, I wanna hit more homers.” But many more likely felt the pressure to take steroids to save their jobs or solidify their careers with the full knowledge that their clubs would reward the performers and punish the non-performers, with no questions asked about the provenance of that performance whatsoever.

I don’t think we should be judging players’ character in the first place, but if you do judge one’s character, I don’t see how the prisoners’ dilemma into which many players were thrust can’t change the calculus for you to some degree.

Reds sign Ryan Raburn to minor league deal

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 10:  Ryan Raburn #6 of the Colorado Rockies rounds the bases on his solo home run off of James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres to take a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning on April 10, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Padres 6-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Veteran infielder/outfielder Ryan Raburn has a minor league contract with the Reds, the club announced on Sunday. The deal was reported last week, but had been pending a physical. It includes an invitation to spring training, where Raburn is expected to compete against Desmond Jennings for a major league utility role. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans, there’s a $900,000 base salary waiting for him if he makes the big league roster by Opening Day.

Raburn, 35, is coming off of a down year with the Rockies in 2016. He slashed .220/.309/.404 for the team last season, clubbing nine home runs as he struggled to stay above the Mendoza line. Raburn was stationed in left field for much of the season, but also saw some time at DH, first base and right field toward the end of the year. Assuming he can turn out a production rate that skews closer to the .301 average and .936 OPS he put up with the Indians in 2015, however, the Reds should have little trouble finding a place for him off the bench or as a platoon option with Scott Schebler in right field.

Dexter Fowler unhappy with President Trump’s attempts to institute a travel ban

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs looks on during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Mark Saxon reports that new Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler isn’t a fan of President Trump’s ongoing effort to institute a travel ban. Trump signed Executive Order 13769 on January 27, 2017, which limited incoming travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. However, a temporary restraining order was placed by Judge James L. Robart following Washington v. Trump.

Fowler’s wife was born in Iran. Fowler said that her sister delayed her return from a business trip to Qatar to avoid potentially being detained. Fowler and his wife have also delayed traveling to visit her relatives in Iran.

Fowler said, “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunate.”

The response by Cardinals fans was predictably terrible. Via the BestFansStLouis Twitter account:

One of the commenters wrote, “He signed a contract with the Cardinals so that makes him property of stl cardinals and mlb so he needs to keep his mouth shut. His personal opinions, problems, beliefs and political views should be kept to himself as long as he’s under a mlb contract…” He continued, “It’s not our fault he married someone from another country.”

Fowler caught wind of this and other responses to his statement, so he tweeted:

Fowler, of course, is one thousand percent correct.

These same “stick to sports,” “keep your politics out of my sports” people either said nothing or cheered when athletes and coaches espoused political views from the other side of the spectrum. Like when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hung a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker. Or when reliever Jonathan Papelbon played a pro-Trump song in the clubhouse. Or when former NFL head coach and ESPN commentator Mike Ditka said last year, “Obama’s the worst president we’ve ever had.”

Even Saxon and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have received myriad “stick to sports” comments simply for acknowledging that Fowler made a comment on the matter.

As we’ve pointed out here countless times, it is impossible to separate sports from politics. It is irresponsible to pretend like it’s even possible. Sports and politics intersect in so many ways, including race, religion, gender, sexuality, and class. This particular situation with Trump’s executive order impacts baseball quite a bit as Fowler’s individual situation shows. He’s certainly not the only player to have a loved one who came from one of the seven aforementioned countries. Non-white players are also much more likely to have a bad experience at the airport — consider how often players are at the airport during the season — and their family and friends may be subject to one of the many ugly ICE raids that have taken place over the last three weeks.

Kudos to Fowler for speaking up and kudos for Saxon and others for reporting on it. This is certainly not a time during which we should pretend we can keep sports and politics separate.