Novitzky

The Feds won’t give info to Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis investigation. Good.

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Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times writes this morning about the relationship between the Drug Enforcement Agency and Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis clinic investigation. They are not working hand-in-hand:

While the league’s investigators are attempting to learn as much as they can about the report, they are hamstrung by players’ longstanding refusals to speak to them and by the federal government’s reluctance to provide baseball with information it has uncovered in its own investigations.

The lack of player cooperation Schmidt refers to is the refusal of players to talk about other players’ drug use which he contrasts with the cooperation cyclists have given the Unites States Anti-Doping Agency. Ratting out each other in exchange for reduced suspensions and the like. Which should be pretty understandable at this point given that Joint Drug Agreement entered into between the league and the union provides no basis for leniency in punishment. It’s, by design, a zero-tolerance program. If you start letting guys off for ratting out other guys, you don’t have a zero-tolerance program.

Indeed, what you have is a breeding ground for mistrust and a strong incentive for those players for whom a 50-game suspension is extremely financially harmful to throw their teammates under the bus based on either real or fabricated information.  The players obviously wouldn’t want that. But the owners — and their employee, Bud Selig — wouldn’t want that either in all likelihood because in addition to violating baseball’s longstanding rule of “what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse,” such a setup could serve to destabilize teams and create problems for managers, GMs and owners.

As for the lack of government cooperation with Major League Baseball: well, good.  Major League Baseball is a private business, not an arm of the government and I have never been comfortable with the idea of the government doing special favors for private business, especially in a law enforcement context. If they want to do their own investigation, let them (and they are).

As Buster Olney noted on Twitter this morning, the fact that federal investigators gave drug dealers like Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee leniency for cooperating with the Mitchell Report investigators was ridiculous.  George Mitchell did not represent the government. His interviewers worked for DLA Piper. We think of baseball as some greater institution, but that setup was no different than a cop compelling someone to talk to McDonalds or Microsoft or Wal-Mart. If law enforcement is to give leniency to criminals in exchange for cooperation, that cooperation should be to the benefit of the public good, not to the benefit of the corporate good.

This all goes back to what I was talking about on Tuesday: what are the priorities here? Is the priority to get headlines with famous names being hung out to dry or is the priority to break up what may very well be an illegal drug distribution network? Back in 2007 the feds, led by the overzealous-in-the-extreme Jeff Novitzky, decided that it was more important to prosecute famous people to get their names in the paper. That didn’t really work out too well, so it’s understandable now that the feds might not have all that great an interest in putting the squeeze to A-Rod — which is what would be the purpose of cooperation with MLB — and a much greater interest in taking down a drug operation. That would be benefited by NOT talking to folks outside of law enforcement.  Folks who, you know, like to do things like leak information to the New York Daily News I-Team.

So good for the feds for treating this like any other law enforcement operation. The folks who are mad that government power isn’t being used to either make headlines or make a billion dollar corproation’s p.r. operation smoother probably need to ask why those things are important to them in the first place.

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.