“I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

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Scott Cacciola writes a fantastic and somewhat disturbing article in the New York Times about the people who camp out for Derek Jeter’s autograph at the Yankees training facility down in Tampa.

Cacciola outlines the whole, elaborate setup outside the facility. About the Yankees employee who shouts at the autograph seekers regarding the exact way they are to lineup and behave if they expect to get a chance at a Jeter autograph.  And that chance, Cacciola reports: about 10% that he’ll even sign. And if he signs, only a fraction of the people waiting outside will get an autograph.

He also writes about some of the specific people who take a whole heck of a lot of effort to try to get that signature:

“I guess I’ll have to come back again tomorrow if he doesn’t sign today,” said Melissa Davis, a patient-support technician at a hospital in nearby Clearwater, whose prize for showing up at 4 a.m. was the sixth spot in line, a prime piece of real estate. She had not slept in two days, she said. Or was it three? She was, by her own admission, bordering on delirium.

“I’m basically on a mission at this point,” said Davis, who kept herself occupied by reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” on her Kindle. “I want his autograph. You can’t really talk to him because he’s not going to sit and talk to you. So I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

I’ve written at length about my hangups with autographs. I don’t really understand the appeal. On a simple level, an autograph is proof that you were in the presence of someone famous. That you saw, in this instance, Derek Jeter, and he took a second to sign his name for you.  I’m not sure what that brief, exceedingly superficial interaction does for a person. You’ve seen Jeter on TV. If you’ve gone to Yankee Stadium you’ve seen him in person. If you’ve managed over the past 19 years to hit some Yankees event or another you may have very well seen him up close and in person. Maybe you even snapped his photograph.

But what does the autograph give you? Proof? What, no one will believe you when you say you saw him? A memory? Don’t you remember seeing him and don’t your memories of his thousands of games in pinstripes constitute much more meaningful and lasting memories?

I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never understood what autographs do for a person. I have a lot of autographs from when I was a kid. Hank Aaron is probably the biggest name. My favorite player from childhood, Alan Trammell, is the one I held most dear when I was younger.  But they don’t do much for me now.

They’re not even great reminders of when I got the actual autograph.  Both were at baseball card shows. Aaron’s was actually kind of depressing: he had all kinds of security around him and was at a high table so you couldn’t even get too close. You had to reach up high and place the card there, someone handed it to him, he signed, and they handed it back. You were instructed not to talk to him.  Trammell’s was not that crazy, but it was still kind of a cattle call.  I certainly get way more jazzed remembering Trammell play and reading about Aaron or watching whatever old footage of him I can find than I do remember “meeting” them.  The autographs are curios. Not much more.

I know those people who wait for Derek Jeter to sign his name feel very strongly about what they’re doing. And I presume they’ll value that autograph, if they’re lucky enough to get it, way more than I value the autographs I have.  I just don’t know why. It’s something I’ve never really been able to understand.

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.