melky cabrera getty

“Cooperation” with an investigation does not mean talking to the media

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Buster Olney is usually pretty sensible about PED stories. He’s not an apologist or anything, but nor is he usually an alarmist. He’s a realist, mostly. He doesn’t condone PED use, obviously, but he also sees it as part of the landscape of baseball and a problem to be dealt with as opposed to some moral scourge that threatens the institution.

Which is what makes his column today (sorry, ESPN Insider) so baffling.

In it he takes issue — in a way more agitated state than he normally portrays about, well, anything — with the official statements the Biogenesis linked ballplayers have made since the story broke. He particularly focuses on their comments about how they intend to cooperate with the investigation, calling it “posturing”:

Isn’t it amazing? Everybody who is caught really wants to help, wants to cooperate fully, but can’t answer questions … If those who are busted are truly contrite, they can give money made to charity. If they were truly sorry, they would have nothing to hide and they could answer any question from anybody, as lessons learned and passed on to others.

Olney is confused, I think, about with whom these players have a duty to cooperate. They have a duty to cooperate with Major League Baseball and, if it comes to it, law enforcement. They do not have a duty to “answer any question from anybody.” Indeed, given that they are subject to investigations by their employer and, potentially, the feds, they would be absolutely stupid to be “answering any question from anybody,” and indeed, both Major League Baseball and law enforcement would probably prefer that they didn’t so their investigations aren’t compromised.

In any event, these players do not have a duty to cooperate with the media or to testify in “the court of public opinion,” which 100% of the time means “the opinion of the writer penning the column you’re currently reading.” I gather that Olney would rather have them say nothing at all — he tweeted a few moments ago that he’d prefer a “no comment,” — but how that is acceptable when a short “I’m aware of the information, will cooperate with the investigation but cannot comment any more publicly” is so odious to him, I’m not sure.

But while we’re comparing comments, let’s compare two more, also from Olney’s column. Check out this bit, referring to Melky Cabrera’s statement that, in taking PEDs, he made a “mistake”:

A “mistake”? Would someone who embezzled money from his company say he made ‘a mistake’? Would someone who used somebody else’s ATM card to take millions claim he made “a mistake”? Note to players who are linked to PEDs: If you get caught, please, enough with the statements that are supposed to convey contrition and sorrow and a desire to fix the problem of drug use in baseball. Just save it. Please, say nothing at all.

Then, a few paragraphs and a change of subject later, Olney tackles Todd Helton’s DUI apology:

Helton, 39, declined to discuss the nature of help he’s receiving. He told The Denver Post after the news conference that he doesn’t believe he has a drinking problem. However, he reiterated that he’s following a protocol to avoid another misstep and recognizes the gravity of the situation.

Helton talked for 9 minutes, 47 seconds, his voice halting at times as he recalled telling his older daughter, Tierney, about the incident.

“I told her I made a mistake. Just like Daddy forgives you for your mistake. I have to learn from it. When I talk about taking the right steps, I am talking about her too,” Helton said. “She holds me very accountable too.”

What, no angry rant at Helton for having the gall to call his crime — a far more serious one than Melky Cabrera committed — a “mistake?” No demand for more information about Helton’s decision making and his judgment or, alternatively, an invitation to shut up? Why, Buster, are you so agitated at Melky Cabrera copping to a mistake which harmed no one but himself but totally cool with Helton copping to a mistake which could have killed multiple people?

To his credit, Olney rarely if ever traffics in hysterical outrage. I suppose, then, that’s why he’s so uneven in applying it here. Simple inexperience.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]