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The San Jose lawsuit against Major League Baseball should be thrown out of court

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So I’ve read over the lawsuit filed by San Jose against Major League Baseball. Initial reaction: it’s more full of crap than Bob Melvin’s office was on Sunday afternoon.

The essence of the suit: Major League Baseball is a monopoly. It should be an unlawful monopoly. This would-be unlawful monopoly is preventing the Athletics from moving to San Jose and that has caused San Jose all manner of financial harm.

Which, yes, sounds reasonable. Major League Baseball is anti-competitive and does have a monopoly that should go the way of the dodo and vaudeville for the simple reason that it serves no purpose as noble and grand as either the dodo or vaudeville did.  But the suit is not anything that should pass legal muster here, and I believe it will go down in flames.

As I said in the earlier post, courts do not entertain lawsuits from parties without standing to sue and the city of San Jose hasn’t asserted anything in this complaint that persuades me that they have standing. Or that they have been damaged in any way that a court will consider worthy of redress. Broadly speaking, they have claimed that (a) they have a contract with the owners of the Oakland A’s with which Major League Baseball’s actions have interfered; and (b) that the city has incurred or will incur — note the “will” — financial damages as a result of the A’s not moving to San Jose. Let’s break those down:

The tortious interference with a contract claim:  The contract claim is baed on an option agreement entered into in 2011 between the A’s owners and San Jose for the purchase of some land on which a ballpark would be built. The A’s paid San Jose $50,000 for the option. It expires this fall. If they want to keep the option open for another year it’s another $25,000. If the A’s owners were to buy the land, they can do it for between $6 million and $7 million. Nothing in the option agreement, however, promises that the A’s will actually move. It doesn’t even promise that they’ll buy the land. Just that they have the option to do so.

San Jose, however, seems to be attempting to bootstrap this option into a promise that the A’s would actually move there and that MLB’s rules preventing the A’s from moving have thus interfered with that expectation. That’s a bridge too far. A bridge longer than the Dumbarton, actually. The only guarantee San Jose gets out of that contract is $50-75K. The only thing it’s giving up is the right to sell that land for the period of the option. Major League Baseball has not stopped the A’s from paying their $50-75K.

San Jose’s insistence that more has been lost here is based on an assertion that the A’s have indicated a willingness to move to San Jose. Well, yes, they have. But they haven’t done anything to act on it yet because they know they can’t. At the minimum, I would think a court would need to have evidence that the A’s actually took a concrete step to pay San Jose $7 million for that land, to actually move to San Jose only to have had Major League Baseball stop that from happening. There is no suggestion, however, that any such evidence exists.

The financial damages: It’s all future tense. San Jose would have gotten increased tax revenue, would have gotten good paying stadium construction jobs, would have seen economic development and would have had a more healthy municipal budget had the A’s moved. Those are all speculative, prospective damages* not actual damages, and courts are not in the business of providing redress for speculative, prospective damages. Tomorrow Lew Wolff could say “you know what? I always wanted to move the A’s to Bakersfield. We’re moving to Bakersfield.” If he did that, San Jose would have no recourse. So they certainly have no recourse against Major League Baseball for preventing a speculative A’s-to-San Jose move.

*Probably also worth noting that the complaint spends a lot of time talking about all the economic benefits of ballpark development. These benefits have been largely debunked. I sorta hope this suit goes far, however, so that MLB would find itself in the odd position of having to explain how such damages are illusory, contrary to their tack for the past 25 years or so.

I think Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is abhorrent. I wish it were gone and think, in the right lawsuit, it could be defeated. If the A’s had filed this suit, for example, claiming that MLB is preventing them from moving and that MLB’s insistence that they stay in Oakland has caused them financial damages, I think it would have a puncher’s chance. And I’d be shaking my pompoms, cheering it on. But they didn’t file it. San Jose did. And San Jose has no legal rights that seem remotely impinged upon here.

Which, it should be worth noting, may be the idea. It’s quite possible that this suit is more a political document than a legal one, with San Jose’s mayor trying to focus attention on the languishing A’s-to-San Jose thing and to get public opinion on the side of the A’s and the city.  Maybe this will do that, maybe it won’t. I’d have to know the political dynamics of the Bay Area better than I do to have an idea.

But I do think that for it to have any practical use in creating leverage it has to at least present a legal threat, and this doesn’t do that. Indeed, I think Major League Baseball is way more worried about losing its antitrust exemption than any bad PR that can come out of Oakland, so they’re likely to fight this suit until it’s dead.

Which should be quickly. Because the suit is no better than the stuff bubbling up through the Oakland Coliseum’s pipes and should be thrown out.

Dee Gordon apologizes, is reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

UPDATE: Gordon issued a video apology on the eve of his reinstatement:

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.