The press does not cheer


I was at the press conference at Citi Field on Monday when Matt Harvey and Max Scherzer were introduced as the All-Star starters. The conference was hosted by Brian Kenny. It took place in an area of Citi Field which, at the time, was restricted to press and baseball officials, so there were no fans there.

After introducing the pitchers and managers, Kenny — standing at a lectern in front of the assembled press, in a setup that is very much like some sort of dinner event with guest speakers or a Dean Martin celebrity roast or something — said “let’s hear it for Matt Harvey and Mac Scherzer.”

Dead silence.

Which was absolutely predictable, as “no cheering in the press box” and its corollary “no cheering by the press” is a Cardinal rule of baseball writers. Really: you cheer in the press box and you will likely be expelled. If not, you will certainly be mocked and shunned. It’s like a Klingon Discommendation ceremony. Even I, who often thinks of ways to be subversive in situations like that, would never mess with that rule. Not because I think it’s necessarily an important rule, but because it’s very, very clear how seriously everyone takes it and there are limits to how subversive I’ll be.

In the past couple of days, Kenny has taken to Twitter to talk about it some and he was joined in debate on the matter by Ken Rosenthal. Yesterday they took their debate to Kenny’s radio show on NBC Sports Radio, and it was some entertaining stuff:

For what it’s worth, I’m sympathetic to Kenny. I mean, sure, he misread his audience and never should have expected that he’d get a round of applause from them at a news conference. And I totally understand that the rule is never going to change. But it does strike me as kind of silly that there are no exceptions to it.

We’ve accepted, generally, that one can be a fan and retain their objectivity. Why can we not accept that one can appreciate an accomplishment or show some restrained respect in the form of applause without losing that objectivity too? I didn’t cheer for Harvey and Scherzer when Kenny asked us to, but I could see a situation in which I applauded while wearing my press pass. Someone finishes a 27 strikeout perfect game or something. I don’t know. But I could see it happening.

Would that mean I don’t take my job seriously? I’m sure many would think so. But my job is to talk about sports and sports can be pretty fun and inspiring sometimes. Do we want the press to be 100% immune to that? Or, worse, to not be immune to that but to pretend that they are?

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.