Henderson Alvarez with the unlikeliest of no-hitters


Actually, it was prime no-hitter time: a meaningless game on the final day of the season. The opposing team had nothing to play for and thus started several backups. The umps were also looking to get things over with in a hurry. If there was ever a day for Henderson Alvarez to throw a no-no, this was it.

It was the ending that made this one unique. The Marlins, like the Tigers, couldn’t put a run on the board. At the end of 8 1/2 innings, Alvarez had his no-hitter ready to go, he just needed some help.

And if he didn’t get it, he was going back out for the 10th.

For Alvarez, it was his first start against an American League team since the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the big Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson deal last winter. In 2012, he went 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA for the Blue Jays, allowing 216 hits in 187 1/3 innings. Rick Porcello was the only pitcher in the AL to give up more hits last year.

Alvarez, though, has found things quite a bit easier in the NL; he entered the day with a 3.94 ERA in 16 starts. His batting average against was down from .290 to .256. And today he was essentially facing an NL lineup. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson were all on the bench. Opposing starter Justin Verlander actually came the closest of anyone to picking up a hit for the Tigers. Prince Fielder left after one at-bat.

Alvarez ended up getting 13 groundouts, four of them taken care of himself. The last of those, off the bat of Don Kelly in the ninth, may well have gotten into center field if not for an athletic play from Alvarez. It definitely helps having that fifth infielder out there.

After that, the Marlins finally did their part in the ninth. Giancarlo Stanton came out of his spikes in his first two swings against Luke Putkonen, then lined a single to center on his third try. Logan Morrison followed with a single back up the box, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.

It looked like things might go wrong when Stanton froze on Adeiny Hechavarria’s one hopper that went past the pitcher to be handled by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Stanton, perhaps thinking the pitcher would field it, froze at third. He should have gone regardless, given that there wasn’t going to be a double play either way. If Stanton had bee thrown out, it still would have left the winning run on third in the form of Morrison. And there’s a good chance that Stanton would have made it. As it was, the out was made at first.

The mistake wasn’t fatal. Chris Coghlan walked. Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering to Greg Dobbs, allowing Stanton to score without a play. Alvarez was on deck at the time, even though with two outs and the bases loaded, there’s no way he could have hit in the inning. The wild pitch meant the Marlins didn’t face the awkward situation of mobbing the pitcher instead of the guy who delivered the game-winner.

Alvarez’s no-hitter was the fifth in Marlins history. He threw just 99 pitches, and it was clear that he would have come back out for the 10th. Conceivably, he could have turned in just the third no-hitter of 10 innings or more since 1916. The two previous were both thrown by Reds: Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. That would have been pretty awesome, too, but the wild-pitch, walkoff no-no was memorable enough on its own.

MiLB president Pat O’Conner says teams would contract if minor league players had to be paid more

Minor League Baseball
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As Craig mentioned earlier, a new law is likely to pass as part of a Republican-led spending bill that amends language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The result of that will make minor leaguers exempt from being owed minimum wage and overtime pay, meaning that teams can continue to pay them very little. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball lobbied Congress to do this, as MiLB president Pat O’Conner readily admits, as Josh Norris of Baseball America reports.

Why all this effort? In 2014, former minor leaguer Aaron Senne filed a lawsuit along with Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle, alleging that the minor leagues violated state and federal minimum wage laws. In many cases, minor leaguers earn less than $10,000 a year and only a small percentage of players can be buoyed by their signing bonuses.

O’Conner said, “When the lawsuit came out two or three years ago, we started to put a strategy together. We’ve been lobbying Congress since June of 2016. … We had 94 people in Washington in June of 2016 walking the halls, talking to the elected officials.

Here’s what that lobbying effort looks like in graph form, via Maury Brown of Forbes:

O’Conner goes on, as he usually does, making disingenuous arguments to justify paying minor leaguers unlivable wages. He said, “To me, it’s fairly simple. If Major League Baseball experiences a tremendous increase in its cost of labor, it will reduce the number of players it offers to Minor League Baseball, or it will come to Minor League Baseball and expect us to pay a portion of that increase in cost. Either one of those are catastrophic to our business model.”

O’Conner went on, “If the cost of that talent is doubled or tripled, which could happen under an FLSA basis, MLB is not going to pay that much money for the talent. They’re not going to pay. They’re going to do one of two things: They’re going to say, ‘If 160 (minor league) teams is going to cost (this much), we’re just going to cut down on the number of teams. We’re not going to pay for 160. We’ll pay for 80. We’ll pay for 100.’ Then the other 60 or 80 that are left without players, if they want to stay in business, they’re going to have to pay for their own players. … You might lose half of the (league). You don’t know. You might lose leagues. You might lose cities in leagues. Nobody knows, but the fact of the matter is one of two things is very likely to happen: MLB is either going to cut back on the number of teams it provides, or (MiLB) is going to have to start paying salaries.”

Major league teams are responsible for paying the salaries of the players on their minor league affiliates. Minor league teams are only responsible for paying their own employees, including front office personnel as well as ticket-takers, ushers, concession stand workers, and such. But we’ve done the math on this before and giving minor leaguers a livable wage is a drop in the bucket to an industry that saw over $10 billion in revenue last year. The average Major League Baseball team is valued at $1.54 billion, according to Forbes. TV deals and MLB Advanced Media have a lot to do with that.

Let’s go over the math again just so we’re all on the same page. Most teams have six affiliates; some have seven or eight. Players will go up and down through the minors, so the teams are usually dealing with 50 or so players in any given year, sometimes in excess. But generally speaking each team has a 25-man roster. Six minor league teams at 25 players each comes out to 150 players. Guaranteeing them a $30,000 salary comes out to $4.5 million in total for six teams. Obviously, the total is slightly more for teams with more affiliates, and if you want to guarantee them a higher salary. $4.5 million is the cost of a free agent reliever. Fernando Rodney, Craig Stammen, and Jared Hughes signed contracts for exactly that amount this offseason. For the cost of a free agent reliever, every team could guarantee each of its minor league players a livable wage so they could pay the bills. $30,000 in the grand scheme of things still isn’t much, but in many cases, it would represent a pay increase of four or five times what they’re getting now. Teams valued north of $1 billion can easily afford an additional $4.5 million each year.

Furthermore, Matt Winkelman of Crashburn Alley brings up a good point:

As mentioned on MiLB.com, the Tampa Yankees, Springfield Cardinals, and Gwinnett Braves are examples of teams owned by their major league parent team. Which makes O’Conner’s fear-mongering all the more disingenuous.

Major League teams wouldn’t pass on the cost to their minor league affiliates not only because they might already own their affiliates, but also because they would be reaping the benefits of paying their players more. Being able to study film at home instead of working the graveyard shift as an Uber driver would, on the whole, make their players better. Being able to afford gas would allow them to more easily shop for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of constantly walking a block to a pizza shop or McDonald’s. Healthier players are better than unhealthier players, right? Being able to afford a quality mattress, instead of sleeping on a couch, would allow players to sleep better. Better sleep means better production in every industry. Better players means a better hit rate on draft picks, which means more talent making its way to the majors that is cost-controlled for six years. As we’ve seen with the evolution of free agency, teams vastly prefer cultivating their own talent rather than paying a premium for it on the free agent market.

What this comes down to is pure, simple avarice. It’s short-sighted greed on the part of team owners and the people that work for them. Their public justification falls flat and were they capable of feeling shame, that’s what they should be feeling. Beyond their labor, minor league players are the product being marketed to fans. Without them, the owners have nothing.