The David Ortiz home run through the eyes of a Tigers fan: a play in one act

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The scene: the Calcaterra fortified compound during last night’s Tigers-Red Sox game. The lady of the house is a Tigers fan. She is enjoying some bourbon. She is also enjoying the Tigers’ 5-1 lead over the Red Sox.

But she is only enjoying it so much. For the bottom of the eighth inning is beginning and the bullpen is coming on. She has watched over 100 Tigers games from her current position on the couch this year. Approximately zero of them which involved the bullpen in anything approaching a stressful situation were truly enjoyable.

I, as a person who doesn’t have a deep rooting interest in this game and as a person who skews optimistic, make a mostly dispassionate observation about how, whatever the bullpen’s shortcomings, a 5-1 lead with two innings to go against a team who has looked lost at the plate seems at least moderately safe. It is met with a more-than-moderate sigh. I mistake this for pessimism. It turns out to be cold, hard realism.

Snapshots as the evening wears on:

[Eighth inning starts, Jose Veras comes in for Max Scherzer]

“Here we go.”

[Will Middlebrooks doubles]

“Can you get me a refill?”

[Alleged lefty specialist Drew Smyly walks left Jacoby Ellsbury]

“You had ONE JOB!” [takes drink].

At this point Al Alburquerque comes in and strikes out Shane Victorino. I look to my right to see if this has encouraged her. There is no sign of encouragement.

At this point Al Alburquerque allows a single to Dustin Pedroia to load the bases. I look to my right. I expect anger and/or anxiety and/or distress on her part. But there is none. She has already skipped over three or four stages of grief and seems to be in full acceptance mode already. Acceptance of some disaster which hasn’t even happened yet and, hey, may not actually happen. But acceptance is unmistakeable. It lasts throughout the entire pitching change.

[David Ortiz steps to the plate to face Joaquin Benoit]

“Just walk him,” she says. “He should just walk in a run and pitch to the next guy.”

[David Ortiz hits a grand slam]

She calmly picks up her iPad, hands me the remainder of her drink to finish and walks upstairs. I don’t ask why she is walking away from a tie game. She has traveled into the future already. She has done so by remembering the past and knowing full well this Tigers team she follows. And knowing this Boston team pretty well too.  She is as certain of the outcome of this game as she is her name, her address and her social security number.

I hear her washing her face and getting ready for bed. A few minutes later Jarrod Saltalamacchia singles in the winning run. I call upstairs to let her know what happened and that the game is over. I may as well be telling her what she had for breakfast today. She knows. 

I go upstairs, brush my teeth and get into bed, thinking how amazing baseball can be and how, as has happened so many times in my life, I just witnessed something that some people will remember for the rest of theirs.

“Baseball is stupid,” she says.

Remember for better or for worse.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.