Dan LeBatard

The vilification of Dan LeBatard is well underway

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Yesterday Deadspin revealed that Dan LeBatard of ESPN and the Miami Herald was the voter who turned his ballot over to Deadspin readers and cast it pursuant to their collective vote. He didn’t accept any money for it but, ever since Deadspin revealed it obtained a writer’s vote a couple of months ago, the person who gave it up has been the BBWAA’s public enemy number one. Maybe even in his own mind, as LeBatard himself went on the Dan Patrick show saying that he now regrets what he did.

Contrite or not, since yesterday the knives have been out for LeBatard. A small sampling:

A longer take came from Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who took great issue with LeBatard. But, interestingly, seems like he would have been OK if LeBatard had asked ESPN readers to fill out his ballot instead of Deadspin readers:

People are missing the point about my ESPN vs. Deadspin argument. I’m just saying that LeBatard could have made his point better and had a much greater impact had he written a column or ESPN.com that said, “I think the process is broken and I believe you fans can create a better ballot than most of these hacks. So here’s a ballot. Each of you fill it out, and whoever gets 75 percent, I’ll check on my ballot and send it in.” Few could have criticized him for that, and since he could have said that weeks ago, he could have directed a lot of attention to his cause. Instead, LeBatard was effectively saying, “The BBWAA sucks, so I’m going to hand over my ballot to a website that also thinks the BBWAA sucks so I can make my point.” And oh, by the way, Biggio got only 3.3 percentage points more on the Deadspin ballot than the BBWAA ballot. And you know what? Maddux wasn’t unanimous on their ballot either.

I understand the generalized discomfort with what LeBetard did. It was played up by Deadspin as a scam in certain respects — “look at us, we bought a vote!” — and that set off a lot of alarm buzzers. And of course, Deadspin said right up front that the idea was to, more or less, mock the process.

But in practice, this was no different than a writer allowing readers to inform his voting which many voters have done in the past. No, he didn’t say anything about it beforehand, and no, his protest, such as it was, was not as effective as if he had longly and loudly argued the grounds of it before the vote, but the end product — a fan vote and a very good ballot as far as these things go, with no payment or other ethical lapse — seems pretty harmless. But it’s not being viewed as such by the voters themselves. I predict LeBatard  will have his BBWAA membership revoked as a result and I expect he will be treated as persona non grata for a long long time.

But a question: does this play out different if a website other than Deadspin is involved? If it’s ESPN, as Shulman suggests, or FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus or Baseball America, does it draw this level of ire? I seriously doubt it. I believe that Deadspin is the reason so many voters are pissed off at LeBatard. A great deal of the establishment press hates Deadspin and its product. Views Deadspin as pranksters at best, Everything That is Wrong With Journalism at worst. And many use Deadspin as a placeholder for all online media, and many of these guys feel threatened by online media in a general sense anyway.  At least when they forget that they work in online media themselves:

I dunno. LeBatard is a BBWAA member and any club has a right to police its membership, so if and when they bring the hammer down on him it’s not like we can say much. But I wonder why his particular protest is any more odious than the silly, look-at-me votes of Ken Gurnick, Murray Chass and many others in their ranks. Voters who, the BBWAA membership has told me quite loudly in the past week, are entitled to their opinions however silly and that we should — no, we must — respect them lest we be considered bullies or jerks or people of intemperate tone. I guess that doesn’t apply to LeBetard. He can be called a clown and a fraud until the cows come home.

He wouldn’t be, I’m guessing, if it wasn’t Deadspin involved. Even if the fact of Deadspin’s involvement was effectively no different than any other website’s would have been. And even if this particular protest was way less harmful to the actual voting results than the protests of the Ken Gurnicks and Murrays Chass of the world.

Adams homers in 16th to lift Cardinals over Dodgers 4-3

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ST. LOUIS — Matt Adams homered in the 16th inning to lead the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night for St. Louis’ season-best fifth straight victory.

It was the second consecutive game that the Cardinals won in their final at-bat. They beat the Padres on Thursday after scoring a run in the ninth inning.

Adams homer came with one out off Bud Norris (5-9), who gave up six runs as a starter in an 8-1 loss at Washington on Wednesday.

Seth Maness (1-2) picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief for St. Louis, which was playing its longest game of the season.

Jedd Gyorko hit a two-out homer off closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth to tie the game 3-3.

Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick homered for the Dodgers. Los Angeles has lost four of six. The red-hot Turner has seven homers and 17 RBI this month. He hit two homers in a 6-3 win over Washington on Thursday.

Turner blasted his career-high 18th homer of the season off Seung Hwan Oh in the ninth to break a 2-2 tie.

Corey Seager had four hits and drove in the first run of the game. He had hit in seven successive at-bats before flying out in the ninth.

Kendrick’s solo shot in the sixth tied the game 2-2. He has hit in 14 successive games trying Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the longest current streak in the majors.

Los Angeles starter Brandon McCarthy allowed one hit and two runs over 6 1-3 innings, the longest of his four starts this season. He left with leg cramps. McCarthy struck out four and walked three.

St. Louis starter Michael Wacha allowed two runs on 10 hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore recorded his 28th successive scoreless outing by retiring two of four batters in the seventh. He has not allowed a run in 41 of 42 appearances this season.

Minor League Players’ Wage Suit against Major League Baseball suffers a huge setback

The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East
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A judge handed minor leaguers looking to hold Major League Baseball liable for underpaying and exploiting them a huge setback today, ruling that the case cannot go forward as a class action. Minor leaguers who want to sue over their pay and treatment still can, but they’ll have to do it individually. The ruling saps the minor leaguers of their leverage, as Major League Baseball would likely be able to fend off individual cases which, by themselves, might only amount to several thousand dollars per claim.

The background: in 2014, former Miami Marlins player Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, and three major league clubs claiming that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He was later joined by former Royals minor leaguer Michael Liberto and Giants farmhand Oliver Odle. Eventually others joined and the suit had been expanded to 22 teams as defendants.

The upshot of the case is that, while the minor league season lasts only part of the year, players are required to do all sorts of things outside of merely playing games for which they are not compensated. Training, meetings, appearances and the like. When all of that time is added up, the players claim, their already low salaries are effectively far below minimum wage in violation of the law. Major League Baseball has countered this by claiming that minor leaguers are basically part time seasonal workers — like landscapers and pool boys — who are not subject to federal labor laws.

Last year the judge gave the case conditional certification, allowing the players to try to establish that it should go forward as a class action. This would streamline the case from the plaintiffs’ perspective and give them the power of collective action by asserting hundreds or more similar cases into one proceeding. The judge’s ruling today, however, was that the cases really weren’t factually similar and thus collective action was not appropriate because figuring out how many hours each player worked and what was required of him varied too greatly among the players.

From his order:

“The difficulties associated with determining what activities constitute ‘work’ in the context of winter training are compounded by the fact that there appear to be no official records documenting these activities. Because it may be impossible to determine from official records the types of conditioning activities in which the players engaged, membership in the state classes based on winter training would depend largely upon the players’ ability to remember, with a reasonable amount of detail, what they did during the off-season (often for multiple years and for many, several years in the past) to stay fit.”

The judge said that, in light of this, each case would be unique and would require “individualized inquiries” to find damages and liability. That phrase –“individualized inquiries” — constitutes magic words which sink would-be class actions. If a company overcharges all of its customers by $8 due to an error repeated a million times, it’s easy to look at one set of facts and judge them together. If you had to look at a million different wrongs, that’s no class action. And so it is not a class action for the players.

As many courts who have dealt with these sorts of cases have noted, for many plaintiffs, a class action is the only practical method of adjudicating Fair Labor Standards Act cases because individual plaintiffs are frequently unable to bear the costs of separate trials. They are, by definition, (allegedly) exploited workers. They’re not going to be able to pay legal costs and fight off a multi-billion dollar business in order to collect the few thousand dollars they were underpaid. At the same time, however, the defendants have rights too and, if the facts of each players’ treatment truly differ (e.g. the Yankees make their minor leaguers do more than the Brewers do) it’s not fair to bind one defendant’s defense to the acts of another.

So, where does this leave the players? Not dead. Not yet, at least. Their claims have not been dismissed on the merits. They have only been denied the right to act collectively. The individual plaintiffs can now file separate lawsuits against their former employers and Major League Baseball under the same theories. It would be harder to land a big blow in such a scenario, but if enough do, it could end up being death by a thousand cuts for the clubs and the league. Their legal fees might go up and, eventually, if they lose enough of these cases, more might be filed. There are a lot of former minor leaguers, after all, and once there’s some blood in the water, more of them — and their lawyers — may enter the frenzy. Decertification is certainly a win for the league right now, but it’s not necessarily a permanent win.

There are likewise some other quasi-collective forms this case could take such as multi-district litigation in which the cases, while individual, are coordinated in a loose fashion. That could lead to some efficiencies for suing players even if it’s not as robust as a class action.

We’ve written quite a bit about minor league pay and treatment in this space by now, so you probably know where we stand on it. We believe that minor leaguers are exploited and underpaid and we believe that Major League Baseball has been happy to exploit and underpay them for some time. Ultimately we believe that this state of affairs cannot and will not persist and that eventually, somehow, baseball will either see fit to pay its workers fairly or, more likely, will be forced to do so by a court or by collective bargaining of some fashion.

Today, however, was a big setback for the minor leaguers. Today’s ruling will give Major League Baseball and its clubs more time and more comfort in which to underpay them. There’s no doubt about it.