Basketball

Maybe comparing MLB and the NBA is not the best idea

58 Comments

Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks made some comments about how the NBA should get rid of its salary cap. His justification was that baseball does it and it’s just fine, so why not the NBA?

I don’t know nearly enough about the NBA to say whether it actually could survive without a cap. Team construction and television money and a whole host of other things in basketball are mostly foreign concepts to me, so even if I am philosophically predisposed to hate salary caps, I can’t offer any insight as to how that would work — or if it should even be considered — in the NBA.

But I do know that Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer’s rebuttal to Marion is off base:

Dearest Shawn, “baseball does it” should never be a reason for just about anything sports-related. I love the game, but MLB has undergone decades’ worth of labor strife, strikes, salary disparities, drug woes, collusion, and out and out free market chaos. Bad ownership and front office machinations are part of the reason why, but the (decreasing, but still significant) gulf between the haves and have-nots in baseball is one of the reasons why you haven’t seen some certain teams in their ever-expanding playoff bracket for years.

Hurm. That seems odd to me. Let me grab a reference book here and see what we can see:

  • LABOR: The NBA had three lockouts and/or strikes since baseball’s last work-stoppage: 2011 (161 days); 1998-99 (204 days); and 1995 (79 days);
  • DRUGS: The NBA’s drug-testing system has been described as  “inadequate,” “pathetic” and “a joke,” by federal lawmakers. There is no blood testing as exists in Major League Baseball and the NBA’s program is less transparent than most other leagues’ programs. It is widely assumed that marijuana use among NBA players is an everyday occurrence.
  • SALARY DISPARITY: Baseball’s highest-paid player is Clayton Kershaw, who will make $30,714,286 in 2014. The NBA’s highest-paid player is Kobe Bryant, who will make $30,453,805. Baseball’s minimum salary is $500,000. The NBA’s minimum salary is $490,180. Clearly the salary disparity is chasm-like in baseball compared to the NBA.
  • COLLUSION: Baseball’s history here is shameful, but collusion on a large scale ended nearly 25 years ago and resulted in a massive settlement paid by owners to players as punishment. NBA Collusion may be more piecemeal, but it is reportedly pervasive. And no one really cares.
  • BAD FRONT OFFICES/OWNERSHIP: I tried to call my NBA-fan friends in Seattle for their insight, but they all committed suicide. My other NBA fan friends were too busy discussing the merits of tanking for draft picks to return my calls.
  • GULF BETWEEN HAVES/HAVE-NOTS: Nine NBA franchises have won titles in the past 34 years. Obviously basketball is a different sport than baseball and it’s much harder to create parity when a comparitively small number of players can determine an outcome, but Jesus tapdancin’ Christ, NINE TEAMS IN 34 YEARS.

Baseball is obviously not perfect. It has a load of problems, the sorts of which we talk about here everyday. And as I said, getting rid of the salary cap may be bad news for the NBA. Multiple teams were close to freakin’ folding before the cap was instituted with the 1983 labor agreement and the nature of the sport, its business model and competitive landscape is so thoroughly informed by salary cap concerns that scrapping it could disrupt everything in ways Shawn Marion hasn’t considered.

But I do know that putting the NBA and Major League Baseball together for purposes of an apples-to-apples comparison doesn’t tell us much. And, to be honest, doesn’t exactly put the NBA in the best light. So here’s an idea: let’s assess the respective leagues and sports on their own terms rather than engage in such unintentionally illuminating exercises as the one being attempted here, OK?

Dee Gordon 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)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

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)
25 Comments

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:

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.32.02 AM

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.