One PED-fueled, record-breaking felon is good. The other PED-fueled, record-breaking felon is bad

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My favorite thing about PED hysterics is how they totally freak out when one compares PED cheats to spitballers, bat-corkers and amphetamine poppers, claiming it to be apples and oranges and an illegitimate exercise in moral equivalency. Yet they themselves  love to compare gambling on baseball to PED use. And do so in an effort to absolve the gamblers.

Not all gamblers of course. They’ll tell you that the Black Sox scandal remains the worst thing to ever happen to the game. Shoeless Joe Jackson should be let off the hook because he was in “Field of Dreams” and stuff, but the rest of them cast a dark, dark shadow. Oh, and of course they make a special exception for Pete Rose. They love Pete Rose and will do anything they can to minimize or ignore his transgressions.

We’ve seen lots of this before. The claim usually goes that, yeah, what Pete Rose did was bad, but the PED cheaters are way, way worse, so we should now view him in a new light. Usually there is an effort to equate his gambling on baseball (and tax evasion and association with drug dealers and, oh yeah, his PED use, which enabled him to break the all-time hits record) as merely an understandable product of his competitive nature. And as evidence of that they’ll claim — despite the absence of evidence and despite the irrelevancy of the claim — that Rose only bet on the Reds to win. And then, when they’re done doing that, they will pivot to A-Rod or Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens to tell you how comparatively evil they are.

The latest to do so is Bill Madden of the Daily News. Who is no fan at all of Barry Bonds coaching at Giants camp last week. Indeed, he is so upset that he has made a series of assumptions and leaps, telling us what he is sure people he did not interview for his column are thinking. Neither Giants GM Brian Sabean and managing partner Larry Baer “were anywhere to be found,” at Giants camp last week Madden says, strongly implying that they disapproved of Bonds’ presence and didn’t want to be associated with it. Which is ridiculous given that both Sabean and Baer gave comments last week strongly supporting the decision to bring Bonds back as an instructor. And that, absent their approval, Bonds would not be there. I suppose Madden could have called those two to ask them to comment again, but if he did so it’d negate a few sentences of his little temper tantrum of a column.

But the worst part of it all is not that bit of disingenuousness. It’s the Keith Hernandez-caliber stretch it takes Madden to make the comparison in the first place. Indeed, it’s the very headline and premise of the piece:

It was indeed a strange coincidence that Bonds should end his seven-year exile at the same time Rose’s ban for betting on baseball is now coming up on its 25th anniversary . . .

source: APNo, it is not a strange coincidence. It’s two completely unrelated things which say nothing and mean nothing to one another. Their being thrown together in this column is 100% a function of Madden trying to beat his pro-Rose and anti-Bonds drum, not some necessary comparison that can or must be inevitably made by virtue of simple observation. This is a quintessential example of the sort of dog-wagging narrative-building one often sees from the more hacky elements of the sporting press. The ones who make it more about themselves and their preoccupations than the events they are endeavoring to describe and critique. And if you think this isn’t about Madden and his ink-stained brethren, think again:

And no doubt with the Hall of Fame in mind, Bonds was all nicey-nice with the reporters he held in contempt during his playing days, reminding me of the famous line by legendary New York baseball writer Frank Graham, about ’20s Yankee outfielder Bob Meusel, who shunned the writers most of his career until finally deciding to oblige them in his last season: “He’s learning to say hello, when it’s time to say goodbye.”

Rose, meanwhile, is “one of the great ambassadors of baseball,” according to Madden. It’d be really interesting if Madden could cite any of Rose’s great acts of baseball diplomacy. Personally, I’ve read three different books about the guy and I can’t recall any ambassadorial accomplishments. Maybe that refers to his delicate handling of the paternity suit he was slapped with in the late 70s? The expert negotiations he led prior to his tax evasion conviction? His summit meetings with the steroids dealer with whom he shared a home for a time? The sage way he handled his home plate collision with Ray Fosse, which seriously disrupted the latter’s career? Pete Rose may not be in the baseball Hall of Fame, but if there is an ambassador’s Hall of Fame — say, in Geneva — I figure he must have a plaque there.

Of course none of that is here nor there, and Madden knows it. His distaste for Barry Bonds and his affection for Pete Rose are all you have to know in order to know where he’ll come down on all of this. To know that he hates one great but drug-fueled superstar who broke one of baseball’s signature records thanks to PEDs and was later convicted of a felony yet loves a different great but drug-fueled superstar who broke one of baseball’s signature records thanks to PEDs and was later convicted of a felony. If you can’t see the differences there, well, you’re just not as enlightened as Bill Madden.

I suppose Madden might say I’ve made his point for him. That there is no difference, so why can’t Rose coach too? Such a claim wouldn’t pass the smell test for me given how clearly Madden wishes that Bonds were not allowed to be anywhere near a baseball field. He’d have them handled differently just like baseball is handling them differently, only he’d reverse who is banned and who isn’t. For my part, I’m having a really hard time seeing how either Bonds or Rose could do much harm as a guest hitting instructor. Hell, it’d almost be worth it to see Rose squeeze into a uniform again. Hopefully his 1970s-style double-knits.

I doubt we’ll ever get there. But if we do, it will be because of baseball’s consideration of Pete Rose and Pete Rose alone. It will not require some intellectually dishonest and transparently personal argument about how bad the PED guys are.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.