Bud Selig

We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history

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I realize that approximately 95% of you think I’m out to lunch on this whole “Don’t call Hank Aaron the Home Run King” thing I’ve been posting about over the past couple of days. I get that I am not changing any minds. I get that everyone hates Barry Bonds, I get why they do and I get the love for Hank Aaron. But what’s setting me off here isn’t some unholy love for Bonds or a vendetta against Aaron. It’s about baseball’s troubling tendency to whitewash history.

We see this all the time, especially when Bud Selig is involved. One thing he has learned very well over his 20 years as commissioner is that if certain people assert things often enough, people start to repeat it and then, most of them anyway, start to believe it. This is not something anyone can do, of course, but when you are the speaker and the leader, you get that privilege. We’ve seen it with presidents and we see it with Selig too.

Selig has been allowed to distort labor history via his characterization of the 1994-95 strike as something that just sorta happened as opposed to a strategy that he and a group of small market owners actively put in place before Fay Vincent was even deposed. We’ve seen him talk about the PED epidemic as something he long wanted to deal with but couldn’t because of player intransigence when, in reality, it was never a priority for him or the league. Many of the innovations he has championed — the All-Star Game determining home field advantage, instant replay — were things which resulted directly from his failures or failure to act, yet are portrayed as his leadership. Indeed, he and those who work for him have actively tried to erase those failures from history at times.

Again, this is not some special or evil trait of Bud Selig’s. It’s something all leaders tend to do, either intentionally, accidentally or half-passively because they’re allowed to without having anyone call them on it. It’s somehow seen as rude to call politicians, executives and leaders out on their mistakes and inconsistencies. They’re aware of this, so they simply assert that Things Are Just So, and thus they tend to become As So.

We’re seeing this happen with an entire era of baseball. Players who starred from the early 90s through the mid-2000s will be the least represented of all eras in the Hall of Fame. Records set during that time are not being recognized. The great bulk of what shaped the game over the past 20-30 years — PEDs, labor issues, financial issues and the lot — are brushed aside because they don’t fit too comfortably with a retiring commissioner whose legacy seems to matter an awful lot to an awful lot of people.

I think Selig’s legacy is a pretty good one, actually, and have argued the case before. But it’s certainly not a flawless one, and the consequences of that legacy mean that we have some uncomfortable truths to wrestle with. Things like the all-time home run champ being a cheater. Things like one of baseball’s charter franchises playing in a ballpark full of raw sewage. I think we should acknowledge those things just as much as we acknowledge the sepia-toned highlights of baseball’s past.

By writing Barry Bonds out of baseball’s history the way a lot of people, the Commissioner included, would prefer to write him out, we fail to do this and we go way too far into whitewashing history as opposed to dealing with it. That’s why I bristle when I hear the stuff I’ve heard the past few nights.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]