Milton Bradley angry

Ray Rice is awful, but let’s not pretend baseball has a great record on domestic violence

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The sports media atmosphere has been sucked up by the Ray Rice/NFL/Stephen A. Smith/etc. story of the past week. Specifically, on how awful Rice’s actions were, how the NFL’s “punishment” of Rice was laughable and how Smith’s (and others’) response to it all showed that there are a lot of messed up attitudes about domestic violence floating around the sports world.

Today Mike Bates at SB Nation notes, however, that baseball’s closet is full of all kinds of domestic violence skeletons. And what’s worse, Major League Baseball has rarely if ever done anything about it. Bud Selig has never suspended anyone for it and in only a couple of instances did teams act, issuing short suspensions in those cases. It’s an eye-opening and at times stomach-churning read.

It’s an interesting and somewhat complicated thing to compare the NFL’s and Major League Baseball’s reactions to domestic violence (or drunk driving or any other off-the-field legal and/or deportment issue). On the one hand it’s legitimate to say that the NFL is awful because (a) it chose to weigh in on the severity and moral gravity of the offense in question; and (b) in doing so, definitively stated “eh, we don’t think knocking a woman unconscious is that bad.” On the other hand, Major League Baseball has utterly failed to weigh in at all. MLB may couch it in terms of it not wanting to weigh in in an area where law enforcement treads, or it may choose to emphasize the treatment/counseling services it provides players, but make no mistake: there is an implicit fear of bad public relations and a certain brand of moral cowardice at play in MLB’s stance on these matters too.  In some ways it’s the opposite of the PED thing: the NFL clearly has a problem and gets criticized for doing little to stop it, but MLB is no better and gets a pass since it keeps it all under wraps.

To be clear: the NFL does not get extra credit merely for doing something. What they did was to clearly state what its values are regarding domestic violence and those values are odious. At the same time, it’s possible that, if confronted with the same situation and inspired to weigh in, Major League Baseball would do more than the NFL did. No, there’s no reason to assume they would so in no way construe this as a defense of MLB, but they have at least taken the “it’s better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought an idiot than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” approach.

Maybe the strongest lesson to draw from this is that, when it comes to domestic violence, racism, drunk driving or any other offenses against laws or morals, it’s best not to have video or audio tape of the incident. Because I feel like neither the NFL or the NBA would have gone as far with Donald Sterling or Ray Rice if it wasn’t for that. And I feel like, if a highly publicized and recorded incident involving a baseball player came up, Major League Baseball would feel compelled to rethink its hands-off stance.

If and when such a thing occurs, I’d be very curious to see if MLB errs on the side of severe punishment or errs on the side of leniency.

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]