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O’s GM Dan Duquette: O’s fans really, really hate Jose Bautista

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Over the winter Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said that he would not pursue free agent outfielder Jose Bautista because Orioles fans didn’t like him.

Whether that’s the real reason, as opposed to matters of cost, the team’s needs and Bautista’s value as a player going forward, is only something O’s decision makers know, but it was a fun bit of needling. Bautista is an unpopular guy in most places that are not Toronto, and hearing a GM get into the kinds of discussions fans often get into was unusual.

Duquette was interviewed by Mark Feinsand of MLB.com yesterday and he expanded on those comments:

(Laughs) Well that was an easy one; our fans just don’t like Jose. We play those guys 25 times a year and he’s the face of the Blue Jays. He’s the villain in the play whenever we play the Blue Jays. I like our guys. Our guys are good. [Mark] Trumbo is like a working-class-type baseball player. If he was going to work every day on a construction site, you would understand that he brings that kind of work ethic every day. That’s the kind of player that our fans identify with. We try to get gritty players that work hard every day and give their best effort every day. Our fans seem to like that and respond to it.

Again, I get the Bautista hate, and anything to stir up a rivalry is good showmanship, but those comments about Trumbo are inane. And not just because Trumbo comes from one of the most affluent suburbs in America where there were not, in all likelihood, a plethora of lunchpails in people’s houses.

For one thing, that kind of “gritty, blue collar” thing comes with a lot of historic racial baggage in which white players, regardless of their background or work ethic, got those complimentary labels while black and Latino players, regardless of their backgrounds and work ethics, were described as lazy or entitled or showboaty or whatever. While I do not think Duquette is intending to make some racial comment here — I think he was leaning on some shopworn cliches — that “combustible Latino” vs. “hard working, lunch pail guy” trope has a long and ugly history and it’s unfortunate to hear it referenced, even out of laziness.

For another thing: on what planet is Jose Bautista not a hard-working player? I get that you may not like the guy, but his story is a pretty amazing one. He was a journeyman who, for years, was an average-at-best performer. A lot of guys who profile like he did early in his career wash out of the league before they’re 30. He persevered, worked hard and, somehow, found an extra gear most people didn’t expect he had and he has spent the past seven seasons as one of the best sluggers in the game. Maybe he’s not a fan favorite, but his work ethic has never been questioned.

I dunno. Stir the pot if you want to — it can make things a lot of fun — but this is some dumb pot-stirring.

 

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.