Craig Calcaterra

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins poses for photos on media day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Must-Click Link: Chris Johnson on Jose Fernandez: “He changed me”


One of the more memorable chapters of Jose Fernandez’s all-too-brief life and career came when he hit his first major league home run, back in 2013 against the Atlanta Braves. At the time he watched his home run for a lot longer than a young player is supposed to. If, at least, the young player cares about baseball’s so-called “unwritten rules.”

The Braves cared an awful lot about those unwritten rules and it led to a fracas involving Fernandez, Braves catcher Brian McCann and Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. It was one of the more notable incidents in the ongoing battle between players who talk about “playing the game the right way” and a younger generation of primarily Latino players who carry themselves differently. With more celebratory joy and more bat-flipping flair.

In the latest Sports Illustrated the great S.L. Price has a profile on Fernandez and, for part of it, he talked with Chris Johnson. Johnson joined the Marlins in 2016 and came to know Fernandez. They patched things up over the 2013 incident. But they didn’t just bury the hatchet. Johnson says that Fernandez fundamentally changed the way he viewed the game:

“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Johnson said . . . “He changed me,” Johnson said. “I smile. Before, I was always intense and took the game as a job and had to make it, and had to stay in the big leagues, had to get the contract, had to be the guy. No: You don’t have to do anything. You made it, you got to the big leagues, you’re in the United States of America, got a beautiful family. The game is fun. He played the game how I played the game in Little League. That’s how everybody should be in the big leagues.”

Asked if he ever told Fernandez that, Johnson shook his head. “No,” he said, so softly that he had to repeat it. “But I’ll tell him one day.”

There is so much more to Price’s story and it’s well worth your time. But this, touching on a matter we have discussed here over and over again, sticks out for me. It was sad for me to think a couple of weeks ago that it took Jose Fernandez’s death to really appreciate the joyful way he approached the game. But now I know it didn’t take that. Johnson realized after meeting Fernandez. He realized he didn’t have to be that head-down, business-first player so many players and fans believe one has to be to be a true major leaguer.

If the tragedy of Jose Fernandez’s death does anything for baseball in the public sphere, I hope it causes people to realize that one can play it with joy and one can appreciate it being played with flair. That we do no have to pretend there is some code of conduct that players must adhere to, even if so many do by virtue of tradition and conformity.

The Yankees have had 16 discrimination claims filed against them in the past four years

Yankee Stadium
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James Fanelli of DNAinfo reports on a regulatory disclosure filing from the New York Yankees which reveals that they’ve had 16 worker discrimination/harassment cases filed against them in the past four years. One of them involved claim that the Yankees Chief Financial Officer told a female worker she was “childish” for complaining about being called a “whore face” and a “bitch” by male coworkers.

That suit, as well as others involving racial discrimination, have been settled, but their existence is still set forth in a disclosure required as part of the Yankees’ application with New York’s Economic Development Corporation to refinance $1 billion in tax-free bonds that paid for its new stadium.

According to the complaint in that suit, which is reproduced in Fanelli’s article, the employee was an executive assistant named Holly Kelley, who said that coworkers used abusive, harassing language toward her. When she lodged a complaint with her boss, the Yankees’ CFO Anthony Bruno, she alleges that Bruno blamed her for her treatment and did not take her complaint seriously. She likewise claims she was punished as a result of her complaint and was repeatedly denied the opportunity to take the matter up the ladder to Hal Steinbrenner, who Bruno said “didn’t care” about the incident or Kelley’s concerns. Eventually Kelley was fired. The suit was later settled and confidentiality agreements were put in place.

You’ll recall that the Mets recently had their own harassment suit, filed against Jeff Wilpon, which was settled last year, which suggests that the Yankees are not unique in this regard. Indeed, it would not be at all surprising to find stories like these in multiple front offices. Baseball teams are famous operations with international name recognition forming part of a $10 billion industry. Practically speaking, however, most clubs are small operations, many still family-run, with a lot of employees who have not worked outside of sports for much if any of their professional lives. They can be insular places. There is a vibe about a lot of them that is more like a local small business than a large sophisticated corporation.

Here’s hoping that the acts which led to all of these lawsuits have ceased to exist in the Yankees organization and that they learned from their mistakes.

Padres starter Tyson Ross has surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross works against the Texas Rangers in the first inning of an interleague baseball game, Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Padres pitcher Tyson Ross will undergo surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome. The recovery time is 4-6 months, meaning that he will not be ready to start the 2017 season for San Diego.

Ross missed almost all of the 2016 season, making only one start, due to shoulder issues which, obviously, were a product of the syndrome. He was 26-34 with a 3.07 ERA (115 ERA+) in his previous three seasons for the Padres, making 80 starts and 19 relief appearances.

The Padres missed Ross’ production. But, given where they stood competitively over the past year or two, not having a healthy Ross as a trade chit cost them quite a bit to, as he was speculated to be on the move for a package of prospects at some point.