Author: Craig Calcaterra

Rob Manfred

Manfred hopeful for Cuba game; owners to discuss netting


BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred remains hopeful a big league team will play an exhibition game in Cuba during spring training.

President Barack Obama announced in December his intention to restore diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, and embassies were re-established in July.

“There are a variety of issues involved there, not all of which are wholly within baseball’s control,” Manfred said Tuesday at the general managers meetings. “Obviously, the federal government has some significant influence on whether that’s going to take place, and there are issues that need to be solved before that can happen.”

U.S. teams played spring training games in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s revolution but none appeared there from March 1959 until the Baltimore Orioles faced Cuba’s national team in Havana in March 1999. MLB has not returned since.

“We got a little time still. There isn’t really a firm cutoff,” Manfred said. “We’re going to proceed internally and get to the point where we’ve sort of identified who would go, meaning which club would go if we can get it done. And one club maintaining flexibility with respect to a spring training date is a lot easier than 25 clubs maintaining that flexibility.”

On other topics:


He said ballpark differences make it impractical to have identical protective netting at all 30 big league venues. The commissioner’s office has been discussing the issue with teams following a series of injuries to fans from foul balls this year. Owners will talk about the matter when they meet in Dallas on Dec. 18-19.

“If you go out and look at the ballparks, it becomes evident that a simple uniform – for example you’re going to net to the edge of the dugout – is not workable, given the variation in designs of the stadium,” Manfred said. “It’s going to have to be a little more complicated than that if, in fact, we move ahead.”


Manfred remains on track to decide Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement by the end of next month.

Then Cincinnati’s manager, Rose agreed in 1989 to a lifetime ban from baseball after an MLB investigation concluded he bet on games involving the Reds while managing and playing. Manfred met with the career hits leader Sept. 24.

“The end of the year is my deadline,” Manfred said. “I’m not telling you that this is coming Dec. 30 or whatever. It will be done before the end of the year, let me be clear about that.”


Baseball and the players union appear to be moving toward a new rule applying to takeout slides at second base. The Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke a leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada breaking up a potential double play during the NL Championship Series.

“There will be dialogue on that topic with this group this week. There will be dialogue with the owners next week and we will continue our conversations with the MLBPA on this topic,” Manfred said. “We see this as a player safety issue and we want to make sure we’re in the right place without committing to whether there’s going to be a change or not.”


Following the start of a federal investigation into whether St. Louis Cardinals employees hacked into a Houston Astros’ database, Manfred spoke to GMs about intellectual property and plans to have the issue on the agenda for next week’s owners’ meeting.

“It’s an issue upon which we will give advice to the individual clubs to make sure that they negotiate individual contract provisions that are protective of what they feel they need to protect,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago or 30 years ago, intellectual property in this business was what some GM carried around in his head and he was going to take with him when he left. … Today the business has changed.”


Manfred hopes to avoid a third consecutive season in which Time Warner Cable SportsNet LA, which televises most Dodgers games, is unavailable to many homes in the market. Charter Communications announced in May it plans to buy Time Warner Cable.

“I’m hopeful that there are dynamics in play beyond baseball in terms of corporate activity that may create some flexibility and hopefully we will get a resolution in time for the 2016 season.” he said.


Wrigley Field last hosted an All-Star Game in 1990. MLB already has announced the All-Star Game will be played in San Diego next year, followed by Miami in 2017 and Washington in 2018.

“It’s a question of how far out we want to be committed right now,” Manfred said.


Tampa Bay hopes with a change in members following this year’s election, the St. Petersburg City Council will allow the team to explore other sites in the area for a new ballpark.

“I believe that Tampa-St. Pete is a viable major league market with the right facility,” Manfred said.

Lance Berkman on the topic of home runs being rally killers

Lance Berkman

My conversation with Lance Berkman yesterday wasn’t exclusively about politics and transgeder rights. I mean, the dude was an elite ballplayer so it’s not like I wasn’t gonna talk to him about baseball. The highlights:

  • Berkman was pleasantly surprised about the 2015 Astros and, as a longtime member of the club when it was in the National League, amusingly noted that they exemplified “typical A.L. baseball,” with all of the “big power hackers” they had. He was most impressed with their pitching, however, and talked about Carlos Correa in awed terms. Berkman thinks they’re one starter and one reliever away from being something truly special. I think he’s right about that. Maybe more than one reliever given that a handful of their go-to bullpen arms are free agents, but still.
  • A lot of our political conversation dealt with his perception that there is some entitlement to younger people that he finds displeasing, and that extends to baseball in some ways. He talked about how so many players have individual pitching and hitting coaches these days and how that wasn’t common when he was coming into the game. But he is not under any illusions that players from the past are better than players from the present or that the game was somehow better. “Everyone says it was better back in their day,” Berkman said. “They’ve been saying it forever. They’re always wrong about that.”
  • I mentioned that the Hall of Fame ballot for 2016 had just come out in the hour before our conversation. He asked me who was on it. I read the list. He sort of gave a low whistle and said “man, I played with all of those guys” and laughed about feeling old. I told him he’s still OK as he won’t be eligible for a few years and he said “sooner than I think, probably.” What a drag it is getting old.
  • I mentioned that, if everything breaks just right, his teammate Jeff Bagwell could get elected this year. I went further and suggested that, if it wasn’t for PED whispers about him, he’d probably be in already. Berkman agreed. He seems to understand the politics of the Hall of Fame pretty well. And, like a lot of ex-players, seems to be way less hung up on it than fans and those of us in the media do. I suspect that, if you devote your life to something for 30 years or more, external validation is not really necessary, even if it is welcome.

One final topic was a bit more serious.

Berkman watched the World Series but as both a baseball coach and a baseball player he was as frustrated by the approach Mets pitchers took when things got dicey. He specifically mentioned Tyler Clippard facing Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning of Game 4 and Matt Harvey facing Cain in the ninth inning of Game 5. Cain walked both times, helping spark rallies which led to Royals’ victories. This is when Berkman said something that made me — and would make all baseball fans of a certain disposition — stop cold in their tracks.

“Solo home runs are rally killers, man.”

I stopped. I tried to gather myself. You hear such things so often, but you never think you’ll hear it said directly to you by someone you admire. After nearly an hour of talking about some of the most controversial, hot button political issues of our time, I was about to lose my composure over an old dubious chestnut of baseball analysis. I took a deep breath and tried to think of how to challenge him on that, but thankfully I didn’t have to.

“At least from the pitchers’ perspective,” Berkman added. He noted that, obviously, there’s nothing better than a home run, but that having runners on base can rattle a pitcher in ways that a homer really can’t. He agreed, of course, that a homer is the worst thing that can happen when you’re pitching, but at least it’s over and you can go back to the windup and pitch with no one on, and there’s some benefit to that psychologically.

More specifically, his point wasn’t that it would’ve somehow been bad for the Royals if Cain had hit a homer off of Clippard or Harvey in those situations. It’s that Clippard and Harvey — especially Harvey, who threw a 3-2 breaking ball to Cain — should’ve stuck with fastballs and not gotten cute the way each of them seemed to with Cain while behind in the count. His point was that, ahead in the game 2-0 in the ninth inning, you risk the solo homer by challenging Cain with a heater rather than try to be too fine, put him on base and let a potential rally get started.

I don’t disagree with that and, upon explanation, I caught my breath and regained my equilibrium. But man, telling a baseball writer that a homer is a rally killer is like yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie house. You gotta be careful with your words, dude. Someone could get hurt.


The Nationals 2016 calendar has Fenway Park on the front

fenway park seats getty

The Washington Nationals had a bad 2015. Embarrassing, really. The Nationals’ 2016 calendar is keeping the embarrassment rolling.

Or at least it was. The first editions of it have been recalled and are being reprinted, but the initial release of it was pretty hilarious in that the cover of the thing featured Fenway Park. Which, you may have heard, is not where the Nationals play baseball:

The team itself doesn’t print the calendar so it’s not the Nationals’ fault. And hey, it IS a great picture, so let us throw stones for all manner of things but not aesthetic judgment.

With Jose Reyes’ arrest for domestic violence, Rob Manfred is on the spot

manfred getty

On Halloween night, Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was arrested for assaulting his wife. Reyes is accused of grabbing her by the throat and shoving her into the sliding glass door in their hotel room. She suffered injuries to her thigh, neck, and wrist and was treated at a local emergency room.

All reports of domestic violence are awful, but this one is different than most in that it sets the stage for a historic moment: baseball’s first application of its new anti-domestic violence policy.

In August, Major League Baseball, in conjunction with the players union, announced a comprehensive policy regarding players involved in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases. Unlike the drugs policy, the domestic violence policy does not prescribe set punishments which are automatically carried out without the agency or judgment of the league. Commissioner Rob Manfred cannot simply refer to the policy, let its machinery do the work and not take a stand or make a judgement with respect to the player in question. Rather, the policy puts great responsibility on his shoulders to not just act, but to judge.

That’s because, in the absence of a minimum or maximum penalty, the Commissioner must issue the discipline “he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct.” Discipline will not be contingent on whether the player pleads guilty or is found guilty of a crime. Discipline will also not be subject to pre-policy precedent. Just because a player was not suspended or was suspended lightly in 2007, for example, does not mean that a hefty penalty leveled in 2015 can be overturned based on that precedent. We’re in new territory here.

And, at least for now, as Manfred is poised to issue his first bit of discipline under the policy, Manfred is unshackled by anything other than his conscience. He can set a strict discipline regime from the get-go without seriously worrying about being overturned or, at the very least, without being overturned absent strenuous opposition from Reyes and the union. And, of course, the discipline he does impose on Reyes will have an impact on more than just the baseball-playing fate of Jose Reyes. Pre-policy precedent is meaningless now, but Reyes’ precedent will be the standard from which all future domestic violence incidents are judged. At least roughly speaking anyway, given that the facts and circumstances of each case will be different and must be taken into account.

It’s a precarious place for Manfred to be. The risk of bad optics are legion, as his counterpart in the NFL can attest. Punish Reyes too heavily and he runs the risk of a battle with the union. Punish Reyes too lightly and he runs the risk of appearing to be soft on domestic violence. And, despite the apples and oranges nature of the domestic violence program and the drug program, the comparisons between suspensions under the two regimes will inevitably be made. After all, yesterday a Cardinals minor leaguer was suspended 50 games for smoking a joint. The fact that minor leaguers don’t have a union to protect them goes a long way toward explaining that disparity, but Manfred can’t expect all hell not to break loose if and when Reyes gets a suspension that is a fraction of that for behavior which is far more severe.

So here we are, at the brink of an historic moment. Rob Manfred is no doubt in his Park Avenue office today, surrounded by his advisors, discussing what to do with this shortstop. And knowing full well that what he does with this shortstop will have repercussions that last far longer and which loom far larger than whatever punishment is handed down in this instance.

Take your time, Rob. Get this one right. We’re all watching. No pressure.

UPDATE: Major League Baseball just released a statement about the Reyes case:

“As evidenced by our Joint Domestic Violence Policy, Major League Baseball understands the seriousness of the issues surrounding domestic violence, and our Policy explicitly recognizes the harm resulting from such acts.  Consistent with the terms of this Policy, the Commissioner’s Office already has begun its investigation into the facts and circumstances.  Any action taken by the Commissioner’s Office in this matter will be wholly in accordance with this Policy.”

Given that it’s the offseason and Reyes will neither play nor be paid for months, the league has plenty of time, fortunately, to consider this well and get this right.

Exclusive: Lance Berkman talks about persecution, tolerance and transgender people

Former Houston Astros player Lance Berkman sits back in his rocking chair during a ceremony to recognize his contributions to the team before a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Houston. Berkman and former teammate Roy Oswalt signed one-day personal services contracts so they could retire as Astros. Each received a World Series jersey, a Stetson and a personalized rocking chair. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

In September and again last week I wrote about Lance Berkman’s involvement with a campaign against a proposed ordinance which sought to combat and prevent discrimination in public accommodations in Houston. Berkman was a spokesman for the campaign against the ordinance this fall and spoke to a Houston talk radio station about the ordinance’s defeat at the polls last week.

The commercials were controversial, referring to the proposed law as “the bathroom ordinance,” and referencing the “potential danger” of “troubled men,” who might “enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms, violating girls’ and womens’ privacy and putting them in harm’s way.” Proponents of the ordinance felt that this campaign was a smear against transgender persons, casting them as deviants and potential predators. They likewise felt that the campaign was based on simple fear-mongering, as there have been no documented cases of bathroom attacks by transgender persons and that the notion that someone may pretend to be transgender in order to take advantage of such an ordinance and then attack someone is likewise undocumented and far-fetched. As was plain from my post last week, I took similar issue with the anti-ordinance campaign.

Over the weekend, I received an email from Lance Berkman. I have received calls and emails from ballplayers and members of the media I’ve written about in the past. They’re not usually very pleasant. Berkman’s, however, was as nice as could be. He said “I’d love the opportunity to face my accuser if you are amenable. Perhaps I could give you a better idea where I’m coming from on this issue. No worries either way.”

It was clear from context that he used the term “accuser” with good humor. Better humor than I used in characterizing him in my previous posts, I must admit. Even if he was yelling at me I would’ve spoken to him because it’s not every day you get a chance to talk to a six-time All-Star, but his pleasant email made me eager to respond. Yesterday afternoon I took him up on that and we had a pleasant 45 minute conversation.

At the outset, Berkman wanted to make one thing clear: his comment in a radio interview that he had been subject to “digital persecution” was misinterpreted. A lot of people say that, but this time it was quite clear that he truly meant the opposite of how he was portrayed.

“I was trying to say that I was not feeling persecuted when asked about the criticism I’ve received,” Berkman said. “Digital persecution,” — and he put emphasis on the word “digital” — “meant that I’ve only gotten criticism on the Internet or on the radio. If it’s just online you don’t feel it. It’s not in real life. Having bad things done to you in real life, being harmed, that’s what persecution is all about . . . that’s what makes people truly persecuted. Being criticized online doesn’t affect me.” Berkman went further and noted that, yes, in real life LGBT persons and others do face actual persecution. This was not a matter of backtracking or post-facto damage control.Berkman was sincere in all of this. I have no question, based on our conversation, that the man was truly misinterpreted with respect to the idea of “persecution.”

Berkman wasn’t overly-defensive about being misinterpreted. He noted that talk radio is not really geared for complicated discussion and that it’s understandable that the distinction between the digital and real world he was trying to describe didn’t come out terribly well. And, ultimately, Berkman said “you take to the airwaves and talk about sensitive topics, you have to expect some blowback.”

Berkman went on to talk about the other complicated topic he mentioned in his radio interview: tolerance. You’ll recall his comments from the radio interview:

To me tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country. We’re tolerant of everything. You know, everything is okay, and as long as you want to do it and as long as it feels good to you then it’s perfectly acceptable do it. Those are the kinds of things that lead you down a slippery slope, and you’ll get in trouble in a hurry.

Berkman told me that a point that didn’t come through there was that he wasn’t talking about tolerance of people, but of behavior. That everyone, and he included himself in this, does things of which they aren’t proud and from which we should not, as a society, simply look the other way. However, Berkman added, that does not mean we should reject or be intolerant of a person. Berkman is a devout Christian and this idea, normally summed up in the colloquial expression “hate the sin, not the sinner,” is central to Christianity.

I challenged Berkman here, acknowledging the “hate the sin, not the sinner” philosophy but offering the idea that being gay or transgender is not behavior and not a lifestyle, but rather a key part of a person’s identity. And not as a mere label or a stance: it’s part of the very essence of who a person is. As such, I asked, when one campaigns for laws that are harmful to the LGBT community, isn’t one necessarily harming people as opposed to regulating behavior?

“It’s not an easy topic,” Berkman said. “You’re taking their word for it, saying that’s the way they’re born . . . ” While those words could be taken as hostile or combative — after all, why wouldn’t we take someone’s word for who they are? — Berkman’s response wasn’t intended as hostile. He trailed off a bit when he said it, and sounded as if he was tossing the idea around in his mind, either for the first time or else giving it a fresh hearing. He was not, it seemed to me, rejecting that idea as if he somehow knew better. Rather, he seemed to be musing on his uncertainty about such things. He went on to say “maybe there’s science that backs that up, I don’t know.”

Of course there is science on that. From a variety of areas, including genetics, studies of brain structure and function, research regarding prenatal androgen exposure as well as psychological and behavioral studies. And, despite the many areas of inquiry of the etiology of transgenderism, the explanations may not be right, may not be limited to these and may not be mutually exclusive.

But it’s also the case that we need not have such an exact answer before forming our opinions regarding how to treat other people, rendering Berkman’s musings on the manner somewhat beside the point. After all, no one ever questions Berkman or me about when we “decided” to be straight cisgender men, let alone whether we are somehow confused about that “decision.” It’s accepted that that is our identity and it is never suggested that it is a course of behavior we have. Only LGBT persons, it seems, have their very identity and their behavior so throughly conflated. And so thoroughly subject, it seems, to literal referenda by those who are not of the same orientation.

Berkman and I then turned to the specific topic of the Houston ordinance in question and his campaigning for it. Without prompting, Berkman brought up what was perhaps the most controversial aspect of it himself: his reference in the ad to “troubled men.”

Berkman regrets the use of that term. And, he says, he specifically warned the backers of the campaign that using the term would be controversial. “I probably should’ve taken a stronger stance on that,” Berkman said, but the people behind the ad made what he said was a strong case for its inclusion. Berkman admits now that it was an unfortunate term and it would seem this was a case where a person who is relatively inexperienced in politics gave a bit too much deference to those who live it and breathe it. Despite this, Berkman does not regret his participation in the campaign, and spoke passionately about his opposition to the ordinance.

“The issue is, what to do about a 15 or 16-year-old boy who thinks he’s a girl and wants to shower with the girls? Maybe he is [transgender], maybe he’s confused. But I wouldn’t want him in the shower with my daughters. We shouldn’t have the rights of 2% of the population trump the rights of the other 98%.* Is it a mental choice? I don’t know. But it’s a Pandora’s Box.”

I asked Berkman his response to the study I cited in the piece I wrote last week which noted that there are no reports of transgender persons attacking anyone in bathrooms and asked if, in light of that, his concern is unfounded. He said “I guess it gets a little silly, but [the proposed ordinance] had no parameters. As written, there were no limits. No definition of ‘transgender’ or anything. Just saying it has never happened doesn’t mean it couldn’t.”

By this time I had been talking to Berkman long enough and felt that we were comfortable enough with each other that I could make a joke. So I noted that, as a liberal, I often get accused of being in favor of unnecessary laws aimed at imaginary horribles. As a conservative, does it not bother him that one could characterize the anti-ordinance campaign as being similarly concerned about something that, really, no one need worry about? As — dare I say it? — the sort of stance a liberal may take?

To Berkman’s credit he didn’t respond with a joke of his own or even an argument. “That’s fair,” he said. “If you take stances long enough there are going to be contradictions. Can’t deny that. There’s merit to the criticism.”

While Berkman and I are pretty much diametrically opposed on these issues, I must admit that, in an age where “flip-flopping” is deemed a cardinal political sin, foolish consistency somehow deemed a political virtue, and tortured reasoning in the service of making one’s views seem to be in total lockstep with both reason and righteousness even when passion rules us more than we realize, it’s refreshing to hear someone not too hung up on and that and just believe what he believes.

Before the call ended, Berkman and I discussed one last thing in that vein and, for all about which we disagree, found some agreement. The topic: the perils of stereotyping one’s political opposition.

Berkman was never angry or defensive during our call and there is no sense of victimhood about him whatsoever, but you can tell that he bristles at the assumptions people make about conservatives, especially southern conservatives, when social issues are discussed.

“As soon as you challenge a liberal stance people assume you’re a mouth-breather or a redneck,” Berkman said, and you can tell that even if he understands why his comments last week and in the ad caused controversy, he’s disappointed that stereotypical assumptions fueled the fire.

Berkman is smart, well-spoken and he’s finishing up the final 12 credit hours of a kinesiology degree from Rice University this semester. He’s certainly no dummy. And given that he was equally adept at discussing the legal and procedural history of the Houston ordinance — a particularly controversial and sometimes sordid one, it should be noted — his opposition to it was not solely based on some fearful reaction to transgender persons.

As a liberal, I know that many of my liberal friends do make negative assumptions about southern conservatives and as someone who grew up in West Virginia and knows no shortage of smart, educated and refined southern conservatives, it’s unfair and unfortunate when we retreat to painting our opposition with so broad a brush. It is for this very reason that, on occasion, I break with my liberal friends.

For example, I strongly, strongly support any and all ordinances which would ensure the right of conservatives to use the same facilities as everyone else.

Believe me, I’m very sensitive to the arguments of my liberal friends who oppose such laws. They go like this: “just because they’ve never actually met any stereotypical mouth-breathing yokel conservatives like they’ve described doesn’t mean they don’t exist! The issue is, what to do about an actual mouth-breathing yokel who wants to use public facilities. Maybe he’s confused, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t want him out in public with the actually enlightened.”

Compelling, to be sure, but we just can’t assume the worst about people whose choices we don’t condone and whose identity we don’t understand. In that direction lies madness.

*Recent studies have estimated that 3.8 percent of Americans identified as gay/lesbian, bisexual, or transgender: 1.7 percent as lesbian or gay, 1.8 percent as bisexual, and 0.3 percent as transgender. 8.2 percent of Americans reported that they had engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and 11 percent reported some same-sex attraction.