Craig Calcaterra

Kelvin Herrera

Kelvin Herrera gets a five-game suspension; Yordano Ventura fined

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source: Getty Images

The price for the ugliness that took place between the A’s and Royals over the weekend is now going to paid. From the principal’s office:

Kansas City Royals pitchers Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura have received discipline for their roles in on-field incidents during the Club’s weekend series against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium. Joe Garagiola, Jr., Senior Vice President of Standards & On-Field Operations for Major League Baseball, made the announcement.

Herrera has received a five-game suspension and an undisclosed fine for intentionally throwing a pitch in the head area of Brett Lawrie of the A’s in the top of the eighth inning of the Sunday, April 19th game, with warnings in place.

Ventura has received an undisclosed fine for intentionally throwing a pitch at Lawrie in the top of the fourth inning of the Saturday, April 18th game.

Nothing for Brett Lawrie for his dirty slide into Alcides Escobar, but it’s often the case that the spark is not noticed while the conflagration is.

Why are reporters in the Reds’ clubhouse anyway?

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Why are reporters in the Reds’ clubhouse anyway?

Yes, I know they’re there because that’s their job. Unlike a lot of my media rants, this is not about reporters, really. It’s about the teams and the leagues and the arrangement in place in which, despite their clear annoyance with having to answer to the press, they open up their facilities to the press every day. And, barring some Bryan Price-style meltdown, at least go through the motions of answering their questions. Why does that arrangement persist?

This question occurred to me a bit ago when HBT reader and excellent baseball author Mark Armour asked me why the reporters-in-the-clubhouse model was so important. He — citing my reference to Barry Bonds as “an entertainer” this morning — wondered why entertainers like, say, Bob Dylan don’t let the press on their tour bus in the morning to tell them how the set is shaping up for that evening. How, after the show, Dylan doesn’t sit down in a media scrum and answer questions about why he changed the pronoun in the second verse of “Tangled up in Blue” from “I” to “she.” Why he doesn’t get a “talk about the key change in ‘Girl From the North Country,’ Bob” non-question. I mean, that’d be really bizarre, right? So why do we assume that’s the default model with entertainers who play shortstop instead of a guitar and a harmonica?

On a basic level they do so mostly out of custom and habit. It’s what has always been done. There are rules and agreements in place with the league and entities like the BBWAA. And, of course, it’s a relationship that doesn’t usually cause problems, yesterday’s blowup notwithstanding. Certainly not the kinds of problems that would occur if, tomorrow, the Cincinnati Reds said they’d no longer make anyone available to non-team-affiliated press. It’d be a headache and a half. And the leagues would get mad too, fining people and the like.

But rules could be changed. Agreements with the BBWAA could be tossed out or be allowed to expire. Even though we rarely question the source of today’s sports and media landscape, the fact is that it’s not carved in stone that it has to be like this. If the teams and the league and the players truly got fed up with having to answer to the outside press — and they are clearly more and more annoyed with having to do so — they could change the whole relationship. But they don’t. Why?

I don’t think it’s “because the press gives the teams and league publicity.” Sure, once, long ago, there was an unspoken agreement: the teams used the press for publicity and the press used sports news to sell papers. But that model has been disrupted a a great deal. Teams and leagues  have their own websites and p.r. departments and TV networks and can produce content to stoke interest in the fan base in orders of magnitude greater than comments to an independent reporter can manage. The newspapers’ part is much weaker than it used to be and they depend on the sports content — and advertising — more than they did 100 years ago. It’s gone from a symbiotic relationship to one of dependence in a lot of cases. So what is it?

Beyond habit, I think there is an underlying benefit that sports leagues and teams get from this relationship. One that Bryan Price and most players likely don’t think about but that commissioners and their attorneys and the visionaries they hire to make grand plans think about from time to time. That benefit: they get to appear as if they are quasi-public trusts, not private, for-profit businesses. And that’s really, really good for sports leagues and franchises.

The Reds got a sweet stadium deal several years back. So sweet for them and so, so bad for the taxpayers of Hamilton County, Ohio. They didn’t get that by virtue of a grassroots campaign which convinced the local government to do so. Most of the heavy lifting had already been done. Done in the form of more than 100 years of the Reds and, for a shorter period of time and lesser extent, the Bengals, posing as civic institutions rather than private, family-owned companies that are, functionally speaking, no different than a used car lot. Just one with more customers.

Sure, a lot of this posing developed naturally, as the role professional sports played in civic life was very different years ago than it is now, but it’s a pose that works to the Reds’ favor when it comes to things like that stadium. Or having its security operation outsourced to local police. Or any other number of ways that the clubs benefit from having a the city’s name before its nickname as opposed to having some corporation’s name on it like some European football club or Japanese baseball team.

With that benefit comes some minor costs. Some are social, such as appearing in parades if and when they win something (the car dealership doesn’t do this if it has a big year). Some are philanthropic and no doubt well-intentioned, such as leading charity efforts. On an MLB-wide scale, it may involve coming and answering to Congress whenever scandals erupt in order to hold on to that antitrust exemption that baseball gets, in large part, because it was once and still sort of is seen as a public good. For the NFL it’s to maintain it’s crazy-favorable tax status. And, finally, as to the topic at hand today, one cost teams and leagues incur is the necessary annoyance of holding press conferences to give the illusion of accountability, just like any other public entity has to do.

I don’t think any of these things leagues and teams do are calculated schemes — again, custom and tradition are of primary importance here — but taken altogether, a whole lot of how sports function in our society can be explained in terms of for-profit businesses acting as if they are fourth branches of the government or, at the very least, public trusts or public goods. They’re treated differently and more preferentially than any other old business is, both in practical terms and in their standing and popularity, and they’re not eager to do things to mess that up, such as blatantly antagonizing the press.

Yet, increasingly, they are antagonizing the press, at least from the point of view of the press. Access is being curtailed and competition to the traditional press is being underwritten by teams and leagues. Players are increasingly loathe to give the press their time. This Reds/Price stuff can be seen as contempt for the press and shock that it dare not be the club’s lapdog. It’s kind of crazy, really.

I’m sort of agnostic about all of that. I am of the view that fans don’t care too terribly much about what goes on inside the clubhouse or what players and managers have to say. They care about the games on the field way, way, way more than they care about anything else.  I have argued that the press should largely cede the business of reporting commodity news like injuries, lineups and stuff to the clubs. I think that the best reporting one usually sees comes from reporters talking to athletes and sports figures away from the clubhouse or, at the very least, outside the confines of general media availability. The best analysis I see comes from people who allow themselves to be a step removed from the club itself and who allow themselves to be critical and unconcerned with upsetting sources. A world without that traditional team-media interaction would be weird if the dynamic changed tomorrow, but it’d work just fine I bet.

Most of the time I am inclined to think it’d be good for that dynamic to end. And I hope — perhaps naively, but I hope all the same — that if that dynamic ended we’d also see the end of society’s viewing of sports as a public trust. The end of the illusion that sports are somehow not businesses and are somehow subject to a greater deference and privilege than any other business. The end to baseless and indefensible subsidies and the end to the deification of sports figures — especially sports executives — as something greater and more noble than they are. Yes, I think I’d rather like it that way.

But if that dynamic does not end — if teams and leagues continue to go through the motions of appearing responsive to the press and if they seek the benefit of being seen as quasi-public entities — they had best not simultaneously pretend that they’re not at least superficially accountable. Accountable to the press, their fans and the public at large. Such accountability is all something of a charade, I imagine, but asking professional sports to keep it up, even in a half-hearted manner should not be too much to ask.

Bryan Price apologizes for his salty language. Not his disdain for the media.

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Reds manager Bryan Price just issued a statement through the Reds apologizing for his rant last night. But not all of it:

This is pretty rich. Rich because the cussing wasn’t the really bad part. Oh, sure, that’s what got everyone’s attention. But as I noted this morning, the most remarkable part of Price’s rant was his disdain for the media and the job it does and what that says about how teams and organizations approach the media in general. The “how DARE you not do our bidding” aspect of it. It was akin to a celebrity pulling a “Do you know who I AM?!” stunt to some perceived underling on camera.

Someone asked me if I thought Price would get fired over this. I seriously doubted it, and now I doubt it even more. I doubt it because I think that, though they won’t admit it as readily as Price did, the Reds hold the media in disdain just as much as he does. They think it’s a menace that can be annoying at times, especially when it doesn’t agree to be bypassed by p.r. men and house organs as quickly as the Reds would like it to be.

This statement was no doubt vetted by the Reds p.r. people. They have no problem with Price being pissed that the media reported news. They just don’t like the language. The best propaganda, I suppose, is the most easily-digested propaganda. F-bombs are a distraction from the message folks in authority are trying to deliver.

Statcast comes to televised games tonight

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We’ve talked about Statcast before. It’s the 3D tracking technology from MLB Advanced Media which has been available to some degree on MLB.com replays and the like. It shows how fast guys run, how hard the ball is hit off the bat, defensive player routes and the like. It was showcases online during last year’s playoffs in replays like this one.

As of tonight, it’s coming to television:

Baseball fans will have an opportunity to view a live game like never before when Statcast makes its television debut during today’s MLB Network Showcase game between the Cardinals and Nationals at 7 p.m. ET. If you’ve ever wondered how fast the ball comes off of Bryce Harper’s bat, or just how much ground Jason Heyward can cover in the outfield, your chance to get definitive answers is finally here.

The link at MLB.com has a primer at what it is, how it will be used and what sort of information viewers will be able to get from it. It’s worth your time, as it’s a thing that, I presume, will be increasingly integrated into broadcasts much the way PitchF/X strike zones and things have been. I also presume that, before even seeing it, many will decry it as the over-statting of baseball and make all of the usual jokes about mother’s basements, computer simulations and the like.

There may be some growing pains and there will certainly be a learning curve involved for both the broadcasters and viewers, who will need some time to figure out which of the newly available metrics are worth a damn, what numbers = good and what numbers = bad and so on. But good on MLB for trying to innovate.

The Angels have a comeback plan for Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton
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Over the weekend it was reported that the Angels and Josh Hamilton were in talks that would, somehow, resolve his situation. Those talks could include trade talks. Or talks about how and when to let him rejoin the team. Money could’ve been on the table. They could’ve been adversarial or not.

But today the Los Angeles Times is reporting that, whatever else may happen to Hamilton — and the team going after him for money is apparently still on the table — the Angels are trying to put in place a path back to the team for him. Bill Shaikin:

Under the tentative plan, Hamilton would report to the Angels’ Arizona training complex for two to three weeks of work with the team’s extended spring program. He would then proceed to a minor league rehabilitation assignment and could rejoin the Angels thereafter.

“Thereafter” being early June.

This would be a lot more encouraging, I think, if Arte Moreno or someone in charge there would drop the silly farce in which they think they can void Hamilton’s deal because of his drug lapse and if they’d make some sort of gesture which suggests that (a) they care about the guy as a person; and (b) might have a scintilla of regret for the way they’ve trashed him publicly in the past month or two. But as it is, this comeback plan seems just as premised on the fact that C.J. Cron and Collin Cowgill aren’t hitting well, so maybe they should hedge their bets.

Which has sort of been the thread all along here for the Angels, actually. Their anger at Hamilton is due to his specific facts — he makes a lot of money and hasn’t played well — rather than any set of principles or scruples they have as club. Now, his potential return to the team is, it seems, premised on the fact that he may be a less-odious option than Cron or Cowgill, not because allowing him to rejoin the team is the right and proper thing to do.