Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.

Mike Scioscia and the Angels played yesterday’s game under protest

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The Royals beat the Angels last night, but Mike Scioscia is hoping Joe Torre and the Commissioner’s Office gives him a do-over.

The Angels played the game in protest following what they believe to be a rules misinterpretation following a base running incident in the seventh inning. That’s when Raul Mondesi reached on a bunt single which scored two runs following a throwing error from Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker, whose attempt to put out Modesi sailed into right field. Watch the play:

Mike Scioscia came out claiming interference, arguing that Mondesi was not running within the baseline. The play was reviewed for over six minutes but the call — everyone’s safe and two runs scored — was upheld. After that Scioscia indicated tht he was playing under protest.

The thing about protests, though, is that they cannot be based on judgment calls. Rather, they have to be based on misapplication of rules by the umpires. Running outside of the baseline is a judgment call, though, right? So how can Scioscia protest it? Here’s his explanation:

“It’s not a judgement call. I would not have protested if I was not 100 percent correct on this. This is a misinterpretation of a rule. It was very clear. Phil Cuzzi, the home plate umpire, had Mondesi running inside the line in jeopardy the whole way, and stated that it’s okay because he was stepping back toward the bag, which is wrong.”

For his part, Royals manager Ned Yost believed it was a judgment call. For everyone’s part, protests are almost never upheld in baseball and, despite Scioscia’s comments, baseline calls are generally considered judgement calls.

If Scioscia is right, the game will be replayed, resuming with one out in the seventh inning and the runners where they started. But don’t hold your breath.

Politician behind the Braves new ballpark deal voted out of office

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Tim Lee was the Cobb County commissioner who led the charge to build a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves in the northern suburbs. The operation, despite being taxpayer-funded, was not passed on by the voters beforehand and was cloaked in secrecy at every turn. Best of all, once Lee and his fellow commissioners started taking heat for it, he held his critics in contempt and shut down any effort to examine the deal in public meetings or to allow dissent to it by the people he claimed to represent.

That’s not a great look for a public official. Which is why Lee is now a former public official:

Incumbent Chairman Tim Lee lost his reelection bid Tuesday to challenger Mike Boyce, a retired marine colonel, in a runoff seen by many as a litmus test for support of the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb.

Boyce beat Lee, winning 64 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.

If you read that linked article, you’ll be amused to see that Lee’s supporters blame his defeat on Donald Trump and general anti-incumbent sentiment. To the folks watching that race, however, it was obvious that this was a referendum on bringing the Braves to Cobb County in the manner that Lee did. His opponent, also a Republican, ran a grassroots campaign that was explicitly about Lee’s lack of transparency and, in many respects, total secrecy in spending hundreds of millions of public dollars on the sort of project which study after study has shown does not provide economic benefits to the public in any way approaching the degree to which it simply enriches the owners of professional sports teams. Lee’s opponent, Mike Boyce, said this after his victory:

“Cobb County is a very conservative county and people simply want the respect shown to them that if you’re going to use their money, you have to ask them,” Boyce said.

Doesn’t seem all that controversial, Trumpian or anti-incumbent to me. That just seems like good sense.

Not that Lee is going away quietly. After his defeat, he said this:

I wanted to make a positive difference for my community. Thirteen years later, I can safely say that I’ve done that. In my last term, Cobb County landed the biggest economic development deal in its modern history. That investment – however unfairly maligned and misrepresented – is already paying off and will enrich this community long after many of us are gone . . . The election is over; our friendship is not. How about we catch a ballgame together? I know a great place about to open up. It’s in the neighborhood.

I’m assuming Lee will have free Braves tickets for life after what he did for them so, yes, he’ll always be at the ballgame. And yes, I’m sure he’ll always consider the stadium to have been economically beneficial because he’ll just point to a ballpark full of fans and, eventually, a winning Braves ballclub and claim that makes everyone’s life better. If he chooses to measure the ballpark’s economic impact the way actual economists do, however, as opposed to the way professional sports teams and their crony politicians do, I’m guessing he’ll have to reassess that stuff about how great all of this has been.

Not that I ever expect him to measure it that way. No one in power ever does. They’re too busy hobnobbing with retired ballplayers and team executives in the luxury suites and explaining away their failure to fund true public works and services as either something wholly unavoidable or the fault of someone else.