Craig Calcaterra

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

Players who leave via free agency are not disloyal


I was on vacation with kids for, like, eight days and almost completely lost touch with sports. One thing that broke through, though, was NBA free agency. Middle of a 10 mile hike in a dang national park and you could still hear chatter about Kevin Durant. This was especially true given the proximity of the national park I was in to the Bay Area. Durant, of course, signed with the Warriors, so those chattering hikers are mostly happy today, I assume.

Not everyone is happy, of course. There are a lot of folks who hate that Durant went to Golden State. Thunder fans, for obvious reasons. No one likes it when their team’s star leaves via free agency, so they get a pass. But there’s a more generalized displeasure about it all, fueled by the Stephan A. Smith types and sports yakkers at large. This displeasure is rooted in either (a) anger that an already dominant team is getting the best available free agent; or (b) anger specifically at Durant for, somehow, showing a lack of character or cowardice or something by going to a team that was already good and which already has a big star or two. I guess he was supposed to go to Philly? Hard to say. These arguments are rarely fleshed out.

Baseball folks are familiar with (a) of course. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s there was anger about the Yankees seemingly getting all the big free agents. It was overstated — the Yankees won more before they started spending huge than after and many of the largest free agent deals were handed out by other clubs — but the “the Yankees are buying championships!” thing was taken as gospel and was greatly lamented. The (b) dynamic has always been less-pronounced in baseball given that one player can’t dominate to the extent one basketball player can, but players have always been criticized as greedy and self-centered for taking big free agent contracts with new teams. They have always been cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted them.

Leagues and teams are never held to such standards of loyalty and are rarely called out by the dominant voices in sports media or by fans at large for their greed. Or, to put it less sharply, their financially-motivated decisions. July is the month when the Major League Baseball trade deadline falls and over the next few weeks a lot of players will be changing teams. Most of them will be doing so against their will and, in some cases, to their great dissatisfaction. Many of the teams will make these trades to save some money. They will not get anything approaching the sort of criticism that Kevin Durant is getting for going to Golden State. Or that any given baseball free agent gets for switching teams.

Both situations, however, are part of the game. They’re part of the business of sports, as defined by their rules and their collective bargaining agreements. Players without no-trade clauses know that getting moved in July is part of the deal. Teams know that free agency is exactly that and that, eventually, they will lose control of a player. This is the business they’ve chosen. Yet to a large segment of fans and the sports commentariat, only the players are the ones who are greedy or disloyal. The “it’s a business” stuff is nodded at when teams engage in that business, but an athlete taking that position is seen as some sort of mercenary whose character is subject to question. Heck, in Durant’s case he’s being criticized for looking beyond the business aspects. He’s being criticized for wanting to go to team with a great chance to win a championship, which is supposed to the point. In some ways there’s no winning when you’re a player in free agency. At least in the court of public opinion.

I’m not suggesting that anyone feel sorry for Kevin Durant or next winter’s crop of baseball free agents. I’m pretty sure they’ll be fine. But I do wish that fans and the media would do a better job of acknowledging that all parties to professional sports are in a business and all are looking to maximize their interests. That, if we hate the results of those choices, we shouldn’t blame the person or business which makes them, we should blame the system which creates and incentivizes those outcomes. And we should pay close attention when that system is created and changed. At the time broadcasting deals and collective bargaining agreements are signed and the business and conventions of sports are forged.

Or, I guess, we can just stick to the games and then get all mad when the players change. But that seems kind of dumb to me.

Rogue bald eagle flies out of Dodger Stadium


There’s a longstanding myth that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the turkey, not the bald eagle, be the national bird. This is not, in fact, the case. Rather, upon seeing the depiction of the eagle on the new Great Seal, he wrote a letter to his daughter saying it looked more like a turkey, followed by musings about how brave and noble a wild turkey actually is and how bald eagles are jackass scavengers. Put differently, Franklin was, in the best and most enduring tradition of America, mocking something done by the United States yet basically going with it.

Still, if Franklin had argued for the turkey and if his arguments had been successful, perhaps we wouldn’t have had the scene we had at Dodger Stadium yesterday. The scene: two bald eagles from the Los Angeles zoo being released in a pregame swoop-by from the top deck and trained to land in the outfield, where they’d be collected by their trainer. They both soared regally enough, but one of them — the male, naturally — went off-script and flew right out of the ballpark through the gate in center field:

Like most dudes, his big talk about “freedom” didn’t contain much in the way of follow through. Rather than becoming a free citizen of the world, unshackled by the tyranny of his captors, he landed near the zoo van and waited for them to take care of him.

Can’t say I blame his impulse to escape, really. He probably had to fly while accompanied by that bad Lee Greenwood song or something and that’d make me want to bug out too.


What’s on Tap: Previewing Friday’s action

Getty Images

Welcome to the weekend, y’all. A full slate of games tonight including a couple of dudes making debuts for new clubs: Nick Tepesch for the Dodgers and Wade LeBlanc for the Mariners. Tommy Milone has been recalled by the Twins and will make his first big league appearance since May 3. Cody Reed of the Reds, in contrast, is a seasoned pro, making his second big league start.

On the older end of the spectrum is Max Scherzer, going in Milwaukee. The last time he pitched there he struck out 16 dues and retired the first 18 batters he faced. He’s facing a young man in Zach Davies, however, who has done some very special things himself in his short time in the bigs, particularly lately. Meanwhile, Jered Weaver is coming off of his best start of the season: a three-hit shutout in Oakland in which he needed only 95 pitches. He only struck out one dude in that game and his fastball can barely break glass, so he must’ve O.D.’d on the gumption and savvy pills. Why those are legal while PEDs are not I have no idea, but I suppose he’d be grandfathered in if they banned them anyway.

Enjoy your Friday night.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Nick Tepesch) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jameson Taillon), 7:05 PM EDT, PNC Park

Minnesota Twins (Tommy Milone) @ New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka), 7:05 PM EDT, Yankee Stadium

Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Moore) @ Baltimore Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), 7:05 PM EDT, Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks) @ Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler), 7:10 PM EDT, Marlins Park

Cleveland Indians (Danny Salazar) @ Detroit Tigers (Jordan Zimmermann), 7:10 PM EDT, Comerica Park

San Diego Padres (Colin Rea) @ Cincinnati Reds (Cody Reed), 7:10 PM EDT, Great American Ball Park

New York Mets (Steven Matz) @ Atlanta Braves (Aaron Blair), 7:35 PM EDT, Turner Field

Boston Red Sox (David Price) @ Texas Rangers (Nick Martinez), 8:05 PM EDT, Globe Life Park in Arlington

Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT, U.S. Cellular Field

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Zach Davies), 8:10 PM EDT, Miller Park

Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT, Kauffman Stadium

Arizona Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley) @ Colorado Rockies (Tyler Anderson), 8:40 PM EDT, Coors Field

Oakland Athletics (Eric Surkamp) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT, Angel Stadium of Anaheim

St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez) @ Seattle Mariners (Wade LeBlanc), 10:10 PM EDT, Safeco Field

Philadelphia Phillies (Zach Eflin) @ San Francisco Giants (Jake Peavy), 10:15 PM EDT, AT&T Park