Craig Calcaterra

Aroldis Chapman Getty

Aroldis Chapman is not unique. Every team has employed a bad dude at some point.


Jeff Passan of Yahoo wrote a column about how the Yankees are in an awkward position given the presence of Aroldis Chapman, and his recent domestic violence incident, on the roster. He talks about how in acquiring Chapman and in doing so with a built-in discount due to his offseason incident, the team has abdicated any moral high ground it has historically claimed. He further notes how the words of Yankees people — notably Joe Girardi — clearly conflict with their deeds as a baseball club.

I don’t disagree with most of that. It is strange and a little unfortunate to see a seemingly very decent man in Joe Girardi have to walk the tightrope between an anti-domestic violence policy he no doubt believes in and having to support a key player on his team who has run afoul of it. And I feel bad for my friends who are Yankees fans who are going to spend the next year or two rooting for the saves Chapman notches without feeling, on some level, like they’re rooting for the man as well. No one wants to root for a jackass.

Thing is, though, we have all rooted for jackasses. Or, more to the point, the teams we root for have all employed jackasses and bad people in the past. And they all have done so knowingly, I guarantee you. There is not a single team in baseball that has a blanket “we do not tolerate bad characters” policy, enforced by cutting them or avoiding them altogether, irrespective of the quality of the player or the size of his contract. It’s always a sliding scale on which a certain amount of bad deeds and bad character are tolerated given a certain amount of production. If your moral high ground is so subjective, you don’t have a moral high ground. You have situational ethics.

Milton Bradley was employed by eight clubs, and they almost all knew of his violent acts and temperament. People most fans considered to be good guys like Kirby Puckett committed heinous acts. Josh Lueke was employed by multiple teams and it was his ineffectiveness as a pitcher, not his monstrous crimes, which persuaded teams to stop doing that. Former Yankees Chad Curtis and Mel Hall are rotting in jail for indescribably awful crimes which occurred after they left the team. Did a switch flip on guys like Puckett, Hall and Curtis later, after their playing days ceased, or was it clear to anyone earlier, at least on some level, that they were terrible human beings?

None of this is to excuse Aroldis Chapman or to tell any fan who cannot abide him or other players accused of domestic abuse that they are wrong for feeling that way. If I were a Yankees fan I would have a difficult time with all of this, just as I have had a difficult time rooting for Braves players who were demonstrably bad people too. I still don’t know what to think of Bobby Cox, for example. A Hall of Fame manager who led my team to its greatest glories but also a man who, as he was doing so, was arrested for hitting his wife. I try to be a person who, as the saying goes, separates “art from artist” and do not personally endorse Cox when I talk about his accomplishments, but it’s a lot messier than that in practice.

The point here is that however we as fans choose to approach these matters, let us not for one instant pretend that teams haven’t been walking this same tightrope since the game began. For the most part they have chosen to look past immoral, unethical, abusive and even criminal conduct by their players if that conduct did not get in the way of winning baseball games. To suggest that now, in 2016, this is a new area of consideration for them or that now, for the first time, the are abandoning some set of ideals they allegedly had in the past is naive in my view.

Finally, don’t take any of this as acceptance. I am not resigned to the idea that teams will always and must always employ bad guys. I think they should do less of that and that fans should persuade them to stop. I do not think that basing such an argument on a false premise — that they have just NOW abandoned some moral high ground and how dare they? — is a productive way to begin that conversation. Rather, I think it requires the greater acknowledgment and understanding that sports have always tolerated and protected bad guys and that, for sports to stop doing this, some very large assumptions need to change.

MLBAM could one day be the only sports network you need

Bob Bowman

Major League Baseball Advanced Media — MLBAM — is usually referred to as baseball’s digital arm, but it’s become far more than that. Rather than just the place that makes the At Bat app and puts baseball games and highlights online, it’s a platform in and of itself and it is increasingly serving sports and forms of entertainment other than baseball.

In addition to its baseball stuff, MLBAM runs and owns websites for other sports and entertainment ventures and handles backend infrastructure for The Blaze TV, CBS Sportsline’s March Madness on Demand service, WWE Network, WatchESPN and HBO Now. It likewise has a partnership with National Hockey League. The goal, it seems quite clear, is for MLBAM — and its stockholders, which are Major League Baseball’s owners — to be the place through which as much of your online entertainment flows as possible. And, given that most people believe the future of all entertainment to be delivered online as opposed to over the air or through your cable box, that’s a very lucrative future indeed. And MLBAM already has revenues of well over half a billion dollars a year.

Against that backdrop came some interesting comments from MLBAM CEO Bob Bowman yesterday about the future of baseball’s digital arm. It, essentially, aims to be THE online sports network:

During Recode’s Code Media conference on Thursday Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) CEO, Bob Bowman, openly discussed creating a global sports network that would live online . . . Bowman did confirm that MLBAM is preparing to bid for sports rights. Considering that they already operate video streaming capabilities for the NHL, PGA, HBO Now and March Madness, why not go the extra step and own the rights to stream in addition to running the infrastructure? What better way to create an online sports network juggernaut?

The article says there are technological limitations at the moment and that MLBAM can only deliver around 2 million concurrent streams before things become overloaded. Bowman would like to get to 10 million concurrent streams. I don’t know much about that. Some friends in the world of tech tell me that such scalability is quite doable now, but we’ll let people who know about such things argue about it.

The more significant barrier, it would seem, is not the tech but the current broadcasting deals in place. Some baseball cable deals, for example, run well into the 2020s and beyond. Broadcasters are not going to sit idly by, paying clubs billions in order to subsidize the means of their own extinction, are they? Will they not sue to block such a thing? Or will a bunch of them go bankrupt first and have their TV deals torn up? Or will some — like those who operate broadband providers — voluntarily tear up the deals and jump in with MLBAM and find a way to make money online that they can’t make on TV any longer? And what will that mean for your internet bills?

Interesting stuff. The present makes sense. The future makes sense. The path from the present to the future is insanely complicated.

The Marlins close off a prime autograph spot at their spring training facility

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria leans against a golf cart as he watches his team during spring training baseball practice, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Associated Press

Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post reports that the Marlins have erected a new fence at their spring training facility closing off access to an area where fans have traditionally gathered to get autographs from Marlins players.

It’s outside of the player entrance to the clubhouse. Before, fans could gather on the sidewalk and reach through a gate to hand players balls or cards or things to sign. Now they can’t get to the sidewalk because of a new fence. And even if they can get to that fence, it’s covered by a mesh screen which blocks anyone from reaching through the gates. Capozzi has a picture of the foreboding looking barrier in his article.

As Capozzi reports, a Marlins spokesman said it was about safety, but that’s implausible. Rather, a source tells him, it’s because players complained about autograph-seekers who were particularly interested in big stars like Ichiro and Giancarlo Stanton. The addition of Barry Bonds to the coaching staff, he says, finally inspired the Marlins to act.

The article notes that the complaint was about autograph brokers, not kids. I understand how those guys can annoy people. their game is fairly transparent if you’ve seen them in action. They’re older guys, usually, with giant backpacks full of baseballs and binders full of baseball cards they obviously plan to sell. Players like signing for kids. They hate signing for these guys. I can’t really blame them.

That said, it’s kids and common fans who are, again, being pushed farther and farther away. Following on the heels of Yankees’ COO Lonn Trost’s unfortunate comments yesterday and the increasing way the rich and privileged are favored at the ballpark over ordinary fans, it’s the latest datapoint which bolsters my belief that baseball is losing connection with people — almost exclusively the non-rich — in important ways. I mean, in the very same article we learn this:

The ballpark has gotten rid of the popular grass berm in right field where fans could pay $15 to $20 to sit on the grass. It has been replaced with a 136-seat capacity Bullpen Club section, where tickets range from $52 to $60.

Last night, inspired by these kinds of stories I wrote a longish thing over at my personal site about how, in many important ways, we’re seeing the end of equality in civil society and how the same thing is happening in baseball. It’s a shame, and it’s something about which Major League Baseball should be very concerned.