Craig Calcaterra

Are the Dodgers wasting Clayton Kershaw’s prime?

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Kind of a weird column from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times yesterday. In it he puts forth the proposition that the Dodgers may be wasting Clayton Kershaw‘s prime by engaging in a slow, methodical rebuild which would have them contending a few years after Kershaw’s current contract with the Dodgers runs out and, my, isn’t that a bad thing.

Which I suppose sounds concerning until you realize that the Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball, have acquired a great number of veterans in the past several years who are still producing and, most especially, that they’ve been to the playoffs three years in a row.

I get the specific concerns Hernandez voices. The Dodgers’ roster is not ideally constructed, that is obvious. They lost Zack Greinke and didn’t replace him with another ace or, really, even a solid number two guy. Their rotation plan — assemble as many decent-but-not-spectacular pitchers as possible and hope depth wins the day — is not sexy. Moreover, in the early going it’s running into some predictable bumps, health-wise. But it’s not malpractice or anything, is it?

This is a club which has won 278 games in the past three years and, if everyone plays to their potential, stands to win a lot of games again. They’re no mortal lock and they play in a tough division. Beyond Kershaw they don’t have a crop of ready-to-dominate players like, say, the Mets have or a young marquee slugger like a Bryce Harper or a Mike Trout. But to argue that they’re wasting Kershaw’s prime just doesn’t scan for me. There are few teams which have been in as good as a position to contend, year-in-year-out as the Dodgers have been in over the past several seasons.

The Dodgers are trying to do some rebuilding of their system on the fly. But they’re also putting forth a lot of effort to win at the major league level. Those concepts aren’t mutually-exclusive and thus I’m struggling to understand the tack the almost always spot-on Hernandez is taking here.

An ESPN guy takes issue with ESPN’s coverage of the game in Cuba

In this 2003 photo, Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard poses for a photo in Miami. Le Batard, who is also an ESPN host, acknowledged Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, he gave his baseball Hall of Fame ballot to the website Deadspin because he detests the "hypocrisy" in the voting process. Le Batard confirmed he let Deadspin readers decide which players he would vote for. (AP Photo/Miami Herald, Al Diaz) MAGS OUT
Associated Press
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This story has something you rarely if ever see when it comes to either ESPN or politics: nuance. And some maturity, even. I’ve read the column a couple of times and watched the video and I still don’t have my head around it completely, but I feel like this is a rare glimpse of adults acting like adults in the space where sports radio, sports columns, and politics intersect.

The columnist/radio host in question is Dan Le Batard. He’s a good one on balance. Better than most in that line. He’s also employed by ESPN for his radio gig and the Miami Herald for print. He also happens to be the son of Cuban exiles and was born and raised in Miami. He grew up with his parents and the Cuban exile community, almost all of whom had their families uprooted and many of whom had relatives killed by the Castro regime.

ESPN has put on a full-court press for its coverage of today’s Rays-Cuban National Team game. It’s running alongside a diplomatic initiative which seeks to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. As we noted yesterday, there is considerable pressure on ESPN — self-imposed for the most part, but pressure all the same — to limit anything approaching controversial political sentiment on any of its outlets and from any of its personalities. If you expected Karl Ravech to go on the air today and blast Fidel Castro, well, you were dreaming.

But Le Batard did not pull any punches. Yesterday he wrote a scathing column in the Miami Herald about the series and the president’s visit. Today on ESPN radio he reiterated many of the sentiments and explained himself a bit more. The radio thing is hosted on ESPN’s site as “Why Le Batard will not attend MLB-Cuba Exhibition Game.” He specifically takes issue with ESPN going to down to Cuba at all and explains why he refused the company’s offer for him to come along.

His comments are not sugar-coated — he pulls no punches — but they are nonetheless grounded. Unlike many who argue against softening of Cuban-American relations, he does not pretend that the feckless 56-year-old embargo needed more time to work. He admits it failed. There is nothing more combustable than a Hitler comparison and he makes one, but he does so based on the subjective experience of his grandparents and his parents, who believe that based on what happened to their lives and families, not as some objective absolute comparison, which would not be apt.

La Batard is likewise clear that this is not his pain. That he has had a great life as someone born and raised in America. He calls it “borrowed” pain and does not sound for a moment that he’s seeking sympathy or trying to generate fake heat. He’s simply using his informed voice to communicate the feelings that Cuban refugees, their families and large parts of the Cuban-American community harbor. I think it’s especially important to listen to him talk about it on the radio clip because his tone matters. He is sincere and it’s clear where this is coming from. This is the polar opposite of the usual sort of thing you hear from some radio guy. He’s like the anti-Skip Bayless here.

My personal view is that the opening of relations between Cuba and the United States is a good thing and that baseball is a great way to work to thaw a nearly six-decade-old cold war. On most things — and contrary to some of the stuff Le Batard mentions in his work here that is not about his family’s subjective experiences — I tend to be of the view that we have to move forward, end the last skirmishes of the Cold War and normalize relations. But I can’t, under any circumstances, put myself in the shoes of Le Batard’s family or the Cuban community and can’t dispute for a second the pain many of them feel given their own personal histories. It’d be the height of obnoxiousness to tell the victims of tyranny that they’re overreacting or that they have to “let it go.”

I think Le Batard was open and honest about all of that and I think his was a useful voice to counterbalance the understandably optimistic tone the rest of the coverage of this game has taken. Rapprochement is a good thing but you can’t have it unless there were bad times before. There were bad times before. Nations can move beyond them but individual people can’t necessarily be expected to forget them. And some of them, depending on their age and their experiences, cannot be expected to forgive.

Yesterday, after Le Batard’s column came out, some wondered whether ESPN would discipline him for going against the party line and wading into controversial political waters. By promoting his radio show comments today I think it’s safe to say ESPN isn’t doing that. And good for them. It’s one thing for the network to discipline personalities who offer ignorant and knee-jerk political hot takes or who throw irresponsible rhetorical bombs. It’s another thing for someone to talk about a controversial issue with some intelligence and maturity, which I think Le Batard did, no matter whether or not you agree with everything he said.

Good job, ESPN. We don’t say that very often around here, but, good job.

Donald Trump slams Ricketts family for the “rotten job” they’ve done with the Cubs

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We talked recently about Donald Trump’s beef with the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs. It’s Republican inside baseball stuff which I’m not really following, having to do with donors and add campaigns and accusations about this, that or the other thing during the primary season.

Trump, however, as he tends to do, is taking things wider and going with a full-on assault against all things Ricketts. Including the quality of the Cubs franchise.

Yesterday he went before the Washington Post editorial board to be asked about his positions on all manner of topics, as is custom in a presidential election. The entire transcript is here. At one point he was asked about the comments he made about the Ricketts family. Comments in which he said “[t]hey better watch out. They have a lot to hide.” He was asked what he meant by that:

TRUMP: Well, it means that I’ll start spending on them. I’ll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they’re doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me. I mean, so am I allowed to say that? I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.

The Cubs won 97 games last year. They signed the top free agent of the offseason. They have a ton of great young talent, a deep roster and a deep system, all rebuilt and run by a manager and a baseball operations department with a great track record. They are in the process of a wonderful restoration of an historic ballpark which is perpetually sold out and stands as one of the crowning jewels of one of America’s most beloved cities. If the Cubs were a stock, they’d be trading at near historic highs right now. Maybe I’m not an expert on all things like Donald Trump is, but I think it’s a hard sell to say that the Ricketts have done a “rotten job” running the Cubs.

Indeed, I’d think it’s an easier sell to say that they’ll win more games in 2016 than Trump gets electoral votes. What say you, Donald? Wanna make it interesting?

(h/t Matea Gold)