Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Eric Hosmer passes Yonder Alonso in the latest AL All-Star voting update

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Last week Yonder Alonso of the A’s led the AL All-Star voting at first base. This week he’s been passed up by Eric Hosmer of the red-hot Royals, 936,734 votes to 887,645. If Hosmer holds on it will be his second straight selection by the fans at first base.

Elsewhere, Salvador Perez of the Royals leads at catcher, Jose Altuve of the Astros leads things at second base, his teammate Carlos Correa tops shortstops, Miguel Sano of the Twins commands the top spot at the hot corder (1,302,090); and Nelson Cruz of the Mariners leads all others at DH. In the outfield, it’s Aaron Judge of the Yankees, who remains the top overall vote getter then Mike Trout of the Angels and George Springer of the Astros.

Here are all the vote totals:

MLB, Northeastern University team up to provide educational opportunities for players

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Major League Baseball and Northeastern University have issued press releases today announcing that they have teamed up to establish a program which provides professional baseball players access to higher education programs and degrees. The degree programs, which include both bachelors and graduate studies, will be available to players at all levels both during and after their baseball playing days.

The agreement follows last year’s inclusion of a continuing education program in MLB’s collective bargaining agreement. That provided funds for players to pursue educational development. While, presumably, players can attend other institutions, Northeastern is the “preferred” school, which likely gives players more opportunities if they go there. In addition to Northeastern’s main campus in Boston, it provides remote learning opportunities in Charlotte, Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Toronto.

Northeastern has also agreed to provide dedicated counselors and career advisors to ballplayers taking advantage of the program. It is also pledging to support MLB’s Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program by preparing players for roles in the front office or on-field staffs after their playing careers end.

While many U.S.-based players who are drafted out of high school get their drafting team to agree to cover college expenses in exchange for them foregoing playing college baseball, there are are large number who don’t get such deals. And, of course, a large number of international players who begin their professional baseball journey while still teenagers.

This program will hopefully allow players who choose baseball over their education while they’re young to do so without sacrificing as much as they once were forced to. It will likewise, hopefully, provide a softer landing for the vast majority of professional baseball players who never get close to the major leagues.

Here’s the worst take you’ll likely ever see on netting at the ballpark

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There has been much discussion about extending the protective netting at major league parks over the past few years. Many teams have, in fact, extended their netting either voluntarily or in response to Major League Baseball’s “guidelines” encouraging clubs to extend it, issued a few years ago.

There has been no mandate for clubs to do so, however. MLB isn’t requiring extended netting. Some local governments, such as the city of New York, have made noises about requiring extended netting, but as of yet nothing has come of it. Courts which for decades have held that fans assumed all risk of foul balls and flying bats, have started to soften that stance on that somewhat, but there has yet to be any sort of definitive ruling which has forced clubs’ hands.

In light of all of that, it’s wholly inaccurate to characterize the topic of netting at the ballpark as some sort of nanny state or top-down authoritarian effort. It’s a largely organic movement inspired by many factors. Partially it’s about seats being closer to the field and some high profile incidents involving batted balls and flying bats. Partially it’s about the concern of liability on the part of teams resulting from those things. Mostly, though, it’s the result of everyone involved — teams, clubs, players, fans, public officials — realizing that it’s not a good thing for people to be injured by flying projectiles and seeking, in fits and starts, to find the best way to deal with it. Almost all efforts to this end have originated, in fact, with the clubs or leagues themselves, which are of course private entities, not the government or the courts.

But don’t tell that to Johnathan Tobin of The Federalist. He believes that extending netting is tyranny, to be blamed on “smart phones, trial lawyers, and the rise of the nanny state.” He argues that  the effort is depriving fans of good views and depriving teams of revenues from expensive seats which he believes to be depleted once those seats are placed behind nets and made less desirable. He does not, however, note that the most expensive and desirable tickets in ballparks are those behind home plate, which have been protected by netting for over a century. Guess that would mess with his argument.

Most of his argument, though, seems to hinge on (a) fans being responsible for their own injuries at ballgames; and (b) those injuries being an acceptable cost of doing business. It’s a dumb argument on one level, in that he and people who parrot this stuff vastly overestimate their ability to focus on the game 100% of the time and their ability to react to a ball traveling at 100 m.p.h.

It’s also a shockingly callous argument, especially given his acknowledgment of the dire consequences being hit by flying projectiles can have for those who we do not, legally, expect to assume the risk like everyone else and who we’d never expect to pay attention as much as we do or to react to the ball even as quickly as we do: children.

No decent person can look at a picture of an injured child, or anyone else who absorbed the impact of a ball or bat, without compassion. But at the heart of this issue is whether the state ought to regulate voluntary conduct because of the chance that someone might be hurt, particularly when the chances of a mortal injury are statistically insignificant. Records indicate that only one spectator has ever been killed by a ball or bat while attending a professional baseball game. But if you believe it is the obligation of government to prevent even one fatality every half-century, that decides the question.

That’s what happened in ice hockey when a freak accident in which a child was killed by a flying puck in 2002 forced the National Hockey League to erect vast nets at both ends of rinks. There had been no fatalities before that and none since, but it also meant that a great many spectators must now put up with viewing the game through an obstruction.

While it has become cliche to offer “won’t someone think of the children?!” arguments in response to every potential risk, Tobin’s explicit dismissal of the risk to children — including the death of Brittanie Cecil, the girl he references in that second paragraph who died when hit by a puck at a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game — is twisted. They’re not the ones hiring lawyers or looking at cell phones during games. Tobin’s blanket “hey, you should just pay attention, folks” argument does not speak to them nor should it.

Beyond that, it’s impossible to read this piece as anything other than paint-by-numbers ideological conservatism which cares little for the reality on the ground. It’s all here, really:

  • Fear-mongering about the “nanny state” despite 95% of the effort of extended netting at ballparks being driven by private companies making relatively informed decisions and weighing tradeoffs;
  • Fear-mongering over “out of control trial lawyers” — note his ignorant shoutout to the McDonald’s coffee case at the end, a sure sign of a man who does not know what he’s talking about — despite there being little if any successful litigation related to batted-balls;
  • Rejection of reality — reality in which people, in practice, rarely if ever complain about netting and which teams and players all like it — in favor of some theoretical impingement on “freedom,” which the author believes to be constantly imperiled;
  • Concern over the theoretical profits of corporations despite the fact that there is little if any risk to baseball teams’ profits due to the extended netting. Again: the most profitable and expensive seats at ballparks have always had netting in front of them.

I am the last person who will ever tell someone to stick to sports or to politics or to whatever subject in which the author happens to claim expertise. But if you’re going to inject your political obsessions into a sports story, you had best know what the hell you’re talking about first. Tobin obviously doesn’t in this instance and obviously doesn’t care. And as such, he should be ignored on this topic.