"Everybody else gets screwed" except the Yankees and Red Sox

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Bud Selig has his little committee to talk about speed of the game, the postseason schedule and other rules changes.  The USA Today put their own committee together — including guys like Dusty Baker, Torii Hunter, Scott Boras and former umpire Steve Palermo — to talk about many of the same things, and unlike Bud’s group, USA Today showed its work.  The most interesting thing to me: everyone says that those pitch-striker strike zone boxes used on TV broadcasts are ridiculously off, which is something I’ve suspected for a while. “They should say at the bottom of the screen, ‘This is for entertainment purposes only,'” Palermo says.

The most controversial stuff — but I think the most righteous — comes when the subject of speed-of-the-game comes up:

“When you got a 15-13 game, it’s going to take
3½ hours,” Palermo says. “But I don’t think it should take 3 hours, 5
minutes to play a 2-1 game. You’re putting everybody in a deep freeze
by doing that. You might as well have Dean Smith come out and do Four Corners.”

The trouble, Palermo says, is there are certain teams and individuals who continually ignore baseball’s directives.

“This is a hot button with the commissioner,”
Palermo says. “We’ve got a couple teams — I’m not going to name names,
but I think everybody knows who they are — and they’re arrogant. They
don’t think this pertains to them. I had a president of one of those
ballclubs tell me the system is flawed. I told him, ‘Then how did the
28 other teams conform to what we’re asking except for you and your
next-door neighbor that you have a rivalry with?’

Says Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter,
realizing along with the other panelists that Palermo is alluding to
the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox “Everybody else gets screwed but those two teams.”

You don’t need a panel of experts to tell you that the Yankees and Red Sox have turned baseball into a snooze-fest, but it’s somewhat surprising to hear people in and around the game being so up front about it. They’re particularly tough on Papelbon, who always takes extra pitches in the bullpen after being summoned, thus lengthening the time for pitching changes, but they go on about the Yankees’ excessive mound visits too.  For my money they could pile on about how long and how often guys on those teams step out of the batters’ box in between pitches too.

We get it, Red Sox and Yankees: you’re important.  But you’re not THAT damn important, so get on with it, will ya?

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

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Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.