The Ryan Braun saga tells us something about the culture of baseball

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We’ve heard a lot since Thursday evening about how Ryan Braun was such a lucky dog for beating the system and all of that. We haven’t heard a ton, however, about that system itself.  But Grantland’s Charles Pierce has some pretty strong opinions.  Notably:

From its very beginnings, the “war” on performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and especially in baseball, has been legally questionable, morally incoherent, and recklessly dependent on collateral damage to make its point.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Pierce fires a lot of bullets at baseball and the drug testing system. Some hit, some miss.  But there’s an overarching truth to what he’s saying here that resonates with me, and that’s that Major League Baseball has always been a paternalistic and even authoritarian organization in many ways. Indeed, much of its history can be explained by people in charge making arbitrary, self-interested rules and then reacting poorly to it all when someone dares challenge them.

Much of the Ryan Braun reaction has been that way.  “Who cares that the rules weren’t followed?  It’s all fine, and how dare you say differently?  You’re upsetting a perfectly fine apple cart here, Mr. Litigious!”  It happened with segregation, free agency and collusion.  In some ways it’s happening with drug testing too:  this presumption that the authorities are correct and the one challenging the system is the troublemaker. Or worse.

No, this isn’t to make an equivalency between drug testing system and things like segregation and collusion.  Those latter things were awful and drug testing’s aims are noble.  But they are similar in terms of how someone challenging the system makes the establishment downright indignant. And I think that says something fairly revealing about the culture of baseball.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.