Great Moments in Fact Checking: the Mike Piazza biography

29 Comments

Mike Piazza was wrong about his interaction with Vin Scully back in 1998, but there was some emotion and, at least on some level, a subjective aspect to all of that. Piazza thought that Scully was “crushing” him and, even if he was overreacting in the extreme, it’s (a) understandable that someone could have walked away feeling that; and (b) it’s not something an editor would feel obligated to “correct.”

Rob Neyer found something else in Piazza’s book that doesn’t fit that description at all, however. A memory — and some ruffled feathers on Piazza’s part — about something Tom Glavine wrote in his own autobiography. Except Glavine never wrote the book Piazza claims he wrote and the anecdote can’t be found anywhere.

I know celebrity bios are notorious for bad facts and hands-off editors, but man, really?

UPDATE: Piazza’s co-author commented on Neyer’s post, addressing the discrepancy:

“Rob: I hate to say it, but it appears that you’re absolutely right. You’re right, also, that it’s a very weird thing. I can’t explain it. There’s a reference to that book in my notes, but I’m at a loss to say why it wasn’t checked and verified. As I’m sure you’re aware, in a book like this it seems that there are about a dozen items that have to be checked in virtually every paragraph. Fortunately, the Internet age makes it comparatively easy, most of the time. And this would definitely fall under the category of checkable. So I can offer no defense. I can only acknowledge that it was clearly, regrettably, my mistake. Sorry. I’d like to assure you that nothing in the book was published willy-nilly, without accountability, but I’m afraid your catch has challenged that statement. Hopefully, it’s the only error of that kind. Meanwhile, the editor has assured me that the passage will be corrected in the next printing.”

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
12 Comments

Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.