“Respect the Game?” Phooey.

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I went on SportsDash on the NBC Sports Network this afternoon and talked about how, as long as players aren’t being truly rude and in the face of the opposition, there is nothing wrong with celebration. Bat flipping. Exuberance. Some occasional strutting. The sort of stuff I’ve been going on about for a  couple of days here. As soon as I came back upstairs from the little studio in the basement of my fortified compound, however, I got these two messages:

Setting aside the ridiculousness of a couple of La-Z-Boy warriors telling me that I can’t opine on the game if I didn’t play it at a high level, I am just so taken with that last bit. The bit about how Carlos Gomez must “respect the game.”

Like so many sports topic and phrases that seem to exist only in the world of talk radio and “Around The Horn” — whether someone is an “elite quarterback” or whether a basketball player is “coachable” spring to mind — the phrase “respect the game” is as ridiculous as it is meaningless. It’s a cliche that allows its user to pour in any amount of subjective criteria, smatter it with a healthy helping of bullcrap armchair psychology and turn a matter of opinion or aesthetics into some quasi-objective assessment. I sorta messed with the hashtag #RespectTheGame on Twitter earlier today, but if you scroll down past my shenanigans, you’ll see a lot of self-serious (and almost exclusively young, white male) baseball fans speaking about how important it is to respect the game. Repeating that phrase more like a religious incantation than an actual idea.

Of course, when asked to explain those concepts, it’s hard for their proponents to avoid tautology. Johnny Utah is an elite quarterback because he has won Super Bowls and that’s an elite accomplishment. Joe Shlabotnik respects the game because of the way he goes about his business. How does he go about his business? Well, respectfully. Tyrone Shoelaces is a coachable NBA player because he has not yet physically assaulted his coach. Utah, Shlabotnik and Shoelaces are all one failure or gaffe away from losing their elite, respectful and coachable status, of course. Suggesting that these concepts are conveniently malleable.

I actually played football at a higher level than I ever played baseball, so I suppose by some people’s logic I can talk more intelligently about football, but we know that’s not true. I can talk about baseball, though, and I’ll observe that, in baseball, there are a lot of players who have disrespected the game before Carlos Gomez came along. At least in what I presume to be the judgment of guys like my Twitter correspondents up there. Even some guys who, when it’s convenient for the speaker, are held up as examples of Game Respecters Par Excellence. Guys like this:

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Pete Rose. There’s a guy who would never toss his bat and strut out of the box. He totally respected the game. Or how about the Lords of Baseball during its Golden Age?

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More recent Hall of Famers?

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Baseball legends?

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Greater baseball legends?

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Even greater baseball legends?

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The greatest baseball legend of them all?

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The fact of the matter is that baseball is a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters. I adore a straight-shooting player like Al Kaline, but I thank God for Mark “the Bird” Fidrych. I have nothing but respect for the eternally polite and accommodating Harmon Killebrew, but Rickey Henderson made baseball exciting for my entire childhood and beyond. For every upstanding player that the Respect the Game crowd can point to, I can point to another one of those clowns, rogues and rakes. And I can point to people who find that stuff a lot of fun. Or, even if it’s not intended to be fun, somewhat interesting.

Baseball is in no more need of being respected by any one player than the sun is in need of being respected by cosmic dust. Baseball is way bigger than any of these guys and can survive — or even benefit from — these guys who are alleged to be so lacking in respect. Guys who don’t take everything so damn seriously all the time. Guys that sometimes lose their cool. Guys who use baseball as a vehicle for humor or for ego or for showmanship. Guys who do these things to get butts in the seats or their faces on magazines. Baseball has always survived them. At times, it has even embraced them. The game has never been weakened by them. Indeed, it is often made stronger.

So color me unimpressed with the latest calls for Carlos Gomez or Yasiel Puig or whoever the talk show warriors’ next punching bag happens to be to respect the game. The game has been disrespected by way better and way more disrespectful than the likes of those guys and will be disrespected by many more in the future.

And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Report: Braves not expected to pursue Bryce Harper

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Thanks in part to a rebuilding effort that got ahead of schedule, the Braves in 2018 had their best season in five years, finishing 90-72 and winning the NL East. They were stopped in the playoffs by the Dodgers, falling in five games in the NLDS. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Brian Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year Award. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis even got some down-ballot love in NL MVP voting, finishing 18th behind teammates Freddie Freeman (fourth) and Acuña (12th).

Markakis is now a free agent and there happens to be a very talented and still-young outfielder available in free agency this offseason who could replace him and then some. He goes by the name Bryce Harper. You might have heard of him. David O’Brien of The Athletic initially said to not be surprised if the Braves became players in the Harper sweepstakes, but quickly retracted it as a source he trusts assured him the Braves are not, in fact, in on Harper and added that he thought there would be no way Braves ownership (Liberty Media) would sign off on a 10-year deal.

Since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ Opening Day payroll has been in the $60 million to $137 million range, according to USA TODAY Sports. On average over that period of time, the Braves have had the 18th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams. The Braves increased payroll to a franchise-record $137 million on Opening Day in 2017, but cut that all the way back to $83 million in 2018, dropping their rank in baseball from 13th to 27th. In April, the Braves disingenuously played service time games with Acuña, then an uber-prospect who was undoubtedly major-league ready, in order to cheaply get another year of team control over him.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote in March this year that Liberty Media has $42 billion in assets. This corporation is not hurting for cash. Yet the Braves cried poor in order to bilk taxpayers of $400 million to fund the totally unnecessary new ballpark that moved the Braves’ home from Atlanta to Cumberland (Cobb County). The stadium is not as easily accessible by way of bus or subway, hurting a lot of the Braves’ poorer fans and those who live in the city, sans car. As Meris Lutz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, Cobb County found itself in a $30-55 million budget shortfall, even after “raiding $21 million in rainy-day funds to plug a gaping hole in the 2018 budget.” Liberty Media, of course, doesn’t lose anything from this.

The Braves were one of 13 teams in baseball to see an attendance increase from 2017 to ’18, seeing over 50,000 more fans go through the turnstiles. Braves ownership had said that a spike in revenue — from increased attendance as well as from leasing offices and retail space — would lead to increased payroll. Instead, the Braves’ payroll was cut by approximately $54 million and now the organization has reportedly already taken itself out of the running for Harper, unarguably the best free agent outfielder to hit the open market in quite some time. Adding a talent like Harper (or Manny Machado) would solidify the Braves’ legitimacy in the NL East and it would, at minimum, be a show of good faith to Braves fans, whose tax dollars are on constant display during all 81 home games in Cobb County.

This is in stark contrast to Phillies owner John Middleton, who recently said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.” This confirms what everyone already knew: the Phillies are major players for elite free agents Harper and Machado. Heck, they might even get both. Either player could exceed the record for the largest contract in baseball history, currently held by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins in 2014.

This past season, the Phillies fell flat on their faces in the second half while the Braves continued to press forward with a better-constructed team. The Phillies didn’t have an Acuña or a Freddie Freeman and their minor league system still doesn’t quite match up with the Braves’. Sniping Harper from the Phillies would seem almost critical, then. Or at least keeping up with the Phillies by signing other free agents to fill the gaps left by Markakis and others.

Sadly for Braves fans, it seems like Liberty Media got what it wanted, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and is happy to keep the Braves near the bottom-third of the league when it comes to payroll. If the Braves finish behind the Phillies in 2019 and beyond, fans and the players will have only ownership to blame.