Must-click link: sexual depravity — and possibly rape — in the minor leagues

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Dirk Hayhurst writes about his 2003 rookie league team, the Eugene Emeralds over at Sports on Earth. Specifically, their off-the-field sexual habits which ranged from mere immaturity and over-clocked machismo to what seems to have been, by any definition of the term, rape.

It started with mere exhibitionism — players letting other players watch through windows when they brought women back to their rooms, which they called “show time” — but eventually devolved into videotaping each other having sex without the consent of the woman involved. Then it devolved into sheer odiousness and, if one had been so inclined to speak up at the time, illegality: “running a train.” In which, with the lights out, a player would get out of bed, saying he needed to use the bathroom, only to be replaced by another player who would sneak in through the window and take his place without the woman knowing:

There is, of course, another name for “Running the Train”: rape. The women most likely didn’t know what was happening and could not have consented to it. Perhaps they were too afraid to object once they realized. When the subject came up, however, the guys on the team had a different explanation: “They wanted it, man. Besides, we joked about it before we brought them back to the hotel. You know, made them feel like it was their idea. Besides, chicks love ballplayers!”

“Aren’t you worried that this is going to come back to bite you in the ass?” I asked, after the latest recounting of the “train schedule.”

“Why? You gonna tell?”

Hayhurst is telling now (in pretty graphic terms, so be warned). And, as has so often happened in the past, someone, somewhere will probably give Hayhurst grief for talking about his past teammates and what went on in his baseball career. But this is way more serious than sharing conversations from the clubhouse. This is about a culture, present in some form in many places, but particularly acute in sports culture, that needs to be exposed and rooted out.

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

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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.