The players are deciding whether they want to keep Tony Clark as union leader

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Ken Rosenthal writes today that the players are taking a hard look at their union leader, Tony Clark. Clark just finished his annual tour of all 30 spring training camps to meet with his members. Rosenthal has spoken to a great many of them, including player representatives. Many are angry and voiced their displeasure at him. Some are talking about replacing him.

To be sure, it’s not yet a prevailing sentiment. Those who are unhappy with Clark are not going on the record with it yet. Those who still support him are. As with any group of folks who do their business behind closed doors, it’s hard to get a completely accurate account of what’s happening, but there is definitely dissatisfaction in the ranks, for all of the reasons we’ve written about in this space over the past several months.

As Rosenthal notes, now is the time for players to make a change if they are going to, because if a new Executive Director is going to effectively take the players to the bargaining table in 2021, he or she will need to get to know players, get up to speed on their issues and devise a battle plan in the next two years, not at the last minute. Rosenthal also notes that the union, compared to its counterparts in other sports, is understaffed, and if it’s going to increase its staffing, it should do it under a leader with security in the position, not with someone who could be a lame duck.

My personal view, bolstered by conversations I’ve had with people familiar with the dynamic of the union, is that while Clark is well liked, he and many of his lieutenants — including Rick Helling, Jose Cruz Jr., Bobby Bonilla, Phil Bradley, Jeffrey Hammonds, Kevin Slowey, Javier Vazquez and Dave Winfield — are former players and that hiring former players in leadership positions is not necessarily wise. Earlier this month the longtime counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, Gene Orza, opined that he would never want union employees who could work for both teams and the union. I agree, and when I see these sorts of guys in leadership roles, I can’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t be equally adept at serving in “special assistant” roles, with clubs, as so many other players do, and I wonder if that isn’t a problem.

No, I don’t think that these men are incapable of leading a union or disloyal or anything, but representing labor is not like a lot of other jobs. You gotta employ true believers and advocates who are not afraid to be bad guys and tough guys both with the opposition and with the rank and file to keep them in line. You gotta have guys who aren’t afraid to go to war. Bobby Bonilla is still on a club payroll for crying out loud. I don’t doubt that he does his job for the MLBPA, but man, those optics. Other former players may very well be friends and mentors of current members and may not be able to whip them into line when it comes time to hold a key vote. Above all else, the last thing on the mind of an MLBPA advocate should be worrying about The Grand Institution of Baseball and it’s history, because that itself is a subtle bit of leverage wielded by the owners in P.R. and labor wars. Isn’t being a very part of that history at least a minor hindrance in this regard? Wouldn’t you rather have union officials who aren’t afraid to be bad guys and who don’t have reputations in the game and among fans to protect?

I dunno. Maybe that’s all crazy, and I acknowledge that it’s pretty ideological. Thing is, though, when it comes to labor stuff, you gotta have a pretty clear ideology about things. You gotta be laser focused as an advocate, not as a steward or public figure. Mavin Miller didn’t care if anyone liked him. I’m guessing no one asked him for his autograph or invited him to an Old Timers day or to appear at a baseball card show. In my view, the union needs more wonks and fewer jocks.

In any event, interesting times ahead for the MLBPA and for Tony Clark.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.