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Minor League Baseball worried about low wages and gambling leading to corruption

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Now that there is about to be legalized sports betting all over the country, many in baseball have voiced concern about the “integrity” of the game. Mostly this has been Rob Manfred who has attempted to get a cut of various state’s sports betting action by claiming it’s necessary to protect baseball from the scourge of corruption.

As we’ve argued here many, many times, this seems more like an attempt at a cash grab by Major League Baseball than it is about genuine concern over gambling corrupting the game. I mean, yes, I am certain they do care about gambling being a problem, but given how closely the league has partnered up with gambling interests like MGM, it’s safe to say that it’s about much more than that. In any event, given how well players and even managers and umpires are paid, the risks of gamblers getting to ballplayers and game officials and having them throw games or something is way, way less than it might’ve been at an earlier time in baseball’s history.

The same cannot be said for minor league baseball, however. There the players are paid peanuts. Indeed, Major League Baseball made a point of lobbying Congress in order to get a law passed that makes sure they are paid peanuts in perpetuity. Gee, I wonder how those two things play together?

As the Boston Herald reports, not too well. At least not in the mind of Minor League Baseball’s president and CEO Pat O’Connor, who specifically cites the low wages of minor leaguers and says “it’s not if, but when” there is corruption from gambling on baseball. O’Connor lays out a scenario regarding how a player could, quite easily, become compromised. The general idea is that even the smallest favor for the smallest amount of money, while not truly threatening the game directly, could lead to a player being blackmailed under threat of being banned from the game.

Is that realistic? Hard to say. Seems a little cinematic in the way O’Connor describes it, but I’m sure people looking to get an edge illegally are more creative than he or I could ever be. There is not a lot of wagering on minor league baseball at the moment, so perhaps the concern is overstated, but that could certainly change, especially there are more and more places putting lines on sports across the country. And, of course, minor leaguers sometimes become major leaguers, so if a player is compromised early on like O’Connor says, it could prove to be a problem further down the road. I don’t know.

I do know one thing, though: casinos do not want compromised games. It could kill their whole business if people think a fix is in. Which makes me wonder if pressure from MLB’s partners in the casino business will lead to better pay for minor leaguers more quickly than any fleeting sense of human decency on MLB’s own part ever could.

 

Covid-19 test delays impacting multiple teams

Covid-19 test delays
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Covid-19 test delays — and at least one incident in which testers simply didn’t show up at all — have delayed workouts for at least two teams so far. And at least one team’s general manager is hopping mad about it.

Alex Coffey of The Athletic reported overnight that the Oakland Athletics have yet to have a full squad workout because of COVID-19 test delays. They were supposed to begin such workouts yesterday, but delayed them until today. They have since been delayed again until tonight, and even those may not happen.

Why? Because the initial team tests that are required before allowing the team’s full complement of players and coaches into the facility had not even arrived at MLB’s testing center in Utah as of last night. Indeed, they sat in the San Francisco airport all weekend because no one with MLB or the league’s testing company bothered to account for the Fourth of July holiday and expedite shipping.

Coffey obtained the text message Athletics’ GM David Forst sent to the entire club about the COVID-19 test delays. And, frankly, it’s gobsmacking.

The upshot, as Forst explains in the text, is that the test samples which were collected on Friday and which were due to be in Salt Lake City on Saturday sat at the San Francisco airport because of the July 4 holiday. Which, OK, fine, in which case someone should have changed the shipping instructions for Sunday delivery rather than have it just wait around until Monday like any other package. But no one bothered to do that. Forst, in the text:

On top of screwing up the logistics of this whole thing, neither MLB nor CDT (the company that collects the samples) communicated any of this to us until we pressed them for information, at which point all they could do was apologize, which frankly doesn’t really do much for us. Our best shot is to schedule a workout for [Monday] night with the hope that the samples arrive at the lab on time tomorrow and they are able to turn around your results in a matter of a few hours.

Forst goes on to say that the blame for the COVID-19 test delays “lies with CDT and MLB and I won’t cover for them like I did earlier today.”

The “covering for them” refers to comments Forst made to the media after the initial delay in testing, which he and manager Bob Melvin blew off as a routine delay, with Forst saying “We all know that being flexible and adjusting to the unknowns is going to be part of everything we do this season.” In the text, however, Forst is clearly pissed off:

Despite having our schedule a week ahead of time, they didn’t alert us to the possibility of any complications around July 4th, and once there were issues, they did nothing to communicate that to us or remedy the situation until Nick (Paparesta, the A’s head athletic trainer) and I forced the issue at various times today. If possible, I’m as frustrated and pissed as you are (well, probably not as pissed as Matt is), and I assure you the rest of the staff is as well.” 

“Matt” refers to A’s third baseman Matt Chapman, who expressed his anger at the COVID-19 test delays to Forst. He’s not the only A’s player to be upset about this:

This anger is not merely about delays to workouts which, given how compacted training camp and the season is, matter a great deal and put the A’s at a competitive disadvantage to teams who are already playing simulated games. It also poses health and safety concerns.

Pitchers and catchers have been allowed to report already and without the test results they have no idea if COVID-19 is spreading in the clubhouse or if any of them need to be isolated. Diekman has specific reason to be concerned as his history of ulcerative colitis, which caused him to have part of his colon removed a few years back, puts him in the “at risk” category. The A’s, now, get to sit around most of today waiting for testing results that, per Coffey’s report, likely, at best, arrived at the Utah testing facility after 1AM this morning.

And the MLB Covid-19 test delays, it seems, are not limited to the Oakland Athletics. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that down in Anaheim, the testers who conduct saliva tests for the Los Angeles Angels simply did not show up as scheduled yesterday. Rosenthal says that it led to Angels players conducting their own tests. He said that it was unclear if the tests were shipped to lab in Utah — the AWOL testers are supposed to do that — but he does note that today’s workouts were pushed back from 9 am to noon, most likely to account for the testing screwup.

Rosenthal says “two other, unidentified teams had same issue on Sunday,” which suggests as many as four teams, including the Athletics and Angels, are experiencing COVID-19 test delays.

This, to say the least, is inexcusable. Major League Baseball has based its entire, radical 2020 season structure on extensive health and safety protocols and an extensive COVID-19 testing regime. There is already concern on the part of some that, even with such protocols and testing, playing the 2020 season is too risky, but it’s undeniable that there is zero way for professional sports to be conducted in a pandemic without such protocols or with material COVID-19 test delays.

Mere days into the endeavor, however, we have all of this.