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Rob Manfred and Bud Selig ordered to sit for depositions in a foul ball injury case

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This should be interesting: ESPN reports that a Chicago judge has ordered that Commissioner Rob Manfred, former Commissioner Bud Selig, and current Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem sit for depositions in a lawsuit over injuries a fan suffered in 2017 when he was hit in the head by a foul ball at Wrigley Field.

Major League Baseball had opposed their depositions, claiming — per the article — that “no commissioner or deputy commissioner has ever been deposed in a lawsuit concerning a foul ball injury.” I’ll note that, legally speaking, that doesn’t mean squat. I’ll also note that it takes a certain insular and privileged mindset to believe that that kind of argument matters all that much outside of your own organization, but I suppose that comes with the territory of running a business that is immune to all manner of legal process the rest of the business world isn’t.

The crux of this lawsuit — and, presumably, of the depositions — is about why Major League Baseball has never mandated extended netting. Instead, as we have noted many times in the past, the league has merely recommended netting, leaving it up to the teams. I’ve speculated in the past that such a move was an effort to insulate the league from legal liability. That the league believed if it made a hard and fast rule on netting it would be responsible for fan safety in ways it never has been considered to be before. I guess we’ll see via this lawsuit if that pans out.

Just to review, though:

In December of 2015 Major League Baseball released a recommendation — not a mandate, just a suggestion — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected. While these recommendations were better than nothing, the fact that it (a) punted the matter to individual clubs; and (b) stressed the responsibility of fans to protect themselves as opposed to the league mandating protective measures, made those efforts to appear to be far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.

In the wake of the league’s recommendations only a few teams immediately extended netting, primarily because if you ask a business to do something but say it is not required to do anything, it is not likely to do a thing.

It would not be until September 2017, after a baby girl, just shy of her second birthday, was severely injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the Yankee Stadium stands along the third base line where she was sitting. The girl suffered multiple facial fractures and had bleeding on the brain. The stitches from the baseball left a mark on her forehead and her eyes were swollen shut due to the impact. She spent five days in the hospital. That, rather than league action, inspired the rest of baseball to extend protective netting. All 30 teams had such extended netting by Opening Day 2018.

The fan in this Chicago lawsuit was injured in 2017, after the recommendations but prior to most teams reacting to the girl’s injuries at the Yankees game. The fan in Chicago permanently lost vision in his left eye and suffered multiple facial fractures.

In any event: if I was deposing Manfred, Selig and Halem, my first question to them would be what prompted the league’s 2015 recommendations. Then I’d ask why they were just recommendations and not mandates. Then, when they presumably said “all ballparks are different and we can’t make hard and fast rules about how to set up features in every ballpark,” I’d ask them about every other ground rule that applies to the various parks in the league and ask what MLB has to say about them. Note: they mandate quite a lot from park-to-park in some instances. It can be done.

Anyway, I feel like it’d be a fun bunch of depositions, but no one ever asks me to go to those anymore.

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

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Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.