Rob Manfred is letting gambling decide MLB’s direction

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There is some concern out there that, because Rob Manfred seems intent on ruining the game of baseball as you know it, seven-inning games are going to eventually be the norm instead of what allows for regularly scheduled doubleheaders while MLB navigates a pandemic. With the modified extra innings rules, the minor leagues being used as a laboratory for pace of play and even more extra innings quirks and so on, it’s no wonder people feel like this about Manfred and his plans. Worry not, though: we probably won’t lose nine-inning games, because it would make the gamblers unhappy.

That’s right! The gamblers. Calling the intrusion of gambling on Major League Baseball “creeping” does not do what’s happening enough hasty justice—it’s been less subtle than that— but it’s still fitting since gambling’s influence is not becoming all-encompassing all at once. It is there, obvious to anyone who has seen the ways in which it has been introduced into even league broadcasts, but now we also have Manfred bringing it up in an interview with Sportico.

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More athletes being proactive about politics, please

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​It’s been just about a year — 11 months — since Howard Bryant wrote a column for ESPN that I haven’t really stopped thinking about since. Bryant discussed the problems with athletes and politics, and how they’re expected to give us strength by showing up on the field, but not by actually doing or saying anything political. And how far too many athletes are happy to oblige this expectation that they stick to sports, how they tend to be reactive instead of proactive about politics, if they do anything at all. You should read the whole thing if you never have, but for our purposes, here’s some of my analysis of a key section I’d like to revisit today:

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Pro sports cut the line for COVID testing. The vaccine is next

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The National Hockey League, like the rest of the major sports leagues in America, played their past season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. They will, like all those same leagues, play their next season during the pandemic, too, because, at least in America, it continues to rage on.

In order to put on the end of the 2020 campaign and their playoffs, the NHL — again, like the rest of the leagues — consumed an enormous amount of test kits and lab time in order to ensure their players and staff were coronavirus-free. You might remember from just last month, the discussion of the “success” of sports during a pandemic, and what the cost of that was, part of which was that two-thirds of the nurses from the largest nurses union in America haven’t been tested for coronavirus a single time, while the NFL alone consumed well over half-a-million tests to that point in their season:

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Tommy Heinsohn, union man and labor agitator

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On Tuesday, former Boston Celtics’ player, coach, and longtime announcer Tommy Heinsohn passed away. He was 86, and while best-known at this point in his life for the extremely, let’s say, Celtics-friendly announcing style he employed, he was a legit basketball legend in Boston thanks to his three careers in the sport: Heinsohn is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, one of just four individuals to accomplish that feat, and had a championship ring for all 10 fingers.

Heinsohn was also a labor agitator as a player, if you’re wondering why you’re reading about him in this particular newsletter. He was the president of the players union back in 1964, which ended up being a monumental year for the players. You see, like with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Basketball Players Association was a union without league recognition in its early years. They had actually formed back in 1954, but it took 10 years for the NBA to actually meet with and recognize them as a union. And this eventual recognition was managed in no small part thanks to the actions of Heinsohn himself, in his role as union president.

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The NBA’s players might not want NBA approval anymore

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Earlier this month, I published a piece in this space that discussed, in part, how NBA players had missed an opportunity to wield their collective power by giving in to the league and resuming the season amid a pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Nathaniel Friedman and Jesse Einhorn, at The New Republic, went much further and deeper on that particular angle in a feature titled, “The Dismal Politics of the Sports World’s “Wokest” League.”

Within that piece, Friedman and Einhorn explained how there were two opposing camps when it came to the return: the one led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley wanted to tackle this moment in time by not playing, and instead do what they could to help and bring attention to the Black Lives Matter protests. The other camp, led by LeBron James, was more in concert with the NBA, with a different vision of activism. One more corporately approved, the thinking behind which led to this graph from the New Republic pair:

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Culture of unionization in the NBA’s minors vs. MLB’s

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Some major news happened about a month ago, but it didn’t get very much play. That’s not because no one cares or that it’s not actually important, but has to do a lot with the state of things in the news right now. There are just a few things going on sucking up all of the oxygen in the room, between the literal pandemic, all of the election discourse, the return of live sports, the temporary postponement of live sports for MLB teams facing coronavirus outbreaks… it’s been a busy last few weeks, is all.

The news referred to in that first sentence, by the way, was the unionization of the NBA’s developmental league players. The G League’s players voted to unionize, with around 80 percent voting in favor of the move, and… that was that. Some of the silence around the story has to do with that, too. There is no protracted battle for recognition going on — the NBA itself recognized the organized union without a public fight or delay — so now there is just silence until the two sides meet at the bargaining table to discuss player salaries, health insurance, per diems, housing, and so on.

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The sports world could use more Jaylen Browns

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Sports aren’t taking coronavirus resources from the public, unless they are

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We have been assured, again and again, that there are enough coronavirus tests available that athletes being continually tested throughout the return of sports won’t be taking away tests from the public. This is a point I have a hard time believing on its face, because no one has bothered to show the math on that yet, but I’m willing to acknowledge that it might be the truth. The thing is, though, that this line, that there are enough tests to go around and resources aren’t being taken away from the public in order to test and retest and retest athletes yet again, is still misleading. Because even if there are enough tests, it’s clear there aren’t enough or robust enough labs to analyze all of the tests: it doesn’t matter if you have enough tests if you lack the machines or technicians to analyze them all in a timely fashion.

Priority is being given to athletes over regular people, and that is where the resource issue is.

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Let’s look at some athletes trying to help during the pandemic

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MLB’s teams need to pay their concession workers, too

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On March 17, Major League Baseball announced that each of its 30 teams would set aside $1 million to pay stadium workers during the postponement of the 2020 regular season. With the COVID-19 pandemic here for an indefinite stay, it’s unknown when America, never mind MLB, will be able to return to business as usual. That $1 million is a start toward making sure those sports workers impacted by the postponement of the season — who usually make less than $15 an hour — are taken care of.

The emphasis there, though, should be on how this is a start. That $1 million per team isn’t going to last very long, not with the sheer volume of employees needed to run a stadium on an administrative level and to keep its grounds in order. Outside of that, though, are also tens of thousands of concessions workers. While MLB and its teams pulled in positive press for the headline-worthy assistance package worth $30 million, it doesn’t even begin to cover all of the workers that make live baseball possible.

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