Round-up: Athletes as workers, rediscovering America’s pastime, and the NWSL

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I’ve been pretty lax of late pointing y’all toward things I’ve been reading that I also think you should read, which was kind of the fault of a whole bunch of factors, but hey. Let’s change that up, and dedicate this whole newsletter entry to stuff I’ve been reading that I think you should read.

First up is Britni de la Cretaz and the return of Mic. Their first feature for the relaunched publication is on the fact we’re not used to seeing athletes as workers, even though they have to deal with management, even though they are not in control of capital within their own leagues, even though there are plenty of professional athletes out there who are making less money each year than some of the folks reading this right now. The topic is not only one that is close to me, but de la Cretaz spoke to me a bit about the subject, and I’m quoted in there a few times.

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Curt Schilling, regrettably, will not be removed from his final Cooperstown ballot

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​In what I hope is not even a little bit surprising at all to you, I have no love for Curt Schilling, for a number of reasons. You could just pick one of them and it would be understandable — that he basically defrauded Rhode Island taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars while lying to his own employees about their healthcare status, that he has a collection of Nazi memorabilia for “historical” purposes but also aligns himself politically with white supremacists making the entire “historical” thing even more questionable, that he’s especially racist toward Muslims, that he’s a disgusting transphobe, etc. — but the point is that there is a whole spectrum of reasons to think he sucks, and we shouldn’t forget that he stacks them on top of each other like this just because picking one would be disqualifying enough.

That being said, despite my right and true dislike of him and everything he stands for and believes in, I was hoping he would have his request to be removed from his 10th and final Baseball Hall of Fame ballot granted. Sure, he wanted off for extremely childish reasons, and asked for it in a tantrum of a statement following his failure to be elected to Cooperstown once again last year, but we could speed up this whole process by removing him from the Baseball Writers Association of America’s version of the election process, and gain a year of silence on the matter for our troubles, too.

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Cleveland’s MLB team finally picked a new name

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​Back in December of 2020, it was finally announced that the Cleveland Indians would eventually be known as the Cleveland… something else. The name was yet to be worked out, but we were all assured that the organization had finally taken that next step and decided to drop the old moniker that had fostered a racist culture around the team, one that used the excuse of “honoring” Native Americans as justification for its existence.

Now, we finally know what that new name is. It will take until 2022 for Cleveland to actually make the switch to become the Cleveland Guardians — sure, it’s not feasible for them to make a dramatic, mid-season wardrobe and name change, but it’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t have been fun to see them try it — but it’s happening. There’s a new logo and people from outside of Cleveland complaining that the name isn’t good enough for them and everything. I’ll let Scott Hines handle that particular angle, other than saying that more sports team names should be inspired by Lord of the Rings-ass statues that exist in real life, even if it means we need to build more statues like that now to prepare us for future name changes.

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MLB supports voting rights, immediately has antitrust exemption threatened

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On Friday, Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s recently enacted voter suppression laws, those laws themselves a response to Georgia’s voters rejecting as much of the Republican party as they could in recent elections. You know, like the one that booted the truly wretched (and never elected) Kelly Loeffler from office and also convinced her to sell her stake in the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

You can debate whether what MLB is doing is the right thing or not — do the people in Georgia who will be impacted by this restriction of voting rights want these boycotts of the state? Is this anything more than a corporate reaction to which way the winds are blowing, in the same way their empty rhetoric around Black Lives Matter was around one year ago? — but what’s undeniable is that the decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta has infuriated the right. That’s no surprise, given they’ve been trying to spin what’s going on in Georgia as a strengthening of voter rights, not a direct attack on them, and also because like, three-quarters of what they’re up to now is culture war, America-is-being-canceled bullshit. MLB basically threw catnip for racists at a bunch of racists.

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Kevin Mather resigned, but the structural and cultural issues of MLB remain

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​Back when general manager Jeff Luhnow was fired by the Astros for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, I wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus titled “Jeff Luhnow is gone. Jeff Luhnow is everywhere you look.” The idea was that, while Luhnow, physically, was no longer a part of the Astros or Major League Baseball, from an ideological point of view, his influence was spread far and wide. Getting rid of the man was not the same as getting rid of his ideas, and less than a year later, the minors shrunk and efficiency was put even more at the forefront of the league, just as Luhnow and his former acolytes had been angling for.

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The Atlanta Braves should become the Atlanta Hammers

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The death of Henry Aaron shocked and saddened the baseball world last Friday. Aaron was a giant, a tremendous player and steward of the game who pushed back against the very racism he encountered during his playing career in his days as an executive with the Braves as well. Paying tribute to the man isn’t easy — in fact, some paying tribute to him end up just being insulting or dismissive of what he actually went through and felt, leaving others to clean up those messes — but there are certainly ways to do so. The Braves, the team Aaron spent decades with in both Milwaukee and Atlanta, have an opportunity for a long-lasting tribute to the man: rename the team the Hammers.

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Some voters want to revoke their Hall of Fame votes for Curt Schilling

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I wasn’t planning on writing about this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote results in this space, but then, something wonderful happened: some voters reportedly reached out to Cooperstown in the hopes of having their ballots changed so that they no longer were voting for Curt Schilling. The last straw, as it were, via Matt Spiegel, came because Schilling supported those storming the Capitol back on January 6:

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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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Cleveland won’t stop selling Chief Wahoo merchandise

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There are now more (and official) details on the story first written about in this space on Monday: The Cleveland Indians will be no more, as early as the 2022 season. They will instead become the Cleveland… something else to be determined, at that point. They’ll remain the Indians for the 2021 season, though, rather than go the route of the Washington Football Club, which is a bit of a weird decision for Cleveland, since they already have a C block logo for their hats and alternate uniforms that say “Cleveland” on them in their current scripts. It wouldn’t be very hard to just go by Cleveland for a season while they figure out what the long-term name is going to be, but alas, just like with Chief Wahoo, the organization isn’t in a rush to change the thing they are willing to admit is racist.

The more worrisome point to come out of owner Paul Dolan’s announcement on the matter was actually regarding that part of Cleveland’s identity that was supposed to be dead and buried back in 2019. In 2018, when Cleveland announced that the Chief Wahoo logo would be phased out — a move that happened only because, in what was a very poorly kept secret, the organization wanted the All-Star Game and MLB wanted them to lose the logo — it was clear that they planned to continue to manufacture and sell Wahoo merchandise locally. They wouldn’t do so nationally — you couldn’t find Wahoo-branded gear on MLB.com anymore — but if you went to the stadium, or local shops, you could still find licensed gear with the awful racist caricature of a Native American on it.

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The Cleveland Indians will finally get a new name

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It was a positive, on its own, that the NFL’s Washington franchise changed their name from one with a slur against Native Americans to the temporary “Washington Football Team.” There was also a potential trickle-down effect to look forward to, though, as, if even the franchise run by Dan Snyder could change their name and the culture of racism and appropriation that swirled around it, then it should be motivating for others with comparatively innocuous names like the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Indians to do something about their own issues.

That appears to be what has happened now, as Kansas City took steps in August to remove some racist elements from their stadium and game environment, and now we’ve got Cleveland finally admitting that it’s time to find a new name for their team. According to the New York Times, Cleveland will still retain its current name in 2021, but could shift away from it as early as the 2022 season. No other details are known at this point, as the team hasn’t announced their intentions yet, but are expected to sometime this week.

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