John Buck learned about Curt Flood, and made sure other players would, too

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Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees for a massive nine-year, $324 million deal that gave him the largest annual average payout of any deal in MLB. It’s the kind of contract that’s only possible because free agency, as an institution, exists: Cole was allowed to go into the open market, freed from the initial deal he inked when the Pirates drafted him in 2011 and then brought him to the majors in 2013, and agreed to sign with the team he wanted to, for the immense money they had to offer in order to show it wasn’t a one-way desire.

It feels like a given these days that this order of operations exists, but Cole didn’t forget that the existence of free agency is what brought him to this point, and during his press conference introducing him as a Yankee, he thanked the first Executive Director of the Players Association, Marvin Miller, and Curt Flood, who challenged MLB and its longstanding reserve clause, for what they did to allow the moment Cole was in to even exist. On its own, it was an excellent gesture, the kind of thing Miller himself said didn’t happen often enough in his own time guiding the players’ union, but the backstory makes it an even better moment.

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MiLB players speak on MLB’s idea of “waste”

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Part of Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball’s plan to shrink the minor leagues revolves around the concept of “waste.” Per a report by Bill Madden, “waste” was an important reason to agree to this plan to disaffiliate 42 minor-league teams: you can see my reaction to that reveal as well, as it published here in mid-November. This time around, though, the focus is on what minor-league players think of this idea, that any player who doesn’t make it to the bigs was a “waste” of resources for MLB teams.

I spoke with three players — two former, one active but anonymous to protect them from any blowback from MLB — for a feature that published at TalkPoverty earlier this month, titled “Major League Baseball Wants to Crush 42 Minor League Teams — And Their Hometowns.” I asked them a wider range of questions than what was used in that one piece, however, including on the subject of “waste.”

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The battle between MLB and MiLB is just beginning

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Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball met at the winter meetings to continue negotiations on a new Professional Baseball Agreement — the governing document for the relationship between MLB and MiLB — and those talks were not promising. If anything, everything surrounding MLB’s plan to disaffiliate 42 teams is somehow worse than it was before the latest talks, as the two sides brought a somewhat-public discussion fully into the public, and spent the end of the week sniping back and forth. This was ugly, and it’s only getting uglier.

MLB is protective of their plan, and, as Michael Silverman put it for The Boston Globe, fired back at Minor League Baseball owners for letting the public know that MLB’s plan to devastate dozens of communities with a connection to pro baseball and gut thousands of jobs is extremely unfair, poorly thought out, and is an excellent summation of the level of greed that’s currently in favor among MLB owners. MiLB then responded to this by going point-by-point on MLB’s plan, including tearing the “Dream League” idea to shreds by saying it’s completely nonviable both for affected MiLB owners and the smaller communities many of these disaffiliated teams hail from.

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MLB thinks paying MiLB players is a “waste”

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We now know the identity of the 42 minor-league teams MLB plans to shut down as part of a major restructuring of Minor League Baseball. The New York Times published the list this weekend, and there are some threads to pull on within it that reveal some of MLB’s intent: we’ll focus on the idea of “waste” today.

Just 14 of the shuttered teams are full-season, out of 120 that exist right now. However, 28 of the 40 short-season teams out there would be disaffiliated: those are inherently lower on the attendance spectrum, considering they are short-season leagues, in smaller parks, often in smaller cities that maybe couldn’t support something the size and scope of a Triple-A team and its park. That doesn’t mean they failed to, say, pay for the stadium they do have to be built, or that the people within those cities aren’t enjoying having a team in town. As Neil deMause writes:

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On Brandon Taubman, the Astros, and MLB’s domestic abuse problem

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The Astros have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, as their assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, publicly chastised three sports reporters — all women — about Houston’s 2018 acquisition of domestic abuser Roberto Osuna. Stephanie Apstein, a Sports Illustrated reporter who was on the scene, described the moment in a story that the Astros initially declined to comment on:

And in the center of the room, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized. The Astros declined to comment. They also declined to make Taubman available for an interview.

Despite the scene being so alarming that another Astros’ staffer felt the need to apologize for Taubman’s behavior, the Astros would eventually deny that it even occurred by releasing a statement whose tl;dr is “fake news.” The slightly longer version of it is that the Astros claimed Taubman was trying to help out a player having a rough go of things, even though Osuna wasn’t even present at the time of the incident.

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On the Tomahawk Chop and the confusion of symbolism with action

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The Braves’ use of the Tomahawk Chop during games came under additional scrutiny this week, thanks to a Cardinals’ rookie pitcher. Ryan Helsley, said Cardinals’ rookie and member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke up after Game 1 of the Braves-Cardinals National League Division Series:

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.”

The Braves, to their credit, listened to Helsley’s remarks, and did not distribute the customary foam tomahawks to each seat in the stadium prior to Game 5. They didn’t listen that much, though, and therefore don’t deserve that much credit, as the real promise here was just to not perform the chop — or the music that goes along with it that prompts everyone in attendance to start chopping — whenever Helsley was in the game:

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“What if MLB’s efficiency fetish could further infect the minors,” asks writer.

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On Monday, Travis Sawchik asked a question to Five Thirty Eight’s audience: “Do we even need Minor League Baseball?” Sawchik’s theory is that so much of player development happens off the field these days, in comparison to how development used to work, that the minors are a waste of time and resources. Sawchik, you might recall, is one of the two authors of The MVP Machine, which looked at how players can kind of just be created these days thanks to advances in analytics and the introduction of the concept of “Betterball,” so this is an arena he knows his way around.

To a point, anyway. As you might also recall, the book brings to mind some key questions regarding labor and homogeneity it does not know the answers to (or even how to answer them), and this article is something of an extension of that. Deadspin’s Albert Burneko, for instance, wants to know who the “we” in Sawchik’s headline refers to, and it’s not an exaggeration that the entire premise of Sawchik’s piece relies on the reader identifying with management in order for it to accomplish the job the author set out for it.

You should read all of Burneko’s piece, as it’s fan-centric and a rebuttal to the idea presented in the initial piece that MiLB exists in the service of MLB teams alone, but I’ll pull this paragraph from it for now:

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Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL isn’t the answer he thinks it is

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This whole Jay-Z and National Football League partnership is only getting weirder and more disappointing. As explained at The Root, Jay-Z is expected to end up with a “significant ownership interest” in an as-of-yet unnamed NFL team, which would make him the first Black owner in the league’s lengthy history. The prospective NFL owner is sticking with the idea that he’ll be some kind of agent of change between his partnership with the league that has his Roc Nation business consult on entertainment while contributing to NFL activism* and this ownership of a team. Shaking things up is not how anyone has ever been accepted into the (white) boys’ club that is sports team ownership, but don’t let that dull your enthusiasm!

*What?

Jay-Z was a proponent of Colin Kaepernick and his protests against police brutality, protests that ended up getting Kaepernick ousted from the NFL: if you don’t believe that the former quarterback was blacklisted by the league, look no further than the fact that the NFL paid him and another former player, Eric Reid, a settlement to make the collusion case disappear. Leagues aren’t in the habit of paying settlements for crimes they’re innocent of committing, but sometimes it pays to make things just go away with cash without ever outright saying you’re guilty. The past-tense following Jay-Z’s name in this graf’s first sentence was intentional, by the way, as the mogul joining forces with the NFL pits him against the player they still won’t allow to play in their league. Once he does own a team, do you think Jay-Z will sign Kaepernick to be its quarterback? Or will he already be committed to keeping his seat at the extremely white table that has kept Kaepernick away?

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On Betterball’s creation of talent, and its danger to MLB’s labor

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The July issue of The Atlantic features a review of Ben Lindbergh’s and Travis Sawchik’s recently released book, The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Noncomformists Are Using Data To Build Better Players. Jack Hamilton, the writer of this review, didn’t just look at whether the book was enjoyable to read, but also at the subject being covered itself, and the problems contained within it: in some cases, he even asked and tried to answer important questions the authors themselves did not.

We’re going to look at the review and those questions today, because they happen to be labor-oriented. Let’s open with this background quote from Hamilton, on recent revolutions in baseball:

The steroid and stat revolutions have unfolded very differently so far, but they arose from a common source: a desire to deploy scientific methods to improve the way baseball is played. Steroid use focused on player enhancement, whereas analytics focused on player value. To put it polemically, one was a revolution driven by labor, and the other by management, which is probably one of many reasons the latter has been more readily accepted.

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MLB’s early collective bargaining sessions might just be theater

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