March 23, 2018

MLB Wants The Right To Ignore Federal Labor Laws And Continue Underpaying Minor League Players

Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 18, 2018 (my emphasis):
A massive government spending bill that Congress is expected to consider this week could include a provision exempting Minor League Baseball players from federal labor laws, according to three congressional officials familiar with the talks.

The exemption would represent the culmination of more than two years of lobbying by Major League Baseball, which has sought to preempt a spate of lawsuits that have been filed by minor leaguers alleging they have been illegally underpaid.

The league has long claimed exemptions for seasonal employees and apprenticeships, allowing its clubs to pay players as little as $1,100 a month, well under the pay that would be dictated under federal minimum wage and overtime standards. But with those exemptions under legal challenge, Major League Baseball has paid lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a specific exemption into the law. ...
Major League Baseball is a $10 billion/year industry - its revenues have increased in each the last 15 seasons  and Commissioner Rob Manfred has made $15 billion a goal in the near future - and it has been working its ass off for years to be handed the right to ignore basic labour laws (which remain grossly inadequate for workers, but that's another story).

According to this extremely interesting post at Camden Depot, the Yankees pay roughly 0.33% of their annual revenue on minor league salaries. That is likely typically of all teams, as even the Rays pay only 0.86%. (A player in AAA earns about $12,000 a year. Someone in A ball earns as little as $1,100 per month - and may be paid for only three months out of the year.)

Two excellent comment on that post:

Jayne Hansen:
Other factors that minor leaguers have to deal with: paying dues to the clubby, paying for Uber/taxis if they don't have a car, finding a sponsor to help keep them in bats and gloves, etc., paying for high-quality nutritional supplements that won't result in a bad drug test and much more. Some teams will provide accommodations for the rookie leagues, but beyond that, they're on their own. Not every team will have host families or booster clubs that will take the guys shopping for the necessities. But the very fact that it's the minor league fans that are helping these guys survive rather than the team they play for is absurd.
You write, "Based on unpublished research, the typical minor league baseball player comes from a white, upper middle class home and by the age of thirty has half the earning potential and assets as a similar person from the same background that did not go into baseball."

Many of the white, upper middle-class players are able to pursue the dream because they are getting support from mom and dad. In other words, their family is sending them spending money, letting them drive their old car, helping them line up a decent job in the off-season, etc.

Players whose families don't have money - which would mean lower-middle and working-class players of any racial background, disproportionately black players - are less likely to choose minor-league baseball or to stick with it. If they are American citizens, then they almost certainly have better options. You could make more money and better provide for your family even in relatively low-prestige jobs like restaurant service, for example.

Immigrant players are a bit different calculus. You maybe don't have a better option as a poor kid from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. So they're more like to struggle through the minors.

But basically, if baseball genuinely wanted to attract a more diverse set of players, they would pay better in the minor leagues.
While MLB's actions are disgusting and should piss off every single fan of the game, the Players Association should also be heavily criticized for turning its backs on minor league players. The union could easily use its tremendous clout to greatly improve the lives of all minor leaguers. It would appear, however, that they have joined with the owners in not giving a shit.

March 21, 2018

Was Babe Ruth A Labour Activist? (Three Ruth Books Will be Published This Year)

Edmund F. Wehrle, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, has written a Babe Ruth biography like no other. From the promotional copy for Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star (University of Missouri, May 31):
Rather than as a Falstaffian figure of limited intellect, Edmund Wehrle reveals Babe Ruth as an ambitious, independent operator, one not afraid to challenge baseball's draconian labor system. To the baseball establishment, Ruth's immense popularity represented opportunity, but his rebelliousness and potential to overturn the status quo presented a threat. After a decades-long campaign waged by baseball to contain and discredit him, the Babe, frustrated and struggling with injuries and illness, grew more acquiescent, but the image of Ruth that baseball perpetuated still informs how many people remember him to this day.
The pre-publication blurbs for Breaking Babe Ruth describe the sports media of that era "'infantilizing' Ruth and feeding the myth of a naive, wayward adolescent" or "a spoiled and unintelligent man child". (Sadly, some things have not changed in 90 years. Manny Ramirez was no threat to baseball's status quo, but sportswriters still went out of their way to portray him as a ditzy airhead when they knew he was an alert, intelligent hitter who worked his ass off.)

There are two other Ruth books coming out this year:

Thomas Barthel's Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete (McFarland, April 8) tracks Ruth's path as "the first great media-created superstar and celebrity product endorser". McFarland does a great service by publishing so many baseball books, often covering what most fans would consider marginal topics, but as a "library-oriented publisher", its books are both expensive and not available in stores. This 200-page book, for example, is $35 at Amazon.

In The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created (Harper, October 23), Jane Leavy also sees Ruth as "the model for modern celebrity" and focuses on his three-week, cross-country barnstorming tour after the 1927 season. Leavy conducted more than 250 interviews and had access to previously-unseen documents and Ruth family records.

Sale, Price, Porcello To Begin Season In Tampa Bay

Starting Pitchers:
Thu March 29 at Rays: Chris Sale, 4 PM
Fri March 30 at Rays: David Price, 7 PM
Sat March 31 at Rays: Rick Porcello, 6 PM
Sun April  1 at Rays: TBA (Eduardo Rodriguez/Steven Wright/Drew Pomeranz), 1 PM
Mon April  2 at Marlins: Brian Johnson, 7 PM
Tue April  3 at Marlins: Sale, 6 PM
Wed April  4: Off

March 20, 2018

Martinez And Stanton Are Both "Glittery", But Only The Yankees Hitter Provokes A "Gulp"

Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, March 18, 2018:
It might be a prudent budget [for the Blue Jays, at $155 million] but it is without any glittery off-season acquisitions, like the Yankees landing, gulp, Giancarlo Stanton and the Red Sox countering with J.D. Martinez.
While both acquisitions are glittery, only Stanton warrants a "gulp".

Which is somewhat odd (assuming DiManno is not saying that simply because Stanton wears pinstripes), since Martinez bested Stanton last season in average (.303 to .281), slugging (.690 to .631), OPS+ (166 to 165), wOBA (.430 to .410), and wRC+ (166 to 156, despite Stanton's MLB-leading 59 dongs), and tied him with a .376 on-base percentage.

Martinez and Stanton have each slugged .580 since the beginning of the 2015 season, but in those three years, the Red Sox's new designated hitter comes out on top in the lists that sportswriters look at: average (.296 to .265), on-base percentage (.363 to .354), OPS (.943 to .934), total bases (863 to 748), doubles (94 to 64), RBI (274 to 273), and runs scored (247 to 226). He has even played in more games (397 to 352).

Stanton has a few more home runs (113 to 105) and a slightly better OPS+ (150 to 148). He has walked more (169 to 155) while striking out less (398 to 434). Stanton is also two years younger (28 to 30), which is significant. ... He also seems to have a much better PR team.

March 17, 2018

Everyone Loves A Contest #22: 2018 Red Sox W-L

With Opening Day less than two weeks away (March 29), it's time for this year's Red Sox W-L Contest!

The person that correctly guesses Boston's 2018 regular season W-L record will win a (used, but very nice) copy of Bill James's This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones: Bill James Without The Numbers (Villard Books, 1989). (Almost 500 pages of James discussing teams, players, and various ideas from 30-35 years ago! How can you resist?)

Contest entries must be emailed to me and include the following two items:

1. Predicted 2018 W-L record
2. Tiebreaker: Total Bases by J.D. Martinez

As always, the winning W-L prediction must be exact. The tiebreaker winner, if needed, will be the closest guess, either over or under.

Deadline: Wednesday, March 28, 11:59 PM.

Good luck to everyone ... and fuck the Yankees.

March 15, 2018

Price Thrilled With Four Shutout Innings In First Spring Start

David Price, in his first start of the spring, was sharp. In four shutout innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, he allowed only one hit and one walk, while striking out five.

ESPN's Scott Lauber wrote that Price "established his fastball and cutter early on, then incorporated his changeup and even his curveball the second time through the batting order".

Price (who appeared in only 16 games last season and did not make a start after July 22) was thrilled with his 55-pitch performance. "I've never been able to have a four-pitch mix on March 15. I've never been this far along in spring training, even though I've only thrown in one game."

Manager Alex Cora agreed: "From the dugout, it looked like his misses were just by an inch. He was on target. ... Very impressive for his first outing in a real environment, not a controlled one. ... Physically he looks like he's right where he has to be and now we move forward."

MFY Watch: Aaron Judge and Aaron Boone. Morons.

March 14, 2018

The Beginning Of The End

I have been a Boston Red Sox fan for 42 years and for most of that time I was skeptical - often extremely so, and with very good reason - that I would ever see a World Series championship. All I really wanted to was to see one.

And I have witnessed three! My obsession with the team has certainly lessened during the thirteen seasons since 2004 and that is probably a good thing. If I had to, I could comfortably live the rest of my life without major league baseball. Which is good to know, because I can sense that the day I sever my relationship with the sport might not be too far over the horizon.

The Associated Press reported today that "extra innings throughout the minor leagues will start with a runner at second base".
"We believe these changes to extra innings will enhance the fans' enjoyment of the game and will become something that the fans will look forward to on nights where the game is tied late in the contest," NAPBL president Pat O'Conner said in a statement. ...

The runner at second will be the batter in the order prior to that inning's leadoff hitter... A runner who starts an extra inning at second shall be counted as reaching on an error for purposes of determining earned runs, but no errors shall be charged.
Today is not April 1. This is really happening. And it is so far beyond fucked up ...

Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports:
The runner-on-second rule is taken from the World Baseball Classic and has been tested in the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League. Last year, for what it's worth, Rob Manfred said he doubted the rule would ever be used in the majors, but the fact that it's moving up to Triple-A suggests that his mind may be changing.
What Manfred said was: "We don't really expect that we're ever going to apply them at the major league level, at least in the short term"

Do you trust Rob Manfred not to one day decide to reconsider that policy? I certainly don't.

And neither does SB Nation's Matt Collins: "Every sign is pointing towards this eventually coming to the majors, though. Manfred has said that won't happen, but I find that hard to believe at this point given how quickly this rule is expanding to different levels of the game."

Regular Season Games - 2,430
Extra Inning Games - 182 (7.5%)
Games Lasting 10 Innings - 87 (3.68%)
Games Lasting 11 Innings - 51 (2.1%)
Games Lasting 12 Innings - 20 (0.8%)
Games Lasting 13 innings - 12 (0.5%)
Games Lasting 14+ Innings - 12 (0.5%)
7.5% of a team's schedule is 12 out of 162 games. That's two games per month, one game going into extra innings every two weeks. ... And almost half of those extra inning games - 48% - last season were over after 10 innings.

In fact, only 44 out of 2,430 games lasted more than 11 innings: 1.8%. ... 2 out of every 100 games last season (an average of three per team) went into the 12th inning. ... And for THAT, Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to destroy the very fundamentals of the game that have been in place for almost 150 years.

Also: If both teams begin every extra inning with a man on second, then they have an equal chance to score. Just like they do now, starting off with the bases empty. In other words, there is no actual advantage being gained here to have games end quicker. There will simply be more games in which each team scores 1 or 2 or however many runs in an extra inning and the game - still tied - goes on.