General Baseball

The sad reality that players like Joe Jackson–or in the 19th century, Joe Devlin–were not given the opportunity to make pennance and return to the game does not, imho, mean that no opportunity for redemption should be offered to modern players. The world and the game have changed. If there is some injustice in the case of Jackson, aren’t we just compounding the problem by holding new players to the same standard? Also, let’s face the fact that many old-time ballplayers were gamblers. Cap Anson certainly was. Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb were also known to bet on the game, but their infractions were brushed under baseball’s collective carpet. The historical record does not provide any clear precedent here.

General Baseball

L’affaire Rose:

It’s always nice to see a baseball book at the top of the bestseller charts–we are a fan base that reads!–but it’s hard to evince any real enthusiasm when the author is Pete Rose, and the work in question is such a shameless amalgam of opportunistically deluded self-pity.

Like SF, I stand firmly in the camp that calls for Rose’s continued ban from the game. Rose committed baseball’s ultimate sin and he committed it knowing the consequences (even if he did not expect that he was subject to them). His accomplishments are duly recorded in baseball’s record books and in the historical exhibits at the Hall of Fame. Enshrinement is not warranted.

I do, however, differ with SF in this: if Rose were to truly come clean, enter and stay in an additiction program, and somehow give back to the game for a prolonged probationary period, then I would think some form of return should be allowed (Hall of Fame election; coaching; etc). America is a land of redemption. To help him in this recovery, MLB might offer him some kind of salaried position that would allow him to clear his debts and live comfortably in exchange for public service. Any managerial position, however, should remain permanently off the table. Of course, this is all predicated on behavior from Rose for which he seems constitutionally unprepared.

Stark on Selig:

In an effort to come to grips with Bud Selig’s legacy, Jayson Stark has used his latest ESPN column for a “report card” style review of the commissioner’s performance since his rise to that position more than a decade ago. The review is essentially mixed; in the end Selig receives more positive grades than negative ones, but the tilt is nonetheless critical. Still, YF has serious qualms about both the method of analysis and the result at which Stark has arrived.

The scorecard system recalls that tabloid trope of assigning a grade to every position on a team at the beginning of a season, and then averaging them all out for the team’s “overall grade.” The problem is, teams don’t really add up that way—the best example being the 1998 Yankees–they had few “A” positions but were, collectively, great—and it doesn’t work here any better. More to the point, Stark has decided to award Selig credit for all those achievements that have taken place under his reign. As he writes, “If you’re the guy in charge when big stuff goes down, it goes on your permanent record. You get the cheers. You get the boos.” That’s fine to a point, but a far more useful method is to examine the commissioner’s specific role in events—did he contribute positively or negatively, did they happen because of or in spite of his actions, would there have been a different outcome with different leadership?

Stark’s grading is as follows:

-On field play: plus
-Schedule: plus
-Attendance & ballparks: plus
-Globablization: plus
-Labor: minus
-Style & image: minus
-Owner unanimity: plus
-“Milwaukee”: minus

Overall, that’s five pluses against just three minuses. To my mind these categories seem arbitrary (they certainly should not have equal weight) and I have serious reservations about his conclusions. Let’s look at them more closely:

-On field play. Selig gets his “plus” here as a credit for implementing the wild-card playoff system. I’m a big fan of this system (even if it could use some minor adjustments), so I’m inclined to agree on that score. But Stark does not mention the fact that several teams have become perennial doormats (including Selig’s Bewers!), there is a continued steroid problem (or at least the perception thereof), and umpiring is inconsistent (and the League’s efforts to install the dubious Questec system have been heavy-handed and poorly received). Some (SF) believe the overall level of play is poor. (I disagree on that score).

-Schedule. The unbalanced schedule and interleague play are both positives for me, though there may be a bit too much of both at this point. In any event, this category hardly deserves equal weight with labor relations when considering the commissioner’s job performance. Nevertheless, Selig does deserve a good deal of credit here.

-Attendance & Ballparks. This is where Stark, IMHO, is most misguided in his analysis. Selig here gets credit for baseball’s attendance boom in the 1990s and early 2000s. But average attendance has never reached the peaks it had back in the early 1990s before the strike (more on this later) ended that season and Selig cancelled the World Series. And that’s even with all of those new stadiums, Cal’s streak, and the consecutive McGwire/Sosa/Bonds HR derbies. The cost of attending baseball games is ridiculously high. And while several fine new ballparks have been constructed, the economics of these parks have been unduly placed on the public. And now we’re seeing that a new stadium doesn’t even guarantee a decent team or decent attendance. That Selig’s own family is under investigation for the Miller Park fiasco is instructive on this point. Finally, at a time when baseball should be solidifying itself as America’s number one game, it seems to be losing ground to other sports and leagues, the tawdry NFL in particular.

-Globalization. Yes, baseball has expanded its overseas presence in Selig’s tenure, and there are more nationalities in the game than ever before. Minority hiring is improving (though there’s a lot of work to be done). This is all positive, and Selig deserves credit. But let’s not turn a blind eye to the dark side here: exploitation of Latin players, especially through the very dubious baseball “academies” set up to recruit Latin youth. And what of the ever shrinking numbers of African-Americans playing the game? MLB needs to reconnect with America’s inner cities.

-Labor. Labor negotiations are the heart of the commissioner’s responsibilities, and on this count Selig’s tenure has been a failure. A World Series was cancelled, and despite the 2002 agreement staving off another work stoppage, the animosity between players and owners is as strong as ever, with new accusations of collusion in the air.

-Style & Image. This is really a question of integrity. The commissioner is theoretically an honest broker between players and owners, and an objective steward for the game. The public has never been able to look at Selig, an owner, as an honest broker. He will forever be associated with work stoppages and accrimony between owners and players. As an aside, his handling of L’affaire Rose has been anything but nimble.

-Owner Unanimity. Another category where I simply disagree with Stark. The owners are as divided as they have ever been. If Selig has managed to cajole certain concessions/agreement from the group, there remains a massive unbridged gulf between the large and small market owners.

-Milwaukee. Obviously, the conflicts of interest in owning and serving as commissioner are enormous. And, as Stark notes, Selig’s small-market disposition has been anything but positive for the game at large.

So, clearly, my version of Selig’s card is quite different than Stark’s.