Category Archives: Venting Session

How the MLBPA betrayed the union ethic

By Travis Reitsma

I’m a union guy.  I grew up in a union family and spent parts of my childhood on the picket lines with both my mother and my father (a legal secretary and a power worker).  I’m very proud of this.  No amount of union bashing, working class oppression, or general idiocy can make me less proud of where I came from.  It’s a big reason I pursue media coverage of labour in my academic life and a big reason I am a social activist.

It is my firm belief that unions are an institutional bulwark against the ravages of capitalism, to paraphrase my supervising professor.  I don’t draw much of a distinction between everyday unions representing secretaries, power workers and teachers, and “richer” unions such as the ones that represent highly paid professional athletes.

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Hey guys, Jose Valverde is average at best (Please stop thinking otherwise)

A disturbing thing has happened over the last few weeks.  The Detroit Tigers and their heir of mediocrity have been overachieving ad nausea, and suddenly they’re being mistaken for an elite baseball team.  But that’s not the disturbing thing I speak of.

No, my friends, that disturbing thing is the discourse surrounding Tigers closer Jose Valverde and his so-called “perfect season”.  Valverde is 42 for 42 in save opportunities and people are going bananas.  I even heard someone say he should get consideration for the AL MVP.

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“Die a hero, or live long enough to become a villain”

I’ve been avoiding comment on the Barry Bonds trial thus far because I see it as an unfair persecution of a player who probably used performance-enhancing drugs and probably lied about it repeatedly to a grand jury, but shouldn’t be singled out of the hundreds of other players who also used.

Bonds doesn’t seem like a very nice person, although I don’t know him personally, and neither do any of you, so commenting on his personal character seems besides the point.  The fact is that Bonds was selected to be the fall guy for baseball and the steroid era.  He’s the guy who MLB and the U.S. government is going to make an example of to save their own asses.

And all of it, of course, has been done on the American taxpayer’s coin.

To say that this has nothing to do with the fact that Bonds is a black man is naive and honestly, just plain stupid.  I however, could not possibly articulate it better than my favourite sports writer Dave Zirin does in this article.

Here are a couple excerpts from the column:

“What did Bonds do to “obstruct justice”? According to one juror, “Steve,” the obstruction of justice charge was reached because, “The whole grand jury testimony was a series of evasive answers. There were pointed questions that were asked two or three or four different ways that never got clearly answered. That’s how we came to that.”  Wow. Apparently, a “series of evasive answers” lines you up for a 10-year sentence behind bars. By that standard, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby should be breaking rocks in Leavenworth for their performance at the Valerie Plame trial.”

[…]

“Major League Baseball and the US government has long decided that Barry Bonds would shoulder the burden for the steroid era. We’re here because a surly Black athlete who thinks that the press is just a step above vermin was easy pickings for an industry rife with systemic corruption. Major League Baseball made billions off of the steroid era, an era many now see as a rancid, tainted lie. It was an era where owners became obscenely wealthy and billions in public funds were spent on ballparks. The press cheered and America dug the long ball. Now the dust has cleared, our cities have been looted, Barry Bonds could be going to prison, and Commissioner Bud Selig still has a job – and a RAISE. With apologies to Harvey Dent, this is the story of the Black athlete today: die a hero or live long enough to be a villain. And the men in the suits walk – or in Selig’s case, slouch – all the way to the bank.”

Zirin more than hits the nail on the head.  Baseball is the love of my life, but the institution that is Major League Baseball is one of the most systematically corrupt around.  Whether its persecuting Bonds or treating Latin America like some sort of slave-level baseball factory, the corruption in the business is rife and despicable.

Debunking Stereotypical Language in Baseball: The Brandon Phillips’ limp edition

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a man of many hats.  Along with being an avid baseball fan and aspiring baseball journalist, I am also a student currently acquiring a master’s degree in Communications and Social Justice at the University of Windsor *coyly removes monocle*.

On top of that, I’m a progressive activist who’s tightly involved with many other dedicated people in Windsor battling for workers’ rights and other causes such as the anti-war movement and equal rights for women, visible minorities, immigrants, and the LGBT community.

I don’t say that to brag, I say it because I have spent the last seven years of my life studying the media and being actively involved in changing the discourse of the mainstream media and of the broader public.  In essence, I’ve been trained to detect subtle variances in discourse, especially those found in the media.

That discourse, when it pertains to baseball, often involves race since there has always been a struggle to maintain equality in the game.  That struggle is constantly changing and evolving, but it never goes away.  Case in point, the way in which Major League Baseball treats Latin American players (a whole other subject that requires much more writing).

Long-held stereotypes also prevail in baseball today: The idea that the black players are the athletes who ride along on talent with nary a thought to hard work, the Latin players bring the emotion and the fiery attitude, and the white players bring the scrappiness, tough play, and of course, leadership.

Despite the fact that these stereotypes are unfounded and comically stupid, you still hear announcers and pundits alike spouting them off as if they are totally justified and ingrained in the game; as natural as the rosin bag.

I’m not saying it’s intentional on the part of the media; these things rarely are, but the fact remains that our collective discourse of the game contains these discriminatory ways of talking about players of certain backgrounds. Acknowledging these indiscretions when they occur is part of the way we can rid ourselves of them and attempt to form a new discourse that can inform fans without relying on well-worn pseudo-truisms.

On Saturday night, while watching the Reds play the Diamondbacks in Arizona, the D’Backs broadcast crew of Daron Sutton and Mark Grace committed one of these indiscretions concerning Reds’ second baseman Brandon Phillips.

Phillips is one of the most underrated players in the game today.  Despite consistently putting up numbers that put him in the realm of the best two-baggers in the business, he doesn’t really get the notoriety that players like Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, or even Dan Uggla get.

When he does make headlines, it tends to be for reasons other than his direct play on the field.  Despite the cleanest of clean records off the field, Phillips is labelled as somewhat of a dirty player by the media for doing things that would make a white player tough, gritty, or a good clubhouse leader.

Make no mistake about it; Phillips is a tough player and a leader.  He’s also been nominated for the Roberto Clemente award for leadership and contributions to the community and is considered a very good teammate.

But Phillips does have a certain swagger about him; a confidence that radiates out of him.  Much like Jose Bautista has started to show and much like Derek Jeter has shown for the better part of two decades.

That brings us to Saturday night.

With one out in the top of the first inning, Phillips slashed a shot into rightfield for a single off of Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson.  Then, with Joey Votto at the plate, Phillips took off running for second on what ended up being ball four to Votto.  Phillips slid into second base and tweaked his leg.  When he got up he called time and began limping around the bag, pulling up his pant-leg and checking his ankle and calf.  It was fairly clear that he wasn’t seriously injured, but whatever he had done to himself was causing him pain.

Enter the D-Backs broadcast tandem of Daron Sutton and Mark Grace:

Grace: “Ah, he’ll be just fine.  He’s kind of, he reminds me of Orlando Hudson, even when he’s perfectly healthy, he’s got a little hitch in his giddy-up”

Sutton: “I love that, by the way”

Grace: “Yeah!”

Sutton: “I think it’s great.”

Grace: “Yeah!…[Phillips] always kind of walks with just a little bit of a limp”

Now, this little exchange may have seemed innocuous, but let’s consider what Grace was saying here.  He compared Phillips to another black second baseman (Orlando Hudson) and went on to describe the way they walk.  In doing that, Grace has detailed a well-worn stereotype about the way black men walk and although it’s being used positively, it can just as easily be construed negatively and often is.

Phillips was then driven in from second on a Scott Rolen single and showed no ill-effect in his scamper toward home.  Sutton felt this was important:

“By the way, we were watching Phillips as he ran  around and scored, and as you [Grace] say, he was just fine”

This, of course suggests that Phillips limp (which was obviously a result of his awkward slide into second) was just Brandon bein’ Brandon.

I went back and watched both Hudson and Phillips walk under normal circumstances (I waste a lot of time, okay?) and noticed no discernable “limp” in either’s gait.  Both Phillips and Hudson are black second basemen, and both are vocal clubhouse leaders, but other than that, there’s nary a similarity between them and neither walks in any kind of unusual way.

So just what is Mr. Grace talking about here?

This may seem like a small and insignificant thing, and I am by no means suggesting that Grace or Sutton are racist or were doing this intentionally, but the fact is that they were following a stereotypical path when describing Phillips.  The only way to eradicate such nonsense from our discourse is to point it out and make it look foolish; which it most certainly is.

Brandon Phillips is a gritty, tough, clubhouse leader who plays with passion and copious amounts of talent.  One day, he’ll be recognized for that and the same old stale descriptors will be thrown away in the trash where they belong.  As for Grace, Sutton, and any other broadcaster or media personality; they should really know better.

ENDNOTE: For more subtle racism check out this post on Bleacher Report about the 20 most hated players in baseball today.  What do 15 of the 20 players have in common?  And is there a single shred of evidence in that useless tirade?  And did a five-year-old write it?  And did I just validate BR’s sad existence with a link?

ENDNOTE 2: For more subtle racism see any news related to the trial of Barry Bonds; or hell, anything in the news related to Barry Bonds at all.

Today in bad journalism: Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Now, I don’t claim to be a professional journalist; even though technically I am (I write wire service re-writes for barely minimum wage, so not really), but I can’t help but think that I would be better at it than a lot of people who currently call themselves journalists.

Is that a ‘high horse, down my nose’ opinion?  You’re damn straight it is.  But, why have a blog is you can’t be critical of the stupid shit that sometimes goes on in the profession?

This time ‘round, I’m not referring to Jon Heyman, although we all know my distaste for him; no, no, this time I’m referring to Toronto Sun writer Ken Fidlin.

You see, just hours after the Vernon Wells trade on Friday night, Mr. Fidlin wrote himself an article.  It started off well enough as Fidlin recognized what seemingly every non-MLB Network moron realized; that the this was a deal meant to give the Jays’ franchise a lot more financial flexibility going forward.

Then Fidlin loses me:

“This is all good for the long-term outlook for the franchise, but it can’t be considered anything but an immediate step backward.  Wells, for all the criticism he has borne since he signed that monster $126-million deal after the 2006 season, remained the face of the franchise and a class act in most every way”

As I detailed on Saturday, the acquisition of Napoli alone is comparable to Wells at a fraction of the price.  His career on-base percentage, slugging percentage, (obviously) OPS and walk-rate are all better than Wells’; and he did it in a known pitcher’s ballpark, whereas Wells has spent his career in the SkyDome/Rogers Centre which routinely ranks as one of the more hitter friendly parks in the game.  Not to mention that Napoli is only 29 compared to Wells’ 32.

Acquiring Napoli also removes Wells from centerfield, where his ability has most certainly deteriorated to the point where he can’t really be considered an option there much longer.  Rajai Davis and even Corey Patterson are much better options defensively.  That of course, does not stop Fidlin from saying stupid things.

“…as much as people have been picking at Wells’ defence, he was still good enough to make an all-star team in 2010, providing veteran leadership in the locker room.  The contract was a mistake, a huge overpay as it turned out, but that can’t take away from the contributions he made on and off the field and in the community.”

Oh well shit, he made an All-Star team last year.  I stand corrected on everything!  I forgot that All-Star game selections precluded defensive success and were not totally arbitrary and pretty much useless.  I have been shown the error of my ways!

Although Fidlin is admitting that the Wells contract was a bad one, he is citing that the Jays are worse off because of, among other things, Wells’ contributions on and off the field (which were great, don’t get me wrong) and the fact that he was a leader in the locker room; even though baseball doesn’t really have locker rooms, they have clubhouses, but that’s not important here.

It’s almost as if Fidlin is subtly trying to make the case that Wells’ demeanour and community reputation should allow us to put up with his terrible contract.  Again, Wells was great in this regard, but this trade still cannot be viewed as anything but positive for Toronto.

Then Fidlin decides to comment on what the Jays received in return for Wells; and this is where it’s clear he did not do his research.

“Napoli is an all-or-nothing slugger…coincidentally a similar player to the departed John Buck”

Except that the two are miles apart in both on-base percentage (.346-.301) and slugging percentage (.485-.421), suggesting that Napoli has far more power and is far more patient at the plate.  The only really comparable things are their defence and their batting average, which is clearly where Fidlin stopped his research.

Fidlin then goes on to subtly suggest that along with Jason Frasor and Jose Bautista, the Jays will be overpaying all three in arbitration negotiations.

“[Napoli] will be Toronto’s second-highest paid player behind Jose Bautista. He will join Bautista and Jason Frasor as players who are possibly headed for an arbitration hearing.

Napoli has asked for $6.1 million and the Angels offered him $5.3 million. Bautista is going to be paid at least $7.6 million even if he loses his case, but he will get $10.5 if he wins it.”

Because, you know, three players for one season each whose collective salaries still wouldn’t add up to Wells’ 2011 salary even in the worst-case scenario is clearly a bad financial call.

Fidlin suggests that there are too many corner-infielder/DH/catcher-types on the team without realizing that J.P. Arencibia is by no means a tested talent and could show that he’s not quite ready to handle the everyday catching job just yet; and Adam Lind cannot hit lefties to save his life.

“Napoli’s presence also puts Molina on notice. There are only so many first base/DH at-bats available. Lind is going to get his four swings per game, either at DH or first base. Encarnacion could also end up as a bench player.”

Napoli fits in nicely given his favourable splits and ability to handle both catcher and first base.  I firmly believe that either way, Jose Molina has a spot on this roster in 2011; or at least until Arencibia proves himself to be ready beyond a reasonable doubt.

All of this leads to Fidlin’s final claim:

“There is little question that Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell want to change the offensive approach of this team. Getting Davis installed as the leadoff hitter will be a start, but none of the other newcomers has any of the qualities that haven’t been present in the recent past. This is still a team that will have to rely on the three-run homer and there is one less bat in the middle of the order to deliver it.”

Now, we all know that Juan Rivera was a throw-in to this deal, in order to balance the Angels’ budget, but $5.25-million for one season is nothing compared to $86-million for four, so I’m willing to overlook a player I would hope would never otherwise be a Blue Jay.

Napoli, on the other hand, does bring something different, and it does fit into Anthopoulos and Farrell’s new approach.  He’s a very patient hitter; his career walk rate of 11.1% is actually well above average.

Not only that, but Napoli is a more consistent home run hitter than Wells, so saying the Jays are less capable of hitting the three-run home run is actually quite uninformed.  He said himself that that was the one redeeming quality about Napoli.

Not only that, but Napoli’s ability to get on base should actually increase the ability of the team to hit three-run home runs.

For some reason, Fidlin seems to think that there is a downside to this trade.  When Wells regresses back to his old self this season, he’ll eat his words.

Before you go, here are some interesting links regarding the Wells trade:

MLB Trade Rumors takes a look at the future payroll obligations for the Blue Jays and gives you some reasons to be extremely hopeful if you follow the team.

And the Orange County Register illustrates the Vernon Wells trade in a word cloud from the Angels’ fans and Jays’ fans perspective, pretty freaking hilarious stuff.

This just in: Jon Heyman is classless AND he sucks at his job.

There is a particular trait missing from many people these days: class.  SI.com baseball writer Jon Heyman (who looks eerily like Mark Teixeira) is one of those people.

There’s the obvious reasons, of course; Heyman practically spit on deserving Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven just before his induction was announced by producing this convoluted diatribe urging Mr. Blyleven to be thankful that a pitcher of his ilk could gain induction to such a prestigious body, because in his mind, he didn’t deserve it one bit.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC SportsHardball Talk does a great job of telling us why that piece was such a load of crap, I don’t need to deconstruct it further.

Then there’s his general lack of acceptance of anything modern in baseball analysis.  Sure, he’s not alone in this regard; there are plenty of “old school” journalists out there who seem to pride themselves on ignorance in the face of new, more comprehensive ways of analysing the game, but Heyman seems to take it to a different level.

Right after Carl Crawford signed in Boston, for instance, Heyman was tweeting that Crawford was a fine player, but probably didn’t deserve the money he was getting considering he has never hit 20 homeruns in a season.  Now, maybe Crawford doesn’t deserve what he received, but his homerun totals have nothing to do with why.  Anyone with half a baseball brain knows this.

He then went on to say that he thought Jayson Werth was a better fit for the BoSox given that he was a right-handed batter and possessed more homerun hitting power.*

Is there a person on the planet who knows anything about baseball who would think the Red Sox made the wrong decision in choosing Crawford over Werth, besides maybe Nationals GM Mike Rizzo?

Then yesterday comes along and with it the rather shocking retirement of Royals pitcher Gil Meche at just 32 years of age, leaving behind the final year of his contract and over $12-million.  Meche decided he couldn’t provide a solid enough return for the Royals and so would rather not waste their money.  Perhaps the first time a pro-athlete, or anyone, has walked away from that much guaranteed cash.

But Heyman again took to his Twitter account and criticized Meche for being “close to [the] most average pitcher [of] all time” and also one of the most “over-rated/overpaid.”

I’ll let the great Joe Posnanski tell you why that’s idiotic, he’s better at it than me and comes up with a lot more points than I could have.  But damn it all if I’m having a hard time figuring out why Heyman decides he’s going to be tactless on the day a guy leaves the game he loves because of injuries and misuse (which led to said injuries).

Bad journalism and refusal to evolve aside, Heyman continues to show me what I hope I never become: A tactless and ignorant baseball journalist who seems to enjoy his seat on his incredibly shaky high-horse.

Am I overreacting?  Probably.  Do I care?  Not in the least.

*of course, searching for Twitter posts from over a month ago is impossible so I can’t find them, but take my word for it.  There were other credible witnesses to this idiocy.