Question: How Do You Prove That The News Media Lies To You?

Answer: Know a lot about something.

This is about baseball, and is a little technical, so I’ll try to be brief for you (unfortunate) non baseball fans.

Manny Machado is a 26 year old super-star baseball player who just signed the biggest free agent contract in MLB history, a guaranteed 300 million dollar deal for ten years with the San Diego Padres. Baseball writers have been trying to get free agents huge contracts this whole off-season rather than just reporting on the negotiations and signings. Why? Because sports journalists are overwhelmingly pro-labor, pro-union, and anti-ownership, aka. business, capitalism, billionaires. (The players are just millionaires, so they’re cool.) The writers and sports pundits have been working overtime to get public opinion on the side of the players, even though the huge salaries make being a fan more expensive, especially for families.

After Machado signed, the pundits on the MLB cable channel put up a graphic justifying the contract by showing that Machado had a comparable WAR—that’s statistically-calculated wins his teams got (theoretically!)  by having Machado playing rather than some borderline, mediocre shlub—to all-time greats like Willie Mays by the same age. The chart was a lie, but you had to know something about baseball history and how they calculate a player’s WAR to realize it. Continue reading

On Greed, Stupidity, And Reality: My Baseball Wish

There is now rampant speculation that the twin prime-age free agents who have the so-called Hot Stove League in palpitations—the two are outfielder Bryce Harper (L) and shortstop Manny Machado (R), both 26, burgeoning superstars, and, in the estimation of many including me, assholes—will not sign contracts until February. I find this difficult to believe, since it would be jaw-droppingly stupid (and unethical), but I hope hope hope that it happens, because the ethics lessons the consequences might teach couldl be momentous.

Both young men are reportedly seeking contracts in the range of ten years at 30+ million dollars a year. Both have player agents who are telling them such exorbitant goals are reasonable.  Machado has already made about 34 million dollars in his still-brief Major League career.  Harper had made almost 48 million. Both are in a position in which they could pick out the city and team they want to live in and play with, and say to their agents, “This is where I want to be. Make the best deal you can, and make it happen.” That is what a rational person would do, and indeed, that is what some players, not players with the potential earning power of these two but ones with more brains than Harper and Machado have between them, have done, though rarely.

It is important to note that unless these guys have developed an addiction to eating diamonds or something similarly extravagant, they don’t need to work another day in their lives now. What is their motivation to be paid more than a third of a billion dollars over the next decade, other than having avaricious, unethical agents steering them in that direction? Ego? Insanity? Stupidity? Harper or Machado could call up any one of the 30 MLB teams, ask, “What can you pay me for the next five years?” and have a contract for at least $100,000,000 dollars within 25 hours. How much different will their lives be with those “low-ball” contracts than if they received the longer, richer ones they covet? Not different at all, and quite possibly better. Continue reading

Baseball’s Childish Ethics: An Embarrassing Case Study

It is often said that baseball is a child’s game, but that doesn’t excuse professional baseball players holding on to childish traditions regarding the “right way to play the game” that are not right, frequently dangerous, and mind-numbingly stupid to boot.

Last week, beginning a weekend series in Baltimore, the Boston Red Sox were enmeshed in a close game., losing 2-0, with time running out. With the Orioles batting and Manny Machado (Non-baseball fans: he is the very young, very large, very talented O’s third-baseman, a joy to watch and already a super-star) on first, Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts fielded a slowly bouncing ground ball and flipped a weak throw to Dustin Pedroia (Non-baseball fans: he is the small, cocky, excellent Sox second baseman, the best fielder at his position in 2016, a former MVP, and the acknowledged leader of the team now that David Ortiz has retired). Pedroia caught the ball in a first baseman’s stretch, awkwardly, just in time to force out Machado: a double play was out of the question. Machado, however, came into the base hard, sliding late, and barreling right over the bag with his spikes raised. (It looks on the tape as if one foot was elevated  when it hit the base.) Machado’s momentum took him into Pedroia, knocking him down and spiking him, as well as injuring his knee and ankle. Machado appeared to try to catch the Sox player after he passed over the base.

There was no question that Machado was out, but the Red Sox manager argued that the slide was illegal: since last year, runners are not allowed to try to break up double plays by intentionally sliding at opposing fielders. Late slides, slides not intended to allow the runner to get to second base, and sliding past teh base to upend the second baseman or shortstop will be called as obstruction, and the batter is then called out to complete the double play. The umpires disagreed with Farrell, and that is still being debated; it’s not relevant here. Pedroia, meanwhile, was led off the field, obviously injured.

After the game, Red Sox TV analysts and former players Jim Rice (Sox Hall of Fame Sox slugger) and Steve Lyons (an opinionated jackass) chuckled about what was coming. Ancient baseball tradition required, they explained, that the Red Sox “protect their player” who was injured by a careless, inept, or intentionally illegal slide. This meant, they explained, that a Red Sox pitcher in the next game was obligated to hit Machado with a pitch in retaliation. “He knows it!” said Rice. “He’ll be expecting it.” Lyons nodded and laughed. (Full disclosure: I hated Steve Lyons as a player, and I loathe him as an analyst.)

This is indeed an “unwritten law” of baseball, and one of the most unethical. I have seen it countless times, and the result is often fights and injuries, as well as suspensions for the pitcher’s involved and outright beanball wars. The theory is that you can’t let a team “intimidate” you, so a message must be sent. The message is “tit for tat” or “Mob Ethics”: you hurt one of ours, we hurt one of yours. Sometimes the situation requires a pitch directed at other team’s star player, when that team’s scrub injures the pitcher’s team’s star. In this case, the target was an easy call, for Machado was both the miscreant and is also the Orioles best player. Continue reading