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Tag: "baseball"

Baseball Songs

[ 33 ] March 31, 2014 |

Happy Opening Day. For that, here’s two of the best songs ever written about an individual baseball player. First, there is Buddy Johnson’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”

Count Basie had a hit with this the next year that I think is the most famous versions, but I’m going with the original here.

Second is Tom Russell’s “The Kid from Spavinaw,” about Mickey Mantle. Of course, it’s incredibly depressing like most of the rest of American folk music.

Not that this is any more depressing than the 2014 Mariners.

In related news, I’m not entirely sure we need a feature film based on the life of R.A. Dickey.

Cobb

[ 53 ] February 12, 2014 |

I had never read this 1985 Al Stump remembrance of Ty Cobb’s last days. This is pretty amazing stuff.

But hey, at the least the Hall of Fame is full of only the most upstanding characters, so thank god those modern cheaters doing nothing actually against baseball rules are being kept out of it.

This Day in Labor History: December 24, 1969

[ 62 ] December 24, 2013 |

On December 24, 1969, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood wrote a letter to Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn protesting a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies and asking to be declared a free agent. Thus began a process that freed professional sports athletes from total control by the owners and began the period of free agency, when athletes were finally paid fairly for the revenues they generated.

Major League Baseball had long exploited its players. The key tool for this was the reserve clause. This gave owners total control over player labor, allowing the movement of players from team to team only through trade, release, or retirement. In other words, when the owner was ready to dispense with them or the player decided to quit.

Flood referenced slavery in his letter, writing, ”After 12 years in the major leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” This was a shot at the total control white owners had over all players’ labor, who were supposed to be happy that they could play a kid’s game and appreciative of the father figure-owner who gave them the opportunity. This labor of course made owners an incredible amount of money, of which the players saw very little. Flood made $90,000 in 1969, the equivalent of $555,000 today. That’s not nothing, but for a well above-average outfielder in a profession with a relatively short work life, it was not nearly enough for the profits he generated through his work.

Curt Flood

When Kuhn denied his request, expressing some outrage at the slavery comparison, Flood sued for his release. He claimed not only did the reserve clause violate antitrust laws, but also the Thirteenth Amendment, doubling down on the slavery comparison in a time of great racial tension in the United States. The Major League Baseball Players Association was trying to become a real union. It was established in 1953 to provide some level of representation but was weak in its early years. Luckily for Flood, he had an ally at the MLBPA in lawyer Marvin Miller. Hired by the MLBPA away from the United Steelworkers of America in 1966, Miller desperately wanted to turn the organization into a force that would, among other things, destroy the reserve clause. He had won credibility with players by winning a collective bargaining agreement from the owners in 1968 that raised the minimum salary from $6000 to $10,000, which was pretty significant. Miller convinced the other players, many of whom were skeptical and turned off by the slavery rhetoric (the white ones anyway), to bankroll Flood’s case.

Marvin Miller

Miller himself was outraged by the reserve clause. As he put it, “Yes, you’re an American and have the right to seek employment anywhere you like, but this right does not apply to baseball players.” Miller told Flood this would kill his career but Flood was willing to go to the mat in order to improve the lives of baseball players in the future. Flood himself had a long history of activism, including attending civil rights rallies in Mississippi in 1962, a risky move for any African-American but perhaps even more so for an “outsider,” coming from Oakland as Flood did. In 1964, Flood successfully sued a man who had sold Flood his house in the Oakland suburb of Alamo, CA without meeting him; when Flood arrived, the owner pulled a shotgun and refused to let him and his pregnant wife entrance. So Flood, a political man with a great deal of courage, was willing to take this sacrifice and use racially charged language in doing so.

The case cost Flood his career. Although he was beginning to fade in his age 31 season, he likely had at least one more good year in him. He did manage to play 13 games in 1971 for the Senators, but was out of baseball after that. It’s also worth noting the atmosphere of fear Flood faced. When Flood testified in court, not a single other active player showed up because they were terrified of the owners. Only the retired stars Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg attended. In 1972, Flood lost his case before the Supreme Court, 5-3, after the Anheuser-Busch stock owning Lewis Powell, who would have voted in his favor, recused himself from the case and a last second change of mind by Warren Burger. Flood was granted free agency but the baseball antitrust exemption could only be removed by an act of Congress.

In the short-term, the marginal nature of Flood’s victory gave Marvin Miller greater leverage in his battles with owners and he forced them to agree to binding arbitration for grievances. But it was not until 1976 that an arbitrator ruled Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents that the reserve clause fell away and the modern era of free agency began.

Of course, owners resisted free agency in all sports as strongly as they could. In baseball, owners colluded in the mid-80s to not bid up free agents, a direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement. This was coordinated by MLB commissioner Peter Uberroth, who wanted the owners to run their teams as a business and not spend millions of dollars for the best players. Between 1985 and 1987, only a few players changed teams. But further lawsuits forced the end of that strategy and player salaries skyrocketed by the late 1980s. The 1994 strike that nearly destroyed the game was the final major battle in this war and the determination of the Yankees to win every year and other new owners willing to spend to catch up with them pretty much ended any concentrated owner resistance to high salaries. The growth of television contracts has only pumped more money into the game, making the salaries of today’s baseball players far beyond the dreams of Curt Flood.

Flood’s actions began the modern professional sport labor union movement. The long-term effects has been to unionize each of the four major sports leagues, creating titanic salaries for a few and pretty good salaries for most everybody. The sports unions have had a contentious relationship with the American public who hated to see “their” players leave for other teams and even go on strike. But ultimately, Flood is one of the great heroes of the American labor movement in the late twentieth century.

This is the 85th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Old Hoss Radbourn Reviews ESPN’s Top 100 Players

[ 140 ] December 13, 2013 |

A year ago yesterday, ESPN ranked its top 100 baseball players of all time. @oldhossradbourn provided running commentary. I had not seen it all collected into one site until now. A few highlights:

83. M. McGwire. Would be ranked higher but angered all the scribes when the fellatio they gave him in 1998 gave them oral cancer in 2005.

67. M. Rivera. Aided by guts, courage, and by being a 1/4 time player in a masturbatory media market which needed to pen a hagiography.

9. M. Mantle. American hero who never lived up to his talents or the money lavished on him, much like the generation which venerated him.

48. L. Jones. Remember when he hit .364 as a broken 36-year-old and faced no scrutiny? It’s nice to be white.

56. “Yogi” Berra. Italian catcher, the worst of two worlds. Yet it is fun to throw things at Italians. Cursed us all with his son, Dale.

There are many good ones to choose from.

Manager Trifecta

[ 70 ] December 9, 2013 |

While I have no problem with Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa getting elected to the Hall of Fame, evidently the standard for being a great manager is working for a high-revenue team over a very long time. What I’d like to see is some attempt to measure managers through a win/dollar statistic adjusted for baseball inflation over time. Maybe this exists in some form, I don’t know. Because it seems to me that being moderately successful for a long period of time with low budgets is equally as valuable as working for owners constantly willing to fork over $100 million plus budgets. This doesn’t even take into account the marginal effect managers seem to actually have on teams, not to mention the blaming of and cycling through of managers when you have incredibly incompetent GMs and ownership.

One person who comes to mind here is Tom Kelly, who won 2 titles with the Twins despite being hamstrung by significantly lower budgets and greater limitations than most teams. Yes, his career record is under .500. Bobby Cox would have a similar record with those teams.

….A related point. Roy Halladay is retiring today. David Cameron makes the case for him in the Hall. I completely agree.

…..Also, in case it isn’t clear, I actually would vote for any of the three managers for the Hall of Fame. I think they are all clear calls. But I also think Tom Kelly is basically just as deserving for what he did with no resources. And as someone mentioned in comments, Joe Maddon may have a very interesting case in 20 years.

Mariners, I Want a Divorce

[ 53 ] December 2, 2013 |

The Mariners sign 36 year-old “scrappy” veteran Willie Bloomquist, possessor of both a pedigree with the M’s, and a local connection, to a two-year contract at between $2.5 and $3 million per.

What, Bret Boone wasn’t available?

To quote Dave Cameron over at USS Mariner:

Judge for yourself if the Mariners have actually learned anything from their past mistakes. Judge for yourself if this organization has any idea how to actually build a baseball team.

This is a good reason for promotion and relegation in baseball. Let them get relegated, because at this point it’s the only way they might learn something.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 43 ] November 7, 2013 |

Jeffery Loria.

Who may also be the worst sports owner of all time, a category that includes racist slum lord/owner of the most embarrassingly bad team in the NBA for 20 years Donald Sterling and William Clay Ford who wouldn’t fire Matt Millen for years because he was a good Christian.

I Guess We Know Where the Giants Got the Money to Pay a Fading Tim Lincecum $35 Million

[ 26 ] October 24, 2013 |

What a surprise that billionaire sports owners would steal from their poorest employees:

Two Major League Baseball clubs–the San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins—are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor for possible federal wage law violations. The investigations come amid wider concern about questionable pay practices throughout professional baseball, according to interviews and records obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act.

Labor Department spokesman Jason Surbey confirmed the investigations of the Marlins and Giants, but would not give details. However, emails reviewed by FairWarning show that possible improper use of unpaid interns is a focus of the Giants probe. It is the Labor Department’s second recent investigation of the Giants over pay practices involving lower level employees.

An attorney for the Giants said the team would not comment on the current investigation. A Marlins spokesman said the club does not believe “that any of the Marlins’ current labor practices are improper….We can confirm that the Marlins have been and will continue to cooperate fully with the Department of Labor.” Major League Baseball officials could not be reached.

Officials with the department’s Wage and Hour Division announced in August that the Giants had resolved the prior case by agreeing to pay $544,715 in back wages and damages to 74 employees. Many were clubhouse workers the agency said were paid at a daily rate of $55, but who sometimes worked so many hours that they got less than minimum wage and no overtime. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Grady Little Is Alive And Managing In Kansas City

[ 91 ] September 16, 2013 |

Maybe it’s me, but if a manager’s previous employer was compelled to fire him in mid-September while his team was holding a playoff spot, he’s probably not someone you want managing your team during a pennant race.  If the argument for hiring him is that he’s good with young players, again, if you’re so determined to win right now that you’re willing to trade an exceptional OF prospect, you really need to hire a real manager.

It’s also sort of poignant that Carlos Pena was a major part of Yost’s Waterloo.  Saints be praised, I assume we’re going to have a moratorium on “Billy Beane is a complete fraud because he couldn’t find the magic elixir that would ensure that the better team wins 3 rather than 2 games of a 5-game series” articles for a bit.

Ketchup

[ 530 ] September 14, 2013 |

Here’s the thing about ketchup. It’s disgusting and those who love it should reexamine their priorities and the meaning of their lives. So I am righteously outraged that the Detroit Tigers fired this hot dog vendor who expressed his disdain to fans who wanted ketchup on their dogs, proving to the world that they did not deserve the suffrage.

And I’m not saying the mustard is the only acceptable condiment on a hot dog. At the ballpark maybe, but in real life, obviously sauerkraut is also a superior condiment. And in Mexico you can get all kinds of crazy awesome stuff on hot dogs. But ketchup, I mean really, doesn’t its existence make one question Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Note–I am talking about mass produced tomato ketchup here. Ketchup produced with other fruits or homemade stuff that is actually good, that’s different.

One also must wonder about the crossover between people who put ketchup on hot dogs and those who call vodka cocktails “martinis.”

UPDATE: Am I the only one who thinks kimchi on hot dogs could be really good?

The Impaler

[ 41 ] September 14, 2013 |

Jonah Keri on the wondrous career of the great Vladimir Guerrero, a player no one could reasonably not love to watch.

Saturday Night

[ 28 ] August 17, 2013 |

For this Saturday night, we need to have as much fun as Bobby Grich did when pouring beer on Richard Nixon’s head after the California Angels won the 1979 AL West title.

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