Thursday, January 21, 2010

The things you think when you're in an MRI machine

So I underwent my first MRI of my life this morning. Our trainer said that not many ballplayers my age could say that. I don't know if that's a compliment or not.

To make up for lost time, I decided to have not one but two MRIs done at the same time. Due to my own stupidity, I've been ignoring pain in both my back and hip for too long. It was time to get it checked out.

The MRI was much louder than I expected. Here were some thoughts that came to mind while I laid there for an hour and a half without moving:

1. We're being attacked by aliens.

2. I feel like I'm trapped in my mom's old, 25-year-old washing machine (it makes similar noises).

3. If a heavy metal guitarist developed schizophrenia and still decided to rehearse, this is what it would sound like.

4. I hope we don't have a fire. I'd never hear the alarm.

5. Maybe this contraption is like the big golden thing in the movie "Sphere." Whatever dreams I have will become real. Except instead of being haunted by "A Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," I'm haunted by "A Thousand Leagues Under the Big Leagues."

6. Hopefully I don't emerge from this thing acting like Lady Gaga.

7. Am I being turned into an Avatar? I better be allowed to fly on one of those weird dragon animals.

Just a few thoughts. I emerged unscathed and free from alien attack.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chapping something

In the conclusion of a long saga which involved a catfight between agents and a parade around scouts, Aroldis Chapman signed with the Reds recently. The Cuban defector sparked a bidding war that resulted in a six year, $30 million contract.

First, let's talk about Chapman's stuff. He reportedly throws 100 mph (smoke tinges the words with each keystroke). No problem there. He's also left-handed. That's always a plus. He's 21-years-young (give or take a few years). No problem there. He has control problems. Uh oh.

Chapman allowed 5.37 walks per nine innings in Cuba. Last I checked, that wasn't very good. Now, yes, we've all seen pitchers get better command as time goes on. A quick look at Randy Johnson's career reveals an atrocious walk rate early in his career, and then an exceptional walk rate at the end.

In fact, Randy Johnson's name has been thrown around a lot lately. He's been retired for only a few days, and already people are expecting some kid from Cuba to be "The Next Randy." Let's not forget, Randy Johnson's a certain first ballot Hall of Famer. He's one of the top 5 pitchers of all-time. And we're comparing an unproven 6'4" defector to him, simply because he's left-handed, throws hard, and has terrible command?

It's symptomatic of a general problem in the baseball world, and the world in general. When judging someone or something, we look for shortcuts. We say a person reminds us of another person because it instantly delivers information. But that person is an entirely different person. Chapman is his own being. He's not Randy Johnson and shouldn't be compared to him. It's not fair to Chapman or Johnson, and it doesn't deliver enough meaningful information.

Back to walk rates, Chapman may very well have a long and successful career. He certainly has the raw ability. But the problem with raw ability is that you don't know what the finished product will look like. Instead of going down, his walk rate may instead increase. Nobody really knows what will happen. The Reds just gave a lot of money to a guy who is a "maybe."

Since he was on the open market, the bidding war resulted in this contract. Some will say this is his fair market value. I think it's too much money, but the market says otherwise.

A few of my teammates emailed me saying this is a problem. Some foreign players such as Chapman are able to use this open-market system to their advantage while Americans, Canadians and Puerto Ricans are subject to a draft. A phenom such as Stephen Strasburg had no control over who picked him in the draft. Once taken, he could only negotiate with a single team. While he was paid handsomely, there was no bidding war. On the open market he would've received much more--perhaps more than Chapman.

MLB and the union need to decide what system they want. Do they want free market system, where anyone can negotiate with any player, and the player has the ability to choose? Such a system existed prior to 1965 when the draft was instituted. Or do they want a worldwide draft?

Selig has said he wants an international draft. So have several others. I'm generally not a fan of systems that limit a player's options, but I recognize the need for a draft, as without it, talent would be even more unequally spread than today. The rich would keep getting richer. But if such a draft is instituted, mobility must be ensured as well. The Rule 5 draft should be expanded, and changes should be made to it to allow more players to stick with new teams. The length of contracts should also be examined.

The current system certainly segregates against players from certain countries. This is unfair. All players should be subject to the same rules when dealing with MLB teams. There are obvious complications to this (look at the Japanese posting system.) since you're dealing with several countries, but the status quo simply isn't sufficient. A system is needed that ensures mobility, allows a player to gain close to market value, and also provides equal access to talent for large and small market clubs. The current system provides none of these things.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Legislative Dam: A Q&A about the Curt Flood Act of 1998

Members of Congress have a lot going on. Between health care legislation, cap and trade bills, idiots trying to sneak bombs onto airplanes, and running for re-election, their plates are as full as the bellies of medieval kings. Yet somehow they repeatedly make room for baseball.

We all remember the Congressional hearing of 2005 that infamously featured McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, and Schilling. But there have been many other moments as well, and today I want to talk about a lesser known act of Congress, the Curt Flood Act of 1998.

The act contains language that directly affects minor leaguers' abilities to challenge baseball's labor structure. I reference it in the upcoming Baseball America feature on the history of minor league salaries (scheduled for the season preview issue), so I thought it would be good to learn more about it. For this reason, I turned to an expert.

Ed Edmonds, the Associate Dean for Library and Information Technology at Notre Dame Law School, might know more about the Curt Flood Act than any person in America (including the authors of it). He's literally written volumes about it, and is an expert on all things legal in the baseball world. He contributes regularly to Sports Law Blog and was kind enough to respond to a few of my questions:

Why was Curt Flood such a significant figure? Why does this legislation don his name?

Curt Flood is a significant and symbolic figure in the labor struggles in baseball because he took a stance after his trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia in October 1969 that he would not accept the trade. He brought a lawsuit with the financial support of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) at a time when the union was just beginning to gain some strength against the owners. Flood lost his case at the Southern District of New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

So, despite losing his lawsuit, some see Curt Flood as a major figure in the creation of free agency. The arbitration decision that created free agency involved Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. When Curt Flood made his stand in 1969 and into the early 1970s, active players did not come to his support by testifying at his trial or openly supporting him to the press. They were not empowered in 1969 to force changes in the game. By 1975, when the McNally-Messersmith decision was rendered, the balance of powers between owners and theMLBPA had changed dramatically. Flood made a personal sacrifice of his career to advance the cause. There is a good deal of complexity and nuance to this story, and the many books and articles that have been published in the last few years concentrating on Curt Flood explored much of that. Flood is honored for his “early” efforts during a period of great transition. Because of the success of 1975 in creating free agency and because baseball did not collapse as so many predicted, I think that Curt Flood is seen as a symbolic figure in advancing the cause of players’ rights. When I wrote about this in an article published in the Marquette Law Review and later in a legislative history of the Curt Flood Act of 1998, I argued that the naming of the act for Flood was a “hollow” victory. His case was not tried as an antitrust case, although it was largely brought as such. He lost his case although many commentators consider the Supreme Court decision to be an incorrect one. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Thurgood Marshall argued that the case had labor implications that could override antitrust ones, and he certainly predicted the future in this area correctly. So, the Curt Flood Act stands for the proposition that major league players, and only major league players, have the right to use antitrust law in the same way as other professional athletes. However, because labor law policy wins out, and that policy largely produced the result that Flood sought for himself, I think that naming the act for him was symbolically nice but ultimately not that legally significant.

What were the main effects of this legislation? Did it prompt any real change?

After the 1994-1995 lookout was resolved, both MLB and the MLBPA agreed to go to Congress to jointly request legislation to change theantitrust exemption with respect to labor relations. The move was largely symbolic because as long as a labor relationship exists between the union and management labor policy trumps antitrust policy as determined by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231 (1996). There is a really narrow possibility that if a union decertified and the National Labor Relations Board agreed that the process was appropriate, that the antitrust leverage would reappear. This technique has been used effectively in the past by the NFLPA.

So, I do not think it has really changed baseball. What it has done from my perspective is actually entrench the business as it existed in 1998. The passage of the act has made it more difficult for minor league players or the champions of the rights of minor league players to change the labor conditions in that area.

The legislation seems to be very narrow in scope and to apply only to MLB players. In fact, it contains a specific clause to exclude minor leaguers. What exactly did this clause state?

The Curt Flood Act can be found at 15 U.S.C. § 27a (2006). Subsection (b) provides a limitation to subsection (a) that specifically states that only the employment of major league baseball players playing at the major league level is covered by the legislation. The specific language involving minor leaguers is as follows:

“No court shall rely on the enactment of this section as a basis for changing the application of the antitrust laws to any conduct, acts, practices, or agreements other than those set forth in subsection (a). This section does not create, permit or imply a cause of action by which to challenge under the antitrust laws . . . (1) any conduct, acts, practices, or agreements of persons engaging in, conducting or participating in the business of organized professional baseball relating to or affecting employment to play baseball at the minor league level, any organized professional baseball amateur or first-year player draft, or any reserve clause as applied to minor league players.”

Just to be clear, the law included a second subsection, (b)(2) that stated that the Professional Baseball Agreement between Organized Baseball and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues cannot be the cause of any action or “any other matter relating to organized professional baseball’s minor leagues.” The question of whether or not independent minor league baseball is covered would need to concentrate on the word “organized.” The legislative history, in my opinion, supports the argument that the independent minor leaguers are also not accorded any right to bring a cause of action under the statute.

Subsections 3-6 also make it clear that franchise relocation is not altered by the act; the act does not change the antitrust exemption created by the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961; umpires cannot use the Curt Flood Act to their advantage; nor can anyone else use the act to attack the basic structure of Major League Baseball.

You've written about entities within minor league baseball lobbying Congress during the passage of this act. Can you talk about the effects of these efforts?

Minor League Baseball was quite concerned about the possibility of any changes to the basic “farm system” relationship of minor league teams to major league teams. In particular, major league teams cover the salaries of minor league players, and this is a critical feature to the existing business model of minor league teams. When the legislation was first considered in Congress, Minor League Baseball made sure that it approached the many Congressmen and Senators with minor league franchises within their Congressional districts or states to make sure that any possibility of a lawsuit by a minor league player could not happen by changing the status of major league players. Most courts that have considered baseball’s historic antitrust exemption have held that it covers the entire business of baseball. The legislation basically left a slight bit of ambiguity by stating that baseball players are “subject to the antitrust laws to the same extent such conduct . . . would be subject to the antitrust laws if engaged in by persons in any other professional sports business affecting interstate commerce.”

Link to the act in its entirety:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm baaaacck!

I took a little holiday hiatus. Here's a few events from the past two weeks:

--I made the annual tour of the Midwest, in which I spent a day and a half in Advance, Missouri (my parents' house, actually ten miles outside of it in the middle of a woods) before spending a day and a half in Decatur, Illinois (where my in-laws live).

--I received six Zhu Zhu pets, and one Tickle Me Elmo. (That's a bold-faced lie. I received neither. Instead I got three sweaters and two dress shirts.)

--My mom made 18 different types of cookies, and I was disappointed. (Usually she's over the 20 mark.)

--I gained 2.5 pounds, from said cookies.

--I picked up my dogs poop, and for the first time, I was happy. (It's so cold that it warmed my hand up.)

--I watched Mizzou play perhaps the most atrocious bowl game ever played. Navy, well, blew them out of the water.

So those are a few highlights, and here a few links:

A teammate and friend, Dan Runzler, was named minor league Reliever of the Year by I played with Runzler at two different levels last year and have to say he's a good dude. I already told him this, but congrats again.

I wrote a "Suitcase Chronicles" article around the time of the Rule 5 draft, and finally it's posted. (Cleanliness, not timeliness, is next to Godliness.)

Lastly, Sadowski signed back with the Giants, albeit the Korean Giants. He'd talked to them for a while, even before his signing with the Astros. He and his agent even negotiated an opt-out date in his Astros' contract, in which he had a short period of time to still negotiate with Asian teams.

I think it's a great decision for him, as it's guaranteed money. When you've had two arm surgeries, you gotta take the money as it comes. And thanks to David O'Donoghue in Dublin (no, I didn't make that up) for forwarding me the link to the story in the Korean papers.

Keep sending me links! And here's to a wonderful and prosperous 2010 for all!