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MLB to recognize MLBPA representation of minor leaguers

Wow.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association on Saturday finalized a card-check agreement expected to formalize the league recognizing the union as the bargaining representative for a unit of minor league players in excess of 5,000 members, sources told ESPN.

The agreement, in which the MLBPA will present union-authorization cards Wednesday to be counted by a neutral arbiter, is the latest step in the rapid unionization of minor league players and sets up the parties to negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement.

The parties plan to begin negotiations in the offseason in hopes of striking an agreement before the 2023 minor league season.

By voluntarily recognizing minor leaguers’ desire to unionize with the MLBPA, which was first announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Friday, the league is hastening what people on both sides saw as inevitable: the MLBPA representing a wide swath of minor league players, including all who play in the four domestic levels as well as those at team complexes in Arizona and Florida.

[…]

Absent the recognition, the MLBPA would have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board and earned status as the bargaining representative with a vote of more than 50% of players who returned ballots. With the MLBPA saying that more than 50% of the potential unit has returned cards indicating they want to join the union, the league chose to recognize the unionization of minor leaguers under the MLBPA umbrella.

See here for the background. I had assumed MLB would fight this, as they are not at all known for being labor-friendly, but it would seem that the numbers are such that it didn’t make sense to draw it all out. The next step would be a collective bargaining agreement with the minor leaguers, and that will among other things provide for the league more opportunities to gain some leverage over the major league players. This is a historic agreement and a great start for the union, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Here comes the pitch clock

Some foundational rule changes are coming to MLB next year.

A pitch timer, limits on defensive shifts and bigger bases are coming to Major League Baseball in 2023.

Following recent experiments in the Minor Leagues, the recently formed Joint Competition Committee voted Friday in favor of three rule changes aimed at improving pace of play, action and safety at the MLB level.

The pitch timer, defensive shift limits and bigger bases were the only three rules proposed by MLB to the Joint Competition Committee — a voting body consisting of four active players, six members appointed by MLB and one umpire, that was created as part of the 2022-26 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Though the automatic ball-strike system (AKA “robot umps”) — and, alternatively, an ABS challenge system — has been experimented with in select Minor Leagues this season, a formal rule change proposal related to the ABS has not been made to the committee and is not expected for the 2023 season.

Read on for the details. I favor the pitch clock and I’m fine with the larger bases. I’m more ambivalent about banning the shift, but I think everyone agrees that the significant decrease in balls in play is a negative at least from an aesthetic fan-friendly perspective, and on those lines I can support it. I suspect it may take some time for the full effects of the changes to be felt – the sport will need to start growing contact hitters again, if nothing else – but we should begin to see them during the season. MLB has made big changes to respond to a drop in offense before – lowering the pitcher’s mound, reducing the strike zone – and I’m sure they will again some day as things evolve further. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. ESPN has more.

MLBPA seeks to represent minor leaguers

Good to see, though there are some questions that will need to be answered.

The Major League Baseball Players Association took an initial step toward unionizing the minor leagues Sunday night, sending out authorization cards that will allow minor league players to vote for an election that could make them MLBPA members.

“Minor leaguers represent our game’s future and deserve wages and working conditions that befit elite athletes who entertain millions of baseball fans nationwide,” players’ association executive director Tony Clark said Monday in a statement. “They’re an important part of our fraternity and we want to help them achieve their goals both on and off the field.”

The potential unionization of more than 5,000 minor leaguers is the latest action in a yearslong effort by players who won a $185 million settlement from the league in an unpaid wages class-action lawsuit and have received housing from teams and increased pay in recent years. Minor league players, whose compensation and benefits are not collectively bargained, continue to argue for higher salaries, which for a vast majority range from around $5,000 to $14,000 annually. Furthermore, the Senate Judiciary Committee has suggested it will call a hearing to explore MLB’s antitrust exemption and its treatment of minor leaguers.

[…]

Advocates for Minor Leaguers, the group that has spent recent years organizing minor league players, is now working with the MLBPA, which collectively bargains with MLB on behalf of the 1,200 players on major league rosters.

“The last couple years has been a buildup of players offering their voices and their concerns, with Advocates for Minor Leaguers continuing to echo and aggregate those voices in a way that have gotten us to this point,” Clark told ESPN.

In order for the MLBPA to represent minor leaguers in collective bargaining, 30% of players need to sign union authorization cards, which would prompt an election. If a majority of those who vote in an election choose for union representation, the National Labor Relations Board will require MLB to recognize the union. The league and MLBPA then would collectively bargain for minor leaguers, an outcome that even five years ago would have registered as farfetched.

You can see a statement from the MLBPA here. I’m all in favor of this, and Lord knows the minor league players need representation, between MLB’s relentless efforts to cut their pay and more recently reduce the number of minor league teams. It’s just that the MLBPA hasn’t necessarily been a friend to minor leaguers in previous CBAs. Which is understandable, since those players weren’t and still aren’t a part of that union and the MLBPA was aiming to get the best deal it could get for its members. If the owners put some MiLB concessions on the table as a chip, well, the MLBPA had to consider what it meant for them. Very few current minor leaguers were affected by past CBAs, at least at the time, so I don’t think that will be an obstacle. The contraction of the minor leagues, with MLB in control of them, is a strong incentive for the players and the union to join forces. If this goes through, it won’t stop MLB from trying similar tactics in the future, it will just be a test of the larger union’s resolve. I’m rooting for them to get this done. CBS Sports has more.

Baseball fans are mostly OK with the idea of robot umps

So says a poll, so it must be true.

Illustration by Martin Laksman

MLB fans, it may be time to welcome your robot overlords.

Baseball is known for its long-standing traditions, unwritten rules about players’ on-field conduct and a fan base that skews older compared to other major U.S. professional sports. A new Morning Consult survey, however, found that MLB fans are gradually entering the modern era and accepting likely changes to the sport.

A plurality of self-identified MLB fans (48%) said they support the implementation of an automated ball and strike system, also known as “robo umps,” for MLB’s 2024 season. Thirty-six percent of fans said they do not support such a system, which Commissioner Rob Manfred floated as a possibility in a wide-ranging ESPN interview last month.

[…]

The future of baseball

  • Half of MLB fans said they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” an automated ball and strike system that calls every pitch during a game and relays the balls and strikes to a human home plate umpire via an earpiece. There’s slightly more support (55%) for a replay review system of balls and strikes, which would allow each manager to challenge several calls per game.
  • While self-identified sports fans showed slightly less enthusiasm for robo umps than MLB fans did, a clear plurality still supported the concept. Of the options included in the survey, regular sports fans showed the most support for in-game manager challenges at 54%.
  • More than half of MLB fans (54%) said they are “very interested” or “somewhat interested” to watch a game in which a home plate umpire receives balls and strikes through an earpiece, while 56% expressed interest in watching games featuring manager challenges.

I’m basically fine with the robo-ump scheme. The tech still needs some work, as well as some refinements to the rulebook strike zone, which is not called that way and would be very unpopular if it were. Back in 2020, I figured it would be five to ten years for robo umps; the current CBA allows for them to be implemented as soon as 2024. I think I’d be happier starting with a challenge system first, but we’ll see what we get. In any event, if you’re a traditionalist, don’t expect a wave of fan sentiment to carry your preference for you.

Rob Manfred speaks

About the Astros and other things.

Did not age well

When it comes to the Astros’ sign-stealing saga and its aftermath, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred does have one big regret.

Was it his non-punishment of any individual players or granting immunity to them to get candid answers out of them? In an expansive interview with ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. that published Wednesday, Manfred said he wasn’t interested in “rehashing past stuff” like the Astros scandal.

But there was something in the wake of his punishment of the Houston franchise (a $5 million fine, stripping two years’ worth of first- and second-round draft picks and year-long suspensions to now-former general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch) that still gnaws at Manfred.

It was Manfred’s choice of words in the aftermath to the sanctions about why he didn’t strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series championship.

“The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act,” Manfred said in February 2020, referring to the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Those words generated a fierce backlash from MLB players and fans and two-plus years later, Manfred calls the “piece of metal” reference one of his biggest miscues since becoming commissioner in January 2015.

“The ‘piece of metal’ thing — the worst,” Manfred told Van Natta. “I regret it because it’s disrespectful to the game. I also regret it because I was being defensive about something.”

You can read the interview here – it’s quite long. I agree that was a dumb thing for him to say, but I’ve always had the impression that a lot of fans – and other players – were mad about the fact that no Astros players received discipline for their role in the scheme. There are lots of reasons for that – MLB wanted their cooperation, the collective bargaining agreement didn’t allow for it, the real responsibility belonged to management, etc – but it’s how people felt. No one ever said this stuff was entirely rational.

As for his September 2017 letter to the Yankees that recently became unsealed and revealed a $100,000 fine for New York using the dugout phone to steal and transmit opponents’ signals during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Manfred was asked if widely publicizing that punishment at the time would’ve instilled a greater fear among teams for the repercussions of sign-stealing.

“Look, I think the answer to that question is really temporal,” Manfred said. with Van Natta noting the commissioner showed “a flash of irritation and not sounding as thick-skinned as he claims.”

I mean, speaking as a Yankees fan who didn’t understand why they fought the release of that letter so hard – it really made them look guilty of something, and in the end it was largely no big deal – that would have been better from my perspective. Maybe next time.

“Significant” suspension expected for Deshaun Watson

I should think so.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

[…]

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after retiring from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

[…]

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

I think one year is the minimum. The charges against Watson are considerably greater than those against Bauer, and as such I wouldn’t mind seeing him get two years as his punishment. Maybe Robinson or Friel found Watson’s accusers to be not fully credible, or maybe the NFLPA’s argument about the lack of punishment for these miscreant owners will hold some sway, I don’t know. I just don’t have any sympathy for either Watson or the Browns. Whatever the case, the expectation is that there will be an answer by the start of NFL training camp, which is to say by late July.

We finally see that Manfred letter to the Yankees

The Chron headline is blaring, but I kind of think we already knew most of this stuff.

Major League Baseball fined the New York Yankees $100,000 in 2017 for using their replay room and dugout phone to steal their opponent’s signs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons in what commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “material violation” of rules governing the replay room.

The ruling was in a letter that Manfred sent to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Sept. 14, 2017.

[…]

The two-page document provided few specifics and rehashed much of what Manfred already acknowledged in a Sept. 15, 2017 statement, one in which he disciplined the Red Sox for using their replay room to decode signs and warned “future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

The Astros continued to use their electronic sign-stealing scheme and trashcan banging at Minute Maid Park despite the warnings. Owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after the system became public in Jan. 2020. The league also fined the franchise $5 million and took away its first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman helped to reinforce two long-held beliefs: electronic sign-stealing predated the Astros’ infamous trashcan banging scheme and ran rampant throughout the sport before stricter enforcement arrived in Sept. 2017. Multiple players across baseball have acknowledged it since the Astros’ punishments were levied and they became pariahs. No other publicly known sign-stealing schemes — including the one detailed in Manfred’s letter to Cashman — approach the severity of Houston’s trashcan banging scheme.

[…]

According to the letter, a Yankees baseball operations assistant admitted to league investigators that he provided information about opponent’s signs to members of the team’s replay room during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

The staffer’s name is redacted in the letter. The Boston player, who had played for the Yankees earlier in his career, is also not named.

The staff in the replay room “physically relayed the information” to the Yankees dugout, but the letter did not specify how it happened. The team also tried its tactics during road games, according to the letter. At ballparks where the dugout was farther from the replay room, the Yankees sometimes used a dugout phone line to “orally provide real-time information” about the opponent’s signs, the letter said.

Manfred wrote that the Yankees’ wrongdoing “constitutes a material violation of the replay review regulations” and had “the same objective of the Red Sox’s scheme that was the subject of the Yankees complaint.”

In his public statement on Sept. 15, 2017, Manfred acknowledged that the Yankees “had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone” during a season prior to 2017.

“The substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself,” Manfred said in that announcement. “Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”

Both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were cited for sign-stealing schemes that originated in the team’s replay room. The Astros ran a far more egregious operation: positioning a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park, pointing it at the catcher and banging trashcans to relay the signs he flashed to Houston hitters.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman mentioned nothing about cameras. It also does not accuse the Yankees of illicit activity after Sept. 15, 2017 — the day Manfred promised harsher punishment for sign-stealing.

The 2018 Red Sox scheme was “far more limited in scope and impact” than the Astros’ 2017 actions, according to the league’s findings. Alex Cora, Boston’s manager that season, incurred a one-year suspension for only his actions as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.

See here for the previous update. Going back through my archives, the first mention of this letter was from 2020, and most of what happened since then was related to the Yankees’ efforts to keep it under wraps. I don’t see any specific mention of the Yankees being accused of some form of sign stealing, but there was definitely the assumption all along that multiple teams had at least dipped a toe in those waters, with more than a little suspicion thrown at New York. The key thing, which we did know from the beginning, was Manfred’s warning to teams in 2017 that any further violations will be treated more harshly. Which is what happened to the Astros and to a lesser degree to the Red Sox.

So if you’re an Astros fan and you want to feel smug about this and go on about Yankee hypocrisy, go for it. You’ve got all the evidence you need. Just know that some of the dunking I’ve seen on Facebook has largely boiled down to “we cheated better than you did!” which really isn’t all that compelling if you ask me. I’m sure you can do better than that. If you’re a Yankees fan, the best response is along the line of “yeah, but when MLB said ‘no, seriously, cut it out’, we did and you didn’t”. And then we can go on hating each other as usual, which is the natural order of things in sports. Everybody wins!

Courts keep turning the Yankees down

Time to give up and move on, y’all.

The New York Yankees keep taking losses in court.

A federal appeals court has denied the team’s latest attempt to keep a 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred detailing alleged sign-stealing by the Yankees.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit turned down the Yankees’ request for an en banc hearing of an earlier court decision affirming a U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling that the letter be unsealed.

En banc hearings, which are rarely granted, ask the circuit court’s 13 active judges to rehear the case. The appellate court’s March 21 ruling was made by a three-judge panel.

NJ.com reported Thursday the letter could be unsealed in a week. The Yankees’ only legal recourse at this point would be to seek a Supreme Court review.

“We’re disappointed in the Court of Appeals’ decision, but we respect it,” Yankees president Randy Levine told NJ.com. “But I believe that it’s going to lead to a lot of unfair results down the road.”

The Yankees have claimed making the letter public would result in “severe reputational damage.”

See here and here for the background. I follow a lot of dumb stories on this blog, and this is one I’m ready to stop following. I don’t know what could possibly be in that letter the team has fought so hard to keep under wraps, but at this point if one was inclined to believe it must be something terrible, I’d be hard pressed to argue against you. Either there really is something damaging in there, or they have a greatly over-inflated sense of their own importance. Possibly both. Can we please just rip this band-aid off and get on with our lives? Thanks.

JC Hartman

Good column from Jerome Solomon about the first Black baseball player for the Astros, who were still the Colt 45s at the time.

Carrie Beth Tucker / Houston Chronicle

You have probably never heard of many of the first Blacks to play modern-day baseball for franchises.

J.C. Hartman, the first Black man to play for the Astros, [was] a special guest at the team’s Jackie Robinson Day luncheon Friday.

Special is indeed a proper descriptor. We’re talking about a man who played in the Negro Leagues, is a retired Houston policeman and, as a barber’s college graduate, cut Willie Mays’ hair.

Hartman was 28 when he debuted with the Colt .45s. Friday [was] his 88th birthday.

Two weeks ago, he told me he was on his second-story roof doing work.

“Um, Mr. Hartman, that doesn’t sound like something you should be doing.”

“If you have a leaking roof, what are you gonna do, son?” the longtime Third Ward resident asked.

[…]

Hartman played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues and was an All-Star in 1955 before his contract was sold to the Cubs.

He played for the Magic Valley Cowboys, the Cubs’ Class C affiliate in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1956. He was in Double-A with the San Antonio Missions in 1959.

Between those stints, Hartman was drafted into the Army, where he played on the 1957 Fort Carson team, winning the All-Army team championship along with teammate and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo stalwart Charley Pride.

Baseball is just part of the story of firsts for Hartman.

After he retired from the sport, he joined the Houston Police Department and, after just two years on the force, became the first Black to be a supervisor. His efficiency score and test grade had to make up for his lack of seniority.

Instead of taking off-duty jobs, he prepared for the exam by often taking refuge in his son’s treehouse to study.

“There were almost no Black people in the department and none wearing stripes, so I was determined,” Hartman said. “I knew I couldn’t play baseball forever, so once I decided that’s where I wanted to be, I had to focus on it.”

I’ve been in Houston almost 35 years, and I don’t believe I’d ever heard the name JC Hartman before I read this story. I’m glad he had the chance to be honored at the Jackie Robinson Day luncheon while he’s still here with us, but the Astros should have been celebrating players like him well before now. Hartman’s major league career was brief, but he still made an impact. We should know more about him and about those who followed in his footsteps.

MLB unveils a technical fix for sign stealing

I like this.

Pitchers and catchers will have the option of shaking off the traditional means of communicating between pitches during the upcoming Major League season.

MLB informed clubs in a memo today that it is moving forward with regular-season use of PitchCom — a wearable device that transmits signals from catcher to pitcher — in 2022. The technology, which will be optional, was approved by the MLB Players Association after receiving generally positive feedback in experimental usage at the Single-A level last year and in big league camps during Spring Training this year.

Aimed at both improving pace of play and preventing opponent sign-stealing, PitchCom eliminates the need for a catcher’s traditional finger signals. Rather, the catcher wears a forearm sleeve — resembling a remote control — with nine buttons for calling the pitch and location. The pitcher has a receiver in his cap, the catcher has one in his helmet and receivers can also be worn by up to three other fielders (typically, the two middle infielders and the center fielder) to adjust fielder positioning.

An encrypted channel can be used in multiple languages, and teams can also program in code words to replace pitch names such as “fastball” or “curveball.”

[…]

Last year’s average nine-inning game was a new record high at three hours, 10 minutes, 7 seconds. The game is often slowed when teams have a runner or runners aboard, particularly at second base, where the runner can attempt to decode a catcher’s signals. Pitchers and catchers will typically switch up their signs in those situations to try to shield their calls.

With PitchCom, the communication between catcher is more seamless and straightforward. The technology can also conceivably reduce the number of mound visits in which pitchers and catchers go over signs.

This concept has been around for a couple of years, and the PitchCom product has been tested successfully in the minors and in spring training, as noted in the story. Teams will not be required to use it – for sure, there will be some traditionalist holdouts – but the reviews have been positive and the benefits are obvious.

Here’s a brief description of how it works.

Catchers can put a PitchCom transmitter on their forearm, which makes it look just like a wristband. The black transmitter has nine buttons on it that catchers press to let the pitcher know the pitch he’s calling and the location. On the mound, pitchers have a six-inch rubber receiver inside their hats that communicate the pitch call with a computerized voice – either in Spanish or English – that will tell the pitcher, for instance, “fastball up” or “curveball, down and in.” The catchers also will have the audio device in their helmets, so they can be sure they’ve sent the right signal to their teammate.

Three other players besides the pitcher and catcher also can wear the device inside their hats, so they’ll know the pitch and can adjust their positioning accordingly. Most often, those players would be the second baseman, shortstop and center fielder.

The PitchCom website has some more details. It notes that this can also be used by coaches to communicate with players on the field, so don’t be surprised if the definition of a “mound visit” gets an update soon, too. I can’t wait to see this in action. ESPN has more.

Do tell, Chris

I have three things to say about this.

A rival of the Astros during their current run as a Major League Baseball power said Houston wasn’t the only team that’s resorted to cheating.

Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale, who pitched against Houston during playoff series in 2017, 2018 and 2021, made the remarks during a Monday interview on “The Greg Hill Show” on Boston sports radio station WEEI.

When asked about former Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran — a central figure in the 2017 sign-stealing operation — telling the YES Network that the team’s championship that season is tainted during his first interview on the subject, Sale said the Astros weren’t alone in the cheaters’ fraternity.

“If the Astros were the only team doing it, then yeah, give (the championship) back — take it back,” Sale said. “I know for a fact they weren’t. All these people pointing fingers: Well, hey, take a check in the mirror real quick. Make sure that you and your team weren’t doing something.

“What (the Astros) did was wrong. And I’m not trying to condone it. Shoot, we’re talking five years ago now and we’re still talking about this stuff. I’d like to kind of turn the page on it. It happened. They dealt with it. There’s nothing you can do about it now sitting here where we are. So you just kind of move on from it.”

1. I’m sure Sale is correct that the Astros were not the only team cheating. It would be odd if they were.

2. That said, cheating exists on a spectrum – small scale, short term, individual effort to large scale, long term, team effort. The Astros were on the far end of the scale in all categories, they were extremely visible about it in retrospect, and as the World Series winner that year it was just embarrassing. But maybe they weren’t alone in those regards, maybe they just had the bad luck to be outed about it. Which leads to…

3. Spill the beans already. I know no one is going to narc on their own team, and if you’re accusing a rival it will be seen as gamesmanship, but surely someone out there is now in the same position that Mike Fiers was when he ratted on the Astros. I really don’t want to be talking about cheating when we may finally have a “normal” season again, but the reason we’re still talking about this five years later is because we feel like there had to be more to the story. (Yes, the MLB letter about the Yankees, whatever it says, is a part of that as well.) So let’s get it all out there, therapy-style, and see if we can’t finally get some closure.

Carlos Beltrán speaks about sign stealing

Of interest.

Carlos Beltrán, the venerated designated hitter painted by Major League Baseball as a ringleader of Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season, said this week he “wished somebody would’ve said something” and stopped the trashcan banging scheme.

In an interview with YES Network broadcaster Michael Kay, who doubles as the television voice of the New York Yankees, Beltrán said the Astros’ World Series championship has a stain and tried to direct blame to Houston’s front office for a scheme the league deemed “player driven.”

“Nobody said anything to us, you know, nobody said anything,” Beltran said. “I wish somebody would’ve said something. A lot of people always ask me why you didn’t stop it? And my answer is, I didn’t stop it the same way no one stopped it.”

“This is working for us. Why you gonna stop something that is working for you? So, if the organization would’ve said something to us, we would’ve stopped it for sure.”

Beltrán said Astros players never received commissioner Rob Manfred’s edict in mid-2017 that cracked down on electronic sign-stealing and promised harsh punishments for teams that broke rules.

Beltrán was the only player cited by name in Manfred’s report detailing the league’s findings into the Astros’ scheme. He took issue with the distinction in his remarks with Kay, which will be aired in full on Monday at 3 p.m. CT on the YES Network. Excerpts of the interview were released on Sunday morning.

“The part that bothered me about that is that, you know, when I sit down to cooperate with them (MLB), they said to me, “We’re not going against the players. We’re going against …field personnel, front office and organization,’” Beltrán said. “And the fact that I’m the only player named in that report? So how … that happen? Like, that’s the part that I don’t understand. Everyone gets immunity except Carlos Beltrán? I don’t get it.”

On the one hand, it makes sense for Beltrán to put blame on the Astros’ front office for not stepping in to stop the banging scheme. MLB put the blame on the manager and coaches and the front office as well, which is why Jeff Luhnow is an ex-GM. On the other hand, Beltrán was a full-grown adult who certainly should have known that what they were doing was against the rules, and that whether it worked or not it would reflect poorly on them all. You can say it didn’t help much – others have made that claim, but Beltrán is contradicting them – and you can say the Astros would have won the World Series in 2017 regardless – I for one believe that to be true, whatever Yankees GM Brian Cashman may say. But that almost makes it worse. You were the best team on the field, you knew you were the best team on the field, so why put all that energy into something shady? Just go out there and beat ’em.

The main thing I take away from this is that it’s going to be a long time before we’re done with the banging scheme. It’s such a shame, because the 2017 Astros were a great team, and it was a huge boost for the city a couple of months after Hurricane Harvey. We’d all be so much better off if they’d never done this, whatever the effect might have been. Sean Pendergast has more.

Yankees still fighting to keep that MLB letter under wraps

I mean, it can’t hurt to ask.

The New York Yankees plan to continue to fight the unsealing of a letter from MLB detailing alleged sign-stealing by the organization.

The Athletic, citing a source with knowledge of the team’s plans, reported Friday the Yankees will appeal the release of the 2017 letter from commissioner Rob Manfred. A federal appeals court on March 21 had affirmed a U.S. District Court judge’s June 2020 order to unseal the letter.

Friday’s report said the Yankees plan to file a petition either later in the day or Monday, the deadline for submission, for an en banc hearing with the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal would ask the circuit court’s 13 active judges to rehear the case. The appellate court’s previous ruling was made by a three-judge panel.

Historically, en banc reviews have been rarities in the Second Circuit.

The Yankees have claimed making the letter public would result in “severe reputational damange.”

See here for the background. I can’t imagine they’d continue on to SCOTUS if they lose again, but at this point who can say? As ol’ Jack Burton once said, you never know till you try.

Appeals court upholds ruling to unseal MLB’s 2017 letter on sign stealing

Look, if you’re going to follow a weird story, you’ve got to stay committed to following that weird story.

A September 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred detailing alleged sign-stealing by the New York Yankees should be unsealed, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a June 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ordering “a minimally redacted version” of the letter to be unsealed.

Per NJ.com, it may be two weeks or more before the court releases the letter.

Rakoff’s order had been stayed pending an appeal by the Yankees and MLB. The Yankees claimed making it public would result in in “severe reputational damage.”

But in Monday’s decision that also upheld the dismissal of a $5 million lawsuit filed by daily fantasy sports player Kristopher Olson and 100-plus other plaintiffs seeking damages from MLB, the Astros and Boston Red Sox over illegal sign-stealing operations of recent seasons, the appeals court upheld Rakoff’s ruling regarding the letter.

“In light of plaintiffs’ attempted use of the letter in their proposed Second Amended Complaint and the district court’s discussion of the letter in explaining its decision to deny plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend in their reconsideration motion, and because MLB disclosed a substantial portion of the substance of the letter in its press release about the investigation, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in unsealing the letter, subject to redacting the names of certain individuals,” the appeals court’s ruling said.

The sealed letter to the Yankees had been obtained during the discovery phase of the class-action lawsuit, which claimed MLB and the Astros and Red Sox for liable for any money lost during games in which either team cheated.

The plaintiffs had argued that a Manfred press release in 2017 had been an “actionable misrepresentation” of the facts laid out in the letter, with the plaintiffs claming that “the investigation had in fact found that the Yankees engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme.”

On Sept. 15, 2017, MLB issued a statement from Manfred concluding the investigation into the Red Sox’s illegal use of an Apple Watch, which had been prompted by a complaint lodged by the Yankees. As a part of that investigation, Manfred discovered the Yankees’ illegal use of their dugout phone and fined them a “lesser, undisclosed amount” than he levied the Red Sox.

“No club complained about the conduct in question at the time and, without prompting from another club or my office, the Yankees halted the conduct in question,” Manfred wrote. “Moreover, the substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself. Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”

In that same ruling, Manfred said he found “insufficient evidence” to substantiate a claim from the Red Sox that the Yankees illegally used the YES Network to steal Boston’s signs.

See here, here, and here for the argument. A copy of the appellate court’s ruling is in the Chron story. The affirmation of the DraftKings lawsuit is likely the more substantial matter, but who knows? I still think this letter is probably no big deal, but if it is then the lessons are clearly 1) don’t do things that you’ll be embarrassed about later if people find out about it, and 2) better hope no one writes down the details of your embarrassing stuff. NJ.com has more.

MLB’s Canadian conundrum

Here’s an interesting wrinkle to the recently-resolved MLB lockout.

With the Major League Baseball season set to start, unvaccinated players will once again need to sit out series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Players who haven’t been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be able to play in Toronto.

In addition, unvaccinated players won’t be paid for games or service time for the entirety of a series played north of the border. Each day spent on a baseball club’s active roster or injured list represents one day of service time.

Current vaccination guidelines still doesn’t allow foreign unvaccinated travellers to cross the Canadian border. Athletes no longer have special status in order to travel without having taken the vaccine after the federal government revoked the exemption on Jan. 15.

Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports the subject was “a significant point” in players’ CBA discussions with “a few teams” taking issue before ultimately relenting.

According to the story, about 88% of “tier one individuals” are fully vaccinated, which includes players, coaches, and other staff that travel with the teams, so the extent of the problem should be relatively limited. Still, if we assume that is the value for active players as well, on a 26-man roster, that’s three players per team, and as anyone familiar with the Kyrie Irving situation knows, who the unvaxxed players are matters. It’s one thing to miss a reliever at the back of the bullpen or a starting pitcher whose turn in the rotation wouldn’t have happened anyway. It’s another thing to miss your starting catcher or an All Star outfielder. Some teams will be much more affected than others, and if a team in the same AL East division as the Jays has its own Kyrie on it, that could affect the playoff races.

The collective bargaining agreement that has settled the lockout is still preliminary and subject to some details being worked out, including those relating to this situation. It may be that Canada eventually relaxes this rule, and it may be that some holdout players give in so as not to be the reason why their teams are disadvantaged. Most likely, this will be an ongoing story and another reminder that however done we may be with COVID, COVID is not done with us.

MLB ends its lockout

One small bit of good news.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new collective-bargaining agreement Thursday, ending the league’s 99-day lockout of the players and salvaging a 162-game season, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

With the end of the second-longest work stoppage in the game’s history, spring training camps will open Sunday, free-agent signings can begin Thursday night, and baseball will attempt to return to some semblance of normalcy after months of fraught negotiations.

The deal materialized after talks ratcheted up this week, when the league made a proposal that bridged the significant gap in the competitive-balance tax, a key issue in the end stages of talks. A dispute over an international draft threatened negotiations and caused the league to “remove from the schedule” another two series Wednesday, but those issues were resolved Thursday morning and the league delivered a full proposal to the union, which it voted to accept.

The final vote by the MLBPA’s eight members of the executive subcommittee and 30 player reps was 26-12 in favor of the agreement, sources told ESPN.

The basic agreement governs almost all aspects of the game, but baseball’s core economics were front and center in the labor talks. In addition to the new CBT, which increases from $230 million to $244 million over the five-year deal, the minimum salary governing players with less than three years of major league service will jump from $570,500 to $700,000, growing to $780,000, and a bonus pool worth $50 million will be distributed among those younger players who have yet to reach salary arbitration.

MLB had pushed for expanding the postseason to 12 teams — a plan to which the MLBPA agreed. Additionally, player uniforms will feature advertising for the first time, with patches on jerseys and decals on batting helmets.

Other elements of the deal include:

• A 45-day window for MLB to implement rules changes — among them a pitch clock, ban on shifts and larger bases in the 2023 season

• The National League adopting the designated hitter

• A draft lottery implemented with the intent of discouraging tanking

• Draft-pick inducements to discourage service-time manipulation

• Limiting the number of times a player can be optioned to the minor leagues in one season

I haven’t written about the lockout, mostly because there’s enough depressing news out there, but I’m glad to see it’s finally over. The owners largely maintained the gains they had won in previous CBA talks, but the players picked up a little bit of ground. I’m happy to see a pitch clock and the universal DH, and I can live with a 12-team playoff. The fact that it took this long to get to a deal, even though the sides were mostly bargaining over relative pennies at the end, is all on the owners, who imposed the lockout in the first place. For now, as I breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to more free agent signings, all I can say is “Play ball!” Fangraphs has more.

David Ortiz elected to MLB Hall of Fame

Congratulations, Big Papi.

With the process still tainted by the steroid era, David Ortiz was the lone player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, while others like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were shut out.

“Big Papi” was the only player to clear the required 75% threshold, according to results of this year’s voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Ortiz finished with 77.9% in becoming the 58th player elected in his first year of eligibility. At 46, he will also be the youngest of the 75 living members of the Hall.

“I learned not too long ago how difficult it is to get in on the first ballot,” Ortiz said. “Man, it’s a wonderful honor to be able to get in on my first rodeo. It’s something that is very special to me.”

Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader; 354-game winner Clemens; 600-homer-club member Sammy Sosa; and longtime ace pitcher Curt Schilling were in their 10th and final year of eligibility in the annual BBWAA balloting.

Bonds, Sosa and Clemens posted numbers that marked them as surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famers, but they became avatars for the era of performance-enhancing drugs. While Bonds and Clemens in particular have long denied using PEDs, accusations have dogged them in the media and in books, and have been the subject of court dramas and testimony in front of Congress. In the end, about a third of the voters decided the allegations were too egregious to overlook, enough to bar their entry to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, at least via the writers’ vote.

Ortiz is a different story, despite his own PED suspicions. A 2009 story in The New York Times reported that Ortiz was among 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances during a round of tests conducted in 2003. Those results were supposed to remain confidential, and the tests were done to see if the league had reached a threshold to conduct regular testing.

Ortiz has long denied that he used banned substances, and in 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred said the tests in question were inconclusive because “it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter and not banned under our program.”

Manfred added that during subsequent testing Ortiz “has never been a positive at any point under our program.”

When asked about those suspicions Tuesday, Ortiz said, “We had someone coming out with this one list, where you don’t know what anybody tested positive for. All of a sudden people are pointing fingers at me. But then we started being drug tested and I never tested positive. What does that tell you?”

As for the last-chance candidates, Sosa’s support never approached the threshold for election, but the cases of Bonds and Clemens were more divisive among the selectors. Both climbed over the 50% mark in 2017 only to see their support plateau in recent seasons. The tallies for their last go-arounds were 66% for Bonds and 65.2% for Clemens.

There’s a whole lot of discourse about this, and I’ll just link to a few articles so you can get a feel for it. I’m worn out just thinking about it. Ortiz joins six other former players who were elected via the Eras Committee process in December. And hey, guess what?

The hotly debated cases for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Schilling will move to a new arena: the Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game era committee. The era committees comprise players, executives and media members who are charged with evaluating overlooked candidates. The Today’s Game committee is next scheduled to convene during the 2022 winter meetings in December.

We get to live through the whole Bonds/Clemens/Sosa/Schilling debate again later this year, and again in 2024. Deep breaths, we’ll get through this together. Fangraphs, The Ringer, and Drew Magary, among many others, have more.

They’re the Space Cowboys

Bet you weren’t ready for that.

You can call them the Space Cowboys.

That’s the name the Astros have picked in their rebranding of the Sugar Land Skeeters, the team’s Class AAA affiliate.

The official announcement will come on Jan. 29 at Constellation Field (no rebranding needed) but a person with knowledge of the change confirmed the new name.

The Skeeters started as an independent team in the Atlantic League in 2012 and drew its own fan base attracted to the lower prices and family atmosphere of the new stadium in Sugar Land along with the occasional celebrity sightings on the mound like Tracy McGrady or Roger Clemens.

The Skeeters went big time last year when the Astros bought the franchise and turned it into their Class AAA affiliate.

Go ahead, make your “pompatus of love” joke, get it out of your system. The Skeeters, whose name (the team has insisted) does not refer to mosquitos, have been called that since 2010. I see from that last link I had favored “Imperials” as their name, which is fine and all but seems now to lack a certain grandeur. As the story notes, there will be an event at Constellation Field to make official the re-branding. It’s a nice facility, if you feel comfortable being in a crowd right now, and I’m sure that will be fun. I don’t know if that logo I found on Twitter is for real or not – I hope it is – but I presume you’ll be able to see for yourself on the 29th. Good luck with the launch, y’all. CultureMap has more.

MLB Hall of Fame rights a couple of wrongs

Congratulations, Buck O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, and the four other new Hall members.

Six candidates earned election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday via the Eras Committee process, it was announced today on MLB Network.

Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva were elected by the Golden Days Era Committee, which considered a 10-person ballot comprised of candidates whose primary contribution to the game came from 1950-69.

Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil were elected by the Early Baseball Era Committee, which considered a 10-person ballot of candidates whose primary contribution the game came prior to 1950.

Miñoso was named on 14 of 16 ballots (87.5 percent), while Hodges, Kaat and Oliva were each named on 12 of 16 ballots (75 percent), with all four reaching the 75-percent threshold necessary for election.

O’Neil was named on 13 of 16 ballots (81.3 percent), while Fowler was named on 12 ballots (75 percent)

The Golden Days Era Committee and the Early Baseball Era Committee held meetings today in Orlando, Fla.

Kaat and Oliva are living. Hodges passed away on April 2, 1972; Miñoso passed away on March 1, 2015.

Fowler passed away on Feb. 26, 1913; O’Neil passed away on Oct. 6, 2006.

Fowler, Hodges, Kaat, Miñoso, Oliva and O’Neil will be joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 2022 by any electees who emerge from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting, which will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

This is great news for O’Neil and Minoso, both of whom could and should have been inducted while they were still living but weren’t. Both were pioneers and ambassadors in addition to being great players, and the Hall is a better place for finally having them.

The way the Eras ballots worked this year, there were a lot of Hall-worthy nominees to consider, a function in part of better and more comprehensive Negro Leagues data and in part of reconsidering some players who had been under-appreciated before. One of those players was Dick Allen, who fell a vote short but at least came closer to being enshrined than ever before. Maybe next time for him.

You can see comprehensive profiles of all of the Golden Days nominees here, and of the Early Baseball nominees here. They’re worth your time – I learned a lot about some players I’d known very little about before. Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, had a recent podcast episode about the Negro Leagues players on the ballot, and that’s worth your time as well. Really, his whole Black Diamonds podcast series should be on your list. There’s no other baseball to pay attention to now, so make the most of it while you can. And congrats again to Buck O’Neil, Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges, and Jim Kaat.

The Hall of Fame 2022 ballot

Should be another interesting year.

The ballot for the 2022 BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame class was released Monday. The 30-player ballot is headlined by some huge names in their 10th and final year on the ballot — Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — as well as notable newcomers, like Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.

As a reminder: In order to gain enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, a player needs to be named on at least 75 percent of the turned-in ballots from eligible BBWAA members. In order to avoid falling off the ballot, a player needs to get at least five percent. Players are eligible to remain on the ballot a maximum of 10 annual voting cycles.

The results of the vote will be revealed on Jan. 25, 2022. There are 17 holdover candidates in addition to 13 newcomers on the ballot. Newcomers are players who spent at least 10 seasons in the majors, have been retired for five years and were chosen by the Hall of Fame to be added to the ballot.

The big-name newcomers would be A-Rod and Big Papi, trickling down to Jimmy Rollins and Mark Teixeira. Some other notable first-timers include Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Justin Morneau, Carl Crawford and Prince Fielder.

You can see the full ballot, plus bios of the nominees, here. There’s also the Early Days Era and Golden Days Era ballots, which when all put together should avoid a shutout like we got last year. However you may feel about the more controversial players, there are guys to root for. I’m hoping for some good results this year. Jay Jaffe has more.

On Rice and the AAC

It’s a great move for Rice. It also means they will need to step it up in men’s athletics.

On the job a few months in early 2014, Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard met with alumni at a fundraiser in Boston.

On the trip, Karlgaard made the 50-mile drive to Providence, R.I., to meet with Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, the newest league in college athletics that debuted a few months earlier. The informal meeting included lunch at The Capital Grille and a brief tour of the AAC offices.

Over the next eight years, Karlgaard forged relationships everywhere he could, all part of a strategic plan to position Rice for the next round of conference realignment.

“Throughout the time, I’ve tried to build the right relationships, tried to listen very well to what it is that may better position us,” Karlgaard said. “The opportunity hasn’t always presented itself like it did the last several weeks.”

Calling it a “historic new direction” for the school’s athletic department, Rice accepted an invitation to join the American Athletic Conference on Thursday.

With the addition of six schools, all from Conference USA, the AAC will become a 14-team football league as early as 2023. Two other Texas schools — UTSA and North Texas — will join Rice, along with Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to comprise a new-look AAC that will have a 10-state footprint.

[…]

The move will provide an increase in revenue for Rice, which received a $500,000 annual payout in C-USA. This past year, AAC schools received about $7 million.

Karlgaard pointed to ticket sales, sponsorships and fundraising as areas Rice should receive a financial bump from the change in conference. Rice will also receive increased visibility with the AAC’s deal with ESPN.

“I think it will have a significant economic impact,” he added. “I believe our distribution will be significantly better from the American Athletic Conference than they have been – ever, no matter what conference we’ve been affiliated with.”

[…]

Rice has made campus-wide facility upgrades in recent years, most notably the $31.5 million Brian Patterson Sports Performance Center in 2016.

Rice president David Leebron, who will retire in 2022 after 18 years, vowed to “invest more in the athletic program’s success.” At the top of the list on needed upgrades: 71-year-old Rice Stadium.

“We know our stadium needs some investment,” Leebron said. “But virtually everywhere else we have invested in major facilities and renovations. We’re in really good shape.” He added the move to the AAC “reflects stability in what our future looks like.”

See here for the background. Rice football hasn’t been a factor since the early David Bailiff years, the men’s basketball team last played in an NCAA tournament game in 1970, and the baseball team is trying to rebuild after a long decline (from an admittedly high peak). The women’s teams have been much more successful in recent years, so it’s up to the men to prove that they can be competitive in a tougher conference. More exposure and more money can help, but they’re not enough on their own. I speak for a lot of long-suffering Rice fans when I say we’ve been waiting a long long time for something good to happen. I sure hope this is a step in that direction.

That said, the alternative of being left behind as this was happening would have been a death knell. I have a lot of sympathy for our soon-to-be-former conference mates.

That future does not look as bright for C-USA, which is now left with eight schools: UTEP, Old Dominion, Southern Mississippi, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Florida International. Earlier this month, C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod sent a letter to Aresco proposing an alliance of sorts between the two leagues. Instead, the AAC raided C-USA and the league reportedly could lose some of the remaining members to other conferences.

I feel especially bad for UTEP, who was an original WAC member when we joined that (now basically dead) conference in 1996, and for LaTech, which joined the smaller WAC after a bunch of the other schools split off to form the Mountain West Conference. At this point, I have a lot more affinity for them than for most of our former SWC rivals. Whatever happens with C-USA, I hope they land on their feet, and I hope we schedule them for some non-conference action going forward.

UPDATE: Also, too:

I approve this message.

Astros reach settlement with the family of the girl hit by the foul ball

Some closure to a tough story.

The family of a girl struck by a foul ball at Minute Maid Park during the 2019 season has reached a confidential settlement with the Astros, the family’s attorney said Friday afternoon.

Because the settlement involves a minor, it must receive court approval, leading to a lawsuit filed Thursday night in Harris County Court. Plaintiffs Jonathan David Scott and Alexandra Colchado are described as the “natural parents and next friends” for the minor, whom the lawsuit does not identify.

“This is the initiation of that process,” attorney Richard Mithoff said Friday. “The matter has been resolved and we are now seeking court approval of that settlement, which we are required to do under the law.”

The case is assigned to Judge Michael Gomez in 129th district court. The court will appoint a guardian “ad litem” on the minor’s behalf that will make a recommendation about the settlement.

The girl was 2½ when a foul ball hit by then-Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora struck her in the head during a May 29 game against the Astros. Mithoff told the Chronicle last January she sustained a skull fracture and a permanent brain injury that left her at risk for seizures.

“She’s doing pretty well,” Mithoff said Friday. “Her anti-seizure medication has been gradually reduced over the last two years and so she has been seizure-free for 22 months. We anticipate she will continue to improve and they can continue to reduce the anti-seizure medications. She seems to be doing well. The family is obviously very hopeful about the future.”

[…]

Three months after the incident, the Astros extended netting at Minute Maid Park more than 150 feet down both foul lines. That December, Major League Baseball announced all 30 teams would have extended netting during the 2020 season.

“The family remains very grateful that, I think, virtually every ballpark now has put in the enhanced netting that goes all the way to the foul pole,” Mithoff said. “I think they are very pleased that has come about, even though it took this very unfortunate event to bring it about.”

See here for the previous update. I’m very glad to hear that the girl is doing better, and I hope she continues to improve. And I completely agree that the implementation of netting at all MLB stadia is the best possible outcome of this otherwise tragic situation. My wish is that we hear from this girl herself someday, and that she is able to tell us that she is all right.

Astros again seek to dismiss Bolsinger lawsuit

They will probably succeed.

Did not age well

The Astros have submitted their proposal for a Harris County judge to dismiss former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Mike Bolsinger’s lawsuit against the team.

Bolsinger has alleged trade misappropriation and sought more than $1 million in damages in the wake of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal in the 2017 season.

[…]

In the Astros’ 17-page motion to dismiss submitted on Tuesday night, the team pointed to Bolsinger’s misinterpretation of Texas’ trade secrets law and called Bolsinger’s lawsuit an attempt “to turn a headline-grabbing sports story into a cash recovery.”

According to the Astros’ motion, Bolsinger needed to prove ownership of the trade secrets, misappropriation of them and injury caused by the misappropriation to recover any damages under the state’s trade secrets law. The club claimed he did not.

The motion, submitted by Astros attorneys Hilary Preston and James L. Leader, challenged the notion that Toronto’s signs are even secrets at all.

“The signs are not trade secrets, and, to the extent that any party can “own” hand gestures meant to convey pitching strategy, the signs are owned by the Toronto Blue Jays, not (Bolsinger),” the Astros wrote in their motion.

“The signs are hand gestures made in front of thousands of spectators, and the mere fact that the Blue Jays attempted to conceal the meaning of those signs from the Astros’ hitters does not turn those gestures into trade secrets under Texas law.”

See here for the previous update. As noted, Bolsinger had sued in Los Angeles originally, but that suit was tossed on the grounds that California didn’t have jurisdiction, so he re-filed in Harris County. I don’t buy his argument and expect the suit to be dismissed, but we’ll see.

Will MLB come to Central Texas?

Drayton McLane thinks it might.

Drayton McLane, who knows a thing or two about the subject, believes Central Texas is closing in on being able to support its own Major League Baseball team. That pronouncement might lead you to wonder what we’ll call our new team—Lone Star Hipsters? Canyon Lake Coyotes?—and to look forward to summer evenings sipping a cold one at the ballpark as the sun sets on the San Marcos River.

Anyway, McLane has precisely the kind of can-do spirit Texas is going to need to land a third MLB franchise. No one thought he’d succeed in purchasing the Astros in 1993, and certainly no one thought he’d persuade Houston voters to approve, in 1996, the construction of Minute Maid Park. He breathed life into a franchise that had never won much of anything and led them to six postseason appearances during a nine-year stretch from 1997 to 2005. That run culminated with a National League pennant, which at the time was close to the sweetest moment Houston sports fans had ever experienced.

Now 84, McLane makes it clear he’s not going to lead this effort. That’s where Nolan Ryan comes in, but more on him later. In fact, McLane admits it’s a tad early to begin putting down a deposit on season tickets.

“Ten years from now, it’s a possibility,” he told me.

[…]

One thing that never came up in our conversation: the availability of a team. That’s the easy part. The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are something akin to free agents, with both unable to land new ballpark deals in their host cities. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has given the A’s permission to shop around for better options, and team officials were to visit Las Vegas this week. The Rays, apparently desperate for leverage, have come up with the  far-fetched idea of playing half their games in Montreal and half in Tampa or St. Petersburg. Almost no one who follows the sport believes a split-city format is workable, and it seems only a matter of time before the Rays begin shopping for a new full-time home.

Plus, Manfred has said MLB will expand—by at least two teams—once the A’s and Rays are settled. While Portland may have a big head start on Central Texas, are there really four better North American markets than the Austin–San Antonio corridor? Think of San Marcos as perhaps the perfect accessible-to-both-cities spot for a ballpark. And McLane might be underestimating the market’s viability. The Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio is booming, and a ballpark accessible to both cities would make the are more appealing than several current MLB cities.

Austin’s economy was the twelfth-fastest-growing among major metropolitan areas in 2019, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.  A sleepy government and university town no more, Austin now hosts some of the largest and most profitable companies in in the world, from Apple and Amazon to Tesla and Oracle.

There are plenty of TV sets, too. San Antonio is the nation’s thirty-first-largest television market, according to Nielsen, while Austin checks in at number 38. Together, the cities deliver 1.65 million television households, more than a long list of major-league cities, including St. Louis, San Diego, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.

We’ve discussed the possibility of a second team in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but I tend to agree with McLane. Central Texas is the more likely location, with enough population between Austin and San Antonio to support an MLB team. For a variety of reasons, MLB owners are not looking to expand now, but I expect that it will be on the table in the not too distant future, maybe some time after the next CBA. One possible obstacle to this dream is the nightmare that is I-35, which I guarantee will be overly congested no matter how much it gets expanded. Maybe this could be the fulcrum to finally get the Lone Star Rail line built. If I’m gonna dream, I may as well dream big.

Former MLB pitcher re-files lawsuit against Astros

It’s the second attempt to sue them for damages over the sign stealing scheme from 2017.

Did not age well

Continuing to maintain that the Astros’ 2017 sign stealing cost him a job in the major leagues, former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger refiled his lawsuit against the team in Harris County District Court on Thursday afternoon.

Bolsinger, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since allowing four runs and four walks in a third of an inning against the Astros on Aug. 4, 2017, contends his signs were trade secrets under Texas’ Uniform Trade Secrets Act. He is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

A judge in California dismissed Bolsinger’s lawsuit in March, citing in part an attempt by Bolsinger and his attorneys to try to extract sympathy from potential jurors who were fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team the Astros beat in the 2017 World Series. In March 2020, the Astros asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss the suit in a motion that called the case “utterly devoid of merit.”

[…]

Bolsinger’s new suit claims the Blue Jays’ signs are defined as “trade secrets” under section 134A.002(6) of the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Bolsinger alleges “willful and intentional misappropriation of the trade secrets.”

“The owners of these trade secrets had taken the reasonable measures customary in the baseball industry to keep the signs secret,” Bolsinger’s suit reads. “Moreover, the signs derived independent economic value, actual or potential, from not generally being known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit, which is also embedded in the story. I either missed the dismissal of the original case or I just never got around to blogging it. Regardless, and in my vast legal experience as some guy on the Internet, this sure seems like a longshot. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the signs were a trade secret, they wouldn’t be trivially easy to crack. I have a hard time believing this will survive a motion to dismiss. You actual lawyers out there, please feel free to tell me why I’m wrong about this.

Leave me out of the ballgame

What a snowflake.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced he would not throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opening game and would boycott any other Major League Baseball events, citing the league’s decision to pull its All-Star Game from Georgia in response to new voting restrictions there.

In a letter to a top Texas Rangers executive, Abbott said he had been “looking forward to” tossing out the first pitch “— until [MLB] adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about the election law reforms in Georgia.”

“It is shameful that America’s pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives,” Abbott said, adding that he “will not participate in an event held by MLB, and the state will not seek to host the All-Star Game or any other MLB special events.”

Oh, boo hoo hoo. If Greg Abbott can’t take a little political criticism then we’re all better off if he just stays home and pouts. Maybe he just doesn’t want to take a chance on getting booed, like a certain former president at the 2019 World Series. Whatever the case, there’s one clear winner here:

As the first commenter notes, this teacher gets to throw out the first pitch and avoid a photo of with Abbott. Now that’s a day at the ballpark.

MLB pulls 2021 All Star Game out of Georgia

Well, well, well.

Major League Baseball on Friday pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest of Georgia’s new restrictive voting law.

The “Midsummer Classic” was set for July 13 at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, in addition to other activities connected to the game, such as the annual MLB Draft.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a statement. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

[…]

While Truist Park is in Cobb County, just outside of Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms warned her constituents that MLB’s move will likely be the first “of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed.”

“Just as elections have consequences, so do the actions of those who are elected,” she said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from neighboring Florida, blasted MLB for caving to public pressure.

“Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes regulations & anti-trust?” Rubio tweeted.

This week, President Joe Biden said he would strongly support moving the All-Star Game out of Georgia to protest the new law.

MLB’s action follows strong statements from the Georgia-based companies Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines blasting the state’s law.

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader, said in a statement Friday that she’s “disappointed” that MLB officials took the All-Star Game from Atlanta but is “proud of their stance on voting rights.”

Georgia Republicans “traded economic opportunity for suppression,” said Abrams, who is credited with voter-drive efforts that delivered the Peach State to Biden and two Democrats to the U.S. Senate.

MLB has not determined a new All Star Game location yet, but as the story notes the 2020 game was supposed to be in LA but was canceled due to COVID-19. That’s an obvious solution if they want it. You can see a copy of the full MLB statement here. They’re basically following in the footsteps of the NBA, which you may recall pulled their 2017 All Star Game out of Charlotte following the passage of the extremely anti-trans HB2 in North Carolina; that law was later amended, though not repealed. Stacey Abrams has said elsewhere that she does not advocate for boycotts of Georgia in response to their voter suppression bill because the effects of such boycotts tend to hit lower income folks and people of color harder, but it’s still meaningful to see a response.

Meanwhile, in Texas.

Some of the state’s most influential companies are criticizing a package of proposed changes to Texas elections that civil rights groups liken to Jim Crow laws and that will suppress voting.

The bill approved by the Texas Senate on Thursday would limit early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and ban local election officials from sending vote-by-mail applications to voters unless specifically requested. A bill that combines the Senate and House versions is expected to reach Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk within weeks.

Among the Texas-based companies decrying the bill are American Airlines, computer-maker Dell and Waste Management.

The Houston-based waste disposal company said in a statement that it supports elections that are open to all voters.

“Integrity and equal access for all are critical to a healthy voting system and our democracy,” spokeswoman Janette Micelli said.

The Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston region’s chamber of commerce, said in an email that it believes that the state’s voting process should instill confidence in the process and be “open and readily accessible by all.”

“We encourage our elected leaders, on both sides of the political aisle, to balance these two ideals, strengthening all Texans’ right to vote in free and fair elections,” the GHP said.

AA and Dell we knew about, while Waste Management is new to the party – welcome, y’all. As for the GHP, that statement is pretty damn limp, and SB7 author Bryan Hughes is quoted in the story claiming this is exactly what his trash bill is meant to do. Don’t be mealy-mouthed, GHP. Take an actual stand or sit down and be quiet. Daily Kos, which notes that Southwest Airlines and AT&T have “offered vaguer statements in support of voting rights” without mentioning SB7, has more.

Astros aim for half-full

To start out with.

The Astros are expanding their previously planned attendance numbers at Minute Maid Park to start the regular season but will not exceed 50 percent capacity during April, senior vice president for communication and marketing Anita Sehgal said on Monday.

Single-game tickets are scheduled to go on sale Wednesday for 14 home games in April, including the April 8 home opener against the Oakland A’s and the return of former manager A.J. Hinch with the Detroit Tigers from April 12-14.

Season-ticket holders had until March 18 to choose one of four options the ballclub presented them earlier this month in the wake of Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders to reopen the state. On the day Abbott’s executive order took effect, the Texas Rangers announced Globe Life Field would open at 100 percent capacity for opening day on April 1.

Before Abbott allowed all businesses to perform at 100 percent capacity, the Astros were preparing to start the regular season at around 25 percent capacity — 10 to 12,000 people — at the 41,168-seat stadium. Earlier this month, Sehgal said the Astros “were not planning” to fill Minute Maid Park to 100 percent capacity in April.

On Monday, Sehgal said “generally, about half” of the season-ticket holders opted to remain in their seats, where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. For April games, season-ticket holders had the option of remaining in their seats, relocating to a socially-distanced section in the ballpark, pausing their accounts or donating their tickets to front-line workers.

“It didn’t have a significant impact, it just validated our plan,” Sehgal said of the season-ticket holder response. “Our plan has always been to ensure we were responsible and to ensure we had an enjoyable and safe experience. Their response sort of helped validate that we didn’t want to exceed 50 percent capacity (in April).”

[…]

Even if April weather is ideal enough for the Astros to open Minute Maid Park’s retractable roof, the team is comfortable closing it despite the ongoing pandemic. Outdoor air is pumped into the ballpark even when the roof is closed, allaying any concern about a large gathering in an indoor facility.

See here for the background. It doesn’t matter to me because I have no plans at this time to attend large gatherings, but I would have counseled the Astros to keep the roof open as much as possible if the weather permitted. Maybe that’s a false sense of security, since the real risk is in the concourses, especially during entry and exit, but I’d still want to minimize where I could. I’ll be waiting till most of the people in attendance will have been vaxxed. We’ll see if there are enough people to make this higher attendance limit a relevant concern.

Take me out to the ballgame?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for this.

The Texas Rangers plan to open Globe Life Field to a full-capacity crowd of 40,518 for their final two exhibition games and their regular-season home opener on April 5.

Masks will be required for all fans when not eating or drinking, the team said. Distancing will be enforced at concession lines and retail locations.

Certain locations of Globe Life Field will be designated “distanced seating” sections for other home games to allow for more space between seats, the team said.

Rangers president of business operations and chief operating officer Neil Liebman repeatedly referenced Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision last month to open the state to full capacity. Executive vice president of ballpark operations Rob Matwick pointed to the fact that Globe Life Field has been hosting events since last May, including the NLCS, World Series, National Finals Rodeo and multiple local graduations.

As to the scalability from those limited-attendance events to full capacity, Matwick said the team will rely on “voluntary compliance” from fans to adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing requirements, and that the roof would be open, barring rain.

Yeah, that would be a No from me. Having the roof open makes it a little better, but “capacity crowd” and “social distancing” do not go together, and that’s even without considering how many folks will be maskless. The college football experience has not taught some people anything, it would seem. Look, I understand why MLB teams want to have fans in the stands, and when your governor says that anything goes, it’s hard to resist. I’ll wait till the national vaccination rate is above fifty percent, maybe higher.

Our hometown nine is being slightly more cautious, at least for now.

Although Texas’ relaxed coronavirus regulations now allow it and the Rangers are planning for a full stadium on opening day, the Astros are currently “not planning” to fill Minute Maid Park at 100 percent capacity in April, senior vice president of marketing and communications Anita Sehgal said Wednesday.

In an email sent to their season ticket holders Wednesday, the Astros introduced a phased approach that, depending on demand, could increase their originally planned 25 percent capacity for the April 8 home opener against the Oakland A’s. Phase 1, the only phase described in the email, covers Houston’s 14 home games in April.

At almost the same time the Astros sent their email to season ticket holders, the Rangers stunned many people inside and outside baseball by announcing Globe Life Field will operate at 100 percent capacity for their two March exhibition games and April 1 season opener.

“Our focus was never to operate the building at 100 percent in April,” Sehgal said. “At this point in time, we are not planning for 100 percent in April.”

[…]

For their 14 home games in April, the Astros presented season ticket holders four options: keeping their existing seats, relocating elsewhere in the ballpark to ensure social distancing, pausing their accounts for April or donating their April tickets to health care workers or first responders.

If season ticket holders keep their existing seats, the Astros cannot ensure social distancing around them. Socially distant seating locations will be placed around the ballpark, but demand will dictate how many seats are available.

“It will be somewhat dependent on what our season ticket holders decide to do,” Sehgal said. “We got input from our season ticket holders in order to come up with this plan, and as they choose whether to move to a socially distanced area or stay in their seat, if we have a high demand for the socially distanced area, we will adjust accordingly.”

The team surveyed its season ticket holders about their attendance preferences earlier this month and received one of the largest responses in recent franchise history. Before Abbott reopened the state, the Astros were prepared to have “around 25 percent” capacity inside the 44,000-seat stadium for their home opener April 8.

“We really do not know what our capacity will be for April,” Sehgal said. “We know that our No. 1 priority is to make sure people come to Minute Maid Park and have an enjoyable, safe experience.”

Campos is a season ticket holder, and he chose the “Pause” option, which is what I’d do in that situation. It’s fine for them to gradually increase capacity over time, as more people get vaccinated, and the Astros are still requiring masks (again, at least for now; the Rangers are also requiring masks), which helps. As with the maskless mandate, all that was needed here was to wait a little longer. I don’t get what the Rangers are doing. I just hope they don’t cause another spike in the COVID rate up there. Texas Monthly, which notes that the Rangers are an outlier among pro teams in Texas (and in MLB), has more.

Luhnow lawsuit dismissed

Nothing left to litigate about, apparently.

Did not age well

Former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow’s lawsuit against the ballclub was dismissed on Friday after both parties “resolved their differences,” severing the final tie between the team and its most successful executive in history.

District Court Judge Kyle Carter granted the motion, which was filed jointly in 125th State District Court on Friday. Karl Stern, the attorney who submitted on behalf of Luhnow, did not respond when asked for further comment. An attorney representing the Astros did not return a request for comment.

Luhnow sought more than $20 million in damages in the breach of contract lawsuit he filed in November. The 54-year-old Luhnow claimed he was the “scapegoat” for a sign-stealing scandal that tarnished Houston’s 2017 World Series title.

[…]

Luhnow’s contract called for “any dispute” in the application of its terms to be resolved by “arbitration by the commissioner or the commissioner’s designee,” but Luhnow’s attorneys argued it was unenforceable in their suit due to commissioner Rob Manfred’s role in Luhnow’s dismissal. Manfred wrote MLB’s investigative findings into the sign-stealing scheme.

Luhnow’s lawyers said it would be a “complete sham” to allow Manfred or his designee in any arbitration hearing and called for an independent arbiter to preside. It is unknown whether arbitration occurred to cause the suit’s dismissal, but lawyers unaffiliated with the case surmised that was always a likely outcome.

“Arbitration is confidential. It is outside the public purview and accompanied by orders that make the proceedings secret,” Michael Lyons, of the Dallas firm of Lyons & Simmons, said in November. “Filing suit is a way for Jeff Luhnow to clear the air from a PR standpoint and get his story out in a way he might not otherwise have been able to do.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t really care what happens to Jeff Luhnow, but I feel like once I start blogging on a topic, I should see it through. Also, mandatory arbitration clauses are bad. I think that about covers it.

MLB deadens its balls

Wait, that sounds wrong.

Major League Baseball has slightly deadened its baseballs amid a years-long surge in home runs, a source confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday.

MLB anticipates the changes will be subtle, and a memo to teams last week cites an independent lab that found the new balls will fly 1 to 2 feet shorter on balls hit over 375 feet. Five more teams also plan to add humidors to their stadiums, meaning 10 of MLB’s 30 stadiums are expected to be equipped with humidity-controlled storage spaces.

A person familiar with the note spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the memo, sent by MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Morgan Sword, was sent privately. The Athletic first reported the contents of the memo.

The makeup of official Rawlings baseballs used in MLB games has come under scrutiny in recent years. A record 6,776 homers were hit during the 2019 regular season, and the rate of home runs fell only slightly during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — from 6.6% of plate appearances resulting in homers in 2019 to 6.5% last year.

[…]

The league mandates all baseballs have a coefficient of restitution (COR) — essentially, a measure of the ball’s bounciness — ranging from .530 to .570, but in recent years the average COR had trended upward within the specification range.

In an effort to better center the ball, Rawlings has loosened the tension on the first of three wool windings within the ball. Its research estimates the adjustment will bring the COR down .01 to .02 and will also lessen the ball’s weight by 2.8 grams without changing its size. The league does not anticipate the change in weight will affect pitcher velocities.

The memo did not address the drag of the baseball, which remains a more difficult issue to control.

If you’ve been paying attention to this, you know that the composition of the ball, which was extremely bouncy in 2019 then all of a sudden much less so in the playoffs, has been a mystery and a controversy in recent years. For an in-depth examination, give a listen to this episode of Effectively Wild, where guest Meredith Wills, a PhD astrophysicist, discusses her experiments in literally taking balls from different years apart to figure out what the factors in its changes over time were. MLB says the “deadening” this year should have a relatively small effect, but who knows what that will mean in practice.

MLB has also released its health and safety protocols for the season.

Major League Baseball (MLB) today announced an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) on an enhanced set of health and safety protocols for the 2021 season that adopts current best practices in addition to those in place during the successful 2020 season and reflects the recommendations of the parties’ consulting medical experts and infectious disease specialists. The enhanced 2021 Operations Manual will apply during Spring Training, the Championship Season and the Postseason, and also includes a one-year continuation of seven-inning doubleheaders and the modified extra innings rule during the 2020 championship season. Spring Training presented by Camping World begins on Wednesday, February 17th.

“We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB employees to protect one another. The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format,” MLB said. “We have built on last year’s productive collaboration between MLB and the Players Association by developing an enhanced safety plan with the consultation of medical experts, infectious disease specialists, and experts from other leagues. We all know the commitment it will take from each of us to keep everyone safe as we get back to playing baseball, and these enhanced protocols will help us do it together.”

Read on for the full list. The actual HSE stuff seems to be modeled after what the NFL did. From a game perspective, there will be the 7-inning doubleheaders and the runner on second to start extra innings, but no National League DH or expanded playoffs, as those were items the MLBPA preferred to defer to the collective bargaining agreement. Here’s hoping MLB can make it through the season as successfully as they did last year.

Will Spring Training start on time?

Maybe, maybe not.

Less than a month before pitchers and catchers are set to report, the Cactus League released a letter it sent to Major League Baseball in which it called for spring training to be delayed, a move it hopes would allow Arizona’s situation to improve as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, addressed to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and dated Friday, was signed by Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher, representatives of each of the Cactus League’s eight cities — including six mayors and two city managers — as well as a leader from the tribal community that is home to the league’s other facility.

“In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County — with one of the nation’s highest infection rates — we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here,” the letter stated. “… As leaders charged with protecting public health, and as committed, longtime partners in the spring training industry, we want you to know that we stand united on this point.”

The Cactus League does not have the power to unilaterally change the season’s Feb. 27 start date. That authority is collectively bargained between baseball’s owners and players. With multiple reports indicating the owners are in favor of a delay, the Cactus League’s letter could be interpreted as an attempt to ratchet up pressure on the players.

Despite acknowledging the league had been in regular contact with MLB — and that MLB was not caught off guard by the letter’s contents or its public release — Binsbacher said it was not meant to create leverage.

“Honestly, this letter was a sincere representation of our local leaders to encourage the safest possible scenario,” she said. “… Any (additional) time is going to improve the situation — and that’s truly the focus. If there is an opportunity to do this, we would support it. If they come back and say they want to continue on with the schedule as it is, we’re going to prepare for whatever the outcome is.”

[…]

The Athletic reported that in December MLB “floated” the idea of delaying spring training and the season by a month, but it would not assure the players of a full 162-game schedule or of paying them for any games missed. The conversation went nowhere, according to the report.

The players’ union issued a statement on Monday in which it said it was aware of the Cactus League’s letter, though had not been involved in direct communication with the league.

“While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible,” the statement said.

You may recall there was a fair bit of friction between the league and the players last year over how many games were played, which had an effect on the amount of salary the players ultimately got. Not surprisingly, the players want to play a full season, and the owners would like to not pay them for a full season. Given that the NFL successfully completed a full season, and that the NBA and NHL are back to a more-or-less regular schedule, it’s hard to see MLB using the pandemic as a reason not to play, but the owners want to have fans in the stands as much as possible. Delaying the start of the season until more people are vaccinated, and local limits on crowd sizes are lifted, is a goal they may find attractive. My guess is that the season ultimately starts on time and it’s business mostly as usual, but it will be noisy along the way. ESPN has more.

No Hall of Famers this year

Better luck next year.

On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America revealed the 2021 Hall of Fame voting results. No players appeared on at least 75 percent of this year’s ballots, meaning no one will earn induction through the traditional avenue. The 2021 class is empty. Entering the day, three individuals had received votes on more than 70 percent of the publicly available ballots: Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds. None of them hit the 75-percent voting threshold needed for induction, however.

This is the ninth time the BBWAA did not vote a player into the Hall of Fame. It also happened in 1945, 1950, 1958, 1960, 1965, 1971, 1996, and 2013. Although no players were voted into Cooperstown in 2013, eight players on that year’s ballot were eventually voted in by the BBWAA.

Schilling ended up with the highest vote total (71.1 percent) on this year’s ballot and was just 16 votes shy of induction.

This was the penultimate year on the ballot for Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling. All three are set to appear on the ballot for the 10th and final time next year. However, shortly after the results were announced Tuesday night, Schilling wrote on Facebook that he wants to be removed from the 2022 ballot. If Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are not voted in next year, their Hall of Fame fates will be passed on to the Eras Committees, which meet every few years to consider players not voted in my the BBWAA.

Can’t say I’m surprised by the result. This doesn’t surprise me much, either.

Schilling, in a lengthy letter to the Hall that he also posted to Facebook, asked to be removed from the writers’ ballot next year.

“I will not participate in the final year of voting. I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” Schilling wrote. “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer as I’ve often stated but if former players think I am then I’ll accept that with honor.”

Hall of Fame Board Chairman Janes Forbes Clark said in a statement that the board “will consider the request at our next meeting.”

While there were several deserving players on the ballot, I’m happy to see Schilling not get it. Far as I’m concerned, he can be elected posthumously. Same for Pete Rose.

There will be a ceremony, to induct the Class of 2020, as that obviously could not happen last year. Next year, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz get added to the ballot. I’m sure that will make for a boring process. The Hall of Fame press release is here, and Joe Sheehan has more.

MLB recognizes Negro Leagues as official major leagues

A long time coming.

Major League Baseball has long celebrated the legacy of the Negro Leagues. But for the first time, MLB is officially recognizing that the quality of the segregation-era circuits was comparable to its own product from that time period.

Addressing what MLB described as a “long overdue recognition,” Commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday bestowed Major League status upon seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948. The decision means that the approximately 3,400 players of the Negro Leagues during this time period are officially considered Major Leaguers, with their stats and records becoming a part of Major League history.

“All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice,” Manfred said in a statement. “We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.

”The seven leagues are the Negro National League (I) (1920-31), the Eastern Colored League (1923-28), the American Negro League (1929), the East-West League (1932), the Negro Southern League (1932), the Negro National League (II) (1933-48) and the Negro American League (1937-48). Those leagues combined to produce 35 Hall of Famers, and the result of MLB’s decision is that Negro League legends such as Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell have achieved the Major League status denied to them in their living years by the injustice of segregation.

The decision took into account discussions with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, a 2006 study by the Negro League Researchers and Authors Group and an expanding historical record of Negro League statistics, among other factors. In its announcement, MLB specifically commended historian Larry Lester, a co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, as well as Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch and Kevin Johnson for their construction of Seamheads’ Negro Leagues Database, which has pieced together newspapers, scorebooks, photo albums and microfiche to provide the most complete statistical record of the Negro Leagues to date.

As part of the decision, MLB and the Elias Sports Bureau — MLB’s official statistician — have begun a review process to determine the full scope of the designation’s effect on records and statistics. Historians and other experts will be consulted as part of that process.

The Negro Leagues’ status change was applauded by Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick.

“For historical merit, it is extraordinarily important,” Kendrick said. “Having been around so many of the Negro League players, they never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them. But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is. So we are extremely pleased with this announcement. And for us, it does give additional credence to how significant the Negro Leagues were, both on and off the field.”

The Negro National League is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and there would have been a lot of commemoration of it in MLB this year had it not been for the coronavirus. As such, the timing of this makes sense, and was widely expected to happen. The stats of some future MLB players like Willie Mays will change as a result, as The Ringer documents in its story on how this came to be.

Negro Leagues players and historians have advocated for reclassification for decades. As Hall of Famer James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell once said, “The Negro Leagues was a major league. They wouldn’t let us play in the white leagues and we [were] great ballplayers in the Negro Leagues, so how can you say we [weren’t] major league?” In the decades after the 1970 publication of Robert Peterson’s influential book about Black baseball, Only the Ball Was White, researchers such as John Holway and Larry Lester led painstaking efforts to assemble comprehensive statistics from long-buried box scores. Last year, a collection of Negro Leagues scholars and researchers published a book of essays called The Negro Leagues Were Major Leagues, which laid out the strong statistical and ethical case for inclusion. But until 2020—when the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues coincided with sweeping societal protests of racial injustice and an abbreviated, jury-rigged MLB regular season—MLB hadn’t considered the subject.

In response to an inquiry from The Ringer earlier this year, the league began exploring the possibility of reclassification, as we reported in August. Later today, the league will officially announce the results of that effort and proceed with plans to assign the same major league status enjoyed by the AL and the NL to the Negro Leagues—and, in the cases of players like Mays who played in the Negro Leagues between 1920 and 1948 and later joined the AL or NL, integrate records produced in segregated leagues.

“I’m turning cartwheels and excited about a lot of hard work that I’ve put in over the years to get the leagues recognized as a major entity on par with the American and National League,” Lester says. “I don’t know what to say other than, why did it take them so long?”

The causes of the long delay aren’t much of a mystery. As we detailed in August, the exclusion of the Negro Leagues from the official list of major leagues stemmed from the findings of MLB’s Special Baseball Records Committee, which commissioner William Eckert convened in 1968 as part of the preparations for the landmark Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia. In 1969, the all-white, five-man body bestowed major league status on six circuits, including some (such as the 1884 Union Association) whose level of play was far lower than that of the Negro Leagues. But because of the prejudices of the day, the SBRC didn’t even discuss the candidacy of the Negro Leagues.

The SBRC’s ruling remained in effect until today’s announcement, which MLB’s forthcoming press release acknowledges is “long overdue.” For years, the SBRC’s stated standards for major league classification made the chances of reconsideration for the Negro Leagues seem tenuous. In assessing candidates’ qualifications, the committee considered factors including scheduling irregularities, inconsistent playoff formats, the frequency of unofficial games and uncompleted campaigns, media coverage, ballpark capacity, player skill level, and the number of crossover former or future AL or NL players. In recent years, more historians have noted that the Negro Leagues’ shortcomings in those areas were largely products of the racism that spawned segregated leagues in the first place, and that to exclude them on the basis of barnstorming, inconsistent schedules, or a lack of coverage would doubly penalize already-ostracized players for hardships that white baseball authorities imposed.

The existence of the pandemic-altered 2020 season—which, of course, counted as “major league”—made it harder to defend the exclusion of the Negro Leagues on account of scheduling quirks or a lack of consistency in format. MLB’s centennial celebrations of the Negro Leagues, conducted amid swelling public support for the Black Lives Matter movement and national demonstrations against police violence and structural racism, only made it more glaring that the league was still snubbing those past players by neglecting to sanction their status as major leaguers. Those circumstances gave rise to a rapid reappraisal.

“In all the years that I worked on this, I didn’t really think that it was going to eventually result in something like this, says Gary Ashwill, the Seamheads Negro Leagues Database’s cocreator and lead researcher. “It really never entered my head, to be honest.” Ashwill—who has conducted Negro Leagues research for more than 20 years, launched the database in 2011, and continues to update it in collaboration with Lester and several other researchers—sees MLB’s admission of the SBRC’s error as “movement toward rectifying some historic injustices amid the biggest historic injustice in the history of baseball. And also, at least symbolically, it’s a move toward a kind of reckoning with the history of racism in the United States.”

Read the rest, and read their August story as well. And then, go read this less sanguine view of the situation, and maybe ponder how much better off we’d all be if the Negro Leagues and the men – and women! – who played in them had been treated as the true major leaguers they always were all along.