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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.

The Sports Betting Alliance

Keep an eye on this.

A new alliance of major Texas sports teams has announced they will be backing legislation to allow for sports betting in Texas.

The Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, and the Dallas Mavericks are among the first members of the Sports Betting Alliance, with more teams expected to announce their association with the group according to the Dallas Morning News.

While 25 states have legalized sports betting some of the largest, including California, Florida, and the lone star state have not yet legalized the industry that could bring in billions nationally.

The announcement of the Sports Betting Alliance comes after the late Sheldon Adelson’s group, Las Vegas Sands, expanded their lobbying effort to legalize gaming in Texas.

The Las Vegas Sands lobbying effort appears to want to work in tandem with the sports betting alliance to make the biggest push to legalize both sports betting and gambling in Texas in recent memory.

That DMN story is paywalled, so the synopses of it here and here are the best I can do at this time. There are quotes from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and lobbyist Andy Abboud, who is also busy with the push for casinos. The major sports leagues were endorsing federal legislation to allow wagering on their games a few years ago, and a SCOTUS decision in 2018 opened the door for states to get in on the act, though states like Texas would have to change their own laws first. Which is where we are now, and though the economic outlook is better than it was a few months ago, the pressure to expand gambling is increasing, at least if you think of it in terms of the financial interests that are pursuing it. The Lege has remained steadfast, including in some really hard times, and until Dan Patrick says he’s for it, I’m betting the under.

And just a few hours after I typed that, I saw this.

While other states race to legalize sports betting, don’t count on Texas to follow suit.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told a radio host in Lubbock on Tuesday that he just doesn’t see support for the idea in the Texas Senate, which he presides over, or among Republican voters.

“It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick told Chad Hasty on KFYO in Lubbock.

Patrick said he personally has never been in favor of expanding legal gaming, but beyond that, there are not enough members of the Texas Senate in favor of it — which makes the issue a waste of time.

“We are nowhere close to having the votes for it,” Patrick said.

OK then. You can still expect more sports teams to get on this bandwagon and make a lot of noise about it, and who knows, maybe they will be able to wrangle a few more votes. But adjust your expectations accordingly. The Sports Betting Alliance US and Sports Betting Alliance TX each have Twitter feeds to follow, though they are currently vacant, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

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.

The Cleveland Baseball Team

The Major League Baseball team in Cleveland will get a new name.

Napoleon Lajoie, of the Cleveland Naps

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball franchise has decided to change its team name, moving away from the Indians moniker it has employed for more than 100 years and that is considered insensitive to indigenous peoples. Team owner Paul Dolan has confirmed the news Monday, which was originally reported by David Waldstein and Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times on Sunday night.

“We’ll be the Indians in 2021 and then after that, it’s a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name,” Dolan told the Associated Press. “We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right. But we’re not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re going to take the time we need to do it right.”

Dolan added: “It was a learning process for me and I think when fair-minded, open-minded people really look at it, think about it and maybe even spend some time studying it, I like to think they would come to the same conclusion: It’s a name that had its time, but this is not the time now, and certainly going forward, the name is no longer acceptable in our world.”

[…]

The club is planning to use the Indians name and uniforms for the 2021 MLB season before changing names. Another option would have been going the route of the National Football League’s Washington franchise, which dropped its own offensive nickname in July. The club has since been known as the Washington Football Team.

“We don’t want to be the Cleveland Baseball Team or some other interim name,” Dolan said. “We will continue to be the Indians until we have identified the next name that will hopefully take us through multiple centuries.”

Cleveland’s decision comes more than two years after it started to distance itself from the “Chief Wahoo” logo. Back in July, when the Washington Football Team announced its altered identity, Cleveland announced it would investigate the “best path forward” with regards to the team name. Subsequently, our Dayn Perry offered several replacement options, including the ever-popular “Spiders,” as well as the “Rockers,” the “Crows,” and “Dobys,” named after Hall of Famer Larry Doby, who was the American League’s first Black player.

“We are not going to take a half-step away from the Indians,” Dolan said. “The new name, and I do not know what it is, will not be a name that has Native American themes or connotations to it. Frankly, (Tribe) would have been a name that I would have loved to pivot to. But in talking to these groups, they made it very clear that the issues that are attached to the Indians don’t go away with Tribe, particularly since Tribe has been tied to the experience of our team for many many decades.”

I saw the first hints of this on Sunday, and I saw a lot of support for the old Cleveland Spiders name, though I’ll be honest and admit that associating with a team that went 20-134 in its final season, even if that was entirely due to ownership shenanigans, would give me the willies. But even if it’s taking them another year to do it, at long last they are dumping their supposed-to-have-been-temporary racist nickname. Better (very) late than never. ESPN and The New Republic have more.

The Hall of Fame 2021 ballot

Always a favorite time of the year.

While the 2021 ballot announced Monday features former All-Stars such as Torii Hunter, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle and Barry Zito, none of its first-timers is an obvious Hall of Famer. The crowded crush of Cooperstown-caliber cases that voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were presented with in recent years has cleared, and that creates breathing room — and potentially large percentage increases — for the ballot’s hopeful holdovers, notably Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Omar Vizquel.

BBWAA voters, who have addressed the ballot congestion by voting in 13 players in the past four years, must submit their votes by year’s end. The results will be revealed on Tuesday, Jan. 26, on MLB Network.

Players must have their names checked on at least 75% of submitted ballots to enter the Hall of Fame, which will hold its 2021 induction ceremony on July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The 2020 class featuring Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller will also be inducted on this day, after the 2020 ceremony was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 class will not feature any non-BBWAA inductees, as the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committees have postponed their votes until the winter of 2021-22.

Among the new additions to the BBWAA ballot, the highest career Wins Above Replacement figures, as calculated by Baseball Reference, belong to starting pitchers Buehrle (59.1) and Hudson (57.9) and outfielder Hunter (50.7). To put that in perspective, the average bWAR of Hall of Fame position players and pitchers is 69.

What this likely means, therefore, is closer scrutiny of players who have fared well on past ballots but have not yet crossed the 75% threshold. Players are eligible for up to 10 years on the BBWAA ballot. Last year, 397 ballots were submitted and 298 votes were needed for election.

Yeah, there are no newbies on the ballot this year that deserve close scrutiny. I’m rooting for Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner among the returning candidates, but really all I want is for Curt Schilling to not get inducted. Even in the year 2020, that’s not too much to ask, is it? More from MLB here and the Hall itself here.

More on the Luhnow lawsuit

Because I now have the brain space to think about stuff like this again.

Did not age well

While baseball fans and courtroom voyeurs might long for a public legal showdown between Astros owner Jim Crane and former general manager Jeff Luhnow, attorneys say the more likely outcome of their contract dispute over Luhnow’s firing is a quiet, secretive resolution behind the protective wall of private arbitration.

Three Texas attorneys were united on that point of view Monday after examining the 18-page breach of contract lawsuit filed by Luhnow against the ballclub before Texas 125th District Judge Kyle Carter.

Luhnow alleges that Crane violated his contract by firing him in January after he was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. Crane’s decision, Luhnow says, denied him benefits that include $22 million of his $31 million contract plus bonuses and a guaranteed slice of the ballclub’s profits.

While the bulk of the complaint alleges a plot by the Astros and MLB to scapegoat Luhnow as the villain of the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal, attorneys say its most critical point is in the 34th of 43 paragraphs, which says Luhnow is required to submit contract disputes to arbitration “by the commissioner or the commissioner’s designee.”

“Jeff Luhnow will have a very difficult time defeating the arbitration agreement clause,” said Rogge Dunn, a Dallas attorney who has represented former Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Texas Tech University and a former Baylor University Title IX oversight director in employment law cases.

Luhnow’s attorneys say it would be a “complete sham” for Manfred to have a key role in arbitrating disputes in which he is a central figure. The lawsuit asks Carter to submit the case to a jury or to appoint an arbitrator of his own choosing.

“His point is that this is an inside deal,” Dunn said. “The commissioner will protect the owner and scapegoat me, and he also gets to appoint the arbitrator, who will know on whose bread is being buttered.”

Mike Muskat, a partner with the Houston firm Muskat, Mahony & Devine, said Texas law is “very favorable toward enforcement provisions,” which decreases the prospect Luhnow can avoid an arbitration proceeding in which MLB gets to pick the arbitrator.

“I’ll give (Luhnow’s attorneys) credit for a creative argument, but the law is pretty solid,” Muskat said. “There’s a pretty high hurdle to avoid arbitration based on the selection of the arbitrator.”

See here for the background, and there’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. I’ll say this much, if Luhnow turns this into a crusade against mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements, even if it’s for the most self-interested of reasons (*), I will regain a modicum of respect for him. He’s right that this kind of forced arbitration is a scam that greatly benefits employers – and businesses in general when we’re talking about other types of service agreements – but the fight needs to be bigger than this. You can do it, Jeff!

(*) Money is very much the motivating factor here, as there’s over $30 million at stake. If the Astros can fire Luhnow for cause, instead of firing him for being a loser, as is the case most of the time when managers/GMs are canned, then they don’t owe him any of the money he was to be paid in his contract. Whatever else you may think of Luhnow, he’s not an idiot.

Luhnow sues Astros

This ought to be entertaining.

Did not age well

Jeff Luhnow sued the Houston Astros for breach of contract on Sunday, alleging that Astros owner Jim Crane and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred negotiated penalties for the sign-stealing scandal that enabled the team to paint Luhnow as “the scapegoat for the organization” and fire its general manager “in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary.”

In January, after a two-month investigation into how the Astros violated baseball rules by improperly deploying technology to decode signs in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Manfred suspended Luhnow and Astros manager A.J. Hinch for the 2020 season. Crane then fired Luhnow and Hinch.

Luhnow’s lawsuit uses quotation marks around the word “investigation” and calls it “a negotiated resolution” between Crane and Manfred “that enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane, and scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in.”

Manfred later suspended Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and then became manager of the Boston Red Sox, for the 2018 season. The Detroit Tigers hired Hinch as their manager last week, and the Red Sox re-hired Cora.

Luhnow has not found work in baseball. His suit, filed in Texas district court in Houston, alleges the Astros breached their contract with him because none of the conditions that would be considered as just cause for his dismissal actually occurred.

Yes, the first story appeared in the LA Times. Go figure. The Chron followed a little later with a copy of the lawsuit and some more details.

“The commissioner struck a deal with Crane to make Luhnow the scapegoat of the cheating scandal while absolving Crane, the players and others of responsibility,” the suit reads.

[…]

Luhnow’s lawsuit calls the league’s investigation “deeply flawed.” It paints Director of Advance Information Tom Koch-Weser as the scandal’s “actual ringleader” who, according to the suit, blamed Luhnow “to save his own job.”

Major League Baseball’s investigation included 22,000 text and chat messages to or from Koch-Weser that, according to the suit, Manfred “ignored … as part of the effort to scapegoat Luhnow.” Luhnow is not included in any of the messages, according to the petition.

The petition claims that Koch-Weser was the “only witness to claim that Luhnow mentioned electronic sign-stealing.” Luhnow’s lawsuit calls him a “biased source who has zero credibility.”

“The Astros told Koch-Weser that he could keep his job so long as his actions were sanctioned by his supervisors, including Luhnow,” the suit states.

Koch-Weser remained employed by the Astros throughout the 2020 season.

Luhnow’s lawsuit attempted to demonstrate his adherence to baseball’s crackdown on electronic sign-stealing during the 2017-19 seasons. In Major League Baseball’s report, Manfred excoriated Luhnow for “(failing) to take any adequate steps to ensure that his club was in compliance with the rules.”

You can add this to the season ticket holders’ lawsuit as part of your offseason things to watch. The suit was filed in the 125th Civil Court, so congratulations to Judge Kyle Carter for having this hot potato land on his bench. I have no idea if any of these allegations are true, but I can’t wait to find out more.

What more is there to be said about the Astros sign stealing scandal?

There’s at least one podcast’s worth of material out there.

Did not age well

Rather than writing a sequel to “Astroball,” his 2018 book about the improbable rise of the Jim Crane/Jeff Luhnow-era Astros, former Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter opted for a six-episode podcast that delved into the sources and aftermath of the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal.

The podcast, titled “The Edge,” wraps up Wednesday and Wednesday, Nov. 11, with a two-part final episode that likely will be devoted in large measure to Reiter’s interviews with Luhnow, the former general manager who was ousted along with manager A.J. Hinch in the wake of the sign-stealing revelations.

Reiter said in a recent interview that he expects the podcast to be his final word, at least for now, on the Astros’ rise and fall that has occupied much of his professional life since 2014.

He acknowledges, however, that the impact of the scandal will be lasting, both for the players and the Astros brand, and that details remain hidden about the case that will be brought into the light grudgingly, if at all.

“A lot of people are going to be very motivated to keep their lips sealed forever on this, including some very powerful people,” Reiter said. “My hope as a journalist is my belief is that the truth always finds a way to emerge. I think that is what’s going to happen with this story.”

Reiter said he took on the podcast because he “felt a great personal responsibility to dive back into this story. I had written so much about the team since 2014, and I’d missed something. Everybody had missed something.”

[…]

As for his goal of learning as much as possible about what happened with the Astros and why it happened, Reiter said he is satisfied that he has uncovered as much as can be learned. He does, however, acknowledge that MLB’s report in January was incomplete.

“I think that there are certain things that MLB knows that do not show up in the report,” he said.

“MLB wants to move forward. They want to put this scandal behind them. There’s certainly the possibility that motivation worked against a full investigation of what happened, not only in the Astros, but across the league.”

The podcast is called “The Edge”, and you can find it wherever you’d expect to find podcasts. Now that I might have a bit of spare time in my schedule, I plan to give it a listen.

Astros ticketholder lawsuit update

I share because I care.

Did not age well

The Astros have asked the state 14th Court of Appeals to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit filed by three groups of disgruntled ticketholders, repeating many of the same arguments in favor of dismissal that they presented to a Harris County district court earlier this year.

Along with repeating their claim that the suit should be tossed because the ballclub is protected by the Texas Citizens Participation Act, attorneys say a courtroom is not the proper venue to chasten the Astros for the decision of players in 2017-18 to use electronic means to steal signals in violation of Major League Baseball’s rules.

“No court in the United States has ever allowed fans or other members of the public to sue for how a sport is played, and Texas should not be the first jurisdiction that allows such claims,” the Astros said in their 78-page brief filed with the court this week.

If such claims were allowed, the ballclub added, “The courtroom would become the solace for any sports fan who has felt the pang of disappointment in a team’s strategy choices. In these divided times, appellate courts throughout the nation have united on one point: claim for disappointment in how a team played the game on the field – be it a rule violation or a performance fiasco – are not justiciable.”

The cases wound up before the 14th Court when state District Judge Robert Schaffer denied the Astros’ motion for summary judgment in proposed class action suits filed by ticketholders Adam Wallach, Roger Contreras and Kenneth Young, who allege they were defrauded into buying tickets by the Astros’ public relations campaign urging fans to buy tickets.

The Astros claim the ballclub is protected under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which allows a judge to dismiss a case in which one of the parties is exercising the right of free speech, right to petition or right of association regarding discussions about a public figure or entity.

Schaffer suggested that the case go to the 14th Court to decide procedural matters before returning to his court for a potential rehearing on the summary judgment dismissal sought by the Astros, and the Astros then filed their appeal.

See here for the background. A copy of the appellate motion is in the Chron story. I believe this case is the consolidation of all of the Harris County lawsuits; there is still the California lawsuit that the Astros either want dismissed or moved to Texas, but I’ve lost track of it at this point. I still don’t believe any of this will go anywhere, but it will at least keep us occupied for the foreseeable future.

MLB is on its way back

What a long, strange trip it was, and who knows how successful any of it will ultimately be. But here we are.

The lack of a deal between MLB and the MLB Players Association led to the league imposing a schedule, as was its right in a March 26 agreement that also guaranteed players a fully prorated portion of their salaries. MLB on Monday told the union it planned to impose a schedule as long as the players would report to training camp by July 1 and codify a health and safety manual that runs more than 100 pages. The players agreed to both on Tuesday.

“All remaining issues have been resolved and Players are reporting to training camps,” the union tweeted Tuesday night.

The season’s success probably depends on MLB’s ability to contain coronavirus spread, an issue the health and safety protocol covers in immense detail. Addressing everything from travel to social distancing to a ban on spitting, the manual is a strict guide for a potential 2020 season and illustrates the difficulty of pulling off such an endeavor.

If it can, MLB in 2020 will look radically different:

  • Teams will play their four divisional opponents 10 times and each of the five interleague opponents in the same geographical area four games apiece.
  • The National League will use a designated hitter.
  • In extra innings, teams will begin with a runner on second base.
  • The trade deadline will be Aug. 31, less than a month before the regular season is scheduled to end
  • Rosters will start at 30 men for the first two weeks, then go to 28 for the next two weeks and stay at 26 for the remainder of the season.
  • Teams will have a taxi squad that allows them to have as many as 60 players available to play in major league games.
  • There will be a special COVID-19 injured list with no minimum or maximum length of time spent on it, while standard injured list stints will be for 10 days, and the typical 60-day stint will instead be for 45 days.

[…]

Under the imposed season, players will receive their full pro rata, a sticking point in negotiations during which owners sought pay cuts in their first three proposals. The players never budged from their stance, and they will receive in total around $1.5 billion — about 37% of their full-season salaries. Players will not receive forgiveness on the $170 million salary advance they received as part of the March agreement, and they are owed no bonus money from the postseason — two items that the league had offered as part of a deal that included the players rubber-stamping expanding the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams.

The players sought a 70-game season in which they would receive $50 million in playoff revenue as well as a cut in 2021 of new money from TV rights in the expanded playoffs. The league also would have received the ability to wear advertising patches on uniforms and the support of players wearing in-game microphones, among other ancillary items.

All potential deals fell apart amid the animus between the parties. That they wound up where they did on Tuesday, agreeing to the implementation of a season after not agreeing on anything for months, served as a bright moment after darkness had shrouded the sport since it shut down in mid-March.

This was more or less where everyone expected things to wind up after what turned out to be MLB and the players’ final offers were rejected. Both sides will now be able to file a grievance claiming the other side did not negotiate in good faith. I’d put more money on the players winning that than the owners. How successful any of this will be given that positive tests have become a frequent occurrence among teams and players in various leagues. I’m ready to see MLB play again, but there’s a big part of me that’s still very dubious, both about whether this can happen and whether it should. For now, it is and it will. The Chron has more.

Fauci and football

I hate to rain on your tailgate, but…

The NFL is planning to begin its season on time, but Dr. Anthony Fauci pulled the reins on that optimistic view Wednesday.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

The NBA and MLS are planning to resume their seasons in July with players in a bubble. So far, the NFL hasn’t publicly discussed that option. A bubble also seems particularly untenable for college football teams on school campuses.

“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches, and other essential personnel,” the NFL’s chief medical offers Dr. Allen Sills told ESPN on Thursday. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts, and other sports leagues.

“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”

The NFL has maintained that training camps will start in late July and its regular season will begin as scheduled with the Texans playing at Kansas City on Sept. 10.

Don’t anyone tell Greg Abbott or Ross Bjork about this. That story appeared a day before we got stories about MLB and NHL teams closing their training facilities following positive COVID-19 tests. We’ve already seen other stories about NFL and NCAA teams doing the same. It’s more than fair to ask if teams can even keep their own people safe, let alone their customers. I’m as ready as anyone to see my favorite sports leagues and teams again. I just want it to be done safely, and right now the evidence that can be done at this time is not abundant.

No Yankees letter yet

May we all keep following this, all the other news about baseball is terrible.

The Yankees and Major League Baseball on Monday asked the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent public release of a 2017 letter from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to the Yankees that disgruntled fantasy league players say may contain evidence about cheating violations by the ballclub.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff last week granted a request to unseal the letter by attorneys representing a group of DraftKings daily fantasy players who sued MLB over the impact of the Astros’ and Red Sox’ electronic sign-stealing scandals of 2017-18.

The letter from Manfred to the Yankees was included in discovery materials handed over during the fantasy players’ lawsuit, which was filed in the southern district of New York. It was sealed from public view because the Yankees said that making the letter public would cause “severe reputational injury.”

Attorneys for the fantasy players, however, say the letter may provide evidence that the Yankees were involved in a “more serious, sign-stealing scheme” than the ballclub’s technical violations cited by Manfred in 2017.

See here for the background. Judge Rakoff has since put his original ruling on hold pending appeal, so who knows how long this could take, and for something that may ultimately be about not very much that’s new. But until then, we all get to speculate and post stuff on Twitter. That counts as entertainment in these troubled times. CBS Sports and NJ.com have more.

A few bumps in the road for the NBA

How’s that season restarting going?

A month ago, superstar players got on a Zoom call and reportedly created a united front to support a safe return to play. A lot has changed since. Last week, the 28 NBPA player representatives all voted in favor of the league’s proposal (which was approved by the board of governors the day before). But a closer look at the NBPA statement shows that the vote was strictly an approval of “further negotiations” with a caveat that “various details” were still to be negotiated.

Now that we’ve arrived at those various details, different parties have started to speak up with dissenting opinions. Last week, commissioner Adam Silver was fielding concerns about whether older coaches would be allowed to sit on the bench. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that a faction of players is hesitant to restart the season because of a policy that wouldn’t allow visitors until the first round of the playoffs, as well as a lack of motivation for teams unlikely to compete for the championship. Yahoo Sports reported Friday that a “significant” number of players were upset about not having a vote in approving the proposal and that some were reluctant to express their opinion to star players who want to play. Kyrie Irving, who is a vice president of the players union, was reported to be pushing for players to reconsider the planned restart.

[…]

One of the main concerns is that some players believe a return to play would detract from the current protest movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Some players have already participated in the nationwide protests, and many have spoken out against police brutality on social media, including LeBron James, who yesterday announced plans to form a voting rights group with other athletes and celebrities. Malcolm Brogdon said on The JJ Redick Podcast that there are players who are interested in sitting out the rest of the season as part of a protest. Garrett Temple, meanwhile, told The Ringer that he believed going to Orlando was the right move and that being there a month before tipoff would give players the opportunity to come up with a plan to send a message.

“When you take a stance on things, you do that to bring attention,” said Temple, who is also an NBPA VP and represented the Nets in the player vote. “Then, after that, you have to actually do something to cause change … so whatever we do, it needs to be something that can cause tangible change in our community, in our game, in our country.”

That initial agreement was reached almost two weeks ago. Players were also surprised to find that the Disney/ESPN quarantine “bubble” doesn’t include Disney/ESPN employees, who will come and go from the site as before. Sure looks like a bit of a risk factor there. Even Commissioner Adam Silver is saying there are still issues to work out, and maybe this won’t be for every player. It still seems likely that the NBA will restart, but (no pun intended) it’s not a slam dunk. Things change fast, and time is limited. Until the teams actually start practicing and games get put on the schedule, it’s not a done deal.

Since I mentioned MLB in that earlier update, which at the time looked to be providing a “don’t be like this” contrast to the NBA, here’s one more Fangraphs article to read about how much the players were willing to negotiate versus how much the owners were willing to negotiate. That forthcoming grievance is gonna be something else.

We’re going to get the default MLB season

Ugh.

The Major League Baseball Players Association asked MLB to set a schedule for the 2020 season rather than counter the latest return-to-play proposal by the league, setting the stage for MLB to implement a significantly shortened schedule and deepening the labor strife between the parties.

In a statement Saturday night, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark rejected MLB’s latest proposal and said: “Further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

A March agreement between the parties allows MLB to set a schedule, and the league has suggested that in the absence of a negotiated agreement with the union it could impose a schedule of somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 games and pay players full prorated salaries worth a total of around $1.25 billion.

MLBPA lead negotiator Bruce Meyer, in a letter sent to deputy commissioner Dan Halem on Saturday night and obtained by ESPN, said: “We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday, June 15.”

In a statement on Saturday night, MLB said in part: “We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Upon any implementation of a schedule, players wouldn’t necessarily report to a second spring training immediately, sources told ESPN. The parties still do not have an agreement on a health-and-safety protocol and would need one before players arrive. Any season would be scheduled to start after a three-week spring training, though a coronavirus outbreak could change the league’s plans. Multiple players on 40-man rosters have tested positive for the virus recently, according to sources.

If MLB does implement a season, both parties could file grievances to be heard by an arbitrator, though neither would necessarily delay games being played, sources said. The union could file a grievance that the league did not fulfill its obligation to play the most games possible, sources told ESPN. The March agreement says the league should use “best efforts to play as many games as possible, while taking into account player safety and health, rescheduling needs, competitive considerations, stadium availability, and the economic feasibility of various alternatives.” The league could likewise file a grievance over a lack of good faith negotiations regarding salary by the union, sources said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN this week that “unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” placing the chances at “100 percent.”

Here’s the full statement from the MLBPA:

Buster Olney puts most of the blame for this impasse on the owners. I’d make it at least 90-10 in that direction. The owners do have one legitimate complaint, which is that their revenue model depends a lot more on game attendance and associated items like parking and concessions than other sports, where national TV is the bulk of the income. As such, games with no fans will indeed eat into their bottom lines. The problem is that they basically never changed their initial offer, which would have slashed player pay by about a billion dollars, and any claim on their part about their actual financial situation is completely muddled by the secrecy of their accounting. Ben Clemens goes through a very simple exercise in financial engineering to show how owners can make lots of money while showing zero cash balances every year. Even a cursory study of MLB history would cast a large amount of doubt on any financial claims the owners would make.

We’re still not out of the woods here. Safety protocols for the players and everyone who works at the games still need to be established. The NBA has agreed in principle to restart their season, but even they still have player concerns to address before anyone laces up a pair of sneakers. And of course, none of this bodes well for the next round of collective bargaining agreements between MLB and the players. After a long and generally prosperous time of labor peace, it looks like it’s about to get tumultuous. Hold onto your hats.

A twist in the sign stealing story

We’ll see how twisted it gets.

A federal judge ordered the unsealing of a 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to the New York Yankees that, according to court documents, detailed a “more serious, sign-stealing scheme” than the league initially revealed that September.

The Yankees and Major League Baseball have until Monday at noon to submit “a minimally redacted version” of the letter, according to the 12-page memorandum order filed in the Southern District of New York.

The letter itself may not be unsealed until June 19 in order for the Yankees to file an emergency appeal.

[…]

The letter in question was obtained during the discovery phase of a $5 million class-action lawsuit brought by DraftKings players against the league, the Astros and Boston Red Sox in the wake of the sign-stealing revelations earlier this winter.

A group of more than 100 plaintiffs, led by daily fantasy player Kristopher Olson, claimed the league and two teams were liable for any money lost during games where either the Red Sox or Astros cheated.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed the suit in April, but the plaintiffs are appealing the decision to the 2nd Court of Appeals.

Rakoff wrote Friday’s memorandum order that called for the letter’s unsealing, finding in favor of the DraftKings players who remain as plaintiffs. In their argument to keep the letter’s contents sealed, the Yankees said releasing the letter would inflict “significant reputational injury.”

“Much of the letter’s contents have already been revealed in the 2017 press release,” Rakoff wrote in his decision. “Furthermore, embarrassment on the part of MLB or the Yankees about the precise contents of the letter is not particularly weighty, and the privacy interests of any individuals mentioned in the letter may be remedied by minimal redaction.”

See here for more on the DraftKings lawsuit, to which the Yankees were not a party. My guess is that the single most likely outcome of this is that the letter tells us very little we didn’t already know, based on what Judge Rakoff says in his ruling, but the possibility certainly exists for something juicy to be in there. It’s not going to change anything the Astros did, but it might contribute to their “everyone else was doing it too” defense. It’s also possible that this will make MLB look bad – again – for the way they handled the investigation and the punishments that were handed out. We’ll find out soon enough. At this point, all I can say is that I’m glad for some baseball news that isn’t about the owners’ latest ridiculous season-starting proposal to the players. Views from 314 and Pinstripe Alley, both Yankees blogs, have more.

NBA sets a plan, MLB still working it out

Happening today.

The NBA is finalizing details of a plan which is expected to be approved by the league’s Board of Governors on Thursday, paving the way for a return from the coronavirus shutdown.

The board is poised to give the green light to commissioner Adam Silver’s return of basketball which would begin July 31 with a 22-team format, and end in mid-October with a champion being crowned, ESPN reported.

The plan requires support from three quarters of the league’s 30 teams in order to be approved.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Orlando Magic currently hold the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies occupy the postseason positions in the Western Conference.

Under the plan, each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the postseason.

The 16 teams currently in the playoff picture will be joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference.

In the East, the Washington Wizards are also included.

[…]

All games are expected to be within the confines of Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando Florida, with all teams remaining on site to minimise risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

See here for the background. ESPN adds a bit more:

Life in the NBA bubble will be governed by a set of safety protocols. While players and coaches will be allowed to golf or eat at outdoor restaurants, they will also need to maintain social distancing, sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

The NBA is planning to have uniform, daily testing for the coronavirus within the Disney campus environment, sources told ESPN. ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company.

If a player tests positive for the virus, the league’s intent would be to remove that player from the team to quarantine and treat individually — and continue to test other team members as they play on, sources said.

Employees at the Disney resort will have to maintain similar protocols. For example, no staff will be allowed into players’ rooms, and hallways will be carefully managed to avoid crowding, sources told Shelburne.

Weird, but the NBA had played the bulk of its season anyway, and the playoffs are always a different thing entirely. I just hope those employees at the Disney resort had someone thinking about their welfare as this deal was being hammered out. The Chron has more.

And then there’s MLB:

Major League Baseball has rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Players made their proposal Sunday, up from an 82-game regular season in management’s offer last week. Opening Day would be June 30, and the regular season would end Oct. 31, nearly five weeks after the Sept. 27 conclusion that MLB’s proposal stuck to from the season’s original schedule.

MLB told the union it had no interest in extending the season into November, when it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could disrupt the postseason and jeopardize $787 million in broadcast revenue.

While management has suggested it could play a short regular season of about 50 games with no more salary reductions, it has not formally proposed that concept. Earlier this week, multiple players told ESPN that they would not abide a shorter schedule, with one saying, “We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball.”

See here for the previous update. If this sounds dire to you, let me refer you again to Eugene Freedman, who’s been around this block a few times.

Basically, it looks like the sides have agreed to the March deal, and now need to work out the safety and testing details, plus what to do if a player wants to opt out. Maybe the NBA getting set to start at the end of July will inspire them to agree on some version of their July 4 Opening Day season. Fingers crossed. The Chron has more.

MLB players make their counteroffer

Back to the owners.

The Major League Baseball Players Association delivered a return-to-play proposal to MLB on Sunday that includes a 114-game season, deferred salaries in the event of a canceled postseason and the option for all players to opt out of a potential 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns, sources familiar with the details told ESPN.

The proposal, which was the first from the union and came on the heels of an MLB plan that was loudly rejected by the players, comes at a seminal moment as baseball tries to become the first major American professional sport to return. Although the players expect the league to reject it, they hope it will serve as a bridge to a potential deal this week.

The 114-game season, which under the union’s proposal would run from June 30 to Oct. 31, is expected to be immediately dismissed by the league; MLB has proposed an 82-game season and suggested that the more games teams play this year, the more money they lose. The union remains steadfast that players should receive their full prorated salaries, while MLB’s plan included significant pay cuts that affected the highest-paid players the most but covered all levels.

The inclusion of potential deferrals in Sunday’s proposal was an acknowledgement by the players that amid the coronavirus pandemic and unrest around the country, cash-flow issues could prove problematic for owners. The deferrals would occur only if the playoffs were canceled, a concern the league has voiced, and would total $100 million. They would apply to players whose contracts call for $10 million-plus salaries and include interest to make them whole.

Deferrals could be part of any counter from the league, which had not officially responded to the union’s proposal Sunday. With the desire to start a season by the first week of July, both parties recognize that time is of the essence for a deal.

While MLB’s 67-page health-and-safety protocol draft included the ability for high-risk players — those with preexisting conditions or family members more susceptible to COVID-19 — to opt out of the season, the union’s proposal suggests that players can do so and receive salary. Players not deemed high risk would be able to opt out but would not receive salary.

See here for the background. I would recommend you read these Twitter threads about collective bargaining by Eugene Freedman for a better understanding of what the players are doing. As he describes there and in the latest Effectively Wild, the owners’ proposal to cut salaries and the players’ offer of a longer season are both basically non-starters unless the other side agrees to reopen the matter. Now that they have both asserted that they won’t open those matters, the real negotiations about health and safety can begin. At least, that’s the hope. If there’s going to be progress on this, it will probably happen this week, but you never know. Fangraphs has more.

UPDATE: Lookie here:

Now, maybe, we are getting somewhere.

Reopening 3.0

Who wants to go to a water park?

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Tuesday announcing additional services and activities that can resume under his second wave of reopenings, allowing food courts in shopping malls to reopen immediately and giving the green light for water parks to begin operations with limited capacity starting Friday.

Recreational sports programs for adults can restart Sunday, though games and similar competitions may not recommence until June 15. Abbott also permitted driver education programs to resume operations immediately.

For food court dining areas that choose to reopen, Abbott is encouraging malls to designate one or more people who are responsible for enforcing social distancing and ensuring tables are cleaned and disinfected between uses.

[…]

While indoor and outdoor pools can operate at 25% occupancy, the governor’s previous directives have specifically said people should continue to avoid interactive amusement venues like water parks. Abbott was facing pressure, however, from a Houston-area water park that initially said last week that it would defy Abbott’s orders and reopen Saturday for Memorial Day weekend. Asked about that last week, Abbott told an Austin television station that his office was talking with operators to make sure they complied.

“They subject themselves to potential litigation as well as potential licensing-based issues if they fail to comply, and so it’s a potentially business-dangerous process for them to proceed forward knowing that they are subjecting themselves to litigation if they open up and anybody contracts COVID-19,” he said to KXAN.

The park ultimately decided not to open early, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

If you can maintain social distancing, swimming is fairly low risk. My experience at water parks is that you’d be fine on most of the rides, but the lines to get to the rides will be what puts you in jeopardy. I’m also not sure how financially viable a 25%-capacity water park is, but that’s their problem, and if Schlitterbahn thinks they can make it work, they’re in a better position than I am to judge. I don’t expect to be paying them a visit this year, that much I do know.

Also, too, outdoor sporting events are back on the menu.

In a new proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that fans will be allowed at outdoor professional sporting events in most Texas counties with limited occupancy, under a new expansion of his most recent wave of economic reopenings.

Starting Friday, all Texans counties — excluding Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties — will be able to host in-person spectators for outdoor sports in venues as long as visitors are capped at 25% capacity. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Under the revised rule, fans are still banned from attending indoor sporting events in person. The rule does not address college or high school athletics.

[…]

The health agency’s protocols for adult recreational sports participants include a recommendation of wearing face masks during sporting events and practices, screening individuals for symptoms of COVID-19, and using and carrying hand sanitizers.

Spectators, meanwhile, are encouraged to avoid being in groups larger than 10, maintain a 6-foot distance from others when possible and wear cloth face coverings.

Regular COVID-19 testing is also recommended throughout the professional sports season.

I’d say the main effect of this is allowing recreational sports leagues to start up. High school and college sports are exempted, the NWSL will be playing only in Utah, and MLB is still a work in progress. I guess auto racing would be open to fans now as well. I will have a decision to make when the college football season starts, but I wasn’t expecting to see an Astros game any time soon except on TV. Do any of these new options appeal to you? Leave a comment and let us know.

MLB’s latest startup proposal

The league still wants to stick it to the players.

Major League Baseball drew the ire of the players’ union Tuesday with an economic proposal that called for a significant cut in salaries that would affect all players and particularly the game’s highest paid, sources familiar with the proposal told ESPN.

The long-awaited plan, the first volley in an expected back-and-forth that will determine whether baseball returns in 2020, proposed a marginal salary structure in which the lowest-paid players would receive close to a full share of their prorated salary and the game’s stars receive far less than expected.

Players immediately bristled at the proposal, which includes an 82-game schedule that would begin in early July after a 21-day spring training, sources familiar with the plan said. Teams would play three exhibition games in the final week before starting a regular season that would finish Sept. 27.

The MLB Players Association is expected to reject the plan and counter in the coming days with a proposal that could include a longer season, according to sources.

The league’s proposal, which includes bonuses if postseason games are played, offers lower-salaried players a higher percentage of their expected wages and would give some of the game’s biggest stars a fractional cut of their salaries. The formula the league offered, for example, would take a player scheduled to make the league minimum ($563,500), give him a prorated number based on 82 games ($285,228) and take a 10% cut from that figure, leaving him with a $256,706 salary.

[…]

Although the proposal would keep a larger proportion of players close to their whole salaries — about 65% make $1 million or less and would receive more than 80% of their prorated salaries — players young and old objected to the plan, which they believe runs in contrast to a March agreement with the league that they believe legislated that players be paid full prorated salaries upon the return of baseball.

The league believes language in the deal calls for good-faith negotiations with the union about the economic feasibility of playing with no fans, which MLB expects to do upon a return. The league initially considered proposing a 50-50 revenue split with the players, citing massive losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark immediately rejected the idea, equating it to a salary cap.

See here for the background. Basically, this PR move by the owners is to stick to the highest-paid players, in an attempt to divide the union and make the players look as unsympathetic as possible to the public. I’ll outsource the analysis of this to Jay Jaffe, who sums it up as follows:

While this proposal does bear some resemblance to a progressive taxation scheme, the question that needs to be asked is why it’s the millionaires, whose careers have limited windows, bearing the brunt of the economic impact instead of the billionaire owners for whom annual profits — and for MLB, which has seen revenues grow for 17 straight years, there have been a whole lot of those — and losses pale in comparison to escalating franchise values. That’s without even considering the disproportionate risk the players are assuming by returning to play amid the pandemic. It’s not just their livelihoods that are at risk, it’s their lives. They can’t write those losses off.

Here’s a convenient timeline of the action so far, with some fact-checking as needed. By the way, while the owners as a whole are targeting the stars, one franchise is also sticking it to their minor leaguers, always a classy move. I’ll give a last word on this to Joe Sheehan:

More insidious, though, is the principle behind the plan. It’s asking Mike Trout to give money to Arte Moreno. Trout is rich; Moreno is wealthy. When Moreno had leverage, he paid Trout as little as he could. Now he’s asking Trout to give him back basically all the money Trout made in the first four years of his career.

Of course, any possibility of baseball or any other sport relaunching at this time is highly dependent on testing and keeping the players and coaches and umpires and staffers and everybody working at the stadiums COVID-free. Michael Baumann digs into what that means.

I asked Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and the former health commissioner for the city of Detroit, whether we know enough about COVID-19 to plan for games in October and November. “Yes, we do know enough about the virus,” El-Sayed says, “to know that we can’t make decisions five to six months in advance.”

One thing baseball has going for it compared to other major team sports—football, basketball, and so on—is that the actual gameplay isn’t particularly conducive to COVID-19 transmission. “An outdoor sport like baseball where [players are] not breathing heavily in each other’s faces seems like a good candidate for a sport that can return,” says Laura Albert, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin whose research includes the optimization of emergency and public health systems.

While Albert isn’t worried as much about the in-game component of MLB’s plan to return in July, though, she has other concerns. Namely, even if the league prohibits sunflower seeds, tobacco, and spitting, there would still be plenty of scenarios during which a player with the virus could spread it to others. “There will be positive cases and there will be transmission between players,” she says. “And I anticipate it happening on airplanes and buses, in the locker rooms or bathrooms. It’s not totally clear how we can change those spaces to be safe if there’s a bunch of people using them.”

[…]

MLB’s return, whenever it happens, is already being heralded as a sign of things returning to normal. Indeed, as much as baseball fans miss the game itself, that touchstone to a more comfortable time is a huge reason why even a limited season is such an attractive proposition. But MLB has already accepted that if the league is going to have a prayer of making it to the World Series this year, the game won’t look, feel, or sound the same as it has in the past.

“Our lives are not going back,” Albert says. “They’re not returning to what they were like before, and there’s not one way we could really control the spread of COVID-19—there’s many things we have to do. And so it’s great that the leagues are embracing this. It’s not window dressing. I think it’s important for us to get used to these things.”

There’s a limit not only to what MLB and the MLBPA can do to ensure that the game is safe, but also to what they can know and predict. It will certainly be difficult for such a powerful industry to comprehend that idea, but it will be necessary for the baseball world to understand and embrace it. Given how COVID-19 works, the data on infection rate leaves investigators and public officials to work on a lag.

“We’re not dealing with linear dynamics here. That’s the hard part that I think is confounding so many of our best efforts to respond reasonably,” El-Sayed says. “You’re talking about exponential growth. Everything that we see today is information about the dynamics of the virus two weeks ago. And so all of a sudden you could be having exponential growth dynamics that only start showing up after it’s too late for you to act to stop them.”

As much as everyone is tired of having the course of the country and the economy determined on a fortnightly basis, [Thomas J. Duszynski, the epidemiology education director at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis] says that’s about as far ahead as we can responsibly plan right now. He’s open to the idea of MLB coming back—but only if the league is willing to stop the season if conditions change. “If they go down this road and start to play games, which personally I hope they do, and we see a shift in that science that says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, the disease is getting worse again,’ is MLB going to be able to pull this back?” he says. “Are they going to be able to shut it down and still survive?”

Both El-Sayed and Duszynski believe that it’s possible that a leaguewide infection could progress to the point where MLB simply can’t press on.

“God forbid a player dies because of this,” Dusynski says. “What kind of ripple effect would that have through Major League Baseball?”

I’m actually not that worried about a player dying. It could happen, but it would be unlikely. I’m much more worried about a coach, or an umpire, or a stadium staffer dying. Or a member of a player’s family, or a family member of one of these other groups. That could happen regardless – about 0.7% of players have already had COVID-19, per the MLB antibody study. Clearly, the risk is greater if the games are played. The players have the most leverage to assess and try to mitigate the risk to themselves and their families. I hope that’s sufficient for everyone else.

Abbott expects there to be college football this fall

Pretty optimistic, if you ask me.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he believes college football will begin on schedule in Texas with some fans in the stands, he told KXAN during an interview Friday.

“My prediction is yes we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled, on schedule, with at least some level of fans in the stands,” the governor said.

Abbott said what is unclear at the moment is what the capacity level would be.

“Would it be strategic and limited to ensure that we have safe distancing practices, there are factors we simply do not know at this time,” Abbott explained about the potential health risks of reopening UT football in the fall.

Abbott stated that the University of Texas at Austin’s athletic director needs a decision by early August. He said the state thinks it should be able to make a decision by then.

This isn’t out of the blue. In April, the chancellors of Texas A&M and Texas Tech said they expect there will be football when they reopen in the fall, though that story didn’t address the question of fans. ESPN quoted Abbott referring to the reopening plans of MLB and the NBA, though those sports and others like MLS are all talking about fan-free games, possibly at a single location. It’s one thing to imagine the games happening, especially if the campuses are open anyway. It’s another to imagine sixty thousand people or more packed into a stadium screaming their lungs out, especially if the pro sports leagues are still playing before nothing but empty seats. Texas A&M at least is thinking about what this might mean.

“We have not gone down the path of examining every section,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said of exactly how many fans Kyle Field will hold with mandated social distancing in place. “There are a lot of scenarios being discussed.”

Like that proverbial glass, Bjork prefers to envision a stadium as half full, not half empty, should restrictions be in place this season.

“We want a full experience, and we’re staying positive — that’s the approach we’re taking right now,” Bjork said. “We know we can pivot quickly if we have to, but we have not mapped that out.”

[…]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has gradually reopened the state in the past month, but he has held off on potentially crowded events such as county fairs. With that in mind, what exactly would Kyle Field look like at, say, 25 percent capacity?

Roughly 25,000 fans would be spread throughout the stadium, and which fans would be allowed in would be determined in a potentially convoluted process.

“You’ve got 102,733 seats,” Bjork said. “Last year we sold about 85,000 season tickets, including right around 35,000 student tickets. That leaves you about 18,000 empty seats. The great thing about Kyle Field is we have a lot of space. So you would start with your infrastructure and analyze it from there, but we would not (ideally) want to decrease our season ticket base. …

“We have a huge footprint, and we just haven’t had to go down that (downsizing) path yet.”

Should social distancing be required at Kyle Field this fall, not only would fans be spaced at least 6 feet apart throughout the stadium, but multiple measures would be in place to try to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

That might mean everyone but the players and those on the sideline would be required to wear masks (further muffling touchdown celebrations and the Aggies’ tradition of kissing after a score); an abundance of hand sanitizers spread throughout the stadium; and scheduled times for different sections to enter the stadium so there is no squeeze at the gates, where body temperatures might also be checked.

Bjork added that it might be helpful for fans to bring their own beverage containers to limit the number of hands on a cup, making last year’s new policy of selling alcohol throughout the stadium a bit trickier. A&M and its concessions cohort made more than $1 million off alcohol sales at Kyle Field in 2019, according to the university.

“One of the things that we’ve had to do with the alcohol policy is have (employees) pour the bottle or can of beer into a cup (for fans); that’s an SEC policy,” Bjork said. “Does that need to change so you limit as many contacts as possible? Those approaches are being studied right now.”

So are the possibilities of limiting the university-sanctioned tailgating scene around Kyle Field, and the myriad activities in the Aggie Fan Zone on the plaza north of the stadium that create a festival-like atmosphere in the hours before kickoff.

“There’s nothing you can really put in writing right now or have a ‘backup’ plan yet, because there’s too much uncertainty, and it’s way too early,” Bjork said of the Aggies’ plans for Kyle Field starting with the Sept. 5 opener against Abilene Christian.

Which fans would get to attend would also present a knotty question for them. I do expect there to be a lot of pressure for playing college football, for various financial and social reasons. How that manifests remains an open question, and that’s before we take into account the possibility of a resurgence, in which case all of this will seem extremely stupid.

This is an issue that has more than the usual amount of resonance for me. As you know if you’ve been reading this site for awhile or know me in Real Life, I’ve been a member of the Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB) for many years. I don’t know at this point what Rice plans to go regarding its sports teams, nor do I know at this point what the MOB plans to do. (They’ve been busy with the usual end-of-semester activities, saying goodbye to graduating seniors and installing the new drum major and drum minor, that sort of thing.) I really don’t know what I plan to do just yet if everyone is going ahead like normal. On the one hand, we’ll be outside and there will be a reasonable amount of space for us all in the stands. On the other hand, there’s only so much social distancing a band can do and still sound like a band, the deep breathing that playing a wind instrument requires is an extra risk factor for COVID transmission, and everything else about the stadium experience will involve a lot of closer-than-I’m-comfortable-with contact with other people. Maybe if we’ve really got infection rates under control, or there’s true universal testing, I’d be willing to trot out there for another season like it was the Before Times. I’m not feeling that right now. Ask me again in August and we’ll see. The Chron has more.

The NBA inches closer to a return

We’ll know more soon.

NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption, sources told ESPN.

Teams expect a similar timeline from the league on when they’ll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel, sources said.

The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp, sources told ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, many NBA owners, executives and National Basketball Players Association elders believe commissioner Adam Silver will green-light the return to play in June — with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July, sources said.

The NBA is still considering a two-site format for the return of the season, including Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, sources said.

See here for some background. That story was from Thursday. As of Saturday, things had progressed a bit further.

The NBA is going to Disneyworld. Or at least, it hopes to save its season and declare a champion in a single-site scenario outside of Orlando.

In the most public sign yet that the NBA is hopeful that it can resume its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has begun exploratory talks with the Walt Disney Company about using its venue in central Florida to hold practices and games without fans present.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said in a statement.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The MLS is also looking at Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. I don’t know how much that might complicate the logistics, but one presumes they will figure it out. The Chron had reported earlier in the week that the Toyota Center in Houston had been in the discussion as a potential venue, but that is apparently no longer in play. It’s possible the NBA will go straight into a playoff system, or it may play some more regular season games but eliminate the teams with the worst records to limit the number of people required to be there. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As you know, Major League Baseball has also been working on a season-starting proposal, though in typical fashion the owners are making up claims about financial losses in an attempt to back out of the previous agreement with the players and squeeze them on salaries. I suspect this will get resolved at some point, in which case we may suddenly have a lot of sports coming back to us. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t a big post-reopening spike in infections or other insurmountable obstacle. But if things go as the optimists hope, we could go from no sports to a fairly full slate in a hurry. We’ll see.

Arguments due this week in Astros sign stealing lawsuits

Here we go.

Did not age well

Attorneys will submit written arguments May 25 to a Harris County judge in the Astros’ attempt to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit filed by season ticket holders upset by the 2017-18 electronic sign-stealing scandal.

State District Judge Robert Schaffer is overseeing the case, which combines three earlier lawsuits accusing the Astros of fraud and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

A hearing to dismiss normally would be held in person but will be conducted in writing because courthouse access is limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The consolidated suit, which was updated earlier this month, expands a proposed class of Astros season ticket holders suing the team to include full and partial season ticket-holders from 2016 through 2020.

It also adds three plaintiffs as prospective representatives for the requested class action.

One represents 2016 ticket holders. A second, the engineering and construction management firm CHA Consulting, would represent Diamond Club customers.

A third, Houston resident Donald Rao, represents 2020 season ticket holders who are seeking refunds from the ballclub for games that are not expected to be played this season because of the Major League Baseball shutdown.

See here for the previous update. With the DraftKings lawsuit tossed, there’s this one and the California lawsuit, which the Astros want either to be dismissed or moved to Texas.

Here’s the MLB season-starter proposal

Make of it what you will.

Major League Baseball owners gave the go-ahead Monday to making a proposal to the players’ union that could lead to the coronavirus-delayed season starting around the Fourth of July weekend in ballparks without fans, a plan that envisioned expanding the designated hitter to the National League for 2020.

Spring training would start in early to mid-June, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the plan were not announced.

[…]

Teams will propose that players receive the percentage of their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular-season and postseason, which likely will be among the most contentious aspects of the proposal during negotiations with the players’ association.

That proposal would take into account fans being able to return to ballparks at some point, perhaps with a small percentage of seats sold at first and then gradually increasing.

Rosters would be expanded from 26 to around 30. With minor leagues shuttered, there likely will be the addition of about 20 players per club akin to the NFL’s practice squad.

MLB officials are slated to make a presentation to the union on Tuesday.

Players and teams agreed to a deal on March 26 that called for each player to receive only a portion of salary, determined by what percentage of a 162-game schedule is played. As part of that deal, if no season is played each player would receive 2020 service time matching what the player earned in 2019.

But that deal is contingent there being no restrictions on mass gatherings at the federal, state, city and local level; no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada; and Commissioner Rob Manfred after consulting the union and medical expects, determines there is no risk to playing in front of fans at regular-season ballparks.

Players and teams committed to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate neutral sites.” Manfred has said about 40% of MLB revenue is tied to gate, including concessions, parking, ballpark advertising, luxury suites and programs.

Union officials and players have cited the March 26 agreement as setting economic terms and say they have no inclination for additional cuts.

See here for the background and some more details about the initial proposal. I’m going to hand this off to Fangraphs for some deeper analysis.

In a half-season scenario, if teams lost nearly all of their stadium revenue, and every other revenue and expense stream (including player payroll) were cut in half, there’s an argument that the owners might lose about $50 million per team this season. While that’s still about $2 billion shy of the profits they’ve made over the previous three seasons ($4 billion including BAMTech money), it’s a significant loss. Of course, the vast majority of those non-stadium revenues will not be cut in half. MLB is still in a very good position with its television partners, and even getting 75% of non-stadium revenue would allow the league to break even without renegotiating the deal it previously agreed to with the players. And that’s before we even get to teams taking lower annual local rights fees in exchange for ownership stakes in regional sports networks, which might send another half-billion dollars or more to teams annually. Those profits aren’t included in the revenue sharing among teams, and similar issues will make revenue sharing with players incredibly difficult to determine.

And even if we were to assume that by playing half a season without fans MLB is going to operate at a loss paying the players half their salaries, and then further decide that players should share a greater part of the burden of potential losses in the form of revenue sharing despite not having received any of the benefits of increasing profitability the last three years, what constitutes revenue in this scenario? Calculating revenues in a normal year is hard; calculating them this year will be near-impossible. We can talk about the under-market local TV deals of the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Cubs, which siphon off baseball revenue in the form of network ownership, as a potential sticking point but even more difficult is determining revenue on national and local television deals and sponsorships.

If a team or the league agrees to take a discounted amount for a television deal or local sponsorship in order to make more money in future years, would such a deal require player approval? After all, the team or the league would be actively negotiating away money that might go to the players this year, but wouldn’t in future seasons when revenue sharing wasn’t in effect. The league and teams have longstanding relationships with their television partners and sponsors and they want to keep each other happy and provide each other with the biggest possible return on those relationships. The players are uniquely disadvantaged when trying to determine revenue due to these relationships and the potential for moving money around to the advantage of the parties already engaged in the deal. Involving the players will only lead to more acrimony and bigger headaches down the line.

So I dunno. I would dearly love to see baseball start again, if it is sufficiently safe, but I have no desire to see the players sacrifice their salaries for the owners’ benefit. I’m sure there’s room to make this work better, if the sides are willing to talk. We’ll see how the players react. ESPN has more.

MLB’s restart plan is coming

Get ready.

According to multiple reports, commissioner Rob Manfred will present a blueprint for the season’s resumption during a Monday conference call with league owners. From there, the first formal proposal for a return to play would be given to the Players Association, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Reports on Saturday characterized the situation as still extremely fluid, with many hurdles to overcome. Approval is not only needed from the players but also from local governments and medical experts with whom the league has been in constant consultation.

According to reports, the plan presented to owners is expected to contain an 80-game season that begins in early July with the goal of playing as many games as possible in empty home ballparks.

Some form of a second spring training would be required in June — either at home ballparks or at facilities in Florida and Arizona. Active rosters would have to be expanded beyond 26 players, perhaps as big as 45 or 50, according to The Athletic.

Teams would play exclusively against their divisional opponents and against their geographic counterpart in the other league — meaning the Astros could face teams in only the American League and National League West. The postseason would expand from 10 to 14 teams, too.

Concerns about harder hit areas of the country, travel and the availability of widespread testing for COVID-19 are still obvious. What to do if a player or staff member tests positive is still unknown.

In an agreement between the league and its players association on March 26, MLB promised not to resume its season until there were no bans on mass gatherings, medical experts determined there was no health risks for players, team personnel fans or ballpark staff and travel restrictions were lifted in the United States and Canada.

The agreement did offer flexibility for the league and union to discuss playing in empty stadiums, which is now almost a certainty. The economic impacts of such a scenario could offer the most discontent between the league and players union.

The three-divisions plan, with teams playing in their (likely empty) stadia against the teams geographically closest to them is different from the three states plan, which was the last one I had taken note of, but it’s in the same vein. The idea is to minimize travel (which also reduces costs) and make it easier to keep the players close by. Whatever gets proposed will have to be approved by the players, who have their own concerns about safety and compensation and other things. There’s basically no other news out there about this right now, or at least there wasn’t yesterday when I drafted this. I’m sure we’ll see more once the actual plan has been released. In the meantime, I am hopeful that we are on a path to getting baseball back, and more than a little concerned that it’s all an illusion that will not be able to withstand the reality of our situation. I’m sticking with the hope for now.

Hey look, there’s baseball!

Welcome to the KBO:

Those craving live baseball can soon get a fix.

ESPN announced Monday an agreement with Eclat Media Group to televise six live Korean Baseball Organization games per week. KBO Opening Day [was] Tuesday and ESPN [began] its telecasts then, with a midnight game between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions.

Former Astros outfielder Preston Tucker is among the handful of American-born players set to start his season. Tucker’s Kia Tigers will play at 4:30 a.m. Friday against the Samsung Lions on ESPN. KBO games will not have fans.

ESPN’s deal includes the KBO postseason and best-of-seven championship series. ESPN’s familiar crew of broadcasters and analysts — Jon Sciambi, Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, Jessica Mendoza and Kyle Peterson — will call the games remotely from their home offices.

[…]

In an interview last month, Tucker detailed the many steps taken by the KBO to get its season back. Tucker must take his temperature in the morning, at night and before he enters the ballpark. Any player or staff member with an elevated temperature is not allowed to enter the facility.

The KBO issued new regulations and guidelines that included a ban on spitting and cautioned against high-fiving or handshakes. Tucker said players have been advised not to go to malls or movie theaters, but are permitted to go out to dinner or take walks around their home city.

“If you’re on the field, they’ve checked you out 100 percent that you’re at least not sick and not running a fever,” Tucker said. “If you make it into the stadium, they’ve pretty much cleared you if you’re healthy.”

FanGraphs has the first week’s schedule and a bunch of links to acquaint yourself with the league. The times are not great for an American audience, but that’s why God gave us DVRs. You’ll want to check out My KBO and its Twitter feed for English-language stats, history, highlights and more. The one thing my wife and I didn’t get to do that I wanted to do when we were in Seoul about 20 years ago was see a baseball game there. (We did get to see a game in Tokyo on that same trip, which was a phenomenal experience.) It’s been a wish list item for me for awhile now. I’ll probably tune into some games on ESPN, which among other things will help me see how weird this experience will be without a live crowd, since that will probably be what we get when one of the crazy plans being floated gets adopted.

I should note that the KBO is not the only game going on – the Chinese Professional Baseball League, from Taiwan, is also playing games. There are no English language broadcasts of the CPBL that I am aware of, but they will soon have live fans at the games. I’m glad for them, and also super jealous. I’m so ready for baseball here as well.

How about an Arizona/Florida/Texas plan for MLB?

Call it the MLB Plan 3.0 for having a season.

With the spread of the novel coronavirus threatening Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, the league and the union continue to seek ways to salvage the year as best they can. Predictably, that has entailed any number of proposals and contingency plans, including those that would see teams either all isolated in Arizona, or split between Arizona and Florida. On Monday, multiple league sources informed CBS Sports about a different idea that has been discussed in recent days.

In this arrangement, the league would have teams stationed in one of three hubs: Florida, Arizona or Texas. The clubs would then make use of the local major- and minor-league (or spring training) facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors without fans.

One source even expressed guarded optimism about the idea’s chances of coming to fruition.

Ballparks in St. Petersburg (Florida), Phoenix (Arizona), and Arlington (Texas) each have roofs, retractable or otherwise, that would safeguard against rainouts and other extreme weather, allowing for multiple games to be hosted at those sites per day. Theoretically, MLB could also ask teams stationed in Florida and Texas to drive three-plus hours to other MLB parks (Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Miami’s Marlins Park).

It’s unclear if MLB would assign 10 teams to each metropolitan area, or if it would opt for an unbalanced approach that would see 12 teams in one area and eight in another.

[…]

“From our perspective, we don’t have a plan, we have lots of ideas,” [MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred] told Fox Business. “What ideas come to fruition depends on what the restrictions are, what the public health situation is, but we are intent on the idea of making baseball a part of the economic recovery and sort of a milestone on the return to normalcy.”

See here and here for the previous iterations of this idea. The DMN adds more details.

While teams would need to drive as much as two or three hours in Florida to visit certain sites, Texas can offer two Major League stadiums: Globe Life Field in Arlington and Minute Maid Park in Houston. There are also numerous minor league facilities such as Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco and The Dell Diamond in Round Rock. There are also numerous top-tier college facilities, if those are made available.

[…]

Among things to be decided if Texas becomes more realistic: How would MLB temporarily realign from two 15-team leagues to three 10-team leagues? Under the Arizona/Florida idea, rather than having teams divided into the National and American Leagues, they would compete in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

Also, which teams would be asked to give up the relative comforts of their own spring training facilities to temporarily plan in Texas? If MLB moves towards a league that is geared simply to be TV-friendly without fans, it might make sense to have leagues set up based on time zones, with East Coast teams in Florida, teams in the Central in Texas and the rest of the teams in Arizona.

There are eight teams with Central Time Zone home bases: Both Chicago teams, St. Louis, Kansas City, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston and the Rangers. Colorado is a Mountain Time Zone-based club, an hour behind the Central. A team from the Eastern Time Zone, perhaps Detroit, might need to be added.

Another question: Would the Rangers be able to use all of the numerous state-of-the-art amenities afforded them in Globe Life Field? Or would teams playing in their home stadiums have to give up some access to major league amenities if the majority of teams are playing in minor league stadiums?

Teams would also need some secondary bases for depth options since the minor league season is becoming more and more unlikely. That’s where minor league and college facilities could become more of a point of conversation.

As the Chron notes, Texas A&M has expressed interest in letting its stadium be used in this scenario. I’m sure other colleges would as well. Normally, even the biggest college stadium would be far too small for an MLB game, but with there being no spectators, that’s not an issue. So who knows? One other obstacle, as the CBS story notes, is that some prominent players, like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, have said they don’t want to be separated from their families for the four months this would take (assuming no return to regular stadium action in the interim). I feel like that is surmountable if this ever gets past the “there are no bad ideas” stage of the discussion. For now, MLB is just making sure that it has something it can try to execute in the event that things have improved enough to move forward with a season.

Manfred finally disciplines the Red Sox for their sign stealing

Here’s the MLB press release, written as a letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Executive Summary

Following an exhaustive investigation into allegations of improper use of the video replay room by the Boston Red Sox, I have come to the following conclusions:

• I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.

• I find that unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’s conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact. The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7% of plate appearances leaguewide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences.

• I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis. Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.

• I find that the Red Sox front office consistently communicated MLB’s sign stealing rules to non-player staff and made commendable efforts toward instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.

Discipline

Based on the findings described above, I hereby issue the following discipline:

1) J.T. Watkins shall be suspended for the 2020 season and 2020 Postseason. When Watkins returns from his suspension, he will be prohibited from serving as the replay room operator during any game for the 2021 season and 2021 Postseason.

2) The Boston Red Sox will forfeit their second round selection in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft.

3) Alex Cora will be suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 Postseason for his conduct as the bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017. While I will not impose additional discipline on Cora as a result of the conduct engaged in by Watkins (because I do not find that he was aware of it), I do note that Cora did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season.

No other member of the 2018 Red Sox staff will be disciplined because I do not find that anyone was aware of or should have been aware of Watkins’s conduct. The Club’s front office took more than reasonable steps to ensure that its employees, including Watkins, adhered to the rules. Notwithstanding these good faith efforts to comply with the rules, however, the Red Sox organization ultimately is responsible for the conduct of a member of its advance scouting staff.

The full report is here. As with the Astros, Manfred did not discipline individual players, in part because he needed their cooperation in the probe, and in part because the collective bargaining agreement did not allow for it. Judging from what I saw on Twitter, the overwhelming response is “that’s it???”, which I can understand. For sure, it seemed like Cora, who was already fingered in the Astros’ 2017 banging scheme and then apparently brought that experience to Boston, would get a harsher sentence. Apparently not. No idea why it took this long to release the report – it was likely ready to go in March, before everything was about COVID-19 – but whatever. It is what it is at this point, and if we can ever get to being able to bitch about it while real games are being played, I’ll be grateful for that. Fangraphs has more.

The NBA is still looking for its way back

Nobody really knows what the next couple of months look like.

On the eve of what would have been the start of the postseason, NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday said he could not predict when, if or how it would resume its season or even when the league might know.

“We are not in position to make any decision and it’s unclear when we will be,” Silver said after the league held its annual spring Board of Governors meeting on Friday.

“I don’t mean to send any signals about the likelihood or not of restarting the season. All I can say is we’re still at a point where we don’t have enough information to make a decision.”

Quoting Disney CEO Robert Iger, who made a presentation to the Board of Governors, Silver said decisions were “about data, not the date.”

With that in mind, Silver could not even predict when decisions would have to be made because of the uncertainty in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He said many formats to play regular-season games and a postseason would be considered and that the league would be willing to delay the start of next season if necessary.

Still, even the factors that would have to be weighed to attempt to salvage the 2019-20 season showed how difficult it will be to resume the season that had been suspended on March 11.

“We’re looking for the number of new infections to come down,” Silver said. “We’re looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. We’re looking for the path we’re on potentially for a vaccine. And we’re looking at antivirals. On top of that, we’re paying close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and what these various state rules are that are in place.

“There’s a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions. That’s part of the uncertainty.”

See here for some background. I’m less interested in the particulars, which includes something similar to the MLB games-in-a-bubble idea, than I am with the basic concept that no one has any idea when things will return to something sufficiently resembling “normal”. Right now, we’ve got the Governor talking about “reopening the economy”, and we’ve got whackjobs filing lawsuits and engaging in socially-undistanced protests over stay-at-home orders, all of whom want to more or less pretend that things are fine and we can all go back to going about our business. We also have these multi-billion-dollar enterprises, like the NCAA and major sports leagues, who would also very much like to get back to their own business of making money but have to take into account the very real risk to the health of their players, their employees, their fans, and so on. These leagues will act in their own self-interest, but that self-interest is balanced against other forces, which includes the players’ and officials’ unions, and the local governments where their teams are. The fact that a entity like the NBA, which is seeing the calendar run out on its current season, cannot say when it might be able to play its games again tells me more about our ability to “reopen the economy” than any crony-laden gubernatorial task force ever could.

Whither college football?

All NCAA spring sports were canceled due to coronavirus, beginning with March Madness and going through baseball and softball and soccer and everything else. Everyone has been looking forward to the fall when things were supposed to be back to “normal” again, but no one knows for sure what might happen.

NCAA Division I college sports in Texas is a billion-dollar business for the 23 participating schools, and athletic directors estimate 75 percent to 85 percent of that revenue is tied directly to football in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships, media rights fees and, for most schools, direct contributions from the students or the university.

All those revenue streams are in jeopardy with 20 weeks to go before the scheduled football season openers in late August, which is why college athletic directors are game-planning every potential scenario that comes to mind.

“The financial repercussions of not playing a football season are so significant there is going to be a way to do it and play it and do it responsibly,” University of Houston athletic director Chris Pezman said last week on KBME (790 AM), the school’s sports flagship station.

“If you don’t have that revenue stream that is associated with football, it gets dire very fast. … I am confident we are going to find a way through this and we’ll be able to play the season, whether it’s pushed back a little bit or the idea of playing in the spring.”

At Texas A&M, athletic director Ross Bjork is running through similar scenarios involving the mathematics of time and money.

Regular and postseason football requires four months with the addition of the College Football Playoff, and that must be preceded, Bjork said during a conference call last week, by a 60- to 75-day preparation period for players who have been outside the watchful, demanding eyes of strength coaches for several weeks.

John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor, said last week October would not be too late to begin a complete 2020 season, which would presume a return of players, based on Bjork’s time model, in mid-July.

However, what flies in Texas might not work in other states.

As an example, the executive officer of Santa Clara County in northern California, which includes Stanford University and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, said last week he did not expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”

A&M, Bjork noted, is scheduled to play Colorado at College Station on Sept. 19. There’s no guarantee, however, Colorado will be in the same stage of recovery as Texas by mid-September.

Accordingly, Bjork said he expects a “layered” approach to football’s return, based on the advice of conference and university leaders and local and state governments.

“There’s not one trigger point,” he said. “We’re all just guessing, really. We don’t know what the data will tell us. We can model, but until you know when you’re starting or when you can have togetherness, it’s kind of hard to predict.”

It’s hard to imagine how sports like Major League Baseball can contemplate their return if the start of the NCAA football season is in jeopardy. Of course, MLB has the “play their games in hermetically sealed stadia in a small number of locations with no fans” option, which college football does not. I don’t doubt the desire or the intent to bring the games back, even if starting the season in December and essentially playing a spring season is a possible way forward. But as with everything else, there’s only so long you can push back one season before you push up against the next one, and there’s no way to know what the effects will be on fans, who may not be ready to tailgate and pack into venues just yet. It’s good for the leagues to prepare for all possibilities. You never know, things might go better than expected. It’s just all so massively weird right now.

The Arizona/Florida Plan

Let’s call this the MLB Plan 2.0 for playing a season.

Major League Baseball, assessing myriad proposals, has discussed a radical plan that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues for 2020, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports, and realign all six divisions for an abbreviated season.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed.

The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.

The plan would allow teams to return to the comforts of their spring training sites for three weeks of training, which would also include exhibition games, before opening the regular season and playing a schedule with wholly different divisional opponents.

[…]

The Arizona-Florida plan has several advantages, including allowing teams to establish home bases with facilities they are familiar with. There would be 26 ballparks available to be used, including three major league domed stadiums – Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, Marlins Park in Miami and Chase Field in Phoenix.

Financially, it could be a huge boon for the TV rights holders. You could have a captive TV audience the entire day. Games in Florida could begin at 11 a.m. ET and still have games in prime-time for East Coast teams and their fans. The time slots still would permit West Coast teams to play prime-time games in Arizona.

Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd number of teams in each state.

The DH would likely be universally implemented as well.

There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams.

The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.

See here for the previous, Arizona-only idea.Plan 2.0 followed pretty quickly, which suggests MLB heard the criticisms of that scheme and either had this in its back pocket or came up with it quickly. One potential problem with this idea is that each of the two “leagues” has 15 teams in it, and since there won’t be any travel between Florida and Arizona, that would lead to scheduling challenges. Those challenges can be overcome in a variety of ways, some more conventional than others. Again, we don’t know what’s truly realistic right now, and we don’t know what will actually work in the real world, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and figure out something that could work. It costs nothing to brainstorm, and who knows, we might be in a better position than we think. May as well be ready for it if that happens.

The NBA tries to look forward

Hope + uncertainty = where we are right now.

While expressing a hope that bordered on determination that the NBA would be able to salvage its season in some form, commissioner Adam Silver also said the unknowns in the COVID-19 crisis are greater than even three-plus weeks ago when he suspended the season and that no decisions will be coming soon.

“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we should just accept that for at least the month of April we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said in a Twitter interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Monday. “I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be.

“That doesn’t mean internally and in our discussions with our players and the league we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season. But I think it is just honestly too early, given what is happening right now, to be able to project or predict where we’ll be in a few weeks.”

Silver said he hopes “to try to finish a regular season in some form and then move on to the playoffs” but that the league has not made any decisions.

He said the NBA initially was considering options for regular and postseason schedules based on potential restart days but has learned that even hypotheticals were relying on excessive guesswork.

“We just have too little information to make those sorts of projections,” Silver said. “I will say, though, as we look out into the summer, there does come a point we would start impacting next season. Even there, a few weeks ago nobody thought we were talking about a potential impact on next season independent on what we might choose to do to finish our regular season and playoffs.

“I don’t want to leave anybody under the impression we’re not trying to do everything we possibly can under the right circumstances. Player safety and the health of everyone in the NBA family has to come first. That may mean there is a scenario we can play without fans. That’s something we look a lot at.”

As we know, MLB is also thinking about when it can begin again. Both of these followed a meeting of multiple sports commissioners with Donald Trump, who would really really like it if this coronavirus thing went away ASAP. Again, I’m happy that the leagues are thinking about how this might work for them, but I think May is an aggressively early timeframe for it. The NBA is in some ways more constrained than MLB precisely because they have to start worrying about their next season, which would start in September. If they’re not able to begin playoffs soon, who knows where they’ll be in the fall. It’s just that none of this is really within their control.