Relief from Short Relief

Not as in “relief from the burden of Short Relief.” More like, “Short Relief (at last) has provided me with some relief.” I am not a longtime reader of Baseball Prospectus the way people who truly have been reading Baseball Prospectus for a really long time casually sprinkle into digitally transmitted discourse that they are longtime readers of Baseball Prospectus, but I have been reading the site and its books and listening to its podcasts (or one of its former ones, anyway) for a few years and been a subscriber for the balance of that time, and there is no question that the temperament of the site has changed over that period. Since I have been reading it, BP has had three editors in chief: Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and Aaron Gleeman, its current EIC. Miller, who now writes for ESPN, has a special ability to blend the analytical and the fanciful (perhaps “imaginative” is a better word here, though neither are correct), and, by outward appearances, was a judicious editor. Baseball writers everywhere usually write about baseball in serious tones, and Miller was a breath of fresh air in that regard, if a measured one. It’s good to have outlets for some less serious baseball writing too. There used to be a whole place for that, which was called NotGraphs, but it was terminated in late 2014. Thereafter, its postmortal spirit attempted to eke out a living in an even smaller corner of the web, but that campaign fizzled.

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Although Miller never misses an opportunity to credit Lindbergh, his former boss and collaborator on two significant projects who now writes for The Ringer, as the best in the business, it’s clear to me that it’s Miller who’s left a large impression on the current version of BP. Whimsy, once reserved for sidebar Hitlist one-liners and a few player comments in the BP Annual (not unusually in the form of a Simpsons reference) everyone raced to find, photograph, and post on social media web platform Twitter.com, now abounds– or, at least, attempts to abound– at BP. This is most visible in the daily Short Relief feature, a sort of refugee camp for NotGraphs alums that typically contains three essays, or maybe poems, or maybe just a picture, that effort and imitate toward the odd and purposefully absurd.

I never read every article every day at BP, but I’ve never read less of BP than I do now (Russell Carleton and Rob Mains are musts), and I very rarely read Short Relief. I’m glad a major baseball site is trying to resurrect NotGraphs, but this take just doesn’t hit me right. It feels very unessential and often forced. A lot of that probably is due to the fact that it’s an everyday feature. It’s really hard to produce original funny, silly, odd, unusual, quirky, or whatever content on a daily deadline. It’s even harder when you’re limited to one subject area. (There’s also the part about the site’s budget crunch and probably a little friction with the idea that BP is contributing resources to Short Relief rather than its core mission, which seems noticeably understaffed at the moment.)

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BUT. Today’s Short Relief I did read, and today’s Short Relief I did like. It contains two entries, both by former owners of NG bylines. The first, from David G. Temple, once the managing editor of TechGraphs, is a short story about baseball cards that really hit home for me, as anyone reading ALDLAND’s late-night tweets earlier this week might have guessed. The second, from Short Relief coordinator Patrick Dubuque, provides a short metacommentary on the Short Relief series itself that resonated in light of the above-transcribed feelings about the Short Relief series. I commend both to your screen and eyes.

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Babe Ruth, Atlanta, and the Longest Home Run Ever Hit

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The Atlanta Braves debut at their new home, SunTrust Park, tomorrow night. Today, my latest article for The Hardball Times is a look back at baseball in Atlanta in 1928, when there was a ballpark out front of what’s now Ponce City Market, and Babe Ruth hit the longest home run ever.

The full article is available here.

Sports Law Roundup – 3/10/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NCAA transfer rules: A federal trial judge has dismissed a claim by a former Northern Illinois punter, who alleged that the NCAA rule forcing transferring students to sit out of their sport for their first year at their new school violates antitrust laws. That judge rejected an identical claim by a former Weber State football player last fall. Meanwhile, a similar suit filed by a former Northwestern basketball player remains pending in a different court.
  • Minor League Baseball wages: In a significant victory for minor-league baseball players who are suing MLB for higher wages and overtime pay, a judge has granted the plaintiffs’ request for class certification, though on a narrower scope than initially requested. Part of the revision in the class definition included a removal of the players’ claims for compensation for offseason training. The certified class covers all players who played in California League, instructional league, or spring training (included extended spring training) games since February 7, 2011, and who had not previously signed a Major-League contract. In addition to fighting these claims in court, MLB has been pursuing a legislative fix. Late last year, MiLB (MLB’s minor-league component) formed a political action committee that appeared targeted at defeating the players’ lawsuit by supporting the Save America’s Pastime Act, a bill designed to create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections.
  • Arena football labor arbitration: The Arena Football League Players Union has sued the AFL because, the union alleges, the league is improperly holding up a player-grievance dispute. By failing to make a required payment to a labor arbitrator, the union claims, the AFL is preventing the arbitrator from releasing his decision and resolving the grievance. The AFLPU complaint also states that the league has not paid other grievance awards and declined to provide financial information explaining why it has been refusing to make payments owed. Meanwhile, the AFL is embroiled in a separate lawsuit in which a former player has alleged that he has “direct evidence” of the league’s intentional refusal to pay expenses related to the former player’s concussion-related injuries. The former player also has asserted that evidence of his specific targeting by the league for injury exists. The AFL is seeking summary judgment in that case, arguing that the former player must pursue his claims under the applicable state workers’ compensation statute, but the player contends that the evidence of intentional misconduct places his claims outside the workers’ compensation regime.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/9/2016

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • College football defamation: On Thursday, former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO claiming that they defamed him by stating that he had knowledge of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities. In addition, Briles alleges that the officials sought to prevent him from securing another coaching position elsewhere. He also included a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, in total, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $1,000,000. Here is a picture of Briles’ longtime attorney, Ernest H. Cannon, riding a horse at a rodeo.
  • Football player suspension challenges: In related stories covered in this space last week, two NFL players represented by the same Ohio law firm launched collateral attacks on the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement targeting alleged procedural deficiencies in the suspension-appeal process after both were suspended for drug violations. The NFL and NFLPA now have taken action in one of those cases by appointing a third arbitrator to hear a rescheduled appeal by Green Bay Packer Mike Pennel. The absence of a third arbitrator is central to the claims Pennel raised in the lawsuit he filed in Ohio federal court. In connection with that suit, Pennel also sought a temporary restraining order, which the responsive actions by the league and union were designed to moot. On Tuesday, Pennel agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for a reduction– from ten games to four– in his suspension, which will allow him to play in the postseason should his Packers secure a playoff berth. (Pennel’s attorneys also represent Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson, who filed similar complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor around the same time Pennel filed his lawsuit.)
  • Student-athlete classification: The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss the defendants– the NCAA, Penn, and more than 120 other NCAA member schools– filed, and the appellate court affirmed. The court agreed that dismissal as to the non-Penn defendants was appropriate because of a lack of standing; the plaintiffs had attended only Penn and had no basis to recover wages from any school they didn’t attend. The court also agreed that dismissal was appropriate as to Penn, because the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for relief from Penn. Noting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” and the weight of judicial and regulatory precedent holding that student-athletes are not employees, the court concluded that the FLSA does not apply to student-athletes. While many disagree with this outcome, it is consistent with the original meaning and purpose behind the “student-athlete” designation. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Hamilton cautioned against broad application of the court’s decision, noting that the plaintiffs participated in a non-revenue sport– track and field– for a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, and suggested that he might have voted differently had the plaintiffs been student-athletes on athletic scholarship in a revenue sport.)
  • Hockey head injuries: A group of former NHL players suing the league for its alleged failure to warn them of known risks of head trauma now have requested class certification in that case for two classes of former players based on the different measures of relief sought: damages for those already diagnosed with neurological injuries and medical monitoring for others. Attorneys from a number of large law firms, including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, are representing the NHL in this case. Skadden is the anchor tenant in a new commercial real estate development in Manhattan that also will be home to the NHL’s offices when it opens in 2019.
  • Minor League Baseball lobbying: MiLB has created a political action committee in order to boost lobbying efforts. The impetus for this move likely is the class-action lawsuit minor-league players filed alleging that their compensation violates federal wage and hour laws and the leagues’ attempt to snuff out that suit by way of congressional action. The proposed Save America’s Pastime Act would create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections. There has been essentially no action on the bill since Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced it in June, leaving plenty of time for MLB to say dumb things about it.
  • Soccer ban: The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s request to overturn his six-year ban from all national and international soccer-related activity and fine of 50,000 Swiss francs for his involvement with bribes and kickbacks during his leadership of FIFA.
  • Canadian Super Bowl commercials: There is a thing in Congress called the House Northern Border Caucus, and four of its members, representing districts in North Dakota, New York, and Washington, sent a letter asking the Canadian government to reverse its decision to block Canadian advertisers from running commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. Canadian broadcasters used to have an agreement with the NFL that allowed Canadian commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the game, but, in 2015, Canadian regulators changed course in response to viewer demands to see the popular American commercials that run during the game. Canadian broadcasters and advertisers and the NFL, which is losing out on Canadian advertising revenue as a result, all oppose that change. The company that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, Bell Media, also has sued the regulatory body in an attempt to reverse the policy.
  • Hockey logo: Things are off to a rough start for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Golden Knights’ registration application, citing a “confusing[] similar[ity]” to a mark registered by the College of Saint Rose. Arguable visual similarities aside, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Rose, much less a College of Saint Rose, and I certainly didn’t know the school’s mascot is the Golden Knights, and neither did you, which means that, however similar these marks might be, the likelihood of confusion here is very low. This likely is little more than another instance of the USPTO seeking a moment in the sports sun.
  • Gambling: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a threat to the United States if the U.S. does not meet a year-end deadline to comply with a 2003 World Trade Organization order ruling that American online sports betting and gambling laws violate international law. If the U.S. does not comply with the WTO order, which also carries an annual noncompliance penalty of $21 million and has accrued to over $250 million, Antigua and Barbuda intends to suspend intellectual property protections for Americans, effectively permitting Antiguans to establish websites hosting royalty-free downloads of American IP (e.g., books, music, movies, television programming, etc.).
  • Baseball ambassador: Bobby Valentine, former MLB player and manager of the Mets and Red Sox, reportedly is under consideration by president-elect Donald Trump for the position of ambassador to Japan. Valentine, who currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University, is popular among Japanese baseball fans thanks to two successful stints as manager of a professional baseball team there.

Sports court is in recess.

The only rule is you have to listen

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You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course, but if you would like to hear me on the latest episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, listening is required. Baseball discussion topics include my recent research on switch hitters and the defensive shift, as well as the new book from Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, The Only Rule Is It Has To Work.

The podcast episode is available for downloading or streaming here.

The Physics of the Bugs Bunny Changeup (via Banknotes Industries)

The phrase “Bugs Bunny changeup” is one that has been evoked by numerous writers wishing to wax poetic about a pitcher’s off-speed offerings. Were the author more inclined to the dispensation of Cistullian prose, he might choose to join them. The present author, however, is not that author, nor is the present post that post. Rather, this post is dedicated to the discussion of the genuine article – the original Bugs Bunny changeup. . . .

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(via Banknotes Industries)

Big Leagued: Durham Bulls comeback fails, fall to Charlotte 6-5

IMG00547-20140816-1931Nobody hit the bull and won a steak, but there was plenty of offense, and not quite enough defense, in Durham on Saturday night, where the Bulls (AAA-Tampa Bay) lost to the Charlotte Knights (AAA-White Sox) 6-5.

There was a decent helping of recent, and probably future, MLB-level talent on display too. The Bulls’ starting lineup featured David-Price-trade-acquisition Nick Franklin, rehabbing 2013 AL rookie of the year Wil Meyers, and former Detroit Tiger and Atlanta Brave Wilson Betemit. The Knights sent out former Tigers outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo.

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The game was so tight through the first five innings that when Charlotte finally plated the first run of the night with two out in the top of the sixth, the Knights’ 1-0 lead felt insurmountable. They built it to 3-0 in the top of the seventh, seemingly sucking the energy out of the home crowd.    Continue reading

Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading

San Jose wants to overturn baseball’s antitrust exemption (via Volokh Conspiracy)

federalleagueBetween 1913 and 1915, there was a third baseball league, the Federal League, competing with the two established organized leagues we already know, the National League and the American League. Players’ salaries skyrocketed, and the NL and AL ended up breaking up the FL by buying up some clubs and inducing others to leave the League. The sole remaining FL team, from Baltimore, sued the organized leagues and the National Commission, arguing that their action in breaking up the FL violated antitrust law.

In Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v.  National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (1922), the Supreme Court said it didn’t violate antitrust law. Justice Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, said this didn’t fall within antitrust law because it wasn’t interstate commerce (and the presence of interstate commerce is expressly made necessary by the text of the Sherman Antitrust Act). Of course, this is contrary to many decades of later jurisprudence: there’s no way the Supreme Court would have decided this way if the case came up today.

But the Supreme Court reaffirmed its 1922 decision in a short 7-2 per curiam in Toolson v. New York Yankees (1953), saying if baseball’s exemption was wrong, Congress should fix it.

In Flood v. Kuhn (1972), the Supreme Court reaffirmed Federal Baseball again.

Now San Jose wants to challenge the antitrust exemption again. San Jose claims that Major League Baseball has undermined the Oakland As’ desire to move to San Jose. Of course San Jose lost in district court, but the case is being fast-tracked to the Ninth Circuit, which . . . could hear it by May. . . . Interestingly, one of the possible grounds that the Ninth Circuit could use would be to read the baseball exemption narrowly, as limited to labor issues like the reserve clause — which is how the previous cases arose — and not applicable to issues here like restraints on relocation of teams. … Read More

(via Volokh Conspiracy)