Amidst the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy

IMG-20140317-00078It is not difficult to get an interview with Pete Rose. I’m sorry to pull back the curtain on one of sportswriting’s recent tricks, but it’s true. People assume that Rose, one of sports’ all-time controversial figures, must be a tough get, but the sheer volume of articles published in recent years based on one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hustle belie that assumption. I’m reasonably confident ALDLAND could secure a sit-down interview with Rose. He seemingly wants to talk to anybody and everybody– the more he’s in the news, the more likely a public clamor for MLB to reverse course and allow him to stand for a Hall of Fame vote– and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Think what you want about Rose, but Sparky Anderson made his peace with his former player before he died, so you probably should too.

The latest entry into that glut of Rose prose is a book by Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. The March 10 issue of the magazine carries an excerpt, available online here. The magazine cover teases a central– and magazine-cover-worthy– quotation: “Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”

Again, I like Rose, I think he belongs in baseball, and I think the PED-user analogy can be illustrative. Few people love an illustrative analogy more than me, probably. But here, Kennedy takes the wind out of his own quotation’s sails, and rightly so. We cannot now be sure of the precise effect Rose’s baseball gambling had on his playing and managing. Kennedy is straightforward about this, and, just paragraphs before his money line, he set out in detail how, even if Rose only bet on his Reds, his managing decisions could have been impaired by his collateral financial interest in the outcome of his team’s games. For example, Kennedy suggests that Rose might have utilized his players to achieve short-term results in a way that impaired long-term effectiveness. A baseball season, to say nothing of a baseball career, is a marathon. Kennedy points out that Rose appeared to overuse a lefty reliever, Rob Murphy, in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Murphy fairly denied the charge to Kennedy, but the writer still put the following tag on this section, which immediately precedes the highlighted quotation above: “There’s no indication, either through game logs or player testimony, that Rose’s betting influenced how he managed. But it could have. speculation, sure. Evidence? Not yet.”

Kennedy seems to miss the point with his “Rose has been banished for the . . .damage he might have done” line, the point he himself just finished making: that Rose’s gambling damaged the game, but we simply don’t yet have the evidence to show exactly how. The same is true of the PED users, for whom evidence has been perhaps the central issue. How many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he not used PEDs? (He did use PEDs, right?) How many fewer hits for finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro? How many fewer strikeouts for Roger Clemens? Why pretend like the damage is any more or less obvious for one or the other?

I hope baseball allows Rose back into the game, to stand for election to the Hall of Fame (a privilege Kennedy notes Bonds and Clemens and their lot enjoy). While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has hinted at some easing of Rose’s ban, this is an all-or-nothing issue. I’m not sure what, if anything, will tip the scales in Rose’s favor, but a false dichotomy like the one Kennedy presents doesn’t help anyone’s cause on this issue.

Bay of Cigs: Crime & Punishment

jhonnyWhen Ryan Braun accepted a sixty-five-game suspension for his violation of MLB’s drug policy, I lit into the Milwaukee Brewers star, or at least did whatever constitutes lighting into someone around here. Now that (likely former) Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta has accepted a fifty-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic, it seemed only fair that I respond to a part of this expanded story that hits close to my fandom as well.

Peralta represents the nearest the PED scourge has come to my fan doorstep– right on the front stoop, as it were– and even though I acknowledged the likely cognitive bias in the abstract, I did not really appreciate how differently one approaches stories like this when they directly involve a favorite team or player until the Peralta suspension was announced Monday. Lance Armstrong was fun, but I wasn’t a real cycling fan and I never wore a Livestrong bracelet. I wasn’t a fan of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens either. I did have plenty of pictures of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa on my bedroom walls as a kid, but the revelations didn’t come as quickly then as they do now. By the time they came for those two, I’d moved on.

When the PED dragnet picked up an active Detroit Tiger, a starter, an all-star, and an important component of a team with World Series aspirations, though, I found myself scrutinizing every word of the official public statements in the matter, demanding concrete proof of wrongdoing, and generally establishing a defensive posture. Peralta was reported to have a weaker connection to the Biogenesis clinic than other accused players, after all, and didn’t MLB strongarm Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch into “cooperating” with the league’s investigation by filing a probably frivolous lawsuit against him (yes), and have there been any positive drug test results for any of these players (no), and aren’t they kind of being railroaded into accepting these no-contest suspensions (I mean, at least kind of), and isn’t there something to be said for due process in all of this (of course), and what did the league and the players say, exactly, anyway?

Here’s Peralta’s statement:

In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret. I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers’ organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball, and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment, and I accept my suspension.

I love the fans, my teammates and this organization, and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down. I promise to do everything possible to try and earn back the respect that I have lost.

(Before spring training this year, Peralta issued a statement: “I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.”)

Here’s MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s statement:

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Instant replay, wildcard expansion, and Bud Selig’s incentives

This month, Major League Baseball announced that it would be expanding its playoff field, starting with the upcoming season, by adding a second wild card team in each league. While Twitter-age baseball analysts roundly lamented the slow speed with which this announcement came, it looks like a lightning strike when compared to another still-waiting reform, instant replay, that has been “under advisement” for years.

I have written at length elsewhere about the importance of examining incentives to understand the real rationale behind a situation with apparently conflicting internal logic. Over at The Classical, Matthew Callan suggests that such an analysis will prove illuminating in the case of MLB reforms:

Bud Selig is arguably the most transformative figure in the history of Major League Baseball. Under his watch, we’ve seen more changes to the way the game is played and consumed than at any other time in the sport’s history.

Twenty years ago, adding a play-in game at the end of the regular season would have sent the game’s gatekeepers into fits of great weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the Bud Selig era, we hear nary a peep.

It’s telling that whenever he discusses the matter, Selig always makes sure to note how much the teams request it. “Clubs really want it,” he said back in January. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year.”

When Selig says “clubs,” he means the owners thereof, all of whom stand to benefit from a play-in game and the additional revenue attended thereto. Selig has never shed his owner’s mentality, and every change under his watch as commissioner . . . has been allowed for the primary purpose of lining owners’ pocketbooks.

This isn’t to fault Selig, necessarily—if he didn’t grow the game’s revenues, he’d be a bad commissioner. However, it does explain the one change he remains reluctant to make: instant replay. The new wild card will become a reality mere months after the subject was first broached; in contrast, four years after being instituted on a trial basis, instant replay remains limited exclusively to home run reviews. Which are, as any baseball fan knows, sacred unto actual magic.

That the man who has dramatically altered baseball in countless ways suddenly becomes a traditionalist whenever instant replay is mentioned is hard to explain through anything but his owner’s mentality. His other innovations have the immediate, tangible benefit of increased revenue, but instant replay has none. In fact, it would cost the league money to equip every stadium with extra cameras and review booths and training the umpires to use them.

The lesson? Don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for instant replay review of MLB’s decision to move the Expos to Washington, D.C. instead of contracting the Milwaukee Brewers.

C-3P-No: Chris Paul, David Stern, the fourth wall, and McCulloch v. Maryland

In a matter of hours last night, the following events occurred, in sequence, beginning around 8:00 Eastern:

  1. The Hornets, Rockets, and Lakers agree to a trade that would send Chris Paul (aka CP3) to Los Angeles, Lamar Odom, Louis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Goran Dragic to New Orleans, and Pau Gasol to Houston. Or something like that.
  2. The NBA and the re-formed players’ association finalize the new collective bargaining agreement, officially ending the lockout.
  3. David Stern, on behalf of the league, nullified the trade for “basketball reasons.”

In trying to understand what happened here, citing “basketball reasons” is pretty unhelpful. I suppose it’s preferable to “bocce ball reasons,” but still. Stern ostensibly was acting on behalf of small-market owners, including Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert, who objected to the deal. What he won’t tell you in this conversation, but everyone else knows, is that the league owns the Hornets. Keep reading…