Mizzou and the Revolt of the Amateurs

Let me start with a confession: I never heard about the racist incidents at the University of Missouri until its football team threatened to strike unless the university president resigned. Some of the blame for my ignorance is due to me for complacently living in my white coastal bubble, and some to the national media for not treating, say, a swastika made of human feces at a major state university as worthy of coverage. However you divvy up the blame, though, I’m confident I’m not alone in only having become aware of the story once the team got involved. The football players didn’t show any more courage than Jonathan Butler, the student who threatened to starve himself to death unless President Wolfe resigned, but they certainly showed more ability to attract media attention. And, of course, more ability to achieve the protest’s aims. On Sunday, President Wolfe was saying he had no intention of resigning. Early on Monday, he was gone, along with the campus chancellor, who will resign at the end of the year.

As several writers have noted, this is a watershed moment in the empowerment of college athletes: in effect, the football team deposed two major university administrators. The Mizzou strike has generally been cheered among progressive writers: football players, so often assumed to be aloof from the functioning of the college, took a bold professional risk to speak up for their fellow black students, who are under-represented on campus but over-represented on the football team. It’s a sign of solidarity and political consciousness that would excite just about anyone on the left. The progressive columnist Kevin Drum, however, was wary of celebrating, given what the incident says about the influence that athletics wields. “Are we really happy that college football players apparently have this much power?” he asked.

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Opening Day Mini Link Dump

Happy Opening Day! Post your favorite analogies to Easter and Passover in the comments.

Usually a link dump is supposed to be, like, a lot of links (hence “dump”), but I wanted to call attention to just three to make sure you actually read them (or view them in the case of the video). After all,you only have five hours to read them before we have actual baseball to talk about!

  • First, as a follow-up to the pace of game post, Vox has a good video explaining the pace of game problem: how much the game has slowed, why it’s slowed (including helpful video illustration), and what’s being done to fix it. (I’ve got another post in the works on this, too.)
  • The video features Grant Brisbee, who also has an absolutely stellar long read up about Barry Bonds and what he means to Giants fans and to baseball. Even aside from being a Giants fan, Brisbee may be the smartest baseball blogger out there, even though he masks it with self-deprecation and humor; he routinely captures the nuances of issues that others miss or prefer to blunder past, and this post is no exception. Here, he doesn’t treat Bonds’s steroid use as no big deal or something to rationalize, but neither does he condemn him categorically; he considers him, and our reactions to him then and now, in context. Giants fans are already privileged to have the consensus best broadcast team in baseball; having the best baseball blogger too just seems unfair. (If you want some juvenilia, and a sense of this kind of conflict being lived in real time, here’s my post about Bonds on my old blog, from the time that the extent of his juicing was becoming known.)
  • Finally, I linked to this in my last post, but Craig Calcaterra’s piece on how the Angels are treating Josh Hamilton is a must-read. For the uninformed, Hamilton is a player with a history of drug addiction, who pulled himself out of the gutter and made it to the major leagues, but has suffered from periodic relapses, including one this off-season. Baseball attempted to get him suspended for drug abuse—which in itself is a horrible way to treat an addict who admitted to a relapse—but lost the case, and the Angels immediately condemned the decision not to suspend their own player, whom they signed knowing full well of his troubled past. The Angels signed Hamilton to an expensive contract, but he has not performed especially well—a clear case of caveat emptor—and the suspicion that they want an excuse not to pay him this year is overwhelming, especially since the evidence suggests they’re the ones who exposed his relapse to the press. There’s no question about the ethics here; this is a disgusting situation, and one wishes a grievance against the Angels was in the offing.

Woof, sorry to end on a down note. It’s Opening Day! Let’s not care if we ever get back.

Kris Bryant, Ethics, and Unwritten Rules

Opening Day is upon us, and the last pre-season controversy (well, competing with the Josh Hamilton story and, wouldn’t you know it, Pete Rose again) has been over the treatment of Kris Bryant, a rookie third baseman for the Chicago Cubs widely thought to be the best prospect in baseball. Bryant seems likely to be better than any of the third basemen currently on the Cubs, especially since they traded their regular third baseman in what could only have been a deck-clearing move to make way for Bryant.

Yet Bryant will not be starting the season with the Cubs; he’ll be starting it in Des Moines, Iowa, with the Cubs’ minor league affiliate. As weird as that may seem, even weirder is that we know with reasonable certainty when he’ll be called up to the big-league club: on or about April 18, against the Padres, the Cubs’ tenth game of the season. It’s got to be ten, because of service time—the collective bargaining agreement’s determination of when a player hits free agency. Players start their major-league careers under team control, unable to sign with other teams (but able to increase their earnings through arbitration hearings or contract extensions). They become free agents after six years of service time. And because of how that six years is defined—in terms of days, with 172 days constituting a “year” of service—it’s in the team’s advantage to keep minor leaguers out of the major league roster long enough so that they don’t get to 172 days in a given year but have to wait until the next year. That extra few days in the minors means a whole ‘nother year until the team has to compete with others for the player’s services. Hence, Kris Bryant goes to Iowa.

Let’s start from the premise that this is dumb; I think everyone agrees with that. We would all prefer to see this exciting prospect on our TVs sooner rather than later, and whether this happens now or in two weeks should not make a year’s difference in when he hits free agency. So clearly the system needs to change. But a question a lot of people are asking is, given that the rules are what they are, is what the Cubs are doing with Bryant wrong? Or is it (regrettably, perhaps) acceptable, since the rules say that they can do it?

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