Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The OUTRAGE! of the day - Manny's rehab

I didn't spend much time listening to the radio yesterday, but I heard enough to know that the latest occasion for high moral dudgeon on the part of sports fans, writers and broadcasters is the Manny Ramirez "rehab" assignment in Albuquerque. People are OUTRAGED! mainly, I think, because they enjoy being OUTRAGED! and so will grasp for any possible reason. And for many, the fact that Manny Ramirez is getting some at-bats for a Dodgers minor league affiliate before the end of his 50-game Major League Baseball suspension qualifies as an OUTRAGE!

Rob Neyer, with whom I agree on many topics, thinks that "allowing suspended major leaguers to play in the minors is a farce, plain and simple." He echoes Tracy Ringolsby, who asked "why should Ramirez be given the privilege of getting to play in minor league games before he has served his full suspension?" He feels so strongly about it that he calls it a "farce" twice.

But why is it a farce? I've heard a couple of different arguments, and none of them is self-evident. Nor is any one of them indisputable. I don't even think that any of them are particularly strong.
  • "The minor leagues had a drug policy long before the big leagues." (Ringolsby) So what? He isn't a minor leaguer, and he wasn't suspended under the minor league drug policy. The minor league drug policy is aimed at minor league players, and is irrelevant to this discussion.

  • "It isn't like Ramirez was injured. He was suspended for his own actions. So he should have to pay the full price." (Ringolsby). Right. And what is the full price? As determined by Major League Baseball, and collectively bargained with the players' association, the "full price" is that he has to miss, and forfeit his paycheck for, 50 of his team's games. His team is the LA Dodgers. When he returns next week, he will, in fact, have missed 50 Dodgers games, and 50/162s of his salary. That sounds an awful lot like "full price" to me.

  • "Teams should be held accountable for the transgressions of their players. If teams suffer enough they might be more vigilant in dealing with potential violations." (Ringolsby) I'm sorry, but this is just silly. The Dodgers will have played 50 games, 30.8% of the schedule, without their highest paid and most valuable player. If that's not enough to make them "vigilant," would 58 games be enough? 67 games? Would they have been less vigilant if the suspension were only 40 games? Where's the line?

  • (This is a paraphrase, not a direct quote, but it accurately represents what was said:) "It's not fair to some AAA player, who has to go down to make room on the Albuquerque roster for Manny to rehab." There may have been stupider comments made yesterday - in fact, I'd bet on it - but I didn't hear them. This gem was from WEEI midday host Dale Arnold, who apparently didn't realize that that would also have been the case if he'd had to wait ten more days.

Major League Baseball has rules for drug use. Manny Ramirez violated them, which brought on a pre-determined punishment. Manny has served, and is continuing to serve, that punishment, as pre-agreed upon by all interested parties. This outcry would have been a lot more effective the first time it actually happened, when JC Romero pitched in minor league game(s) while still suspended from the Phillies earlier this year, because "Major League Baseball rules allow him to pitch in the minors for 16 days before the suspension ends." Where were Tracy Ringolsby and Rob Neyer and Dale Arnold and all of the outraged WEEI callers then? I heard them, and it sounded a lot like ... [crickets] ...

Here's the bottom line: if people are offended by the current policy, then what they are actually saying is that the 50 game suspension is not enough - it should be longer. It's fine to take that position, but be intellectually honest and take it. Admit that that's your position. Say, "50 games without pay isn't long enough - it should be 60. Or 80. Or public flogging." Or whatever, but say it. Don't try to argue that Manny is or the Dodgers are somehow getting away with something because he's going to try to be ready to play at the end of his 50 game suspension. This isn't something that was done to accommodate Manny and it isn't a prize or reward or bonus (ask the typical Major League player how much he'd enjoy forfeiting 6% of his salary for the privilege of going back to the minors). It is part of the established policy, which recognizes that with that much time off, a Major League player needs to see some game action to get ready to return. The policy is 50 games, and is designed to be, in fact, 50 games. Not 50 official and 8 unofficial.

Again, if you think that it is an insufficient penalty for either the player or the team, then make the case that it's an insufficient penalty. But don't pretend that somehow Manny and/or the Dodgers aren't paying the full price for his actions, because he is and they are. The rules were agreed upon beforehand, and they're being followed.

UPDATE: David Pinto disagrees. He thinks that there's no problem with being outraged over a rule (with which I agree) or with this rule in particular (with which I strongly disagree).
...we should have been outraged when the rule was first written. That doesn’t mean, however, that now that we are aware of the rule that we shouldn’t be outraged. A suspension to me means you don’t play ball for 50 days. Major League players can afford to hire batting practice pitchers or batting practice batter to help keep them sharp while they’re not on the team.

Wouldn't taking batting practice qualify as "play[ing] ball?" Manny (and JC Romero before him, and whoever comes next) weren't suspended from "play[ing] ball" - they were suspended from playing Major League Baseball. I can understand being outraged about a rule, I just don't understand the source of the outrage over this one. Unless, as I said, you think that the 50 games isn't long enough.

But the fact that he's getting minor league at-bats, and Romero got minor league inning(s) before the Major League suspension was officially over, well, I don't see any "farce" or cause for outrage there. Maybe I'm just thick, but I don't just disagree with the outrage - I cannot even understand the reason for it. As near as I can tell, people seem to think that the rehab makes the punishment only a nominal 50 games as opposed to a real 50 games, that this makes the MLB claim of a 50 game suspension a lie. I just don't see it.

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