Author: Randy Page 1 of 15

On Scott Boras and Patriotism

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Sports have long held the enviable position of being one of the few industries in America to seamlessly mix business with politics. Making this feat all the more impressive is the professional sports leagues gleefully flaunting this relationship so publicly without much pushback. There are American flags proudly sitting atop the stadiums. We stand for the national anthem. Some stand again in the same game for God Bless America. There are Memorial Day and Fourth of July fitted caps readily available at our favorite sporting gear stores and websites. And we’re constantly reminded of how sports have saved the collective American psyche time and time again. All of this happens without much pushback from the same people who can’t have a respectful conversation with anyone who holds a political viewpoint that is minimally different from their own.

These tenuous claims of patriotism from American professional sports leagues may be the best marketing campaign in this country’s history. It is a foolproof approach. What is more effective than equating the consumption of sports with civic duty especially in the midst of our country’s greatest challenges? In many ways, the appeal to patriotic identity serves as a “break glass in times of emergency” safety net. It stands as a tried and true call to action to bring back “normalcy” during the worst of times including a devastating global pandemic. The frame of patriotism allows those that stand the most to gain from a hasty reopening of professional sports a cover for their true intentions. It allows the powers that be to move in silence when necessary. And this is where we find Scott Boras.

In his New York Times opinion piece, Boras tugs at our red, white, and blue heartstrings. He refers to the call from FDR to Commissioner Landis to start the games up to lift the spirits of not only American citizens but the brave soldiers fighting in World War 2. Boras then recounts the crucial role baseball played in consoling the country after 9/11. The Mike Piazza home run against the Braves is an incredible moment in baseball history. George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch was an incredible show of strength for many. To be clear, these moments are important. Sports are an important part of the collective national identity. They are real-time events that can beautifully capture the spirit of our country. But the framing of the relationship between sports and national pride isn’t solely based on a virtuous commitment to identity.

It is also important to point out that these moments are all in response to geopolitical tragedies and not a biological catastrophe. Life isn’t currently at a standstill because of war or a heinous act of terrorism. Many of us remained largely confined to our homes because of a deadly virus. The conflict isn’t defined by geographical borders or opposing political philosophies. The virus isn’t overseeing test missile launches or imposing tariffs. It is silently ravaging communities, nursing homes, hospitals, school systems, employment, and basic social interactions with absolutely no regard for who it inhabits. COVID doesn’t care for nation-states and their silly squabbles.

And this is where Boras’ appeal to our patriotic spirit falls woefully short. Sure, some folks will use the fighting American spirit to boost the morale of those around them. That is more than fine. It is a totally different matter to compromise the health of thousands of people in the name of entertainment or national identity. One can make the case that entertainment is an essential business, but that would take a pretty significant leap in logic to arrive at that conclusion. Unfortunately, many places in our country aren’t in a position to protect their citizens well enough to give any certainty that another outbreak is limited. America hasn’t handled this as well as South Korea or Taiwan, two countries that were able to start their baseball seasons. So why resort to using a rallying cry that is more appropriate when humans are in conflict with other humans? Scott Boras answers this question:

However, we face a challenge in the coming weeks and months: How do we harmonize the concerns of health experts with the unwanted effects of those public health efforts? Experts believe we need isolation and social distancing, but that has led to lost jobs, increased stresses of every type and a diminishing of the social tapestry that binds and enhances our lives. After many weeks of following safer-at-home protocols, people are understandably restless and looking for an outlet.

Scott Boras

Brazenly flying in the face of medical experts feels like an expected response. Despite isolation and social distancing saving thousands upon thousands of lives, these measures are immediately minimized through the economic lens. Yes, the financial impact is devastating. As a freelance filmmaker who depends on the gig economy, this is a terrible experience. But everyone’s health is paramount at the moment. We should never lose sight of that. So, why do people like Boras choose to do so?

Simply put, it is more important for the power brokers of the game to restore their influence and gain. There is an emerging belief in certain sectors of the country that some people losing their lives so the economy can start up again is a sacrifice worth making. So the power brokers weaponize the lore of Americana to inspire many to take a significant health risk. Boras is manipulating the idea of the perceived American identity to benefit from that very narrative. We need baseball because he needs baseball. He doesn’t need it as a respite from death and destruction. He needs it to gain a semblance of power that the virus has neutered. His influence is severely limited if his industry is offline. His last gasp efforts are opinion pieces in the New York Times in an attempt to regain his bully pulpit.

Boras is like many other men in positions of power during the pandemic. They can’t see the trees for the forest because the details don’t really matter. What matters in their minds is returning to “business as usual” as soon as possible even if comes at the cost of more American lives. Unfortunately, this mindset is a core tenet of America’s true identity. One core belief is ensuring profit margins reign supreme in the face of any human crisis whether it’s enslavement, world wars, terrorism, or pandemics. And yes, this approach is within the rules of the economic game. In a vacuum, there isn’t anything wrong with trying to rekindle business. But we don’t live in a vacuum despite some wanting to apply that caveat when appropriate.

There hasn’t been a moment during this lockdown when I’ve been more confident that baseball will return than now. The steward of baseball economics has spoken. Baseball will make its return this year. It’s the American way.

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The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 9: Conjugal Visits?

Randy and Matt join forces to discuss some recent news on the Yankees injury front along with the New York Times opinion piece from Scott Boras regarding the start of the 2020 season. In addition, we talk about The Athletic round table with Ken Rosenthal, Shams Charania, and Pierre Lebrun. The three journalists discuss the potential for a return to sports in the major sports leagues this summer. Finally, the podcast discusses the absurd idea of turning major league baseball into more of a reality tv show.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

[Introduction]: Matt and Randy catch up and we find out exactly what Matt does for a living.

[4:40]: Aaron Boone gives an update on the injured Yankees and gives some encouraging news. We talk about what this means for the upcoming season.

[18:20]: Scott Boras gives his opinion on whether MLB should open back up for business. Is it a tone deaf stance?

[34:25]: Ken Rosenthal drops some more information about what a season could potentially look like if we have one. We consider the most viable options.

[57:38]: Conjugal visits for the winning team? What.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 8: No Sleep ‘Till Quarantine

Randy and Derek join forces to discuss some movement on potential plans for the 2020 MLB season and the punishment levied upon the Boston Red Sox. We discuss all of the complicated machinations for staring the season laid out in the latest Jeff Passan article. Then we move on to break down the fallout from the Red Sox cheating investigation.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

[Introduction]: Will we ever return to our normal sleep patterns?

[3:15]: We discuss the NFL Draft going on without a hitch and what that could mean for MLB moving forward.

[8:10]: We jump into the details of the Jeff Passan article.

[30:56]: A World Cup style tournament?

[44:30] Those cheating’ Red Sox. There may be a rant involved. Maybe.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

The Rob Manfred Conundrum

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Rob Manfred is the perfect embodiment of sports in 2020.

There has never been a time in American professional sports when the intent of owners and league executives is more clear. Similar to the office of President in the minds of some men, sports are an incredible avenue to generate profit. Team owners laugh and scoff at the idea of winning championships. Their grins spread from ear to ear at the thought of the earnings their shiny toys generate. These are savvy businessmen who largely view the franchises we love as nothing more than an additional stream of income. And despite being totally unable to increase the popularity and relevance of his sport, Rob Manfred makes his bosses very happy. He has secured lucrative TV and licensing deals among other revenue-producing ventures. In some ways, Manfred’s reign is a rousing success.

Life would be great if all of our jobs were that simple. We make our bosses happy and sometimes we reap the rewards (at least during “normal” times). The issue for Manfred is his responsibility extends beyond making money hand over fist for billionaires. The commissioner is the steward of competitive integrity for the league. In order for business to maintain public trust, he or she needs to ensure that the product on the field is fair. The Apple Watch offense, the Houston Astros’ scandal, and the Boston Red Sox sign-stealing scheme are clear demonstrations that Major League Baseball has a cheating problem. The league is like the Ashton Kutcher of pro sports. The foundational integrity of the game is at stake. And yet, Manfred is seemingly content with doing the absolute least to protect it.

It is hard to imagine someone dropping the ball in two significant investigations. At the very least, the first probe should have been a roadmap for the second one. Instead, the Boston “punishment” is impressively weaker than the Houston punishment. In fact, the details of the Red Sox investigation slightly suggest the players were in some way victims of the cheating scheme. This is a quote from Manfred’s statement:

I feel bound by the agreement not to impose discipline on Red Sox players who testified truthfully in this matter. Even if I were not so bound, I do not believe that the Red Sox players who suspected that Watkins used game feeds to decode sign sequences should be held responsible for his conduct. Watkins knew of the rules and was responsible for not utilizing the replay system to decode sign sequences. Some players may have suspected that Watkins was using the replay system improperly, but they did not know that with certainty. Others had no idea how Watkins obtained the sign information. 

Rob Manfred

In Rob Manfred’s absurdist world, the video replay system operator is a bigger culprit than the players on the field. The idea that some players “suspected” Watkins was up to something but didn’t know for sure is laughable. Was Watkins simply a connoisseur of sign stealing? Was he building up his resume to be the future manager or general manager of the Houston Astros? Are we really to believe the video replay system operator wasn’t in partnership with at least one Red Sox player in a sign-stealing scheme? As my grandmother likes to say, I was born at night, but not last night.

The commissioner can’t help but view his decisions through the lens of labor. I’ve said this in a previous column, but it bears repeating. Manfred will do everything he can to limit the leverage of the players union. He granted the Astros and Red Sox players immunity in exchange for open testimony so the Players Association didn’t have a rallying cry for future collective bargaining. Despite their collective public denouncement of the Astros cheating scheme, there is no way the players would accept the precedent of historical player suspensions. It wouldn’t bode well for the future of their union members. As it currently stands, the owners are in the driver’s seat when it comes to CBA negotiations. The union has weak leadership. Manfred doesn’t want to give the players a lifeline. The rationale makes total sense, but it comes at the cost of the game he leads.

All of this begs the question, what are Rob Manfred’s intentions? Is he just an extension of the owners’ desire to cash in on the game? Does he genuinely care about the health of the sport? Is he at all interested in moving the game forward? It is becoming painfully obvious that Rob Manfred lacks vision. The obsession with pitch clocks, mound visits, and three batter minimums is nothing more than window dressing for an utter lack of progressive thinking to make the game better.

Under Manfred’s watch, we’re experiencing the major league version of corporate profit margins, downsizing, and lack of awareness. We’re witnessing a broken free agent and arbitration system. Minor League baseball will soon lose multiple affiliations. The amateur draft, under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic, will almost certainly cut down its rounds in the years to come. The sport has yet to make inroads in black communities and it severely lacks mainstream stars.

And yet, financially the game has never been healthier. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the revenues were pouring in. The business side of baseball is booming. The bottom line is a great smokescreen for a stagnant game. The frustrating part is a lot of us know it’s stagnant, but we keep coming back for more.

And that is what makes Rob Manfred great at his job. He can feign being tough on baseball crime knowing that baseball fans will really be the judge and jury for teams like the Astros and Red Sox. He just needs to do the bare minimum because he knows the fans will do a lot of the heavy work. Fans will continue to watch on tv and pay for tickets. We’ll keep buying apparel. Some will keep creating gifs for social media consumption so MLB doesn’t have to spend more money on marketing. And others will write blog posts complaining about the commissioner’s unimpressive performance. All the while, Manfred continues to make his bosses happy.

Rob Manfred is the perfect embodiment of sports in 2020.

The Views From 314ft CPBL Journal

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During normal times, we would be settled into our routines of watching Major League Baseball every day. The Yankees would be undefeated and running roughshod through the early part of their schedule. As we all know, these aren’t normal times. We don’t have domestic baseball right now. We need a baseball fix. Luckily, there is one available and it is the CPBL.

The CPBL is currently the only professional baseball league playing its regular season. The KBO will begin their pre-season on April 21 with an expected opening day sometime in early May. The NPB has pushed the start of its season back multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has been able to control the virus well enough to allow the CPBL to begin their season in stadiums without fans. The stadiums aren’t totally empty as we will get to in a moment.

It is pretty great to experience something for the first time. Major League Baseball is something I know like the back of my hand at this point. I don’t know anything about the CPBL other than it exists. With no MLB baseball for the foreseeable future, I figured why not jump into the CPBL, learn about it and share what I’ve learned. Obviously, the game is the same, but finding out about new players, style of play, customs, and culture is really exciting.

The CPBL is Taiwan’s professional baseball league. Many people believe the CPBL plays its games in mainland China, but that is not the case. The professional Chinese baseball league is the CNBL. The CPBL regular season is 120 games. The league is split into two sixty game half seasons. The rules for postseason entry are a little different from the MLB rules. The winners of the first and second half seasons are eligible to make the postseason and play in the Taiwan Series. You can think of them as league winners. There is a catch though. This is where the wild card rules come into play.

There are two ways to gain a wild card spot. If the same team wins both the first half and second seasons, the teams with the second and third highest winning percentages will play each other in a best of five wild card series. The winner advances to the Taiwan Series to play the regular season double champions. In this scenario, the regular season champs enter the Taiwan Series with an automatic 1-0 lead in the series against the winner of the Wild Card series.

The second route to a wild card is even more interesting. If a non-half season winner has a better overall winning percentage at the end of the year than a half-season winner those two teams will face off in a Wild Card series. So a team can win the first half season, but end up in the Wild Card round because they struggled in the second half. It creates a great incentive for a first-half winner to compete in the second half so you don’t lose a direct trip to the championship round. It also gives teams incentive to compete all year because they can sneak into the playoffs despite not winning one of the two regular seasons.

To give a point of reference, the CPBL is akin to Double A. The team rosters are filled with players from MLB, MiLB, the KBO, and the NPB along with Taiwanese high school and college players. The CPBL is largely a hitters league. If you like offense this is the place for you.

CPBL teams are beginning to spend relatively big bucks to bring in foreign players. The contract lengths for foreign-born players generally range from three months to a half-season. There are some players who get full season or multi-year deals. There are some familiar names to come through the CPBL. Yankees legends Jose Contreras and Sweaty Freddy Garcia along with Manny Ramirez have all spent time in the CPBL.

The league is comprised of only five teams: the Rakuten Monkeys, the CTBC Brothers, the Fubon Guardians, Uni-Lions, and the Wei Chuan Dragons. The Dragons are an expansion team. Here are the team logos:

courtesy of CPBL Stats

Originally the Lamigo Monkeys prior to the sale of the team, the Rakuten Monkeys have won five of the last six league championships. They are the league’s version of the dynasty Yankees. In terms of lineup prowess, they are also similar to the Yankees. They mash. They led the league in every team offensive category and overall they hit .318/.377/.493 as a team. On the flip side, their pitching isn’t very good. And they are very much the anti-Yankees in that their bullpen is comically bad. The adage no lead is safe is a way of life for the Rakuten Monkeys.

The Fubon Guardians are the perplexing team of the CPBL. If you look at their roster, they should be the top team in the league. But year in and year out the team folds in the biggest moments. This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but they are similar to the Dodgers. A talented team that can’t get over the hump to snag the big one. The Guardians made a managerial change in the offseason and brought in Hong I-Chung. Those that follow the CPBL closely consider Hong I-Chung to be the best manager in the league.

The Rakuten Monkeys have cheerleaders and a mascot, but now they are joined by mannequin fans and a robot band. You should watch and support the CPBL for this alone:

CPBL Stats is a great site to learn more about the league and the teams. This guide is a good place to start and is the main source for the information I provided earlier.

To be fully transparent, I am not entirely sure what the format of the journal is going to be. It may be in the form of a thoughts post like we and others normally do. It may be in the form of a game recap although that is less likely since there isn’t any data to track the players. I don’t even know the players yet. These posts most certainly won’t be analytically based. They will be more anecdotal and narrative-driven, which is more than fine. I will cover the games that are broadcast in English. The next one is scheduled for this Friday, but Simone Kang of Eleven Sports Taiwan hints more English broadcasts may be available in the near future. We’re looking to have some fun while the MLB season remains in suspension.

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