Archive for August 16th, 2010

Bryce Harper has become the face of increasingly contentious negotiations between major league teams and their high round draft selections.

All across baseball, teams, agents and amateur players will be engaged in a high stakes game of chicken as tonight’s midnight deadline for signing players selected in the recent June Rule IV draft approaches.

August 15 is the last day that teams are permitted to retain the rights of their selections from the most recent draft. If a contract is not signed by the deadline, the player gets thrown back into the pool for the following year’s draft. Although teams are compensated with a supplemental round selection in that same draft, the lost development time and decrease in relative value are both substantial. Similarly, there are several risks encountered by the players. Not only do they miss out on an immediate pay day, but they must also bear the risk of a future injury or decline in performance. Needless to say, much is at stake for all parties involved.

Presently,17 of 32 first round selections remain unsigned, including seven of the top 10. When you throw in those players selected in later rounds who are seeking over slot bonuses, there should be a flurry of activity as the evening progresses. However, most people will likely only be focused on the deadline stare down taking place between the Washington Nationals and Scott Boras, the agent for number one selection and 17-year old hitting prodigy Bryce Harper.

Both sides played a similar game at this time last year, when the Nationals and Boras took the negotiations for Stephen Strasburg down to the wire before agreeing on a record breaking $15.1 million four-year deal. According to some reports, Boras may be looking for even more money this time around, so another last minute decision seems likely. It remains to be seen who will blink first.

Over the last decade, eye popping contract figures for highly regarded draft picks have become more than norm than the exception, leading many to wring their hands and call for reform. Of course, ignored in that equation are the hundreds of other players drafted, most of whom have no leverage and wind up signing for the required minimum bonus. In his fantastic Thunder Thoughts Blog, Mike Ashmore tells their story (a similar tale is also told in the highly recommended 2005 documentary “A Player to Be Named Later”). Although mega-bonuses paid to the best amateur players do not make up for the hardships encountered by the majority of minor leaguers, Ashmore’s account provides a fresh perspective and an excellent lesson in the role that leverage plays in the economics of baseball. So, the next time you read about an owner lamenting the economics of the draft, remember all the players toiling for salaries that amount to well below minimum wage.

For the most up-to-date rumors on the status of unsigned draft selections, Keith Law’s always informative twitter feed is highly recommended.

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During yesterday’s Washington Nationals broadcast on MASN, Rob Dibble issued an “apology” for allegedly sexist remarks made during a game earlier in the week. Because his comments happened to fly under my radar screen, I wound up reading the apology (expounded upon in a blog entry) before knowing the offense. Usually, when someone evokes the “weak attempt to be humorous” defense, it’s time to duck and cover. After getting up to speed on the incident, however, it seems as if the one most owed an apology is Dibble himself.

Is Rob Dibble a male chauvinist or just a bad comedian?

Before delving into the matter further, let’s get one point out of the way. Rob Dibble does seem to exude a macho persona and his commentary is often tinged with jock speak that does very little to inspire contemplation. For that reason, it would be easy to believe that Dibble is a male chauvinist who graduated from his cave into the Nationals’ broadcast booth. So, even after finally reading the entirety of his comments, it was not surprising to see the severity of the reaction to them. In a touch of irony, the harshness of the criticism seems to be at least as much a reaction to the messenger as the message.

In her very fine blog, Amanda Rykoff not only offered her own strong reactions to Dibble’s comments, but also provided a succinct round up of similar responses from around the internet. The general consensus of those weighing in was Dibble is either a “jerk”, “raging boor” or an “insufferable blowhard”. What’s more, aside from the personal attacks, many of the reactions to Dibble’s comments seemed to imply both a more sinister meaning and forceful expression than are evident from the transcript. For example, does anyone who listened to or read Dibble’s comments really think it was a “rant”, as the title of Rykoff’s post suggested?

Announcers should never criticize fans in the stands. Considering the price of tickets, any form of behavior that is respectful of their fellow fans should not elicit a critical response from an on-air personality. There is no reason to subject any fan to needless public ridicule. For that offense, Dibble’s apology was warranted. Having said that, much of the reaction to Dibble’s comments has been over the top.

Yes, Dibble did evoke a gender-based stereotype (women loving to talk and shop), but the criticisms of his comments seem to imply he somehow suggested that women do not belong in the ballpark. That could not be further from the truth. Dibble’s ill advised comments were directed at two specific fans and in no way suggested that such behavior applied to all women attending baseball games. Considering Dibble’s outspoken style, if two men were seated in the first row yaking away all game, it is reasonable to think he would have also been critical.

Unfortunately, in our society, we play to stereotypes quite often. Half the standup comics on TV base their entire routines around them. The reason some of them are funny is because many are harmless, like suggesting that women like to shop, men never ask for directions, etc. Dibble’s comments resorted to this basic comedic formula, but as he mentioned in his apology, it was a “weak attempt to be humorous” and inappropriate for a baseball broadcast.

Another point made in many of the critical responses was that men’s behavior at sporting events goes unnoticed by those in the broadcast booth, but again nothing could be further from the truth. Remember the glee expressed about the guy on the cell phone at Yankee Stadium taking a foul ball in the face? I am sure Dibble would have loved that as well.

An even more pertinent example occurred earlier in the week during a game in Houston when the now infamous Bo Wyble moved out of the way of a foul line drive, which cleared a path for the ball to strike his date in the arm. The evasive maneuver immediately inspired one of the announcers on the Fox Sports Houston broadcast to declare that “chivalry was dead”, but the station didn’t stop there. For much of the inning, the focus shifted from the field to the unhappy couple. Eventually, Patti Smith, the network’s roving reporter, caught up to the pair and cheerfully provided Wyble with a pair of sunglasses (he said he lost the ball in the lights) before calling him a chicken and suggesting to his date that she might want to rethink his willingness to “stand by her in the future”. All of the comments were meant to be in good fun, but the reality is their humor was tinged by gender-based stereotypes. After all, would the same reaction have occurred if the pair were both men or women?

At the risk of sound insensitive, the excessive reaction to Dibble’s comments is akin to “crying wolf”. Dibble has a forum to defend his actions, so he doesn’t need anyone to rally to his cause, but the real harm from the over-the-top criticism is it diminishes the impact of future outrage when it is expressed in response to more sinister behavior. Gender bias in sports is a real issue and absolutely should not be ignored. Almost as important, however, minor incidents should not be blown out of proportion. Otherwise, more responsible criticisms might be tuned out as just being noise.

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