Cup of Coffee: February 18, 2021

A big new contract in San Diego, a big new scandal in New York, a big bridge in West Virginia's new national park, and a big old jackass bids Earth adieu.

Good morning, and welcome to Free Thursday! If you’re just visiting, may I suggest making a commitment?

It’s OK if you don’t. Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free each Thursday, right? Well, apart from the fact that you could have milk on Thursday AND ice cream on Monday, cheese on Tuesday, butter on Wednesday, and yogurt on Friday. But hey, if you hate ice cream I don’t want your money anyway. What are you, a communist? Christ.

But you can share it, OK?

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On tap for today: Fernando Tatís Jr. signed the longest contract extension in baseball history. Tim Tebow called it a career. We learned some less-than-swell things about the Mets’ front office culture and we learned that most of the White Sox front office only learned about Tony La Russa’s DUI when we all did.

In Other Stuff I press the pause button on my usual “don’t speak ill of the dead” rule in service of a Rush Limbaugh obit, talk about the hedge fund-inflicted death of journalism, the cruelly-conceived and cruelly-inflicted death penalty, Stanley Kubrick’s batshit daughter, and I recall swinging off a bridge and into a river as the summertime rolled.

Is your nose painted pepper-sunlight? I don’t care either way. I’m just happy you’re here today.


The Daily Briefing

Fernando Tatís Jr. signs a $340 million contract extension

A massive contract for a massive star: Fernando Tatís Jr. has inked a 14-year, $340 million extension with the San Diego Padres. There’s a $10 million signing bonus and Tatís has a full no-trade clause too.

It's the longest contract in baseball history, one year longer than the 13-year deals Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton got. In overall dollars it's the third-most lucrative behind Mike Trout's $426.5 million deal and Mookie Betts' $365 million contract. Of course it’s lower in average annual value, but given that Tatís wasn’t even yet arbitration-eligible and would not have reached free agency before 2024, it’s a hell of a pact. A pact which ends after the 2034 season.

I’ll be 61 then. Nothing is real.

Tatís, who just turned 22, has two seasons under his belt. In that time he’s hit .301/.374/.582 (154 OPS+) with 39 homers and 27 stolen bases — along with Gold Glove-caliber defense at the most important position on the diamond — in 143 games. If he maintains that sort of production through what should be his prime, this deal will actually prove to be a pretty big bargain for the Padres. If, like most players, he improves as he moves from his early 20s through his late 20s, it’ll be a steal.

He’s electric. He’s the biggest and brightest young star in the game. And he’s going to be the cornerstone of the San Diego Padres for at least the next decade and a half. That’s a damn fantastic thing. For him, for the Padres, for the city of San Diego, and for baseball.

Tim Tebow retires from baseball

A day after Tim Tebow was invited to Mets spring training he said “nah” and announced that he’s done with baseball. Tebow is officially retired.

Tebow hit just .223/.299/.338 over parts of three minor league seasons and, despite that futility, received the sorts of promotions to higher levels and spring invites that a lot of guys who actually perform never get. The reason: he was a lucrative gimmick for certain people — himself included — and his baseball career was a vanity project cum farce that, because he has a lot of personal popularity, no one ever put a stop to when they should’ve.

Anyway, it’s all over now, baby blue. Here’s hoping someone deserving gets your minor league roster spot.

Another Mets sexual harassment case

In January the Mets fired their newly-hired general manager, Jared Porter, after it was reported that he sexually harassed a reporter while working for the Cubs. Then, a couple of weeks later, it was revealed that the Mets’ former manager, Mickey Callaway, had harassed numerous female reporters, including an incident which occurred before he joined the Mets but which the Mets later learned about while Callaway was still employed.

That’s bad. But that’s not the end of it.

Yesterday Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic reported that Ryan Ellis, the team’s hitting coordinator, made explicit sexual overtures to at least three female team employees, each of whom told the club’s human resources department about his behavior in 2018. HR investigated and Ellis kept his job. But, Ghiroli reports, the team fired Ellis last month, after Porter was fired. And it did so quietly:

When asked about Ellis’ exit, the Mets said in a statement: “On January 19 of this year, following the termination of Jared Porter, we received new information regarding conduct of the disciplined employee in the 2017-2018 timeframe. We immediately commenced a new investigation and terminated the employee on January 22 for violating company policy and failure to meet the Mets’ standards for professionalism and personal conduct.”

The Mets would not say what the “new information” was. One wonders, however, if the “new information” was actually a realization that they handled the 2017-18 complaints against Ellis improperly and without the appropriate level of seriousness. One wonders if, in the wake of the Porter and Callaway stories, the Mets were concerned that something new would come out that made them look bad.

Well, too late, because this makes them look bad. It makes it appear as if their HR complaint process, like a lot of businesses’ HR complaint processes, are designed to protect the company, not the workers, and if that allowed Ryan Ellis to get away with what should’ve been job-ending behavior. And to, possibly, get away with more of the same behavior between then and his termination last month.

The Mets owe their fans and the public an accounting here, because everything is pointing to the club having allowing a toxic environment to exist for years. A toxic environment about which they did nothing until the press started talking about it.

Tony La Russa’s DUI was unknown to most White Sox officials

When the news broke last November that new White Sox manager Tony La Russa had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving the previous February, the club put out a press release saying that it had been aware of the incident before hiring La Russa. That was misleading, though, because it appears that the only White Sox employee who knew was the team’s owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. From USA Today:

La Russa informed Angels owner Arte Moreno of the arrest the following day and offered to resign. Moreno kept him all season. When the White Sox started the interview process with La Russa in October, he also told Reinsdorf of the incident. Reinsdorf didn’t share it with anyone.

That strongly implies that team president Ken Williams and GM Rick Hahn didn’t know about it until they read about it. Which is a hell of a thing when you think about it.

It was already pretty clear that La Russa was Jerry Reinsdorf’s hire and only Jerry Reinsdorf’s hire. Indeed, RickHahn had made some noises about wanting to go with a different kind of candidate before La Russa emerged as one and, at least in my view, his demeanor and his answers to questions at La Russa’s introductory presser last year seemed somewhat pained and uncomfortable. Like he didn’t really approve.

Then he gets blindsided like that? Like I said: it’s a hell of a thing.

Blue Jays to play in Dunedin to start the season.

This was hinted at weeks ago, but it’ll be official as soon as today: the Toronto Blue Jays will open the 2021 season playing their home games at their spring training site in Dunedin, Florida. That’s according to Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.

Davidi’s and Nicholson-Smith’s report says that the homestands from April 8-14 and April 27-May 2 will officially move to TD Ballpark in Dunedin. It's yet to be determined where the team will play at home after that. For now the hope is that the club can return to Rogers Centre in Toronto by that time.

As we noted the last time we talked about this, TD Ballpark projects to play very hitter-friendly, particularly for left-handed batters given a short right field power alley. Also: it gets pretty hot and rainy in Florida as the spring turns to summer so, well, yeah.

Hot Stove Notes

  • The Padres made a slightly less-significant signing in inking reliever Mark Melancon to a one-year, $2 million deal with a $1 million buyout on a a mutual option for 2022 season. There are another $2 million in possible incentives. Melancon saved 11 games and posted an ERA+ of 173 despite the lowest strikeout rate of his career;

  • The Phillies signed lefty reliever Tony Watson to a minor-league deal. Watson had a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings for the Giants last season;

  • The Cubs have signed righty Brandon Workman to a major-league deal, the details of which aren’t yet known. Workman had a 5.95 ERA in 19.2 innings for the Red Sox and Phillies last season but was fantastic for the 2019 Red Sox.


Other Stuff

Rush Limbaugh: 1951-2021

I will respectfully decline, mi amigo.

For the past couple of days I’ve written about how right wing media has poisoned political discourse, mainstreamed fringe beliefs, laundered lies, and radicalized a large swath of Americans. The man who is arguably most responsible for that died yesterday. Good fucking riddance to Rush fucking Limbaugh.

Limbaugh was a berserker of hate, spinning off vile, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic attacks faster than could be chronicled (though some have attempted to). He reveled in spreading lies, punching down, directing cruelty at the most vulnerable targets, and voicing support for criminals and conspiracy theorists. He elevated and normalized bigotry and ignorance and gave others license to do the same. Because, hey, if the man on the radio is saying it, maybe it’s not really out of bounds?

In casting his political enemies as monsters, in lying about their statements, acts, and intentions, and in warping reality, fully knowing that he’d be five odious lies in the future before anyone had a chance to push back against the first one, Limbaugh created a blueprint that Roger Ailes took advantage of as a political advisor and copied when he launched Fox News. In this Limbaugh laid the foundation for the right-wing disinformation-and-hate edifice which looms larger today than it ever has. To the extent you have parents, grandparents, neighbors, college buddies, or coworkers hopelessly lost in that malignant vortex of idiocy, to the extent you know people who believe in harmful and violence-inspiring conspiracy theories and who remain beyond the reach of fact or reason, and to the extent anyone you know takes pride in offensive and obnoxious behavior because, to them, it’s all about triggering the libs, Limbaugh and everything he stood for is very much to blame. He gave people permission to say the most hateful things they could think to say and not only to feel no shame about it but to revel in it, and to mock anyone who took issue with it.

It’s not uncommon for someone given a terminal diagnosis to stop and take stock. To realize that what they have done with their life was less-than-good and to dedicate the short time they have left at least attempting to atone for the evil they have done and the damage which they have caused. Limbaugh, in contrast, spent the final months of his life using his still substantial platform to traffic in COVID denialism, spreading medical misinformation and otherwise downplaying the pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Americans. Many, I suspect, who would still be alive if they didn’t listen to Limbaugh and act in accordance with his irresponsible bloviating. Which means that, as Rush Limbaugh gives God two middle fingers and walks backwards into Hell, he’s carrying the souls of others with him.

As a rule, I do not take joy in the death of anyone. Life is all we have and its loss is always sad. But Rush Limbaugh positively reveled in bullying, hatred and cruelty toward others. It was a bullying, hatred and cruelty which lasted decades. Which defined him. Which brought him fame, brought him riches and brought him power. In light of that his passing does not deserve even a moment of respectful silence.

I have that rule, yes, but every rule has an exception. I’ll use that exception for Rush fucking Limbaugh.

Trump Plaza: 1984-2021

Big day yesterday for crappy things leaving this earth

Actually, the Trump Plaza casino closed seven years ago, so this was a matter of corpse removal, not death, but still.

The Tribune Company: 1847- ????

Anyone who has read my work for very long knows that I do not fetishize or idealize journalism or journalistic culture. Indeed, I think there’s a clubby and overly earnest streak in a lot of journalists who take themselves too seriously, many of whom believe that they are above criticism. There’s bad journalism out there. They’re superfluous journalism out there. There are journalists who cast themselves as defenders of society but who, in fact, are complicit in that which harms society.

I’ll never stop going after those people and that stuff because I want journalism to be better. I want it to be better because I know just how powerful a force good journalism can be in not just informing the populace but in holding power and corruption to account as well. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference, and I will never be indifferent to journalism. It matters too damn much and we lose too damn much when it’s done poorly, when it’s missing in action, or, for that matter, when it fades away entirely.

Which brings me to what happened with the Tribune Company this week.

The Tribune Company and its many newspapers were purchased by Alden Global Capital earlier this week. Alden, for those who do not know, is probably the worst practitioner of the all-too-common hedge fund gambit of buying newspapers, slashing costs, slashing jobs, slashing coverage and milking what is left for profit until the paper is merely a husk of what it once was. “Being bought by Alden is the worst possible fate for the newspapers and the communities involved,” writes Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, who literally wrote the book on this kind of play. Sullivan:

When Alden comes in, it’s slash-and-burn time. Newsroom jobs — reporters, editors, photographers — are cut to the bone. Decisions are made not for long-term sustainability, not for service to the community, not for humane treatment of skilled and dedicated staff, but for next quarter’s profit-and-loss statement.

The papers Alden and its fellow private equity firms own become wastelands of wire reports, crime reports, and warmed-over gossip that are no different than what you might see on a local nightly newscast, which have likewise been degraded and debased by a couple decades of malpractice and profit-seeking. The dynamic sets the stage for an ignorance-generated vacuum into which, eventually, creeps misinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories. Society and civic life is degraded as a result.

And I have no damn idea what, short of every city in the country having a benevolent billionaire who buys the local paper, sets it up as a non-profit, funds it well, and leaves it alone to do the work journalists are trained to do, can be done about it.

Ted Cruz flies to Cancún

This is certainly a choice:

Abolish the death penalty

The Associated Press reports that executioners who put 13 inmates to death during Trump’s insane, late-in-term rush to kill federal prisoners likened the prisoners’ deaths to falling asleep, called gurneys “beds” and prisoners’ final breaths “snores.” Those accounts, however, are at odds with the account of witnesses to the executions — mostly reporters — who said that, immediately after their lethal injections, the bellies and chests of the condemned heaved in a way that is consistent with pulmonary edema in reaction to phenobarbital.

In essence, the witnesses and medical experts working with attorneys for those put to death are saying that the prisoners were essentially drowned. Which makes those accounts of federal officials misleading at best. Indeed, the fact that the descriptions of the prisoners’ allegedly tranquil demise repeated themselves with different officials using the same terminology makes it sound like it was an orchestrated propaganda effort.

I don’t know what comes out of this. Maybe it leads to officials trying to find some other, allegedly humane method of putting people to death. In my view, however, there is nothing about putting someone to death that is not cruel and unusual, even when an execution is conducted “properly.”

The death penalty should be abolished.

Stanley Kubrick’s daughter is an antisemitic conspiracy theorist

The good thing about Stanley Kubrick being a near total recluse is that, if he harbored all manner of horrible beliefs, I never knew about them. Maybe they’re out there in books and stuff now, but it’s easy to avoid that kind of thing if you’d prefer to. And, given that I do not want to encounter some horrible belief of his that would make me love “Paths of Glory” or “Dr. Strangelove” less than I do, I’d prefer to. Never meet your heroes if you can help it, that’s what I always say.

If Kubrick were alive and making movies now who’s to say he wouldn’t be on social media? Who’s to say he wouldn’t be sharing garbage things that show him to be a garbage person. Like his daughter is doing. She’s pro-Qanon, pro-Proud Boys, pro-goddamn insurrection, and she’s an anti-vaxer. You name it.

I don’t give a fly’s fart about Kubrick’s daughter for her own sake but, out of fear that I might learn that she inherited that looniness from her dad, I’m definitely gonna avoid reading anything about him going forward.

Meet New River Gorge National Park

I mentioned a couple of months ago that a West Virginia senator snuck the creation of a new national park into a COVID stimulus bill. That park, the New River Gorge National Park in southern West Virginia, was given a writeup in the New York Times yesterday.

I moved to Beckley, West Virginia in 1988. That’s only a few miles from the new park. I spent a lot of time rafting the New River and hiking in the gorge. And sometimes doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. Take a look at this picture from the Times article:

The big bridge is recognizable: it’s the New River Gorge bridge which is 876 feet above the river. It’s on the flip side of West Virginia’s state quarter. The small bridge is the Fayette Station bridge. It’s, quite obviously, much lower. It was the bridge that motorists had to use to cross the river until the big bridge was built in the late 1970s. You’d take switchbacks all the way down the gorge on one side, cross the bridge, and take switchbacks all the way up the other. The trip would take 45 minutes. Now, with the big bridge, it takes 45 seconds. This is on a major U.S. highway, mind you, not some country lane.

The little bridge as you see it here is actually new itself. Well, it’s rebuilt, anyway. Sometime in the 1990s, actually. You can now take those switchbacks and cross it with your car if you want to. And you should sometime, as it’s super pretty down there. After the big bridge was built, though, the original little one fell into disrepair. When I was in high school you couldn’t cross it with your car. You could only go down the gorge on one side, turn around and go back. You also couldn’t walk on it, as it was rusting and had huge gaping gaps in the old bridge deck someone could fall through and into the river if they weren’t careful.

I should say you weren’t supposed to walk on it because you could totally walk out on it if you wanted to, even if it was dangerous. At least some friends of mine and I did several times. With beer. At night. Oh, and at some point someone tied a knotted rope to the bridge which sometimes people would use to swing off the damn thing, over the water where they’d drop into the river, after which they’d swim to the bank, climb back up and get on the bridge again. Which one DEFINITELY should not have done. Especially while drunk. And while listening to Jane’s Addiction’s “Nothing Shocking” on cassette from a JVC boombox someone got at one of those regional discount department stores I mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter. I think mine came from Hill’s. My memory is a bit fuzzy on that.

I still go hiking in the New River Gorge sometimes. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I’ll definitely go again soon, if for no other reason than to say I’ve been to another national park. When I do I will, as I always do when I visit the area, park down by the bottom of the Gorge and walk out on the Fayette Station bridge.

I’m probably too old to swing off it, though. We’ll make it a game time decision.

Have a great day, everyone.

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