Cup of Coffee: February 25, 2021

Service time manipulation is happening. A new A's ballpark may not be. Sports gambling is coming to the local Piggly Wiggly. Also: wild lions and a curse.

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There’s a ton of fun in today’s newsletter, so rather than ramble through an intro, let’s just get to it, shall we?


The Daily Briefing

Before we get to new stuff, we have a couple of updates from yesterday’s newsletter.

First, Bill James walked back his claim that he “created” analytics:

I’ve said many times that James is one of the people who was well-known before social media who as greatly harmed his stature and legacy by appearing on social media. The guy knows a lot about one thing but he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about almost everything else and he lacks a filter. As such, he immediacy of Twitter works against him and enables him to present his worst side and his worst takes.

At least he walked this one back. Now maybe he could work on walking back some of the other garbage he’s gone on about in the past.

Second, subscriber and past guest poster Ruth Kapelus reached out to the Cleveland organization and asked about those super unfortunate “My Land, My Tribe” shirts after seeing Nick Francona tweet about them on Monday evening. This is from the email the club sent to Ruth in response:

Thanks for reaching out to Chris Antonetti on Monday sharing your concern about the recent piece of merchandise shared on social media.

We were just as surprised as you to see this t-shirt artwork.  What we learned is the following:

  • This was an old t-shirt design that originated in 2017, which our organization wasn’t involved in at all

  • The shirt isn’t being sold on MLB.com shop

  • MLB has told the licensee to not sell it anymore and the retailer has pulled the t-shirt.

We appreciate your support of our decision to change the team name.

If one wanted to be a major asshole — and sometimes I do, but we can’t fight our nature — one might note that, despite it being “old” and despite the organization not being involved in its design, they did have to license it, and it’s not likely it was licensed sight unseen. That aside, it’s good that the shirt has been pulled.

Hopefully, after the club changes its name next year — and after someone in Atlanta gets some sense and changes the name of that franchise — we won’t have these sorts of unfortunate things happen again.

Now on to new business.

Jarred Kelenic says the Mariners punished him for not taking a lowball extension

Seattle Mariners prospect Jarred Kelenic told USA Today's Bob Nightengale that he is the victim of service time manipulation. Specifically, he says that the Mariners kept him in the minors last year in retaliation for him not accepting a lowball contract extension offer.

Kelenic and his agent Brodie Scoffield tell Nightengale that Kelenic got offered a six-year pre-debut contract extension last spring and declined it. Which isn’t shocking given what we know about such offers, which many teams make. They cover all arbitration years and even some free agent years, paying the player a fraction of what he’d make through a year or two of arbitration alone, and basically give the team full control over the player until he’s past the point of his maximum earning potential.

By way of example, the Astros — who pioneered this practice — famously made an offer to George Springer of seven years and $23 million in September 2013, before he made his big league debut. With that offer came an obvious and implicit promise that he’d break camp as a big leaguer for Opening Day 2014. Springer declined the offer. The following spring he was kept in the minors until April 16, which was, magically, the earliest possible date he could be called up to ensure that he did not get a full season’s worth of service time until 2015. What the Astros were doing was transparent: making their control over the player’s service time, not his baseball readiness, the determining factor as to when he’d be in the bigs and punishing him by not bringing him up when they otherwise would have because he rejected a lowball offer.

Kelenic is alleging the same thing. His agent:

“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year. It was made crystal clear to Jarred -- then and now -- that his decision not to call him up is based on service time. There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues.”

This, obviously, comes on the heels of Mariners ex-President and CEO Kevin Mather’s comments to the Bellevue Rotary Club which cost him his job. There he spoke at length about Kelenic, mentioning the contract offer in the same breath as the team’s decision to keep him in the minors, the fact that “after a few more at-bats in Triple-A” he’ll be up with the big league club in April, and Kelenic’s decision to “bet on himself.” It doesn’t take a genius to read between those lines. Indeed, it doesn’t take much reading between the lines at all. It’s abundantly clear that the M’s would’ve called him up last year if they had control over him at below market rates through the early part of his free agency years. It’s abundantly clear that their not calling him up yet is because they don’t yet have that control and want to manipulate his service time.

Back in 2014 Springer was reported to be considering filing a grievance. He ended up not doing that. Kris Bryant, of course, famously lost a grievance over his service time being manipulated by the Cubs. They’re hard cases to win given the almost complete discretion teams have in determining when to call up or not call up players. I mean, Bryant was DESTROYING the minors and was DESTROYING big league pitchers in spring training and still was sent to Iowa in favor of a tomato can who covered third base for the Cubs while his service time clock was tolled until the moment he could be called up with the Cubs retaining control over him through 2021.

In Kelenic’s case, though, you have a literal video of the team’s top executive holding forth on the club’s service time manipulation practices. In light of that, it would seem that Kelenic has a much stronger case in the event he chooses to file one.

Meanwhile . . .

MLB may have deleted that tweet I mentioned yesterday in which they asked if there was “anything more expensive” than the Padres’ infield, but they still have this one up:

This is not really the best form of marketing the game, but messaging like this will pay off nicely for Rob Manfred and the owners when the labor talks get rough this fall and people start beefing about how all those millionaire ballplayers are ingrates. Figure you’ll see more of this as the year goes on.

Domingo Germán apologizes . . . to the Steinbrenner family

In September 2019 Yankees pitcher Domingo Germán slapped his girlfriend in front of Yankees teammates at a charity function and then, later, back at their apartment, assaulted her again. Germán’s girlfriend locked herself in a room and called the wife of another Yankees player who, along with her husband, rushed over to intervene.

Germán was placed on administrative leave and was then given an 81-game suspension by Major League Baseball pursuant to the league’s domestic violence policy. It was one of the stiffest suspensions yet given, which speaks to the severity of the incident. While serving his suspension in 2020, Germán made a series of strange and, at times, troubling social media posts which did not suggest he was in a better place during his suspension than he was before it.

Now the suspension is over and he’s back with the Yankees in spring training. His presence has already created at least some discomfort with one teammate, with reliever Zack Britton saying last week that, “sometimes you don’t get to control who your teammates are and that’s the situation.” Germán has taken that in stride and has said that he wanted to apologize and make amends for his actions. Yesterday was that day.

It could’ve gone better.

Germán spent most of the time apologizing to the Yankees organization — he specifically mentioned the Steinbrenner family — and his teammates. He didn’t say a word about his girlfriend, who was victim of his actions.

But let’s, for a moment, give him the benefit of the doubt there and presume that he has spent the last year and a half apologizing to her — who he says he’s still with — and attempting to make amends in private. We don’t know that, but let’s assume it for a second. Even if that is the case, it’s worth noting that he never actually acknowledged what he was apologizing for, referring only to “mistakes.” Judging apologies can be tricky business, but I don’t know how you apologize for something without mentioning the very thing — a heinous evening of domestic violence — for which you are putatively apologizing.

Ultimately, though, it likely won’t matter. Things may continue to be a bit chilly between Germán and his teammates for a while, but ultimately he will be welcomed back to the team to the extent he pitches well. If he doesn’t, he won’t be. That, unfortunately, seems to be what matters most when it comes to domestic violence in Major League Baseball.

The A’s never-ending quest for a new ballpark could soon be over. In a bad way.

The Oakland Athletics ballpark saga has dragged on for at least 20 years. Maybe more if you mark the beginning of their new ballpark quest from the time the Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995 and basically destroyed the already minimal aesthetics of the Oakland Coliseum with that massive addition of seats in center field. I certainly remember people not really liking that at the time and reading things about how, eventually, the A’s might want to play someplace else.

A search for a new home was in full swing no later than 2001 when there began to appear a number of proposed and quickly rejected new stadium sites in Oakland. In 2006 they announced a plan to move to Fremont, California, which crumbled due to public resistance three years later. After some more farting around with Oakland sites, the club announced a plan to move to San Jose. That plan was countered by the San Francisco Giants over territorial rights and, after a legal battle that lasted nearly three years, the A’s were forced to abandon the San Jose gambit.

From 2016 until 2018 the A’s dithered back and forth between potential sites at Howard Terminal at the Oakland waterfront and a site near Peralta/Laney College in downtown Oakland. The college eventually told the A’s to take a hike so Howard Terminal was chosen. Architectural renderings were released in 2018, but nothing of real substance has happened since, in part because of the pandemic, but in part because the idea of the A’s ever getting a new ballpark seems absolutely doomed.

Now there is one last hurdle, but it’s a major one. One which, if it is not cleared, all but certainly ends the A’s plans to move to Howard Terminal. That hurdle, described in great detail in this story from Alex Coffey and Steve Berman of The Athletic, involves a lawsuit over environmental clearances.

The short version: the A’s got California governor Gavin Newsom to grant an expedited environmental approval schedule for the construction project. He signed that order, however, more than a year after a required deadline. Businesses adjacent to the Howard Terminal site sued, claiming that the expedited approval was improperly granted and that a longer, non-expedited environmental approval process is required. That process, A’s President Dave Kaval says, would basically kill the project because it could add seven years to the timeline. More, even, in the event other lawsuits are filed.

The A’s actually got a victory in the trial court on the matter of the propriety of the expedited approval, but the adjacent businesses have appealed, and the appeals court is under no obligation to give deference to the trial court (de novo review, y’all; yeah, I still remember some legal stuff). And as Coffey and Berman’s story makes clear, some preliminary rulings suggest that the appeals court is not super friendly to the A’s.

If the A’s lose this and the Howard Terminal site goes away, the best option for them would appear to be leaving Oakland entirely and starting fresh in a new city. At least if they want a new ballpark before, say, 2030.

Luke Voit channels a legend

There is only one Dave Parker, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be more like Dave Parker. Like Yankees first baseman Luke Voit did yesterday while meeting the press down in Tampa:

Look closely and you see that the “NY” in “ANY” is highlighted on Voit’s shirt, which suggests that whoever is selling the shirt is intentionally marketing it to Yankees fans. Which I’m gonna give the side-eye to, because there is nothing more antithetical to the gonzo 1970s essence of Dave Parker than the corporate-ass New York Yankees, but I suppose there’s no accounting for fandom.


Other Stuff

Sports betting coming to an Ohio Kroger?

The Ohio Senate — which, as I wrote the other day is an utter clown show — has been holding hearings on legalizing sports gambling in the state. Which, well, that’s inevitable.

Yesterday they heard testimony from a lobbyist representing the Ohio Grocers Association who wants to make it so that you can bet on sports at the service counter, right after buying your tater-tots, bacon, Kraft singles, and Bud Light. The lobbyist:

“We recognize that there are a lot of different concepts and proposals on how sports gaming will function and be structured in Ohio. To that end, we are not here today to advocate for opening a sportsbook in each grocery store, having tables set up through our locations or aisles, but we ask you to consider making us a part of the sports gaming system.”

They have the lottery at most grocery stores now so I guess it’d be a gambling expansion as opposed to the breaking of some completely new ground. Still, it’s gonna be depressing as all hell to be rolling my cart out the door past dudes lined up to lay fifty bucks on the Cleveland Browns or whatever.

“Coming 2 America”

I’m about 85% certain that the “Coming to America” sequel, “Coming 2 America,” is going to bad. Not because I’ve heard any advance reviews or anything but because almost any return to some beloved thing ends up bad. Lightning doesn’t often strike twice.

Still, I’m going to watch it because I was 14 when the first one came out, I loved it, and I think my cultural DNA will attack me in some sort of autoimmune reaction if I don’t. I’ll watch every minute of it and complain about it afterwards like any good Gen-Xer with an unhealthy relationship to the pop culture of his youth would do.

And I’ll even read about it more before it comes out. Things like this interview with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the New York Times in which they talk about the movie and how it came together. Which sort of pisses me off because they’re both funny and self-aware in the interview — not a thing either of those two are super famous for — and it’s gonna end up giving me unreasonable hope that it’s not going to be bad.

Then, when it’s bad, I’ll just be mad at myself again.

Frasier has returned to the building

In other revisiting-the-classics news, Kelsey Grammar has signed on for a “Frasier” revival. The story about it over at Variety talks about all of the production companies and creative types involved — it’s an industry mag, after all — and talks up all of the awards hardware Grammar and the original show racked up back in the day. Then it has a nice quote from Grammar about how happy he will be to revisit his signature character.

Then at the end it says, “the series also starred David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, and Peri Gilpin, none of whom are currently attached to the revival.” I presume that will soon be remedied, and each time one of the other old cast members are added there will be another press release, all of which is aimed at stoking interest and getting people to sign up for the streaming service it’ll be on.

At least that better be how it goes. “Frasier” had a main character — a title character, obviously — but it was an ensemble show in every way that mattered. More than half the time Grammar was playing straight man to Niles, Roz, Daphne, and Martin (RIP). What’s more, Frasier, however much his story drove the plots, was probably the least interesting and least enjoyable of the five main characters to watch week-to-week. You enjoyed Niles, Roz, Daphne, and Martin. You endured Frasier. Not having the others would be like someone giving me a tossed salad without any scrambled eggs.

As for as the plot setup for the revival, the story did not say. But I got one: Frasier, now in his late 60s, has injured himself in a skiing accident or something and his son Frederick moves in with him to take care of him.

I mean, obviously.

The curse on the Trump International Hotel

Slate has a story about just how utterly boned the Trump International Hotel in Washington is. Neither Trump’s cult of personality, a stream of guests seeking to curry favor with the government, nor a Trump-run government landlord is keeping it afloat any longer, a massive lease payment that Trump personally guaranteed is due in a couple of years, and no one is likely to lend money to a guy who defaults on everyone to keep a money-losing business going. The place is still in business — and QAnon freaks have booked up the first weekend in March because their conspiracy theories hold that Trump will Rise Again (or something) then — but otherwise it’s a sinking ship.

That makes me happy for lots of obvious reasons. But this, like every other story I ever see about that place, makes me think about what it was like in the summer of 1996.

Back then the building that is now the hotel was known as D.C.’s Old Post Office building. Built in 1899, it was obsolete almost the day that it opened. It was built too small for its intended purpose as a central post office headquarters and the post office relocated near Union Station within a few years of the building opening. That’s why it began to be called the “old” post office many decades before it could conceivably called “old.” Government officials, who almost uniformly hated it, began offering plans to demolish it when it was still just a couple of years old and renewed calls to demolish it popped up every decade or so from the turn of the century until the 1970s. It was spared the wrecking ball of a number of reasons, but never really found a purpose.

In the early 80s a massive renovation turned the grand atrium and bottom few floors of the place into, basically, a mall and food court, called the Old Post Office Pavilion. In the summer of 1996 I interned for the DOJ in a building on 7th Street and I’d often walk over to the Old Post Office Pavilion to get lunch. It was pretty shabby by then. The food options were generic and downmarket. A lot of the shops were vacant. It just kind of sucked. I was broke, though — my internship was unpaid — so shitty food court food was often my best alternative to packing PB&J.

I still think of something that happened there one day. I was eating my lunch — something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Chinese food — and people watching. A guy eating alone caught my eye. He was a big fellow. Early middle age. He was wearing rumpled and slightly long-in-the-tooth business clothes that marked him as a low-to-mid-level government functionary. He was sweating a lot on the very hot day. He also looked to be rather unhappy in expression and demeanor. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he was having a bad life.

When he was done with his lunch he got up and began to walk toward the trash can, tray in one hand and a nearly full soda in the other, carried close to his body. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, the bottom of the cup broke through and around 20 ounces of Coke flowed all over his chest, stomach, and the top of his pants, soaking him. He stood frozen for a moment. Then he sighed deeply and seemed to bite his lip to keep from yelling out in anger. He completed the walk to the trash can, dropped the tray and the cup, walked over to the counter of the nearest restaurant and got some napkins and made a feeble and half-hearted attempt to blot the soda from his clothes. Realizing that the napkins weren’t likely to help anything, he sighed again and walked toward an exit. I felt absolutely awful for him.

As he walked away I noticed he had a wedding ring on. I obviously knew nothing about this guy, his life, his job, his marriage, or anything, but I made myself feel slightly less awful for him by imagining him going home that evening, telling his wife what happened at lunch — and whatever else bad happened that day — her giving him a big hug and a kiss, and pouring him a beer while he put on more comfortable clothes, after which they had a nice dinner, watched some TV, and went to bed happy for having each other in their lives.

I dunno. I was 23 years old. I didn’t know anything about anything then, let alone how empathy worked, so maybe all of the stuff I assumed and felt about that whole situation was motivated by my fears, insecurities, and lack of understanding of, well, everything. No matter the case, that guy has stuck in my mind for 25 years. I think of him more than I think about most of my law school classmates or almost anyone else I actually knew from that time.

I have also chosen to believe that he cursed the Old Post Office Building that day and that the curse is at least partially responsible for Trump’s hotel going kaput.

Thinking about coups

Later this morning I’m going to be a guest, via Zoom, in a college seminar on the Civil War and the legacy of Reconstruction at the University of Pennsylvania. The topic is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago — which later became an NPR segment — about the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.

I describe the whole thing in my essay, and the Wikipedia link will tell you all about it too, but the short version is that Wilmington, North Carolina was, in 1898, one of the few Black-run cities in the American south. It had a Black mayor and majority Black city council. It had a Black-run police force and a Black-owned newspaper, all in what was then North Carolina’s largest city. The white establishment didn’t like that, so they took up arms — including a horse-drawn trailer-mounted Gatling gun — and committed a coup to take power. They insurrectionists murdered anywhere from 60-150 Black residents with machine gun fire, burned down Black people’s homes and businesses including the Black-owned newspaper, and ran anyone who would defy then out of town. And they got away with it with no repercussions whatsoever.

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about that so it wasn’t at the front of my mind when the events of January 6 unfolded, but as I prepare for the seminar I’m struck by the similarities between what happened in Wilmington and what happened in Washington.

They are obviously not similar in a number of respects, of course. The death count was not the same. The Washington insurrectionists were not, like those in Wilmington, successful. And, while the right wing elements who rampaged in Washington are certainly steeped in white supremacy, what they did was not a baldly racist attack directly at Black people and Black power like that which occurred in 1898.

But as I hear insurrection denialism increasingly take hold among elected Republicans, I’m hearing more and more people diminish what happened in January as rag-tag, disorganized, and the like. I’m hearing people say that it can’t really be called a coup because it wasn’t some centrally organized and coordinated military operation.

And that’s simply bullshit. Because what happened in Wilmington in 1898 was not fundamentally different than what happened in Washington. Both were born of grievance and resentment over the fact that those in power — or those who were about to take power — were not who they would prefer to have it. The actions of both sets of insurrectionists came together rather quickly. Most notably, while each had the trappings of military/militia elements, the mobs consisted, basically, of middle class or upper middle class white business owners who simply felt entitled to use deadly force to get what they wanted.

I’m glad I’m doing this seminar at the University of Pennsylvania today, but man, I’m gettin’ mad all over again.

“Roar”

A thing I did not know until 5AM this morning: back in the 1970s Tippi Hedren, her then-husband Noel Marshall and Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffith filmed, over a series of years, a movie about a guy who lives on a nature preserve in Africa with lions, tigers, and other big cats. The cats go crazy and attack everyone and your standard 1970s exploitation movie hijinks ensue.

The thing about the movie — called “Roar,” which was released in 1981 — was that they filmed it with untrained, basically wild lions, many of whom attacked the actors and crew members pretty damn frequently. Griffith had her face mauled and needed plastic surgery. Hedren broke her leg and suffered gangrene. Marshall needed 60 stitches. Many others were injured as well. The movie was so bad and, well, unsettling, that it was not shown at all in the United States until a few years ago.

I learned about it at 5AM this morning thanks to this post about it at MovieMaker, which promotes (and embeds) a full podcast episode about the insane production. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but, hoo-boy, I’m gonna, because that shit sounds wild.

For now, here’s the trailer from when Alama Drafthouse showed the movie back in 2015. It’s not for the faint of heart!

Hedren, as many know, is a well-known and passionately committed wildlife rescue/preservation activist, and has devoted the last several decades of her life to a foundation — the Roar Foundation, appropriately enough — which runs a large animal preserve in California. Which reminds me of a story.

Back in the 1990s the girlfriend of a friend of mine had just moved to Los Angeles and was going from personal assistant-to-personal assistant job for a number of celebrities and TV personalities as she got her feet wet in the entertainment industry. One of those was for Tom Arnold, which she quit very quickly because she said he was absolutely obnoxious. Another was for Pat O’Brien of sports and “Access Hollywood” fame, which she was fired from very quickly because she accidentally sent a production-wide email, as opposed to an email just to him, reminding him that he had a botox appointment that afternoon.

After those gigs she went to work for Hedren. She said she was very, very nice and had zero interest in anything in life that did not impact the welfare of animals. Lions included. Which is a hell of a thing after one of ‘em broke your leg and gave you gangrene, but that’s commitment for you.

Have a great day, everyone.

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