Thursday, August 16, 2007

Baseball and Abuse of the Media

I recently finished reading two baseball books. The first was "A Whole Different Ballgame: The Inside Story of the Baseball Revolution" by former MLBPA director Marvin Miller and the second was "Baseball and the Media: How Fans Lose in Today's Coverage of the Game" by George Castle.

If you are interested in aspects of Major League Baseball that exist outside the chalk lines, then I would definitely recommend both books. Marvin Miller's book details the labor revolution that occurred in Major League baseball and is a must read for people interested in the business of baseball.

George Castle's book discusses the state of media coverage of America's pastime. An intriguing book for those interested in baseball and in the dissemination of information about the grand old game. The book tackles many interesting topics, including the decreasing newspaper coverage of professional sports, the relationship between the players and the media, and impact the media can have on the fortunes of a franchise (one interesting idea presented by Castle is that the Cubs long title drought is not due to a "curse," but rather the unwillingness of the Chicago media to publish critical articles about front office incompetence).

I mention these two books not only because I found them to be informative and enjoyable, but also because they overlapped each other in one surprising respect. Both books discuss the manner in which the media has either been a willing mouthpiece for the owners or at least allowed itself to be manipulated by Major League Baseball throughout its history.

Miller's book discusses the propaganda that Major League Baseball owners have long been foisting on an unsuspecting populace, while Castle's book discusses the methods and mediums that have been used to disseminate this propaganda.

Over the years, MLB has used the media as a mouthpiece for its views on labor relations. The writers were fed "talking points" that MLB wanted to get out to the public, which the media was only too happy to print. One of the main strategies utilized by the owners in their labor battles with the players was to win the war of public opinion. Controlling the flow of information provided to the baseball public made it infinitely easier to keep the players under their collective thumb.

Before the newer mediums (television, internet, etc) came into existence to increase access to the game, writers were customarily at the mercy of the owner of the ball club. The owner provided access to the game and the players, so newspapers were typically unwilling to take a critical stance against the owner for fear of losing access.

Accordingly, writers willingly published articles from an owner's point of view, which were designed to convince both the public and the players themselves that the status quo in labor relations was both fair and equitable. One of the most egregious examples of owner propaganda is one that still remains to this day, which is the idea that the Commissioner of baseball is an impartial steward of the game.

The owners have long pushed the idea that the Commissioner is an impartial figure who can sit above the fray and make decisions that are in "the best interests of baseball." The reality is much different, as the commissioner is chosen by the owners, paid by the owners, and subject to removal at the whim of the owners if his performance does not meet with their approval.

This is the reason why sports having commissioners with absolute power, like the NFL, are inherently unfair. Those sports have a commissioner who is supposed to act fairly with regard to issues involving both the players and the owners, but his compensation and livelihood is dependent on the approval of only one of those sides. It is a substantial conflict of interest.

This legal fiction and conflict of interest was eliminated from the game of baseball when Marvin Miller and the MLBPA won concessions in labor negotiations to implement a binding, independent grievance process to MLB. Accordingly, in baseball, the commissioner does not have absolute authority, but rather has to "rule" in accordance with the law. The commissioner does not have the power to punish with impunity, as his rulings are subject to appeal to an independent arbitrator. Unlike other sports, there must be direct evidence of a violation of CBA rules or a legal judgment before punishment can be imposed in baseball, which seems only right in a country founded on the rule of law.

Unfortunately, it seems that there is still a bit of inaccurate, misleading reporting going on in professional baseball to this day. Once again, it seems that the media, whether knowingly or not, is again helping to propagate the owner's propaganda of an all powerful commissioner.

NEW YORK (AP) -- With a bright-eyed smile stretched across his rosy face, Jason Giambi bounced around the field during batting practice and posed for photos with fans.

The New York Yankees slugger had plenty to be happy about Thursday.

Giambi escaped punishment from commissioner Bud Selig because of his charitable work and cooperation with baseball's steroids investigator.

"It's over and done with. I'm thrilled with it. He did what he needed to do -- now I can go forward," Giambi said before the Yankees hosted Detroit in the opener of an important four-game series. "I can go forward and not hurt the ballclub with a suspension."

Selig, speaking on the second and final day of an owners meeting in Toronto, called this an "appropriate decision."

Giambi has acknowledged a "personal history regarding steroids." He agreed to speak with former Sen. George Mitchell last month after Selig threatened to discipline him if he refused to cooperate.

"He's doing a lot of public-service work, and I think that's terribly important," Selig said. "I think it's more important for us to keep getting the message out. He was, I thought, very frank and candid with Sen. Mitchell, at least that was the senator's conclusion. Given everything, this is an appropriate decision."

Giambi said he already was involved with most of the charity work in question "before any of this."

"I felt they were good programs. They were great for kids," he said.

Selig said June 21, before Giambi met Mitchell, that he would take "Giambi's level of cooperation into account in determining appropriate further action."

Selig said Mitchell was not expected to speak with any other active players.

"This was a special circumstance," Selig said. "I have no other plans."

This article, written by the Associated Press, leaves the reader with the impression that the Commissioner of baseball actually has the power to punish Jason Giambi. In reality, despite his assertions to the contrary, Selig lacks the power to impose any kind of meaningful punishment on Giambi. If he did have such power, he would have used it long ago on Giambi and Barry Bonds. In reality, any attempt by Selig to impose punishment on a player on whom there is no direct evidence of a violation of an expressly stated rule of the CBA or been found guilty of a crime in a court of law would be reversed on appeal by an independent arbitrator.

Regrettably, this AP article simply advances the owner created fiction that the Commissioner is all powerful, rather than disclose the fact that the commissioner's power is limited by the American rule of law. Selig's "choice" not to pursue additional punishment for Giambi was not driven by Selig's conclusion that Giambi was undeserving of additional punishment, but by the fact that any attempt to impose punishment would be reversed, which would reveal Selig to be less than all powerful.

In a day and age in which the media tries and commissioners convict athletes long before the legal system renders a verdict, it is regrettable that the article fails to mention that MLB has a system in place to ensure that the accused is afforded his day in court before punishment is doled out.

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