A Tangled Web

Intentionally doing this is now not permitted under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. (via MDG26)

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association recently released the full text of the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Like every bargaining agreement, it contains pertinent information concerning the economic rights of its workers, but it also contains a number of oddities, whose logic escapes us. There are far more qualified individuals than I to discuss and illuminate the former aspect of the CBA, and there are likely far more qualified individuals to perform the second function, but in absence of volunteers, it seems the responsibility rests with me.

This article will guide you through seemingly irrelevant changes made to the 2012-2016 CBA, investigating possible causes and scrutinizing their effectiveness.

Stylistic Changes Made to the CBA

When perusing this 359-page document and casually comparing it to its predecessor, as one does, several irregularities immediately spring up. At first, these changes seem inconsequential, merely the result of style preferences, but one cannot fall for such a ruse, and so we must plow forward, rescuing the truth from the depths of this document.

In the first several pages, it became apparent that this version of the CBA contains no parenthetical numerals following the spelling out of such. Parenthetical numerals, particularly for smaller numbers, are often viewed as unnecessary, a relic of legalese, and in that sense, MLB should be applauded for “getting with the times.” But here’s the thing: parenthetical numerals return in Article IX (9). From this point, they appear and disappear at will; most large numbers receive them, but some don’t, and the split within small numbers is fairly even. It seems insufficient to chalk these discrepancies up to laziness or inattentiveness, so let’s examine the plausibility of several other conclusions:

  1. It’s an homage to the whimsical, unpredictable nature of baseball.

Major League Baseball has for years ensured that whimsy emanates from all aspects of the sport, often touting its playoffs as the most unpredictable in all of sports and focusing on the human element and overarching storylines in its promotions. However, legal documents are not known for their whimsy, and it is unlikely an important document such as this would risk being misinterpreted for the sake of advertising.

Plausibility: 3.2/10

  1. It’s hinting at a Straussian approach to writing, wherein the real meaning is obscured from those unworthy of its discovery.

For centuries, political philosophers have been driven mad trying to understand Plato’s number, which appears in Book IX of the Republic. The passage moves through a series of equations to derive the perfect time for people to reproduce, leaving in its wake mass confusion and estimations of its value ranging from 216 to near 13 million. For many, ascertaining its understanding is thought to be the key to understanding the entirety of the dialogue (and thus of political life), and this quest has largely informed the foundations of political philosophy in America. Baseball is a philosophical game dealing with numbers, so it of course must be a reference to Plato’s number.

Plausibility: 7.9/10

  1. Half-hearted attempt at revenge by an Ivy League-graduate junior law clerk.

For those unable to secure large scholarships, law school is an expensive endeavor that many partake in for lack of other ideas or due to family pressure. In such a saturated market, it is often difficult for these individuals to find “cushy” positions upon graduation, leaving them with debt and forcing them to continue to “pay their dues” at such jobs as law clerk for the MLBPA. This perceived failure is sure to breed contempt, but, again, as these people often are not passionate about law and instead try to find fulfillment outside of their jobs, it is unlikely this contempt will manifest itself in grand displays. Thus, subtle sabotage in the form of amateurish errors so brilliant nobody will notice.

Plausibility: 8.3/10

Uniform Oddities

Everybody enjoys the classic, crisp look of baseball uniforms, but the professional nature of them does not occur as effortlessly as one might think. Rather, each one is the amalgamation of the specific set of guidelines laid out in the CBA, designed to create uniformity while allowing for minor homages to the personalities many players possess. Each violation of a uniform stipulation is treated with severity, bringing fines of $1,000 to $10,000, and suspensions of players until they comply with the regulations. But it is evident that many of these stipulations still appear random and difficult to enforce:

Pants pockets may not intentionally be untucked.”

First, this rule has hardly been enforced, as many players, such as David Ortiz, have played many games with their back pockets untucked from start to finish. Many of these rule breakers flout the rule to signify they do not partake in dip. With the recent concerted effort by MLB to create tobacco-free environments, it would seem like this style choice should be welcomed.

Further, the rule suggests that were a player to remove his batting gloves in the first inning, inadvertently flipping out his pocket while doing so, he would be allowed to play the entire game with his pocket lining hanging out merely because it was not an “intentional” act. What, precisely, is so problematic with pocket linings in a game which most players will conclude covered in dirt and grass and beverages?

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Every effort will be made to replace, in a timely fashion, pants torn during the game.”

There is no further mention of what constitutes a “timely fashion.” Would it be acceptable for a player to immediately halt the game to change his pants or could he wait several innings to do so? Baseball is a game that exists largely outside the standard parameters of time; games can take upwards of six hours to complete, so is “timeliness” then in accordance with the length of each individual game?

Does Major League Baseball simply have a vendetta against players’ posteriors? Is an organization that frequently shows players shirtless really this concerned about modesty?

At least 51% of the exterior of each Player’s shoes must be the Club’s designated primary shoe color and the portion of the Club’s designated primary shoe color must be evenly distributed throughout the exterior of each shoe.”

Again, this seems quite difficult to enforce, particularly the latter clause about even distribution of the color. Does the shoe manufacturer’s logo not guarantee the impossibility of even distribution? Does it count as even distribution if the primary color is limited to the sole, as is the case for Manny Machado, among others? Why does this clause eschew the Oxford comma?

Players will not be allowed to change shoes while running bases during any Major League game.”

What precipitated the introduction of this clause? And is there video of it?

I now envision somebody like Bryce Harper or Corey Seager circling the bases following a home run, only to have one or both shoes fall apart as he rounds second base, shooting bits of cloth and plastic across the infield, leading him to remove said shoe(s) and finish the home-run trot in socks. If there be any justice in the world, this vision will come to life during the most dramatic of games in a pennant race, thereby putting another sock in the discussion with Curt Schilling’s sock for “most famous sock” in the Hall of Fame, spawning dozens of articles titled “between a Sock and a Hard Race,” and pushing this clause into the national debate.

Socks are brilliant and deserve more recognition.

…[N]o pitcher shall have markings on his body that are potentially distracting to the umpire or batter. Markings that are potentially distracting include tattoo(s) or other marking(s) which, in the opinion of the umpire, could interfere with the umpires’ ability to make calls, endanger the health or safety of a batter or otherwise interfere with the play of the game.”

Markings include tattoos and written words. Tattoos and written words can supposedly “endanger the health or safety of a batter.” Since this same CBA refers to mental illness as a “defect,” it is unlikely this passage is referring to mental health. Therefore, markings are capable of endangering a batter’s physical safety. Can tattoos come to life and shoot humans? Is a batter likely to be so incensed by a “marking” that he starts a brawl in which he is gravely injured? Does the phrase assume the existence of voodoo tattoos or spells enacted by a gaze lasting three seconds? It’s good that MLB is concerned about players’ health and safety, but these vague statements have left me sleepless, endangering my health and safety.

Moving Expense Oddities

Each club is rather generous with covering players’ moving expenses, and rightly so, considering these moves are frequently involuntary. But this apparent generosity also manifests itself in a bizarre way:

C. A Player may elect, within two years after the date of the assignment of his contract, regardless of when his contract is assigned or whether the assignment is between Major League Clubs or a Major League Club and a Minor League club, to be reimbursed for the reasonable and actual moving expenses of the Player and his immediate family resulting therefrom…

D. A Player may elect, within two years after the date of the assignment of his contract, regardless of when his contract is assigned or whether the assignment is between Major League Clubs or a Major League Club and a Minor League club, to be reimbursed for the reasonable and actual rental payments for living quarters and furniture rental in the city from which he is transferred.”

Two years? Why?!

Joey Baseball Player got traded from Seattle to Los Angeles at the trade deadline. He quickly moved himself into a hotel while his pregnant wife stayed at their home in Seattle readying it for sale. Right after it is sold and they complete their move, she gives birth to twins who both have colic. The couple endures many sleepless nights over the next 10 months, negatively impacting their short- and long-term memories. They are not established enough in the world of baseball to have the necessary agents and accountants to care for their paperwork. Finally, their children learn to sleep through the night and things return to normal. It’s now 18 months since the move, and they are afraid they will have to incur all expenses on his relatively small salary. In a desperate act, Joey scours the CBA.

Oh, well, carry on, then, MLB!

All-Star Game Oddities

The All-Star Game and its accompanying festivities are generally odd, but the agreement laid out in the CBA is surprisingly straightforward, listing roster sizes, and outlining selection processes and monetary compensation. There is, however, one particularly strange addendum that is unusual in suggestion and likely application:

Major League Baseball’s broadcast partner for the game also may embed microphones in locations on the field, including in or around the bases, for the purpose of capturing ambient sounds of the game.”

As everyone knows, bases are the most active parts of the field. They are frequently grabbed, stepped on, and wholly manhandled. Thus, embedding microphones in or on the bases runs the high risk of quickly destroying them by cleat, hand, or face. It is also unlikely that a microphone embedded in a base would produce quality sound bites. The far more likely outcome is three hours’ worth (or however long until the mic breaks) of crinkling noises and grunts, which are unlikely to stimulate the game’s audience. The microphones on or around the bases may do a better job capturing actual words, but when the option of “miking” actual players exists, it seems foolish to opt for this other, less effective, more costly method. And for a league that prides itself on the meticulous nature of its playing surfaces, this option seems out of character and an overcompensation for years of boring All-Star games.

There are likely many more peculiarities contained with this 359-page document, some of which may be tied to more implausible explanations than laid out in this article. For simplicity’s sake, and to create something of an overarching factor linking together uniform regulations and stylistic choices, it is convenient to believe these quirks are evocative of the game they’re shaping. Several of these curiosities also give credence to the idea that each baseball game contains something fans have never before seen. Maybe one of these rules will follow in the footsteps of rule 6.03 in 2015’s postseason, maybe it will become the answer to an obscure trivia question. Maybe the hours I spent reading the CBA will be worthwhile. It’s this hope and anticipation that makes baseball as beloved as it is.

References & Resources

Mary Craig is a PhD student in political philosophy and American constitutional politics. She is overly attached to Massachusetts and spends her time baking, watching hockey, and reading and writing about baseball history. Follow her on Twitter @marymcraig.
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Dennis Bedard
6 years ago

“It’s hinting at a Straussian approach to writing, wherein the real meaning is obscured from those unworthy of its discovery.” I had to read that twice to believe my eyes. Leave it to this site to mix the teachings of Leo Strauss with American baseball. Strauss was an obscure political philosopher who taught at the University of Chicago. He hugely influenced a generation of conservative political theorists. Strauss must be laughing in his grave right now. I picked the analogy up immediately. Never would I have ever thought that I would see his name in an article about the CBA! Kudos!!!! What next? A piece on Casey Stengel with some E=MC2 equations thrown in? You made my day.

87 Cards
6 years ago

“Players will not be allowed to change shoes while running bases during any Major League game.”

1. I note the tongue-in-cheek commentary around that statement from the CBA but let an old guy give a pragmatic response.

During my HS baseball coaching days, while in season, I daily crossed paths with track teams (we shared dressing/meeting facilities). I have looked at sprinter’s cleats and pictured them on my top-of-lineup players for base-running purposes only. Fortunately, I had to dismiss that notion due to national prohibitions/local ordinances against metal spikes on amateur baseball fields. Absent league rules, there would be no such limits on professional baserunners.

2. “Two years? Why?!”
From the Sports Business Daily: The CBA also calls for “The acquiring team pays for seven days of hotel housing for the traded player, picking up any outstanding lease payments on the player’s housing in his prior city for the duration of that season, and arranging to ship the player’s car to the new city. After the seven days of hotel housing ends, it is up to the player to handle his own accommodations. Teams often assist with recommendations of local real estate brokers, but some clubs stop short of making any specific housing arrangements for the new player. ”

“Those housing discussions, however, will vary widely depending on whether the player is a prospect or veteran, whether he’s played in the new market earlier in his career, and whether he’s under a long-term contract or will be a free agent following the season.” also Sports Business Daily; same issue. Thus the two-year reimbursement period may be reasonable as in most cases as a players-on-the-move may be on move against shortly and their seasonal living expenses/prior leasing commitments are likely settled within the transfer of/negotiated completion of the players’ contract.

Additionally, IRS Publication 521 gives favorable treatment to moving expenses to transferred employees if they relocate for 39 or more weeks and move at least 58 miles from their originating home to their new employment location. (Players in Tacoma/Seattle (34 miles) and Duluth, GA/Atlanta (28 miles) select housing locations carefully) Here in San Antonio, the AA Missions unaccompanied-players live in apartments in my ZIP Code leased by the Padres or Missions).

I appreciated your perusal of and comments on the CBA tome.

6 years ago

Were your comments about pitchers’ markings a complete joke, or did you really fail to recognize the danger of a thrown pitch when the batter is needlessly distracted?

6 years ago

Nothing about wearing several gold chains while playing? Instead tattoos are a health and safety concern?
I’m confused.

6 years ago

Again, this seems quite difficult to enforce, particularly the latter clause about even distribution of the color. Does the shoe manufacturer’s logo not guarantee the impossibility of even distribution? Does it count as even distribution if the primary color is limited to the sole, as is the case for Manny Machado, among others? Why does this clause eschew the Oxford comma?”

I mean, this actually comes up with some frequency in the NFL. And there was a whole hub bub with Brian Wilson a few years back.

6 years ago

More, please.