Previous month:
September 2018
Next month:
November 2018

October 2018

A Little Bit of Pop: Baseball, Star Trek, and the Meaning of Life

6a00e550971fba8833022ad36d663d200c

Deep Dive on a 'Deep Space Nine' Baseball-focused Episode

 

By Tammy Rainey

 

October 2st marks a little known and lightly regarded anniversary. Rightly so, if I’m being honest. Nevertheless, if you're looking for odd intersections between baseball and pop culture, it’s certainly one of the odder you'll find. Also, given that it’s situated at the crossroads of two of my very favorite things, when asked for articles for the “Pop” feature, I found the subject irresistible. And once you get past the admittedly cheesy episode in question, there’s actually something much more profound at the heart of this intersection.

 

In 1998, on the same night that the juggernaut New York Yankees completed their sweep of the underdog Padres, the fourth episode of the final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aired, entitled “Take me Out To the Holosuite.” Every one of you readers who are not Star Trek fans surely just said to yourself “what the heck is a holosuite?” so perhaps i should offer a brief primer on the series in question for those unfamiliar.

 

Unlike every other Star Trek series, DS9 is not set on a starship but rather on a space station. Therefore it has, typically, plot arcs (both in a given episode and over the course of a season or more) more given to political and military machinations, and interpersonal drama. Enabling this storytelling was a larger ensemble than the other Trek series but one in which all the regular characters were much more well developed than any but the top leads in other the shows. The commander of the station was a widower, Ben Sisko, raising a teen son alone and the crew and other station residents was an eclectic mix of several alien races rather than being overwhelmingly human. In the Star Trek universe of the 24th century, people used highly developed holographic technology capable of replicating almost any environment to a convincing approximation of reality. On DS9 there were “holosuites,” where one could rent time for a mini-vacation taking you anywhere from a romantic beach, to Victorian London. It is here that our episode’s baseball game takes place.

 

While the last four or five seasons of DS9 can be fairly ranked among the best TV science fiction ever produced, if I’m being honest this particular episode is not one that helped them earn that regard.

 

It has a fair share of fun character moments, but it's also padded ith every trope of baseball on film that you could cram into a television episode. The plot concerns a Vulcan (Trek fans will be aware that Vulcans are notorious for a passive but obvious arrogance as well as physical superiority to humans) who has been a decades long rival of Sisko, one who’d bested him in every previous contest and therefore provokes more than a little irrationality in our captain. The Vulcan captain, Solok, knowing that Sisko is an obsessive baseball fan has trained his command crew to be highly skilled at the game and takes the occasion to challenge Sisko and his crew (almost none of whom have ever even seen the game played) to a game. Sisko, naturally, accepts. Notwithstanding only Sisko, his son, and his currently absent girlfriend have ever played the sport.

 

You can imagine how the rest of the episode plays out, in terms of employing the standard tropes, even if you don’t know the characters at all. The only mildly creative twist is that the rag-tag team does not, in fact, find a way to beat the juggernaut Vulcan team but rather, Sisko learns to make peace with never having bested Solok and still enjoy the game for the friendship and camaraderie. Fans of the series enjoy the chance to see some of the characters out of their typical element, but the casual viewer will find it mostly predictable. There are a couple of fun bits of trivia, however. Sisko’s son Jake is played by Cirroc Lofton, who turns out to be a nephew of Indians great Kenny Lofton, and the Ferengi (alien) Rom, who’s mostly a comic relief character and who’s written as by far the worst player on the team, was actually played by the best ballplayer in the cast. Max Grodénchik considered pro ball before becoming an actor and is said to have played his part left handed in order to be as bad as the script required.

 

But this isn’t the only reference to baseball in Star Trek. Several of the modern series made reference to the game, usually with “historical” allusions that included “predictive” comments about baseball in the 21st century that were inevitably horribly wrong. The closest the get to anything that looks even a little right is a player described as “one of the greats” who was Japanese, debuted in the majors (in 2015) as a young man, and hit a lot of homers. All of this is so much background noise, except for one major scene - and that’s found in the premiere episode of DS9 in which Sisko’s intimate relationship with the sport provides a metaphorical framework for one of the best written scenes in all of Trek.

 

In that episode, as one would expect from a pilot, we see Sisko and Jake arrive at DS9 where he is to, not too enthusiastically, set to take command of what he anticipates to be a rather backwater situation. Soon we are introduced to the key players and the setting, which eventually lead to Sisko being drawn into a series of interactions with previously unknown and highly advance aliens (described in local legends as “The Prophets” and thought to be mythological). The Prophets do not experience time in a linear fashion and therefore are suspicious of all these recent arrivals to their doorstep whose existence they cannot comprehend. They present him with a series of visions from his past, or drawn from his knowledge, and question him about the meaning of his existence and particularly the aspects of life that can only be understood in a linear fashion (which is unknown to them).

 

Their focus is on the moment in Sisko’s recent past in which he lost his wife in battle. The perceive in his mind that he “exists here” - that is that even though the event is past, his existence, as it were, is stuck there. From there the discussion is built up exploring the ideas of past and future, memories as experiences which inform choices, and so forth. These encounters are the heartbeat of the episode and lay the through-line plot for the entire series. As they touch on each inflection point they say about the subject at hand (for example, procreation) “What is this?” But the most brilliant moment comes when the aliens suddenly shift from Sisko’s memories of personal experiences with his late wife, and his son, to a scene that looks very much like the on-field scenes in “Field of Dreams.”

 

To this point, the Prophets have been speaking to him through the voices of the other characters in his memories - a scene involving his son sees the alien taking on the face and voice of Jake as he questions Sisko, for example. But here, while Jake and other faces known to him are involved, there are also “classic” ballplayers, and everyone save Sisko himself is uniformed in early 20th century style outfits and a softly lit slightly out of focus field that might have been carved out of a cornfield. The transition from the one on one conversation to this scene which is obviously not a memory of a past experience is slightly jarring, but so is the nature of the questioning. Jumping immediately from a thread about how humans (and by extension humanoid species) reconcile their ignorance of the future with taking responsibility for their choices, they jump back to their initial impression of humans. “Aggressive, adversarial” the alien says as they are suddenly standing on a baseball diamond. But Sisko, by now adjusted to the nature of the discussion, doesn’t miss a beat as he recognizes the aliens are using competitive sport as a sort of analog for the adversarial nature they perceive in their visitors and have drawn on the one sport Sisko loves most.

 

“Competition, for fun!” he responds. “It’s a game...called baseball”

“Baseball?” the alien that looks like Jake responds, “What is this?”

 

Sisko initially does what any of us would do and begins to try to explain the actual game of baseball but soon realizes that not only do the aliens not appear to understand but that learning the rules of the game is not why any of them are there. What follows is a brilliant monologue in which Sisko essentially defines the core of human existence with baseball as a metaphor.

 

Sisko: “The rules aren’t important, what’s important is - it’s linear! Every time I throw this ball, a hundred different things can happen in a game. He might swing and miss. He might hit it. The point is - you never know. You try to anticipate, set a strategy for all the possibilities as best you can, but in the end it comes down to throwing one pitch after another - and seeing what happens.With each new consequence, the game begins to take shape”

 

Prophet: “And you have no idea what that shape is until it is completed…”

Sisko: “That’s right! In fact, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.

 

Prophet: “You value your ignorance of what is to come?”

 

Sisko: “That may be the most important thing to understand about humans: it is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers. We explore our lives, day by day, and we explore the galaxy trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge, and that is why I am here. Not to conquer you with weapons, or with ideas but to co-exist, and to learn.

 

The aliens will go on to challenge Sisko that, if all he has told them is true then his persistence in living in that moment in the past when his wife died is not consistent with the purpose of his life. But that aside, as important as that is to the plot of the episode, the magic here is the drawing out of the game he loves, that we love as baseball fans, into something grander than the base machinations of personalities and payrolls into a hand-painted portrait of what our life is ultimately about. For all the pride or regret or rethinking of what has past, the ultimate question is “What comes next?” As often as not, we face that question with dread and fear instead of open-faced curiosity and wonder, and this too is part of our nature because, as Sisko explained, our past informs our vision of the future. But just as in any given game the ridiculously improbable can happen (I submit for your consideration Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS) so too in any given life, tomorrow may well see the ridiculously improbable happen. If we knew what was going to happen, the game wouldn’t be worth playing. All we can do is throw one pitch after another. And see what happens.

 

Play ball!


 

All Shirts

Lifer: Post-season Edition

 

Welcome back to the sixth installment of Lifer by All Heels on Deck! After a brief hiatus, Lifer is back with all new content for baseball fans like you. Our team of writers have been hard at work this last week thinking of ways to bring you closer to the game we all love. 

 

It’s October, so you know what that means! We’re in the midst of MLB’s Postseason, the most intense month the baseball season has to offer. It’s only fitting that this edition of Lifer be dedicated to the season we all love, even if our team didn’t make it this far.

 

What does it mean to a part of a team? Is there some joining force that rallies fans and players together as one? This season, Major League Baseball has gotten very creative with team branding, giving each team their own unique slogan for fans to use on social media. Well, this new branding is continuing into the Postseason. Our Karen Soutar takes a closer look at some of the creative Postseason gear fans can buy to make you feel even more connected to their favorite playoff team.

 

With the growing popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube TV, the need for cable television is becoming more obsolete. What happens then, if you don’t have cable when every playoff game is broadcast on cable? Helen Silfin dives into the techniques and platforms you can use to ensure you won’t miss a second of October baseball. 

 

So, join us as we do life the baseball fan way! You don’t want to miss this edition of Lifer!

 

~RoseAnn Sapia

 

2018 Postseason Gear:

Slogan Fever

 

By Karen Soutar

 

If you’re a fan of one of the 10 MLB teams in the 2018 playoffs, you might be interested in picking up some gear to wear.  Whether you’re lucky enough to be attending a game, or just want something to wear around to support your team, MLB offers some good choices this year.

 

Over the past few seasons, MLB chose a slogan for each playoff team, and used it on Postseason merch. In 2015 it was “Take October”. In 2016 it was “Made for October”, along with “Postseason 2016” and the specific team logo. While it’s certainly nice to have postseason gear to wear, there wasn’t much to set one playoff team’s merchandise apart from another, besides the teams’ logo.

 

This year, MLB has taken creativity to another level. The common slogan for 2018 is “Defend”, and from that point, each team’s merchandise is more unique. For each of the six division winners, merchandise recognizes the division that they’ve won. Using the Cleveland Indians as an example, all their merch reads “AL Central Division Champs” in small print at the top. For each of the four Wild Card teams, merch reads “Postseason” instead. It’s after this initial branding that each team’s merchandise differentiates. This is followed by large print that is the focal point of the merch: “Defend Tribe Town” (Cleveland), “Defend H-Town” (Houston), “Defend the Bronx” (New York), “Defend Fenway” (Boston), “Defend So Cal” (Los Angeles)… You get the idea.     

  Brewers

But that’s not all! There are other options which are completely unique to each specific team, most of which incorporate official Twitter hashtags: #NeverSettle (Houston), #RallyTogether (Cleveland), #ForEachOther (Atlanta), #FlyTheW (Chicago Cubs). Others have gone completely unique in origin: Rocktober (Colorado. For anyone who was a baseball fan in 2007, who could forget their magical playoff run that year?!); Unite in the Bronx (obviously the New York Yankees); Our Crew Our October (Milwaukee); LA Determined (LA Dodgers); Do Damage (Boston); Win For Hero-Town (Oakland). For New York Yankee fans, there is #UniteInTheBronx. 

LA

Apparel includes hats, T-shirts and hoodies for men, women, and children. There are men’s big & tall and women’s plus sizes available. 

 

The MLB post-season is now squarely focused on the perfect hashtag, so why not wear your team AND hashtag pride, Twitter/baseball lovers?

 

 

Cutting The Cord:

How to Consume October Baseball

 

By Helen Silfin

 

As someone who was used to a house full of TVs tuned to MLB Network, I never pictured myself not being able to watch a playoff game. Yet, this year I moved out of my childhood home and into an apartment with Wi-Fi, but not cable. Now that I have survived not only the end of the regular season but also the first rounds of postseason play, I feel qualified to direct other young people lost in this crazy cable-free world.

 

My first tip is to take advantage of streaming. If your parents or sibling or best friend has cable and will share their log-in information, you should be good to go. MLB Network, FS1, and TBS all allow you to watch live with a cable log-in. This is how I’ve watched most games because the apocalypse will come before my family cuts the cord.

 

My next tip is to use as many screens as possible. Sometimes games overlap. Sometimes you want to replay a web gem while keeping up with live action. Sometimes you also want to watch Dancing With The Stars. I’m just saying, if a game can be streamed on your computer, it can be streamed on a smartphone or tablet, too. The phone/tablet option also comes in handy when you know you could fall asleep at any moment and don’t want to risk your laptop sliding off your bed.

 

My final tip would be to use social media, especially Twitter, to your advantage. If you find yourself unable to stream a game or simply too busy to watch, the official @MLB account has been pretty quick to upload highlights, and people like @PitchingNinja will keep you up-to-date with what everybody is talking about. I have done this more than once already this postseason and have missed so little that I am pretty sure by 2020 there’ll be accounts live-tweeting every play of each game in .gif form. 

 

Adjusting to life without cable is very much a first world problem, but it can be done. Lord knows if I can get used to watching all my TV online, you can, too. (And don't tell anybody I told you this but if you are really in a bind and looking for a way to watch an MLB stream, reddit can be your best friend.) 

 

 


No Easy Revolution: Overcoming the Impact of Violence as a Woman in Baseball

By Jessica Quiroli

Walking the damp halls of the lower level of a baseball stadium, the sound of my feet echo, as the noise of the clubhouse gets closer. There’s music. Lots of employees hustling around , trying to get last minute work done before game time. It’s a fun environment. You meet talented people all the time, and you get to talk baseball for a living. Pretty great gig. 

But when I turn the corner to enter the clubhouse, something happens. Sometimes players are quieted by my presence. Sometimes they whisper or laugh. Other times they’ve made sexual sounds or remarks. They’ve asked why I’m there, made jokes loudly at my expense and told me to leave. They’ve laughed in my face when dropping a towel, and followed me into the hall making sexually lewd suggestions. But I carried on, head held high and did my job. 

It was always because I was strong enough to handle it. That’s what I said. I was tough. Sure, that’s true. We’re all strong in ways we need to be when challenged. But when I peeled the layers back, not necessarily voluntarily, but because I was miserable, I saw myself in the merciless light. 

I was a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. My reaction to abuse in the clubhouse was pure survival, learned when I was being abused throughout my life. I was in denial. And the pain of my past, combined with facing sexual harassment in the workplace, created tremendous pain and confusion for years.

It’s easy to imagine people reading this and wondering why I wouldn’t just quit.  I don’t like when people say this, because that reaction puts the blame on me and other victims. Don’t tell me to quit. Tell the harassers and abusers to quit. 

But there I go again. I’m toughening. When really, what I genuinely have felt like doing countless times, is collapsing in a heap and sobbing. I have never done this. And this is the problem. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the history of women in baseball, women weren’t allowed clubhouse access until 1978. That’s the year that Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke fought back when an MLB team refused her clubhouse access. SI & Ludtke changed history & baseball journalism. But as the law goes, that didn’t stop what people believed, and it still doesn’t. Throughout the 1980’s female sports reporters were subjected to humiliating acts of sexual harassment by players, and it continued into the 1990’s. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was sexually violated, via a peeping stalker, in her hotel room. She later won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against him, but Andrews was questioned by everyone from fans to colleagues. The question, of course, was in various ways, ‘Did she ask for it?’

This is always the question. And for anyone, it’s hell, and it hurts, and it’s unfair. As a person who’d survived years of physical, verbal and sexual violence, the question feels like hands on your body, violating your right to dignity and protection all over again. It feels physically painful. 

The path from violence to normalcy isn’t a straight one. So I can’t say if being in a male-dominated industry surrounded by men who don’t always believe in boundaries or change is healthy. Has it made me tougher? Did it stunt my healing? That second question is my fear. It’s the one that I have a hard time answering, mostly because I know the answer already.

I spent too many years in a painful cycle of suppressing my feelings to survive abuse. I lived my life in a constant internal emotional tornado that I was often so disconnected from that I couldn’t help myself, or even see I needed help. I was scared and felt lonely and embarrassed, and it’s why I brushed off feeling embarrassed. Because I didn’t know how to say, “This is wrong.” 

It’s amazing to read that paragraph, and realize I’m talking about being an abuse survivor and a baseball writer. 

The sexual nature of the abuse from players had extreme psychological impact on me. Reporters, male and female, deal all the time with players, managers and coaches who don’t want to talk to them and there have been plenty of tense run-ins between those guys and members of the sports media. The difference of course is that male reporters aren’t experiencing the misogynistic, sexually abusive humiliations that female sports reporters have been and continue to be subjected to. Add to that the dawn of social media, and what women in the industry have been exposed to via Twitter or Facebook, or in online comments in response to their work. I recently tweeted about a basketball player and a famous reality star, after reading typical comments about her “ruining” the athlete, something fans like to do when an athlete is struggling.  I then spent two days reading how ugly and stupid I was. I felt every trigger in my body light up, recalling an abusive boyfriend who’d call me fat, or would flirt with other girls in front of me, then, if I threatened to do the same, called me a slut. It made me feel cornered for speaking out. Just as sports social media often does, just as the very industry I’ve worked in for over a decade has, on far too many occasions. 

We’re told in sports media, just like in life when we’re abused, that we should expect it. That’s part of the job and we need to be tough, handle it, don’t whine. 

I heard that when I was being abused in my personal life. And to hear it again in my professional life felt as if I was reliving some of those moments all over again, like some dark revival of a circus that I never wanted to see again. The taunting faces and intimidating tone of voice; and the way that I’d been convinced I’d done something to deserve physical, verbal or sexual assault was all too similar. 

These layers shed themselves in due time, always. You can only spend so much time in life being deeply haunted by abuse, before you re-claim personal power. I could do that in my heart. But I couldn’t seem to extend that into an action a lot of the time, and I definitely found it overwhelmingly challenging in an industry that was full of unevolved, abusive, sexist men. 

There’s distinct trickiness to experiencing this personal, internal revolution, while still working in an industry with many ongoing gender issues. I’m still a survivor of every kind of violence. I’m still a woman writing about a game that treats players who’ve been arrested for abusing women like THEY’RE the survivors, as though their redemption after hitting or sexually assaulting women is the same as the woman who’s been choked or beaten who’s lived to tell the story. I’m still a woman in sports, on social media, who’s been called a whore, and a know-nothing, and told I don’t belong going in a locker room and asking why I would want to go in there. I’m shamed, ridiculed and sexualized in vile ways. Just like being a survivor of violence, I’m a survivor of this industry. 

But I need to come clean here. There’s a very specific reason I wrote this piece. I was inspired by a life-changing moment in the 2016 baseball season. 

As always, I walked those damp long halls, full of noise and music and team employees holding all the pieces together for game time. The day was ordinary, until it wasn’t. I carried myself the same, went through the same routine, checked my notes, entered the clubhouse, informed the team who I needed to speak to. I stepped back into the hall and waited, as always. 

For the next five minutes, I listened to the sound of a player loudly fake an orgasm. He invoked the name of the player I was interviewing. He continued to do it throughout the interview. As I spoke to the player, the sound of his teammate feigning sexual pleasure continued. A few weeks later, when the team returned, I entered the clubhouse. As I walked toward the exit, he began to fake another orgasm. He wasn’t hiding the game. It’s very much worth mentioning that the first time it happened, one of his teammates stepped into the hall and apologized to me. 

And do you know what I did? I said, “It’s ok,” in a warm, upbeat tone. And I laughed during the interview, as the player and I awkwardly talked over the sound. I laughed. What I wanted to do was go in the clubhouse, ask him where he ever heard that sound, and declare my belief that he’d never made anyone make that sound in his life, and, hopefully, humiliate him. I wanted to shove past him, make him fall, make him look like a fool. 

But I made it ok. I laughed. Because, you see, I was tough.  

Is it ok to admit that I’d had enough? Am I still perceived as tough? Is my skin thick enough for you? Because what we hear over and over as women in sports, is how thick our normal skin has to be, and we should be able to endure every humiliation if we are tough enough. Says who? Who decided I, and any other woman, can really only be a real sports journalist if she’s able to pass players every test? Who says I should never reach a point where I’m Goddamned exhausted? 

After that day, something shifted. And in the place of that motor that ran daily, weekly, full-speed for many years, a new motor was installed. One that ran cleaner, more efficiently, without any hitches. I wasn’t pushing the girl to get up the hill. I was just writing. I was thinking about what I wanted to do that would be different, more productive and also allow me less time in the clubhouse. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it anymore. I simply knew that I had passed some invisible line, and I was no longer on that same path. Perhaps stepping forward as a survivor of domestic violence had an impact. Perhaps facing my history with sexual violence now will have further impact on my baseball career. 

And just like through all those years of abuse, discovering my voice, being uncaged to hear it and letting my story be heard, hasn’t always been easy. But that revolution, that’s what I won’t quit.  

I look at myself and all of us women in sports media as survivors. I know I’m an advocate for survivors of violence, with a specific focus on this issue in MLB. I know and feel how much of a survivor I am. But we need not identify ourselves as survivors by how much we’re willing to suffer for others pleasure or, as women in baseball, that we’re not tough enough unless we show we’ll make endless allowances for sexual harassment and abhorrent behavior. I’m no longer defining my toughness in life and in this industry by how much abuse I’ll endure. I already know I’m what they call baseball tough. 

Originally published in 2017 on the minor league baseball-focused blog, Heels on the Field as a special personal essay.

 


From Classroom To Courtside And Back Again, Jane McManus Starts A New Chapter

By: RoseAnn Sapia

The sports media industry is one of the most rapidly changing and moving industries in the world.

One second you’ll be writing for a newspaper, and the next you’ll be reporting on a digital platform. If there’s anyone that knows the twists a career in sports can have, it’s Jane McManus, one of espnW’s original contributors. After about two decades in the sports industry, McManus now finds herself returning to the place where the careers of most sports journalists begin: college. 

“Some of the most rewarding moments in my career have been in the classroom”, says McManus, who will be taking over as the Director of Sports Communication at Marist College on December 1 of this year. After Marist College concluded a thorough national search of candidates to fill the position, it was announced just two weeks ago that the longtime New York resident was selected for the job.

It isn’t uncommon for established media professionals to take their talents back to the classroom in an effort to better prepare the next generation of journalists. In fact, this won’t be the first time McManus has returned to a college campus since concluding her own studies. 

“I’ve been an adjunct at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for over a decade, and as a result have a lot of former students now working in the field”, she says, citing this as one of the reasons she was interested in the position at Marist. Students can really benefit from learning from someone who has actually worked in the industry, and McManus has a lot of experience.

Like several other sports media members, her love for sports began on the court: “I was basically a gym rat who turned my passion into a job”. A basketball player at St. John’s College in Maryland, she would spend her free time after class and on weekends playing pickup games. She continued playing pickup even after college at the Prospect Park YMCA after she moved to Brooklyn, New York. For McManus, a career in sports just made sense.

McManus graduated with a Master’s Degree from Columbia Journalism School in 1997, and began her career covering New York sports in 1998. Since then, her work has been featured in outlets like Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News, The New York Times, and ESPN. 

She has worked in the industry long enough to see it undergo major changes that have altered many careers. “The biggest change has been the collapse of the financial model in newspapers”, says McManus, “That's changed everything: the path into the industry, the amount of mentoring and editing young aspiring media types can expect and the amount of money they can hope to earn”. 

In this era of technological advancements and instant access to news, newspapers are starting to become obsolete, and other outlets are downsizing. McManus has seen talented colleagues “get the unceremonious axe”, and has witnessed “bloviators” be promoted to high-paying roles.

Although this seasoned sports journalist has written for several prestigious outlets, her time with ESPN has perhaps had the biggest impact on the industry.

In 2010, ESPN created espnW, a platform dedicated to the women who love sports and the women who play sports. Jane McManus was one of the original contributors to the site when it launched that December. 

“Rob King and Laura Gentile approached me early on about espnW, and I loved the idea. Some dismissed it as the pink ribbon of ESPN, but there are a ton of stories that never would have been written if not for W”, says McManus, who believes that W serves as an outlet for promising young women to write, and grow in their lives and careers. 

While with ESPN and espnW, she had the opportunity to co-host a radio show on ESPN Radio. The Trifecta, which included herself, Sarah Spain, and Kate Fagan, debuted in January 2016. Originally pitched as a television show, The Trifecta, which McManus names as one of her favorite projects, was the first-ever sports radio show hosted by three women. It featured the discussion of mainstream trending topics in the sports world, but also highlighted stories within women’s sports that weren’t being covered elsewhere.

Like any good journalist, McManus continues the conversation of these important, but often overlooked topics on social media. She isn’t one to shy away from expressing her personal views or sharing her reaction to political happenings on Twitter because she believes it’s a platform people look to for “authenticity”.  However, she does note that it’s important to keep reputation and personal ethics in mind when sharing online. 

McManus credits espnW as one of the main reasons why she became more active on Twitter in this way. “I started tweeting more about issues like sexual assault and Title IX while at W because that was a lot of what we covered”, McManus says. She tries to be fair in everything she posts online, and never wants to take anything too far, but it was sports that made her realize just how big of an issue society is currently facing. 

“Covering sports gave me some insight into the backlash against women who make accusations against powerful men”, she notes, adding that it has also honed her understanding of gender and race dynamics in a way she never anticipated. Because these issues have been such a big focus in the work that she’s done, McManus chooses to express her opinions when she feels it’s appropriate. “I could ignore that and just cover wins and losses, but that's not who I am.”

In all her years of sports journalism, the Columbia Journalism School alum has gotten to cover some of the best moments in New York sports. From U.S. Opens to Super Bowls and NCAA Tournaments, she’s gotten the opportunity to witness some great games. It’s telling then, that she cites a women’s sports moment as the best sports moment she’s ever witnessed. 

McManus got credentialed to cover the first season of the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden in 1997 just after she graduated from Journalism School. “When they dimmed the lights and announced those women -- Teresa Weatherspoon, Kym Hampton, Lobo, Wicks, Witherspoon... It's a moment I'll never forget”, she recalls. 

Madison Square Garden was a place that McManus often frequented. She attended several Knicks games that year courtesy of a paralegal job, but seeing that court filled with women who were playing the sport that she loved had so much more of an impact on her. “It meant a lot to me, a freshly-minted reporter trying to maintain my professional composure, to see this amazing group of women own the floor I'd seen Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing play on”, she remembers.  

McManus will bring all of these experiences and the knowledge she has acquired about this ever-changing industry with her to Marist College, and be able to use them as tools to educate the next wave of media professionals. 

As Director of Sports Communication, she'll provide her students with insight about the sports media industry, and offer advice that will help them grow in their careers. 

Sports Communication is all about storytelling and engaging your audience, two areas in which McManus is highly skilled. The most important part of telling any story is seeing the story from that person’s point of view. “You have to get to a place where you don't impose your own opinions or experience on what someone else tells you. You may have those thoughts, but if you can see through someone's eye you can tell their story faithfully, flaws and glory.”

The 20-year industry vet will be teaching her students the importance of human interaction, noting the value of conducting face to face interviews whenever possible. She’ll stress the necessity of finding your own voice and building confidence, especially in a group setting. “It's an acquired skill for some, but if you are just freeloading off other reporter's questions then you aren't developing your own story ideas”, McManus suggests. 

The position of Sports Communication Director will provide McManus with the opportunity to learn and grow as well. She’ll be able to get creative with the curriculum, and continue to think about sports and media in a larger context.

“I think the trend in some quarters of the industry is to have reporters who keep their heads down and just focus on the teams or the sport they cover, but I've always enjoyed taking a big picture approach”, she remarks.

She’ll get to use this approach in everything she gets involved with while working with the Center for Sports Communication, from the discussions she’ll host with students and top professionals to the work she’ll do with students to ensure they have the skills needed for when they enter the workforce.

With the wealth of knowledge and quality years of experience she brings to the table, Jane McManus’ career has taken her to yet another place where she can make an impact. Her time as the Director of Sports Communication at Marist College will surely include important advancements and innovations for the sports media industry. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Breaking Bad Systems: Restructuring Minor League Baseball's Service Time Model

By Tammy Rainey

 

The attention of the baseball world is focused on post-season play. But a certain big debate a month ago will surely return. Next spring, writers will file their various articles describing the effects of the problem, or proposing solutions (as Jayson Stark recently did).

 

The Problem? Service time manipulation to “steal” an extra year of control over high-wattage young stars. It’s not new, of course. Everyone cites Kris Bryant being “seasoned” for two weeks by the Cubs in 2015, but I’m old enough to remember 2008, when Tampa Bay exercised that rught with Evan Longoria. The current conversation is of course related primarily to Toronto Blue Jays top prospect Vlad Guerrero, Jr.; but there are other similarly situated players, both among the 2018 rookies, and players who’ll be manipulated next spring. For those not paying attention, the problem is simply that per the labor agreement, players become a major league free agent after six full years of service, so teams hold a potential star down for two weeks or so at the beginning of the season so that they don’t QUITE have that sixth full year. Thet thereby trade those two weeks for an entire seventh season. The harsh reality is that under the current terms, teams are heavily incentivised to do this. They can’t be blamed for seizing the opportunity.  

 

So how do the players and the league agree on a better system? So far all the suggestions I've seen are adjustments to the current assumptions, which won’t actually solve the problem, just move the loophole elsewhere.

 

I offer a proposal that completely junks the current model, completely flips the incentives (in such a way that benefits both player and team), while providing a base upon which they could build in reforms to the minor league pay structure, an issue I’ve written about previously. This proposal is not without some difficulties (almost entirely arising from the impact of serious injuries in the minors such as the need for “Tommy John” surgery) which will need to be addressed. I have a suggestion included but this workaround is not essential to the overall proposal and perhaps there’s a more straightforward adjustment than the one I propose.

 

This proposal, I submit, is a vastly simpler and more direct service-time calculator which has fewer, possibly no, such obvious loopholes to manipulate. Before I begin, let me describe in more detail what the current arrangement is for those who may not know, and afterwards I’ll offer some examples using players from the Toronto system (since it is the one I am most familiar with). Under the current system, player service is counted by DAYS of major league service time, with a certain number of days (172) constituting a full year (even though an actual season can last 180 days or more). This counting of days controls not only free agency, but arbitration eligibility as well and there’s a whole other manipulation debate around that subject (which can likewise be addressed in this proposal). The problem with that arrangement is both that it counts days instead of years, and that it starts the clock once the player reaches the majors. We’ll call this cohort Group A.

 

So here is my proposal:
Players who are drafted/signed at age 19 or below will become major league free agents in the 10th winter after the play their first professional game other than complex league games (that is, Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League and Arizona League); and

Players drafted/signed at age 20 or more will become major league free agents in the ninth winter after first playing a non-complex professional game. This cohort is Group B.

 

That’s basically it. There are a series of caveats which will hopefully address all the obvious objections, as follows:
1. Notwithstanding other provisions, a player is bound to his team for nothing less than his first five full major league seasons, nor more than his first seven (unless they have agreed to a long term contract) full seasons. This is to say that if by some quirk of circumstance (I’ll illustrate with one of my examples) a player arrives late, say as Josh Donaldson did with the A’s, that player will not be able to skate into free agency after only three (for example) seasons. These seasons would likewise be counted in years from his first game.

2. Minor league free agency after six seasons in the minors remains intact, though counted in the same manner as the above rather than by the current formula. If a player hasn’t reached the majors in that time he’s clearly not a priority for that team.

3. Based on a 150 day minor league season, any injury which sidelines a player as much as 30 days stops the clock until the player returns and each increment of 150 days accumulated “buys” the team another year of control. Again, I have an illustration for this.
4. Arbitration begins after the player in Group A has played seven seasons as calculated above, regardless of how short his major league career to that point has been. After six seasons for those in Group B. No “days”, no “Super Twos” or any of that mess.

 

While I have tried to state this in a very simple and easy to apply manner, I’m going to supply a series of illustrations as to how this would apply if MLB had already had this system for over a decade. Let’s start with the two veteran starting pitchers who project to front the Blue Jays young rotation next year. Both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are currently under team control through the 2020 season. How would that change, if at all?

Sanchez would be a Group A player, having been drafted out of high school, his 18th birthday less than a month after he was drafted. He made two appearances in his draft year for a non-complex affiliate but we can safely assume that would not have happened under this system so in the alternate universe of this timeline, we’ll start his clock when he takes the field for Bluefield in 2011. So, the 10th winter after that point would be...exactly the same winter as he goes to free agency in reality, after 2020. He would have the same years of arbitration, nothing changes at all.

For Stroman, a college draftee in 2012 who was 21 on draft day (thus Group B), things are somewhat different. Stroman like many college players was advanced enough to be assigned to the most advanced short-season team in the system at Vancouver in his draft year. However he also pitched at AA that season and given this i don’t think it’s fair to assume a team would hold such an advanced player off the field in his draft year (as they would do with virtually every Group A draftee). So his clock started with the winter of 2012. Nine winters later is...2020. Just like it is in real life. He would lose the “Super Two” advantage since that’s not a thing anymore but otherwise he ends up with basically the same outcome. In theory, if he didn’t play in his draft year the Jays would have one year of control beyond what they have now and teams will have to decide how they prioritize those choices.

 

Now for comparison, lets toss out an international free agent signing. The best contemporary comparison to these guys is Roberto Osuna. He was signed at the age of 16 in 2011. He first appeared on a non-compex team in 2012, 10 winters after that would make him a free agent after 2021 - which he is! But only because of his domestic violence suspension, before that he was on track to be a free agent after 2020 as well. But here’s where the caveats come into play. First let’s note that he broke camp with the Jays in 2015 so he would fall under the “no more than seven” caveat in any case but since that aligns with his free agency that doesn’t matter. So why mention it? Because he accumulated at least 150 days on the sidelines (because of Tommy John surgery) which would have bought the Jays an extra year of control in most circumstances but the “no more than 7” provision applies. Keep in mind that it’s a fairly rare player that debuts at 20 and never goes back down. Both in reality, and under this proposal, he is (apart from the nature of his suspension) exceedingly well situated for free agency, arriving on the market at on the even of his 27th birthday.

 

Now, let’s apply these to a few players still on the farm. Let’s begin with the notorious case - Vlad Guerrero, Jr. Vladito was signed at 16 in the summer of 2015. As is typical of IFA signings he didn’t play at all that year, atypically he was assigned to Bluefield in 2016 thus starting his clock. Caveats that might potentially arise aside, that means his free agency arrives after the 2025 season like Osuna having just played his age 26 season. Let me pause and acknowledge that the likelihood that  the Blue Jays have not, by then, thrown a Giancarlo Stanton deal into his lap is remarkably low, but that’s not relevant to my point. Under my proposal, rather than being incentivized to hold him back these past few weeks the incentive would be just the opposite, get him up and get all these “free” games you can before the seven year countdown begins next season (he would fall under the “not more than seven” provision). This is good for the fans, good for the team, and good for Vlad who starts making major league money that much faster.

 

Here’s a good place to mention that they would need to negotiate a way for teams to be prevented from gaming what constitutes a “full” season. Possibly a provision that if a player is on the roster more than half, or ⅔, of the season it counts. Something strong enough that no one would dare keep a player like Vladito or Bryant down for half a season to game it.

 

As for the “not less than five” provision, consider one Patrick Murphy. If you don’t follow the Jays’ farm teams pretty intensely you may not have heard his name before. He’ll go on the Jays 40 man roster this winter though because he was the system’s most improved pitcher (he’s quite good, though not a guy who’s going to be considered for the league-wide Top 100) and would be a prime target of rival teams in the Rule 5 draft. Why Murphy? Injuries. I’m going to have to fudge history a bit to make my point though. What actually happened was that Murphy (2013, Group A) made three appearances in complex league games in 2014 and re-injured himself. He would not pitch for a non-complex team until 2016. What this means is that his major league free agency would fall in the winter of 2025. But he only just spent 2018 in Dunedin because of the injuries. If you gave him a full season at AA and another at AAA then he would not be projected for a full season in the majors until 2021 and of course we know how such projections go (what if the rotation in Toronto  is full and he has to go back to AAA, for example). In this case, if he did come up for good at the beginning of 2021 he’s five seasons from free agency - basically he’d be a rare case that got a better deal. But if his development or opportunity were any slower than that, then the “not less than five full seasons” provision kicks in and delays his free agency by one additional year. He’d be a free agent at 30 without that adjustment, 31 with it.

 

Finally, let’s circle back to Donaldson. What of his oh-so-late arriving free agency? Josh was drafted out of college, thus he’s Group B, in the 2007 draft. He played some in the Northwest League that year, starting his clock. Thus his nine year free agency would have landed him on the market after his 2015 MVP season, going into his age 30 season which is basically within the time frame that’s built into the design. The very best will be facing their age 27 season as a free agent, almost all of the rest will be 28-31 and very rarely a player might be 32. But with Donaldson, the No Less provision applies. He didn’t play his first full major league season until 2013, so his free agency would - under my proposal - have fallen last winter, going into his age 32 season. But again, Donaldson is a very rare case in terms of a player of that quality arriving so late. Much more typically a player arriving at free agency that late would be a role player or a reliever. Ryan Tepera, for example, is now 30 and is still two years from free agency, in both real life and in my model.

As I said, there will no doubt be loopholes others will notice I have not anticipated, but overall this arrives at much the same results in terms of service time, arbitration and free agent outcomes, and entirely wipes out the major incentives to manipulate call-up decisions. Feel free to plug any player you want into the system and see how his career to date, or projected, plays out and let me know what you discover.

 

One post-script. In the same sense that this fully structures the stages of a players career, when they hit certain benchmarks, moving from major league minimums to arbitration to free agency, it also provides a clear and obvious framework for structuring the pay scale of minor leaguers. If they get paid by years of service rather than the level at which they play, for the period of time they are in the minors (or until the reach six year minor league free agent status), teams can clearly budget for the payroll costs for every team and be ethical employers rather than exploiters. Assuming, of course, the union takes a stand for their potential future members in some meaningful way.

 

So, MLB? MLBPA? I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, saved you a big headache next time you visit the negotiating table. All I ask is that, if you use it, someone get me a VGJ autographed bat and we’ll call it even, m’kay?