17 Feb #SparksNotes: We can be commissioner, just for one day…
By: Kylie Sparks
Hello and welcome to the 2020 baseball season! Glad you could join us, pull up a chair, we have a lot to discuss.
So, to begin, a lot has happened in the offseason: Mookie and Price to the Dodgers! Cole to the Yankees! Strasburg to… his house in DC as he re-signed with the Nationals! But the biggest story was the Houston Astros cheating scandal of 2017. Ken Rosenthal was first to report the details in The Athletic — the Astros had been stealing signs using illegal tech during the regular season as well as the postseason, and baseball, which is not used to the kind of drama the NBA sees daily (hi Ja Morant, thanks for making the trade deadline really fun this year) was taken by storm. This scandal really does have everything: trash cans! Banging! iPads! A Lot of Other Questionable Issues Still Yet To Be Addressed!
While no players were reprimanded or punished even after several players admitted to cheating, the Astros fired GM Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch the same day their one-year suspensions were handed down, and the Boston Red Sox parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros bench coach in 2017 and helped mastermind the scheme and is now awaiting his punishment. The NY Mets also severed ties with Carlos Beltrán after his involvement in the scandal came to light (and provided more drama when someone claiming to be Beltrán’s niece decided to go full Mean Girls Burn Book and air dirty laundry and supposed secrets unconfirmed by Expanded Roster. It was definitely worth grabbing the popcorn). Because Cora is involved, the investigation is now turning towards the 2018 Red Sox, who by proxy are now implicated in the scandal, and it is expected more will come out after the full investigation is complete.
Besides the sign stealing, another offseason report revealed MLB is willing to cut 42 minor league teams, mostly rookie and short-season Class A teams, at a time where minor league compensation is already abysmal for players and, for many cities around the nation, minor league ball is a huge tourism draw. As someone who grew up in a city where AA ball was huge in the summers (and where a new ballpark was recently built after decades of being at an older park that desperately needed renovations), I know that minor league baseball provides an accessible price point for those who may not be able afford to see an MLB game in person. Congress is now even taking action to sponsor a bill urging MLB to not sever ties with the 42 minor teams. With MiLB and MLB fighting, no real answer or plan has been drawn up, leaving the MiLB affiliation in limbo.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks, and during the offseason, I casually joked on Twitter Dot Com that Rob Manfred should allow me to run MLB, and provided a laundry list of things I would change. So, dear readers, I would like to show you what a baseball world with MLB Commissioner Kylie Sparks would look like, even just for one day.
- STRIP THE ASTROS OF THEIR 2017 WORLD SERIES (AND POTENTIALLY THE 2018 RED SOX IF CORA’S INVOLVEMENT PROVES THEY ALSO CHEATED IN REGULAR AND POST)
This is a no-brainer. While selfishly, as a Dodgers fan, I would like to see my boys win their deserved rings, it’s really not fair to hand them a title marked with an asterisk. We know the Astros cheated, and it’s not enough to hand down suspensions and forfeit draft picks. Vacate their title and declare no winner for the 2017 World Series. If Cora did carry his tactics over to the 2018 Red Sox, vacate that team’s title as well. That’s the only fair outcome of this giant scheme.
- FUND THE MiLB AND PAY THE PLAYERS
The players who come up through the farm system are compensated poorly and exploited, sometimes playing ball in exchange for an extra sandwich, which is absolutely atrocious. Player salary and conditions drew a tweet and led to interviews by presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders about the harsh conditions Minor League Baseball players are exposed to. With the Winter Meetings and information leaks proving there’s an impasse, it’s time to take some inspiration from Hollywood, namely, the movie DAVE (1993).
In DAVE, our lead, Dave Kovic (played by Kevin Kline) is hired to temporarily impersonate President Bill Mitchell (also played by Kline). The president suffers a severe stroke during Kovic’s impersonation job, and the position is extended while the chief of staff, Bob Alexander, tries to come up with a solution. While Kovic is impersonating Mitchell, he goes to visit a homeless shelter and is wildly enthusiastic about the trip until he finds out that Mitchell was to veto funding for homeless shelters and other services. Dave confronts Bob about it, and Bob tells him if he can cut $650 million from the federal budget, he can keep his homeless shelters. With a little elbow grease and help from his accountant Murray, during a televised cabinet meeting, Dave fights to keep the works initiative that keeps homeless shelters open.
That’s the kind of ledger-balancing MLB can do to not only keep the MiLB teams, but also to compensate players so they don’t have to be working in exploitative conditions. We know MLB made over a $10 billion in revenue last season and teams are handing out $200-million contracts to star players like candy — the league can balance the budget to keep the teams.
- BAN PLAYERS FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT, ORGANIZE EFFORTS TO IMPROVE PLAYER MENTAL HEALTH, AND REACH OUT TO MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
Addison Russell. Julio Urías. Aroldis Chapman. Roberto Osuna. The list goes on and on, and while the MLB’s 2015 Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault policy has been punishing players, it isn’t enough. Players credibly accused of domestic violence should not only be suspended, they should not be allowed to play. If significant personal growth is shown, the case can be re-evaluated, but until then, those players should not take the field.
Mental health should also be brought to the forefront. There are 162 games a year, and that can take a toll. Mental health services should be part of physical health — if athletes see a trainer to get taped up or to examine a sore back, they should be able to go to a counselor and get their mental health in check without stigma or judgment. Players should be healthy on all fronts.
Finally, as old tweets resurface and players’ histories of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia come to light, holding a “Pride Night” is no longer enough. Players (and sometimes fans) are using slurs constantly with no remorse or consequences, besides occasionally having to issue a public statement. MLB should absolutely focus on finding communities to reach out to, especially communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Players must be part of this outreach and do their own internal work so all fans can feel respected and safe at the ballpark. It’s hard to be an MLB fan when you read reports of players and members of front offices being totally disrespectful to fans and journalists (see, yet again, the Houston Astros and their former assistant GM Brandon Taubman yelling how glad he was the team got Roberto Osuna, who was suspended due to domestic violence, to female baseball reporters during the 2019 postseason). The first step toward making sure everyone feels welcome is to be an ally and reach out to communities baseball has not been necessarily kind to. Shorter request: be like Sean Doolittle of the Nationals.
- ABOLISH THE DESIGNATED HITTER
AL pitchers: learn how to hit. NL pitchers know how to hit and can rake, and now that Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are with the Minnesota Twins and Hyun-Jin Ryu is with the Blue Jays, we have lost the ability to watch them hit dingers, which is very sad for those who know they are incredibly skilled at offense as well as defense. In terms of the AL, Shohei Ohtani is probably the best example of a two-way player who is both a pitcher and a designated hitter, but with Ohtani at the tail end of his rehab from Tommy John surgery almost two years ago, we have not seen him pitch in a long time. Basically, American League pitchers: get over it and get into a batting cage, the game will be more fun if you do.
- GENDER PARITY – LET ALL PLAY
The MLB has a great commercial for its Play Ball initiative with girls playing youth baseball. We know that research has shown that 50 percent of sports fans are female, and women have played baseball for centuries — think the Bloomer Girls, or the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was highlighted in the classic 1992 film A League of Their Own (also an upcoming Amazon series starring Abbi Jacobson). With all that said, women’s baseball is largely ignored in the United States, minus the American Women’s Baseball Federation, an amateur organization that helped feed the USA Women’s Baseball team, and Baseball For All, which provides opportunities and tournaments for girls in baseball. We say “Let The Kids Play,” how about letting all genders play? Women, femmes, and non-binary folks play baseball, why not let them play in MLB? The sport will be happier and more inclusive if we let everyone play.
- MANDATORY BAT FLIPS AND HIGH SOCKS
It has been scientifically* proven that high socks = more scoring. And, we see touchdown celebrations and basketball celebrations all the time. Therefore, flip that bat as high as it can go. If you can’t celebrate that win, then stop staring at it and go get it out of the ocean.
*We at Expanded Roster have not conducted any scientific research about the ratio of high socks to dingers, but we feel extremely comfortable proclaiming that every time someone wears high socks, they do in fact score more.
These six core pillars of my commissioner legacy are not just pipe dreams, they’re attainable goals. Baseball needs to work on its inclusivity and making things right. If Rob Manfred doesn’t start listening, he is going to lose a lot more than fans — the sport will lose respect and dignity by not putting players and fans first, the game will be cheapened when players aren’t reprimanded when they should be, and fans who love the game so much they are willing to ignore how baseball has treated them will be alienated.
Ball’s in your court, Manfred.