King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Kenny Rogers an All-Star? Whatever. Baseball must fix its joke of a justice system -- puny fines, optional suspensions. Plus: Baseball can teach the NBA about caring for its elders.


Salon Staff
July 6, 2005 1:21AM (UTC)

Kenny Rogers was named to the American League All-Star team over the weekend, and he was also booed lustily by fans in Seattle, where he and the Texas Rangers lost a 2-1 game to the Mariners Sunday.

Rogers is being booed by the typing classes as well, the idea being that he doesn't deserve to go to the Midsummer Classic next Tuesday in Detroit in the wake of his attack on a cameraman in Arlington, Texas, last week.

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Baseball suspended Rogers for 20 games and fined him $50,000, but those punishments are on hold pending his appeal, which will be heard during the All-Star break next week.

That last sentence shows how baseball's system of punishment is totally whacked, but we'll get back to that in a second. First, the Rogers-as-All-Star question.

"The inclusion of Rogers on the American League All-Star team is an insult to civility," wrote Mike Lopresti in USA Today. "His numbers make an All-Star case, his behavior does not. Is common courtesy from a professional athlete now too much to ask?"

Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote, "I don't care what kind of year he's had on the mound, which has been very good. Boston manager Terry Francona shouldn't have named Rogers to the squad, and Commissioner Bud Selig should have stepped in and ordered Francona not to do so."

Rogers, who doesn't speak to the media except with his hands, hasn't decided whether he'll go to the game.

I can't get too excited one way or the other. Even if Rogers weren't out on appeal, regular-season suspensions don't carry into the postseason, as we learned when Robbie Alomar spit on an ump a few years ago, and shouldn't carry over to midseason exhibitions either.

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If Rogers, who is deserving as a pitcher, wants to go, he should go. A few media types have suggested he should do the classy thing and excuse himself, but you can wait a long time for Kenny Rogers to do a classy thing.

He hasn't even apologized to the cameraman he sent to the hospital, except through his lawyers, via fax, which is exactly the same as not apologizing at all. Might as well save the fees and paper.

And besides, what could be better punishment for the media-hating Rogers than to go to Detroit and spend three days in the center of a media storm? I would work the three days for no pay if I could have a TV camera that I could stick in Rogers' face every single minute he was in public.

It wouldn't even have to be a working camera. Papier-mâché would be fine. Call me old-fashioned but I think moron-baiting is fun.

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The problem here isn't Rogers possibly pitching in the All-Star Game, it's the joke of a punishment system baseball uses. A suspension can be manipulated by the punished player to his advantage, and the fines, which look huge to us normal people, are pocket change to players.

Rogers was suspended for 20 games, which is the equivalent of four starts. But Rogers isn't serving that sentence because the players union appealed it, and the appeal won't be heard until the All-Star break next week.

Players routinely abuse this system. In the typical suspension of a few days, for a hitter charging the mound, say, or a pitcher loading up the baseball, the player can wait until his club is facing a weak team, then drop the appeal and serve the suspension at a time when it's less likely to result in losses.

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Rogers' suspension is so long that it's much more difficult to do. He essentially had the choice of serving the suspension right away and facing Seattle and Boston, or waiting until his hearing and serving it against Oakland and Baltimore at the end of the month. Either way he'd miss a series each against Toronto, Oakland and New York.

So it was close, maybe a little better to wait, and certainly better if commissioner Bud Selig reduces the suspension next week. But if the Rangers were playing a bunch of games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City now and had the White Sox and Angels all over their schedule in late July, Rogers could have skipped the appeal.

Why does it take 10 days to get an appeal heard? This is the information age. Set up a video conference. If the parties must be in the same room, the commissioner should get on a plane or send a representative and hold the hearing the next day wherever the suspended player is. Players shouldn't be able to manipulate their punishment to best serve their own or their team's needs.

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But even worse is the fine. Rogers got socked for $50,000, and that sure sounds like some cabbage. Until you think about it.

In 1965, Juan Marichal of the Giants clocked John Roseboro of the Dodgers on the head with a bat. At first glance that seems more severe than what Rogers did, but one could argue that Marichal was provoked, or at least that the incident was merely an escalation of an already-bad situation. It also involved player against player, which is a different thing than player against civilian.

At least looking at the suspension, baseball is treating Rogers' offense as the more serious one. He gets 20 games, Marichal got a week.

So why was Rogers' fine so small?

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Marichal was dinged for $1,750. Obviously adjusting for inflation would make that a different figure today -- about $10,426, if you're wondering -- but the real comparison to make is to the average major league salary.

In 1965, the average big-leaguer made $19,000 a year, according to former union chief Marvin Miller. Today, the average is about $2.6 million. Marichal's $1,750 fine was about 9.2 percent of the average salary. Rogers' fine is about 1.9 percent of the average salary.

See the difference?

For Rogers' fine to be equivalent to Marichal's, it would have to be about $242,000. Looking at the suspensions, baseball seems to think Rogers' crime was about three times as severe as Marichal's, so maybe his fine should be more like $726,000.

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Argue that one among yourselves, but I think we can all agree that $50,000 is chump change in the world of the major league player. Rogers can make that up out of petty cash.

Or he can just go to the All-Star Game and pick up a $50,000 bonus. Neat how that works out, isn't it?

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Baseball shows NBA how it's done [PERMALINK]

We've been talking about the NBA pioneers who have been fighting for two decades to get a pension from the league, which, thanks in small part to their contributions half a century ago, is now a $3 billion enterprise.

Over in baseball -- which is rarely in a position to teach basketball how to do the right thing -- the Baseball Assistance Team charity has just announced that this spring its representatives were able to raise $900,000 by the extremely not difficult act of visiting the 30 clubhouses during spring training and asking for donations.

BAT helps "members of the baseball family" who have fallen on hard times. That means not just former big league players but also managers, coaches, scouts, umpires and front office personnel, plus former minor league and Negro League players. And their widows and children. And former Women's Professional Baseball League players.

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There are about 45 men -- some in need, some not -- who played in the NBA before 1965 and completed three years in the league, the vesting requirement for post-'65 players, but get no pension. How mean, how nasty, do the NBA and its players union look for not voting a pension or other aid at least to those among that group who need help.

Bill Tosheff, their leader and spokesman, says $400,000 a year, probably diminishing annually as people die off, would take care of them. Baseball's charity raised more than twice that much just by sending former players like Bob Gibson, Robin Roberts and Bobby Murcer around to the teams with a coffee can.

Now, it's true there are a little over twice as many major league baseball players as NBA players, but the NBA players are richer. Total NBA payroll is about three-quarters of the majors' total payroll. But even if the NBA players gave the same average amount their baseball cousins did, it would be enough.

BAT says it has awarded more than $12 million in grants to 1,800 people. That number of NBA retirees without pensions again: 45.

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