Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rick Reilly: Legal Genius

There are writers who sit in front of their computers for hours on end researching their columns or blog posts. Who think hard about the points they are making. Who try their best to bring sober reasoning to life with lively prose without having one do too much damage to the other. Writers who, if they don't have a clue what they're talking about, do a little research to get up to speed so they can at least hope to contribute something worthwhile.

Then there's Rick Reilly who, in his latest column, attempts to rouse the recently slumbering anti-steroid rabble by suggesting that a couple of career minor leaguers ought to sue Major League baseball over their failure to make it to the bigs:

I think minor league players like Jones should file a class action, restraint of trade lawsuit against Major League Baseball because they sat stewing in the minors while big leaguers were allowed to cheat . . . You think the steroids issue is dead, but it isn't. These guys live with the fallout every day. Their dreams died in big league clubhouse johns. I'm telling you: lawsuit.
Reilly then goes on to paraphrase a Stanford Law professor whom he claims thinks the idea of some sort of restraint of trade lawsuit is workable. The fact that he's paraphrasing rather than quoting is important here, because I can't for the life of me figure out what cause of action Reilly thinks he's proving up with the elements cited and I seriously doubt that the way he wrote it is the way the Stanford guy said it. Reilly is essentially saying that proof of mere correlation between steroids and enhanced performance combined with baseball ignoring steroid use among its players = liability and punitive damages. I'll spare you the lawyerly analysis, but Reilly's idea is about eight kinds of wrong from a legal perspective. But hey, Reilly's not a lawyer, so we'll cut him some slack.

But Reilly is supposed to be a sportswriter, so we shouldn't cut him slack when it comes to assessing a ballplayer. Unfortunately, he mucks that up even worse than he does the law.

Because he's Rick Reilly, he's incapable of making an intellectual point without adding a sympathetic character or two to his narrative in order to shield against attacks on his reasoning. In this case he chooses longtime Yankee farmhand Mitch Jones, and journeyman Shawn Garrett to be his designated victims. Throughout the article Reilly implies that Jones and Garrett would have tasted the glory and riches of the majors if it weren't for the juiced exploits of others:

Mitch Jones is the biggest fish in the puddle, the fastest snail on the beach, the best understudy on Broadway. No active player has hit more home runs in the minor leagues—nearly 200 dingers—without getting a shot at the bigs. Nine years now, and not even an at-bat. These September call-ups could be his last chance. He's 30, and 30-year-olds get called up every other pyramid. Why didn't he make it? Because he was dumb enough to start his career at the exact wrong time in baseball history: during the Pharmacy Era, when old guys got young with syringes and injured guys got well with shipments from Mexico.

Is he hacked off? Sort of. "I got screwed," says Jones, now with the Las Vegas 51s. "But I'm not the only one."
I'm sure Mitch Jones is a wonderful guy, but there is nothing in the guy's past that suggests he has been jobbed out of the majors, steroids or otherwise. He is a corner outfielder and first baseman who only posted decent numbers in years in which he either (a) was old for the leagues in which he played; or (b) was repeating the league. He didn't get his first taste of AA until he was 24 and when he did he struggled mightily. He didn't make it to AAA until he was 27, and didn't excel in AAA until he was nearly 30. And really, "excel" is a relative term. His numbers improved, sure, but that coincided with a move to the PCL where everyone's numbers look better.

Garrett's journey through the minors may be a bit more curious than Jones', but not by much. He actually advanced pretty steadily for a couple of years and showed some decent on-base skills for a while. He hit a wall when he got to AA, however, and flailed around after that. Reilly makes a point to note that Garrett hit .371 in AAA one year, but that was in just 116 at bats. The next season he played there full time and hit .295/.333/.453. Better than I can do, sure, but not good enough for a corner playing in the PCL at age 26. He dropped off a cliff in two additional years in AAA, and has played mostly in AA since then. Like Jones, Garrett is now around 30.

The notion that, but for the scourge of steroids, these guys would have been major leaguers is ridiculous. For Reilly to suggest otherwise is evidence of either (a) his ignorance about what makes a prospect a prospect; or (b) his desire to make a point -- and hopefully to wrench a heart or two along the way -- regardless of the facts in play.

Not that those things are mutually exclusive.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

You just had the itch to get back to blogging didn't you. It's one thirty in the morning and you already have 3 posts up. I'm so proud.

Chris said...

Rick Reilly is an incredible douchebag. Always has been, always will be.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I've been on Rick's case since he left SI for ESPN as I think he's totally mailing it in... and this is just another example.

Nice job calling him out on this, CC.

Amos said...

Jason, he's been mailing it in for years, even before he went to ESPN. For every column that was a home run - and there were plenty, to be sure - there were 10 total duds when he had the back page at SI.

Michael said...

There were many excellent players who were likely clean during the roids hey-day. These guys weren't called up because they're not good enough. You can't sue for being a non-impressive baseball player, Rick.

I wonder what he thinks about Bonds being "blackballed."

The Common Man said...

Thanks for pointing out Reilly's innanity, Craig. I saw his article on the front page of ESPN and have been anxiously awaiting the skewering he deserves.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Fair enough, Amos. It just "SEEMS" that he's doing that more, maybe because ESPN's promoting his drivel more than I saw it before.