On Saturday, Ben Zobrist took to social media to publicly defend his (technically against the rules) use of retro, all-black cleats as an homage to a different MLB era during day games at Wrigley Field.
If you missed this story in the rush of the weekend, start here:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) May 12, 2018
On Saturday, pink cleats (for Mother’s Day) briefly pushed the story off our radar, but it came back in a flash yesterday, when Ben Zobrist (and others including Kyle Schwarber and Steve Cishek) took the field wearing their own all-black cleats.
And although Schwarber mentioned that the black cleats were a “Jackie Robinson Day thing,” it may have been about more than that. “I’m sure the boys may have gotten together and talked about it,” manager Joe Maddon said, per the Sun-Times. “I’m anticipating some adjustments to the rule at some point. Whenever the guys hang together, I’m always behind them.”
If you’ve noticed, the league has stepped up their enforcement of these rules in recent weeks, including letters even to other players even on the Cubs (Willson Contreras has stopped wearing his Venezuelan flag arm sleeve, for example). And that’s sort of the crux of the problem for Zobrist, Cishek, and company – i.e. why now?
“Now, all of the sudden, just out of nowhere they’re dropping warnings and fines on people,” Cishek told the Sun-Times of the broader issue. “It’s just been interesting. If they want us to work together with them in a lot of situations, and then they crunch down on something as small as this, it’s just really confusing. Like, I don’t know where they’re trying to build trust.”
Exactly. It would be one thing if there was consistency and/or a clear explanation on why there is a crackdown now. But the league ignores rules all the time because some battles are just not worth fighting. And, in my opinion, if you’re not going to enforce something like the 12 second pitch limit (yeah, that’s real – pitchers are supposed to deliver the ball in 12 seconds or less with no one on base! it exists!), then why jump on this one?
And to not leave that rhetorical … you could argue that the league is creating further turmoil in an already (and increasingly) decentralized Players Association. Perhaps they see this as a way to improve their leverage at the bargaining table, but I even question that as a strategy. Given how uniquely contentious this past offseason was – and how significantly the league won the last round of CBA negotiations – I’m just not sure pissing people off, gaining even more leverage, and breaking the players’ backs over shoe color is really a viable option.
The Players Association touched on why in their response:
— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) May 14, 2018
According to the union, the league is saying, okay, fine, we’ll allow more unique shoe options, if you give us x,y, and z. Maybe that’s good negotiating practice in the near-term, but that kind of exacting positioning is just not a good long-term idea.
I love baseball. On the whole, I like Major League Baseball. And I get that *some* outerwear could go too far. But this is a precarious time, and the league should be very careful about the things that it chooses to focus on. All sides are trying to win the same war – more attention and longevity for the sport – but that cause is going to be hindered if every little thing becomes a battle.
Even if there was more leverage to be grabbed here as against the players, it isn’t necessarily a good long-term strategy for baseball as a whole, which includes the league. Obviously. Besides, adding more player “losses” to the negotiating pool doesn’t seem like a great idea either right now.
In other words, to paraphrase a great Jeff Goldblum meme: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
You can read more about this – including comments from Ben Zobrist and others – at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times. And frustratingly, I don’t think we’ve heard the end of it. Not by a long shot.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.