When I was a kid, our neighborhood in the suburbs backed up to a creek.
I loved exploring that creek, which was always more than a trickle but never more than 7 or 8 feet wide. My friends and I would catch crawdads, dig up worms and pretend to shoot at birds with our slingshots (it’s not a coincidence that we missed every single time). My parents weren’t big fans of the creek. People threw trash down there (stupid people). Poison ivy was everywhere. Dangers for a growing kid, y’know?
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I wasn’t supposed to go in the creek. I knew this. I went anyway, though. I would gladly trade the risk — being grounded for a week or two — in exchange for that reward — a summer of exploring the wonders of the creek. If the punishment was being grounded for the rest of the summer? I would have stopped going in the creek. Probably. Definitely.
That, folks, is what Major League Baseball is hoping to accomplish with its new set of punishments. The powers that be are trying to change the behavior of those who work in baseball. You already know about the steroid penalties that have been in place for a while: 80 games for a first violation, 162 games for a second violation and lifetime banishment for a third violation (former Mets pitcher Jenrry Meija is the lone ex-player on that list at the moment). The suspensions, of course, are without pay.
Which brings us to Tuesday.
Tuesday was the day of reckoning for the Atlanta Braves, who had already forced former GM John Coppolella to resign amid fallout from an international signing scandal. The MLB investigation turned up mountains of evidence of wrongdoing — deliberate, conniving, complicated efforts to circumvent the system in place from 2015 through 2017 — and commissioner Rob Manfred wanted to make a statement that this is not OK.
Coppolella, the ringleader, is banned from baseball for life. As a member of the permanently ineligible list, he cannot be employed by a team in any capacity, and he cannot work with baseball as a certified player agent. He has to find a new career.
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The 13 players signed through the Braves’ deceitful tactics are now free agents, eligible to sign with any team under international signing rules (slightly modified because of the unique circumstances). That’s an awful thing for the Braves, of course (which was the point), but not such a bad thing for the players, who get to keep their original signing bonus and then can sign with another team.
The Braves cannot offer any player more than a $10,000 bonus during the 2019-20 signing period, and their bonus pool for 2020-21 is reduced by 50 percent. Oh, and they lose their third-round pick in the 2018 draft because they offered one of their 2017 draft picks under-the-table incentives to sign.
The Braves have their work cut out, not only in reshaping their image, but giving the fans something to be excited about.
And the Braves, obviously, aren’t the only team that has tried to get around the rules when it comes to signing international players, specifically those in Latin America. The Red Sox were hit with punishments in 2016 for breaking rules in that arena, and it’s pretty commonly accepted that not every “i” was dotted or every “t” officially crossed according to the rules.
But because Manfred used a hammer, not a slap bracelet, against the Braves, you can bet the other teams will carefully examine all the risks before wading back into that particular creek.
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