Notebook > Sports

Off-speed punishment

Sports | What shape is baseball in when 20 games is the most the league can suspend a player for committing what police are calling a Class A assault?

Issue: "Space: Dawn of Discovery," Aug. 13, 2005

More than a month after Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers shoved a Dallas television cameraman, he's still only days into his 20-game suspension. Mr. Rogers even made five starts in the 25-game span between the incident and the actual imposition of the suspension.

Despite managing to stall the process with an appeal, Mr. Rogers and the Baseball Players Association wasn't done fighting his punishment. The players union arranged for an Aug. 8 meeting with an independent arbiter to claim Mr. Selig acted improperly when he levied the suspension against the Rangers pitcher. The union argues that under the current player-friendly labor agreement, a Selig lieutenant would have needed to make the initial suspension.

Technically, they may be right. But what does it say about a league where the game's commissioner is powerless to levy suspensions? Or where it can take nearly a month to make a penalty effective? What shape is baseball in when 20 games is the most the league can suspend a player for committing what police are calling a Class A assault? And how toothless does the commissioner's office seem when its suspensions are with pay, and leave fans wondering just how a misbehaving player earned a paid vacation?

Cooling off the boys of summer?

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As with the NHL last year, major-league baseball faces an impending labor crisis. Players who have watched their share of the revenue pie shrink from 64 percent in 2002 to just over 50 percent today may clamor for a strike. Owners who recognize how they've botched past labor deals by giving too much power to the union may prepare for a lockout. Power belongs to the players and, relatively speaking, money to the owners.

NHL owners tamed their players union, instituting a salary cap as part of the recent labor deal, after which hard-line NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow resigned. Both the NBA owners and NFL owners have managed to install salary caps and largely de-claw their labor groups. Baseball has not. But league owners will have their chance after the 2006 season, when the current deal expires.

Suddenly, the one-year stoppage NHL owners used to break the hockey players union doesn't seem so bad. But were baseball owners paying attention?

Around the Horn

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps' grand experiment at the World Championships in Montreal turned out to be a failure. Instead of swimming many of the events in which he won six gold medals in the 2004 Summer Olympics, Mr. Phelps, now 20, tried swimming events for which he's not known. And perhaps with good reason: He finished seventh in the 100-meter freestyle, while sitting out his best event, the 400-meter individual medley, for which he holds the world record.

The bright side of youth sports will be on display in Williamsport, Pa., when the Little League World Series opens on Aug. 19. But what about the dark side? That may be on display 200 miles southwest in Uniontown, Pa., where T-ball coach Mark Downs stands trial on various charges after he allegedly paid one player to injure an autistic boy. A 7-year-old testified that Mr. Downs offered him $25 to plunk an autistic teammate in the head so the coach would be allowed not to play the autistic boy in a playoff game. Before the game as the two boys warmed up, the 7-year-old beaned the kid once in the groin and once in the ear.

The Orlando Magic are now learning how perilous dipping into the international pool can be on draft day. In June, the Magic made Fran Vazquez, a Spanish forward, their top selection, choosing him 11th overall. But now the 22-year-old says he's not yet mentally ready for the NBA and plans on spending another year playing in Europe. If Mr. Vazquez isn't up for the challenge of the NBA at 22, when will he be?

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