Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Phillies, the NCAA, and self-destructive spite

Ruben Amaro Jr., the general manager of the Philadelphia
Phillies, presides over an organization that decided to
retaliate against two draftees who choose not to sign.
The NCAA is a jackass.

So, too, the Philadelphia Phillies.

The NCAA's silly rules prohibit college baseball players from having "agents" represent them when drafted by professional baseball teams. They do permit "advisers." The idea, somehow, is that amateur purity is maintained when the player himself talks to a scout about a potential contract but is forever sullied if an agent does.

This arrangement is widely ignored and paid no more than lip service. Drafted players have agents, and they talk directly with teams, and everybody except the NCAA knows it's for the better.

So ... this week Baseball America reported that the Phillies reported to the NCAA that two collegians they drafted and failed to sign, Ben Wetzler of Oregon State (fifth round) and Jason Monda of Washington State (sixth round) violated the agent/adviser rules. Monda has been cleared to play; Wetzler on Friday was suspended for 20 percent of OSU's schedule.

The agent ban is silly, hypocritical and probably illegal, but that's par for the course for the NCAA. It lost a court case over this a few years ago and then settled the case in order to keep its rule intact; there's a line of thought that holds that the NCAA came down on Wetzler because it figured he can't afford the attorneys to thump it in court. (Since he will be eligible again early next month, the case will be moot before it gets to court.)

The real puzzle is what the devil the Phillies were trying to accomplish. Presumably they were unhappy that they drafted these players and couldn't sign them. It happens. Trying to sabotage their collegiate eligibility in retaliation is just a spiteful, bullying move.

It helps nobody. It hurts everybody, and especially the Phillies.

The Phillies may well, as a result of this, find their access to players limited by coaches and agent/advisors. Agent/advisors are likely to recommend to their clients/advisees that the Phillies be shut out of the permission, routinely granted, to see medical information. (I'd seen that suggested, but Jim Callis of tweeted Saturday that this is all or nothing.) Once you get a reputation for bad faith, it sticks; and this is the epitome of bad faith.

As Keith Law of ESPN said in a Thursday chat:

Reporting players to the NCAA is not in the best business interests of the Philadelphia Phillies. ... The Phillies gain nothing from this -- no savings, no leverage -- and potentially damaged relationships with players, agents and schools as a result. The move could prove extremely damaging. And Amaro (general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.) referring questions to Wolever (scouting director Marti Wolever) isn't much better. You're the GM, and the buck stops with you.

Actually, nobody from the Phillies has been willing to defend the decision to report Wetzler. They've been mute even as the baseball media uses the Phillies as a punching bag. It gives the impression that Amaro and Co. are surprised by the criticism. Maybe it was a scout gone rogue and the bosses didn't know what he was doing. Maybe the bosses made the call and didn't think anybody would care. Neither possibility speaks well of the organization.

Amaro seems, in many ways, to be in over his head. This may not be as high-profile a misstep as, say, the Ryan Howard contract, but it does speak to an organization in need of thoughtful leadership and a sense of responsibility as opposed to impulsive action and incompetence.

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