The Problems with Sean Doolittle’s Challenge

The best part of being a lawyer, aside from winning cases, is using long and cool words like fiduciary and promissory estoppel and collateral attack and forcible entry and detainer. The worst part of being a lawyer is when you have to give people bad news, to play the role of the “fun police.” This piece falls squarely into the latter category.

Enter Nationals southpaw Sean Doolittle, who, as our very own Carson Cistulli explained last week, has issued a challenge. Specifically, this challenge:

Awesome! Bat flips are awesome. Like this one.

Shortly after his comments were published, Doolittle later said he was joking.

That is, as they say, unfortunate. Really unfortunate, in fact, because I agree with Dan Gartland and Scott Allen: this challenge is awesome. Or, more precisely, it would be awesome if the rules allowed it. Alas, today I’m forced — in my capacity as an officer of the fun police — to inform you, Dear Reader, that Doolittle’s idea is probably prohibited.

Let’s start with discipline, which is governed by Articles XI and XII of the collective bargaining agreement. There isn’t any provision in either which allows for the payment of a fine by a third party. In fact, both Article VI(d) and XII(E) even allow a team to deduct fines from a player’s salary as the primary collection method, which pretty much guarantees the player would have to pay it. And Article XII also requires that a “Player… prompt[ly] compl[y] with any discipline imposed upon him.” That language pretty clearly states that the player is responsible for paying his own fines. Interpreting the language otherwise would also, in theory, allow a player to serve a different player’s suspension, which is obviously stupid. And because paragraph 9(a) of the uniform MLB contract requires players to comply with the CBA and baseball rules, theoretically circumventing discipline by paying another player’s fines would violate both players’ contracts, too.

Now, every rule has a loophole. Perhaps Doolittle could reimburse players for the fines they received. That could work, in theory; while it’s certainly against the spirit of the rules, it’s not against the letter of the rules. But it might also be against a different set of rules: those affecting “the integrity of the game” in Article XI(E). Why? Because while it isn’t exactly a Pete Rose-level conflict, creating a financial incentive for someone you’re competing against — even for something as awesome as bat flips — changes the terms of the batter-pitcher engagement. Offering to pay someone money for homering off of you is incentivizing the opposition to beat you. It also undermines the integrity of the rules by providing an incentive to break them. Allowing this would, in theory, create a precedent allowing a player to offer to pay the fines of a pitcher who beaned opposing hitters, for example.

So Doolittle’s challenge probably isn’t legal under the rules. But there’s good news: even if a player did get fined, he’d probably be able to avoid paying all of it. Back in 2005, the Wall Street Journal published an analysis of the four major North American sports and their respective discipline schema. The Journal found that, while all sports collect less in fines than they levy — a combination of failure to pay, settlements for less than the original amount, and agreements to drop the fine on good behavior — they also discovered that MLB both levies and collects far less than the other major North American sports.

But powerful players and their representatives act in concert with teams and leagues who don’t want to antagonize the athletes, and typically don’t push hard to collect the money. “It’s all just a charade,” says former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. “With all these lawyers and all this process, the message of the discipline gets eroded.”

For instance, in 2004, MLB levied less in fines than NASCAR and more than $3 million less than the NFL. MLB also didn’t collect all of its fines. And even the NBA, which levies far more than any other league in fines, collects less than it levies. In sum, the data suggests that a hitter fined for a bat flip followed by jumping jacks around the bases would likely not have to pay most of his punishment anyway and might evade punishment entirely if he promised not to do it again.

What does this mean? That Sean Doolittle’s challenge may very well be unnecessary. Just looking at the 2018 fine data thus far, MLB hasn’t exactly made a habit of suspending players for bat flips. And even if it did, many players wouldn’t end up paying the full fine anyway. So, go ahead: flip bats. Celebrate your homers. Sean Doolittle will appreciate it, and so will we… even if he won’t pay you for them.

We hoped you liked reading The Problems with Sean Doolittle’s Challenge by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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Captain Tenneal
Member
Captain Tenneal

I’m confused. MLB would forbid Doolittle from donating to a charity?

Chris K
Member
Chris K

Yeah, I think the article’s premise sounds in confusion.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

Yep, this seems like a misread to me. I do wonder, though, if this would be akin to “gambling” (against yourself???) and would nonetheless be something that MLB would not want to promote or allow.

I’m sure if Doolittle wanted to do something outside the lines to both promote players having fun and also charity, it would be an awesome event. Maybe an Elaine Benes dance contest with MLB players. I bet people would pay to see that.

Careless
Member
Careless

Yes, she’s once again definitely wrong. It might be against the rules to encourage another player to break the rules like this, but matching the fine with a donation to an unrelated charity?