The Philadelphia Phillies, their front office, the human beings there, can't possibly be this small. They don't make small this small.
They do, however, make pettiness this small. And vindictiveness. That's pretty small. Bullies are often large, but their minds are small. So are their consciences.
The Phillies can't be all that. Just can't be.
By now you've heard the stories of Ben Wetzler and Jason Monda, the Pac-12 ballplayers who attend different schools but are related by last June's draft. The Phillies selected them in consecutive rounds – Wetzler from Oregon State in the fifth round, Monda from Washington State in the sixth. Neither signed. Both then received calls from the NCAA regarding their relationships with agents, or advisors, which is against the rules, because the NCAA believes complex, life-changing negotiations are best left to high school seniors or, in this case, college juniors.
Monda survived an investigation. Wetzler was not as fortunate. The ace of Oregon State's rotation missed five games waiting on a ruling, and was suspended for six more, a punishment that amounts to 20 percent of the Beavers' season.
The fact is, nearly all drafted players, certainly those in the early rounds who stand to make any money, employ advisors or agents. According to what's known as the "no agent rule," these advisors may not personally negotiate with major-league teams. That rule is violated repeatedly every June, because teams are not bound by NCAA rules, and because most coherent adults recognize these sorts of negotiations should be handled by professionals.
But not the NCAA. And not, apparently, the Phillies.
Baseball America reported this week that the Phillies, after failing to sign Wetzler, in November tattled to the NCAA that Wetzler had violated the "no agent rule." The publication reported the Phillies had done the same with Monda.
On Saturday, the Phillies released a statement: "The Phillies did participate in the NCAA investigation and a ruling has been issued. We believe it is inappropriate to comment further on either the negotiation with the player or the action taken by the NCAA."
Here's where we remind you the NCAA cannot compel the Phillies to "participate" in (or, for that matter, initiate) an investigation. Indeed, NCAA officers routinely make such calls to MLB team officials, and MLB team officials routinely choose not to "participate." (Or initiate.)
So why would the Phillies? Neither general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. nor scouting director Marti Wolever has commented. So we conclude the Phillies were unhappy with their draftees for turning down fifth- and sixth-round bonus money and returning to their schools. And how they expressed their unhappiness was to "participate" (or initiate) in an NCAA investigation that could severely damage the baseball careers of two young men.
The broader issue, of course, is that the agents or advisors may have let these young men down, as has the NCAA, and MLB, and major league teams, and the players' union. The broader issue is the system is not only illogical, but harmful. Still, it was the Phillies who reportedly violated the code, who sold out the players, who soiled the very system that stocks their business, all in the name of what? Sending a message to the next kid who might change his mind? Spite? Revenge?
If so, they should be ashamed of themselves. That's on them, and they probably don't care. They made a couple kids squirm, made them suffer and, well, maybe that was their point. More, and if nothing else the Phillies did remind us of this, the system requires change.
"MLB has a vested interest in doing everything possible to attract the greatest athletes to our game," agent Scott Boras said. "When you are a participant in damaging the rights of a child who is a potential entrant into Major League Baseball, you've sent the wrong message. Anyone in America can have an attorney – a representative – for a complicated negotiation, except an athlete who signed a letter of intent to an NCAA institution."
Further, Boras said, "Major league teams are not required to participate in any investigation by the NCAA. All they have to do is say no. Yet, teams annually solicit and participate in a process where they're knowingly violating NCAA rules and jeopardizing the student-athlete eligibility. The rules allow teams to draft players who have NCAA scholarships, and the NCAA needs to address this issue, knowing it is in the best interest of the teams to solicit these negotiations."
And it remains in the best interest of the athlete to hire someone who knows the business, who knows his way around a contract, who won't be blinded by the bright lights of a long big-league career that might never come.
Maybe these two young men reneged on a promise to sign, or their advisors did, and now the scout feels betrayed and the draft class runs empty and the GM looks bad and the owner is upset.
So, help change the system. Advocate for the kids. Get over yourselves. And, in the meantime, honor the code.
Don't know it?
It's all there in the small print.
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