"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Paternity Test

I wasn’t going to write about this Colby Lewis paternity leave debate, because it seems like such a cut-and-dry issue to me. Basically: Lewis missed a start last week to be there for the birth of his child; a Dallas Observer writer thought that was “ludicrous”; many people begged to differ. But I remember from our discussion here of Mark Teixeira’s missing games for his child’s birth last year that many people have a different take, so maybe it’s worth bringing up again. For one thing, Rob Neyer, a generally eminently reasonable guy, played devil’s advocate and thought the Obvserver writer had a point.

I guess there’s an argument to be made for a player staying with the team rather than taking paternity leave (which has a three-day maximum limit, by the way), although I would certainly not make it myself. But what rubbed me and, I think, many other people so much the wrong way about Richie Whitt’s blog post was its obnoxiously scornful tone:

But a pitcher missing one of maybe 30 starts? And it’s all kosher because of Major League Baseball’s new paternity leave rule?

Follow me this way to some confusion.

Imagine if Jason Witten missed a game to attend the birth of a child. It’s just, I dunno, weird. Wrong even…

…Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball. If that means “scheduling” births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers “work” maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous.

See, you can disagree with a player taking paternity leave… but “ludicrous”? Of course it’s not ludicrous. That’s a massively entitled attitude for any fan or writer to take. A team, the player’s employer, might have a right to ask a player to stay with the club – ask, not tell – but what right do the rest of us have to make that kind of demand? Anyway, there were about 80 comments on the piece last time I checked, most of them calling Whitt a jerk. Rob Neyer, however, is not a jerk, and here’s some of what he had to say:

What if we’re talking about your favorite NFL team’s quarterback? Do you want him skipping Sunday’s big game to attend the birth of his third child? Yeah? What if it’s the Super Bowl?

The answer’s not so obvious now, huh?

I’m going to be honest here, as I have been since the first time this came up, some years ago (official paternity leave is new, but players taking a game off to attend childbirth is not) … As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team’s in the playoff hunt, I’m sorry, but I don’t want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We’re not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We’re talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

Neyer’s much more reasonable than Whitt, as you might expect, but I don’t find his argument remotely convincing here. There are dozens of moments and events that cause a team to miss the playoffs by one game; to blame that on a player missing a start makes no more sense than blaming it entirely on one pitch, one play, one middling relief pitcher. I’d also add that players miss games all the time – for the flu, for a sore back, for a stiff neck – for reasons that, while they may be physical and therefore a different beast, are also vastly less important than a birth. Most players miss a few games here and there during a season, and every team expects it. Beyond that, in the U.S., the only jobs I can think of for which employees are expected to miss childbirth are military positions – and even then, when it’s possible the army will arrange a soldier’s leave so that he can be there for childbirth. As much as I love baseball, Colby Lewis’s presence in any given game is hardly a life-or-death issue or a matter of national security.

What if it’s a playoff game, a World Series game even? Well, that’s a harder decision, but one that the player and his family should be allowed to make for themselves. I wouldn’t judge someone on that either way. And I know if I ever have a baby, I would absolutely not be okay with the father missing it for his job, unless we needed that particular paycheck to survive or unless he was literally saving lives. Neither is the case for a pro athlete, though, however much a World Series win might mean for fans.

I know that not all of the Banter’s regular commenters agree with me on this, though, so marshall your arguments below…

Categories:  Baseball  Emma Span  Games We Play

Tags:  babe ruth  colby lewis

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1 Raf   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:20 pm

What would Tom Browning do?

2 Raf   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:27 pm

From Wikipedia;
"Whitt, a divorcee, resides in McKinney, Texas."

No mention if he's a father. I remember Neyer getting married, but I don't know if he's a father either. Or even if he's still married.

At any rate, if they are parents, I'd like to know how they handled the birth of their children...

3 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:32 pm

I'm with you, Emma, as I believe I was during the Teix discussion last year.

There's a huge, glaring hole in Whitt's ludicrous piece - and it makes it completely different Teix's situation. Lewis is a starting pitcher. Its trivial for the Rangers to re-jigger their rotation so that Lewis makes the same number of starts he otherwise would have. Between off-days, rain-outs, and injuries, making a start on a day other than the one you expected to happens ALL THE TIME. Its not a big deal at all.

Has Whitt never followed a pitching rotation before? Sheesh.

4 TheGreenMan   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:33 pm

No problem at all with Lewis missing the start. He's been pitching like ass this year so far anyway. ;)

But seriously, if the guy wants to be there for the birth of his second (or third or fourth or whatever) child, then so be it. I remember dozens of occasions before the new MLB Paternity Leave rule where a player took off a day or several for "personal reasons" that turned out to be the birth of a child.

I can't think of a better job than being a professional baseball player, but these guys do sacrifice a bit of their personal lives for the baseball season and all that travel. One or two games for something like this is totally reasonable.

5 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:33 pm

[2] Neyer, I believe, has a step child or step children. I do not think he has fathered any children himself.

Whitt, I believe Neyer said, also has only step child(ren).

6 RIYank   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:35 pm

I have to admit that in the case of a starting quarterback of an NFL team in a playoff hunt (or playoff game), it does seem a little different. (By degree, not in kind.)
But I think you hit it on the head with this, Emma:

Well, that’s a harder decision, but one that the player and his family should be allowed to make for themselves.

I completely agree with that.

7 thelarmis   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:41 pm

yeah, this should be a non-issue.

i do know of tough situations like this in the music world, where a guy is overseas, on tour with a group. it's tough to get subs and get back home. but totally worth it to do so...

when i was reading neyer's espn blog before he made his recent move, he mentioned something about his girlfriend breaking up with him, so i figured he was a single guy. no mention of any stepkids...

8 Bruce Markusen   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:45 pm

I used to think that it was "ridiculous" for players to leave their teams to be with their wives for the birth of their children. And then, must have been back in the late eighties, there was the Tim Kerr situation. He was a center iceman with the New York Rangers. Kerr's wife died during childbirth.

That's when I came to my senses. Players should have the right to leave the team, if they want to, to be with the mother for the birth of the child.

9 Emma Span   ~  Apr 20, 2011 1:48 pm

[8] Oof. Yes, I think it's also worth remembering that birth is not a minor medical procedure.

10 ms october   ~  Apr 20, 2011 2:26 pm

i think anyone should have the freedom to be able to be there for something like the birth of their child.
i always find it funny when we hold athletes to higher standards than other professionals. i don't remember reading any articles on ceo's being criticized for missing board or shareholder meetings because of the birth of their child.
i also find it funny that whitt deems it sort of okay to be there for the birth of the 1st kid but not the 2nd. "tough shit timmy - you were the second kid."
so, drawing from what neyer said - i'd rather be a human being than a baseball fan.

11 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 20, 2011 2:31 pm

Agreed on all counts. To me, it's ludicrous to take anyone to task for taking the time to be at their child's birth. But let's take it further; how many emergency workers or soldiers overseas wish they could be there when their children are about to be born? That's an actual quandary. Sports is trivial at best, and players at least don't have that level of responsibility or logistics holding them back from seeing their children born into the world. I'm sorry I had to go there, but taking a pro athlete to task for leaving the team to be a part of something that is once in a lifetime from the child's perspective is not worth being diplomatic about in my opinion.

Some people are lucky to even have kids, never mind a father that's there at the beginning.

12 The Hawk   ~  Apr 20, 2011 2:42 pm

I really can't see how this is an issue. Kind of mind-blowing.

13 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 20, 2011 2:55 pm

[12] I feel the same way, but I'm beginning to sense that there really isn't a lot out there to talk about anymore. Has the human race bored itself into submission? No offense, Emma; I feel you on the issue, but it wouldn't be one if there wasn't some nitwit out there who felt as though it was important enough to publish for whatever reason in the first place. A cursory glance at sites such as Yahoo! Front Page along with the comments section tells me we have bored ourselves with the constant race to be first with content (not even news) and reaction. Or at least that's the way I see it...

14 thelarmis   ~  Apr 20, 2011 3:00 pm

i thought this was somewhat ironic...from mlb trade rumors:

The Mariners signed catcher/right fielder Angel Salome. Salome was a fairly well-regarded catching prospect as recently as a year ago, but he was removed from the Brewers' 40-man roster last July after taking an extended leave for the birth of his child and requesting a switch to the outfield upon his return (Tom Haudricourt reporting for Baseball America).

[emphasis mine]

15 Ken Arneson   ~  Apr 20, 2011 3:29 pm

There are really two issues here, as there are with many issues like this. One is whether the decision is right or wrong. The other is whose decision it is to make.

I'm pretty sure the decision is not best left in the hands of a sportswriter. And it especially does not belong in the hands of a sportswriter who thinks childbirth is as trivial an event as assembling a piece of IKEA furniture. As Bruce and Emma point out, things can go wrong.

My third child, despite a relatively eventless pregnancy, was born with fluid in her lungs. Of course, we did not know for sure that the problem was fluid in her lungs for about 24 hours, all we had was a single symptom: she was not getting the right amount of oxygen in her bloodstream. Fluid in the lungs was one possible cause, but it could also have been caused by a defective heart or a lung disease. If there was fluid in the lungs, she was at high risk of developing pneumonia. If there was a defective heart, we could be looking at surgery.

She turned out fine, but the point is, there are many decisions--some important, some trivial-- that may have to be made in those first few hours of life, decisions that entail all sorts of complex risks and tradeoffs. If you're not there when a decision needs to be made--especially if the baby is in the neonatal ICU and mom is asleep in a different room--someone else will make them for you.

I'll be damned if that someone else is a sportswriter.

16 thelarmis   ~  Apr 20, 2011 3:31 pm

[15] i'm sooo glad she's alright! and that you were there...

it's always good to see ya 'round these parts : )

17 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 20, 2011 3:37 pm

For starters, I definitely agree that both sides of the issue are reasonable, which was my same position in the BYU suspension story. Just because something offends your sensibilities, doesn't make it inherently "ludicrous".

It's easy to say that the decision should be left to the player, but minimizes the significant commitment made by the team. As Neyer described, these athletes aren't ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. A lot is riding on their peformance, not to mention their appearance. At some point, the concerns of the entire organization need to be taken into account.

Perhaps a compromise would be to allow players to take an unpaid family leave, although that really doesn't address the team's concerns. Whatever the case, I think this is a much more complex issue than many on either side seem to think.

18 rbj   ~  Apr 20, 2011 3:43 pm

I'm perfectly fine with a player leaving the team for childbirth.

A-Rod's in the lineup.

19 nettles   ~  Apr 20, 2011 4:15 pm

It's. A. Game. Pure entertainment for the masses. Nothing more. The world keeps right on turning if Lewis misses a start, or any other player for that matter. If we as a society place a higher value on someone playing a game than being present for the birth of a child, then the human race has officially gone to hell.

20 Ken Arneson   ~  Apr 20, 2011 4:32 pm

If the baby is at term, you can schedule the delivery to be induced on an off-day. And players often do just that. But sometimes, the baby doesn't cooperate, and comes out early. And when it comes out early is the most important time for both parents to be there.

21 The Hawk   ~  Apr 20, 2011 5:01 pm

[19] Exactly. I really don't see what is complex about this. Childbirth is a serious operation involving loved ones. Usually it's also a very happy occasion and an incredibly rare one at that. I mean I really don't even know how to debate this. It's like, if you don't already know, I don't know what to tell you. It's just fucking baseball, for the love of god. Pardon my french but holy smokes.

22 Just Fair   ~  Apr 20, 2011 5:13 pm

I find it far more important for the husband to be present during conception than the actual birth. ; )

23 The Hawk   ~  Apr 20, 2011 5:20 pm

[22] the ol' hit and run

24 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 20, 2011 5:33 pm

[19] [21] It might only be a game to some, but it's a billion dollar business to many others. The MLBPA has rightly argued that its players are essential to that business, but along with the fruits of that position come responsibilities. Simply portraying the issue as a game versus family obligations is much too simplistic.

I also find it a little bit ironic that so many people feel it is vital for a father to be present at child birth, but not child rearing. Athletes are notoriously absent from their children's upbringing, but no one seems to think that reflects poorly on society. In fact, some segments of society don't seem to think a father is necessary for child rearing at all.

25 The Mick536   ~  Apr 20, 2011 5:50 pm

[23] Your positives and negatives perfectly outlined. As usual.

Sandy Koufax, Sandy Koufax, and Sandy Koufax. Yuke and Braun let the angel of death fly over without smearing their uniforms with lamb's blood. If he cares enough about the baby's mother to attend the birth, my respect to him.

26 RIYank   ~  Apr 20, 2011 6:11 pm

[24] So what if it's a billion dollar business? So is software. So are video games. But, as has been pointed out, nobody complains about programmers, advertising agents, etc., taking a day off from work.
If you're arguing that it's extremely expensive to, I dunno, somebody, for Mark Teixeira or Colby Lewis to take a day off, then I want to see the argument. (I'm very skeptical about this.)

Nobody said, by the way, that it is "vital" for a father to be present at childbirth. It isn't vital. As Emma said, it's a decision "that the player and his family should be allowed to make for themselves."

27 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Apr 20, 2011 6:14 pm

I'd have had to have been arrested, shackled and sent to Gitmo to have missed my two being born. Can't believe any editor would let that idiocy be published. There's thousands of baseball games, maybe 3 or 4 times in your life you can witness childbirth.

28 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 20, 2011 7:12 pm

[26] Most industries don't have "games" that can't be rescheduled and their financial success is not based upon contests. Also, employees in those companies usually aren't limited to 30 days, nor are their skills specialized. There also aren't rules in most other companies that limit the number of employees that can be retained as backup. There are so many differences between sports and the types of industries you mentioned that a comparison is futile.

If teams want to give players the discretion to miss games for family events, more power to them. I just don't think it is an inherent right for athletes, or any highly paid person upon whom much is riding.

29 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 20, 2011 7:14 pm

[27] In all honesty, if an employer offered you $20 million per year for 30 days of work, but required that you not miss time for anything less than physical incapacitation, would you really turn it down on that basis?

30 RIYank   ~  Apr 20, 2011 7:39 pm

[28] Uh, you emphasized that it's a billion dollar business. I was just pointing out that this doesn't distinguish baseball from any other industry.
You actually think that most other businesses don't have meetings that cannot be rescheduled? That's ridiculous, honestly. Even my business (not exactly high finance) has meetings that cannot be rescheduled, and if my wife went into labor, I would just miss one, and everybody would be fine with it. (And my skill is highly specialized -- nobody can replace me at the meetings in question!)

Pitchers may get only 30 starts, but they can still get their 30 starts even if they attend the birth of their children -- this is obvious. Pitchers miss games for a cold, it's hardly a disaster.

It's also completely wrong to suggest that "the financial success" of somebody (team? league?) depends on players missing their children's births. That's pure nonsense.

31 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Apr 20, 2011 8:42 pm

[29] There is absolutely no amount of money that can replace the experience of seeing your kids born. Would never work anywhere where they would make such a request, it shows they don't care about human beings, only profit.

Also, baseball is a 162-game season! Missing 3 games is nothing.

32 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Apr 20, 2011 11:16 pm

Out of respect for my fellow Banterers, I'll keep the expression of my opinion much shorter than my depth of feeling would otherwise produce:

If you're not a parent, STFU.

Nothing is more important than your kids, ever, and few if any moments with your kids (and wife) are as important as their births. If you don't think that transcends everything else you're on the planet for, think some more.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver