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…