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Giants protest upheld; Wrigley issues caused by Obamacare?

Chicago CubsSurreal: MLB upheld a protest by the San Francisco Giants that the Chicago Cubs did not adequately protect the field in a rain delay, and the groundskeeping crew might have been undermanned because the team wanted to avoid healthcare costs.

Let’s begin this twisted tale with the Tuesday game between the Giants and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The game was called by chief crew Hunter Wendelstedt in the middle of the fifth inning, with the Cubs the winner, after it was apparent the field was unplayable after a rain delay. Hold on, said the Giants: the game should not have been called, just suspended, because of ineptitude from the grounds crew in failing to lay down the field tarp correctly.

Now, protests are filed all the time, and very few are upheld. But Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations Joe Torre did indeed uphold the protest and ordered the game to be finished yesterday. The explanation from Major League Baseball:

An examination of the circumstances of last night’s game has led to the determination that there was sufficient cause to believe that there was a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club” within the meaning of Official Baseball Rule 4.12(a)(3). Available video of the incident, and conversations with representatives of the Cubs, demonstrate that the Cubs’ inability to deploy the tarp appropriately was caused by the failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use. As a result, the groundskeeping crew was unable to properly deploy the tarp after the rain worsened. In accordance with Rule 4.12(a)(3), the game should be considered a suspended game that must be completed at a future date. 

In addition, Major League Baseball has spoken with last night’s crew chief, Hunter Wendelstedt, and has concluded that the grounds crew worked diligently in its attempt to comply with his direction and cover the field. Thus, there is no basis for the game to be forfeited by the Cubs pursuant to Rule 4.16.

The Cubs grounds crew, led by Roger Baird, is held in pretty high regard in Major League Baseball. So what happened?

According to the Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer, in an effort to save money and to keep hours down for the grounds crew, some 10 employees were sent home despite weather reports showing rain was on the way. When the tarp was laid down, only 15 members of the grounds crew were available. And why were they sent home? The team is working to limit their hours to less than 130 hours a month — any more and the team would need to offer health benefits under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare:

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That’s the full-time worker definition under “Obamacare,” which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for “big businesses” such as a major league team.

“Cheap,” said one of three high-ranking officials from other organizations the Sun-Times contacted Thursday – all of whom fall below the Cubs on Forbes’ annual revenues list.

The Cubs say it’s a matter of recognizing efficiencies on the cost side, and spokesperson Julian Green did confirm the team made changes in its staffing structure this season, but he stressed the changes had nothing to do with the rain issues Tuesday night. Maybe. Most MLB teams, however, did not make restrict hours and accepted the health insurance as a cost of doing business.


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