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The Inside Track | J.A. Adande

Izturis Case Shows How Baseball Drops the Ball

July 23, 2006|J.A. Adande | J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

Sometimes it seems as if we have it all wrong, that we spend too much time on the dead and not enough on the living.

If you've ever buried a parent, chances are you spent more on the funeral than you ever did for a milestone birthday party.

The week that passed for the Dodgers and Cesar Izturis reinforced how backward we can be, and exposed a little flaw in baseball's collective bargaining agreement: There's no accommodation for paternity leave.

"There's bereavement leave," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said. "But that's the opposite situation."

Since the 2003 season, Major League Baseball has allowed players to take bereavement leave for a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven while dealing with a deceased or seriously ill family member. For the teams it's similar to putting a player on the disabled list, enabling them to add another player to the roster while he's gone.

But what about a policy to address players who want to miss time for the birth of their children?

"Not covered," Colletti said. "It would be a good idea."

That way we could avoid the type of awkward situation we had last week, when Izturis left the team Sunday to be with his wife, Liliana, as she gave birth to Daniela. Izturis was absent from the Dodgers' four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix, rejoining the team Friday night for a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

It left the Dodgers short-handed and apparently out of the loop, as what was expected to be a two- or three-day absence grew longer, causing Colletti to say Wednesday, "I'm assuming that to miss four days there is some complication."

Izturis said Friday that there was nothing excessively wrong, but that after his wife gave birth by caesarean section she had some bleeding and the doctors wanted to keep her in the hospital. Colletti said Friday that "I didn't know it was caesarean until maybe" Thursday.

A paternity leave list would have kept the Dodgers -- who already called up Willy Aybar to replace the injured Jeff Kent -- from feeling short-handed. A policy that allowed for a week's absence might have also quelled speculation that Izturis, who wasn't pleased that the Dodgers signed free agent Rafael Furcal to play his shortstop position last winter, was using the situation to exact a little revenge on the Dodgers.

Izturis said it was simply a matter of putting his family first. He was in the hospital around the clock, leaving only to go home to shower and change.

"I didn't know it was going to be that long," Izturis said. "I thought it was going to be two days, max. After that, the doctor said she was going to be there four days."

We knock the deadbeat dads -- especially pro athletes -- who abandon their children, but we don't accommodate the men who want to be there for their kids from day one.

Baseball is far from the only industry that doesn't look after the rights of dads who want to be with their newborn children. A 2005 report by the Families and Work Institute showed that only 13% of the American employers surveyed offered paid paternity leave.

And the Dodgers weren't the only baseball team that had an adventure in paternity land last week. Toronto Blue Jays infielder Shea Hillenbrand left the team so he and his wife could fly to California when the woman whose baby they planned to adopt gave birth July 14. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, which covers the Toronto triple-A affiliate Syracuse SkyChiefs, the Blue Jays tried to use the bereavement list for Hillenbrand, but were denied by MLB. The situation turned ugly when Hillenbrand complained that no one from the Blue Jays' front office congratulated him on the adoption, then wrote disparaging remarks on a locker-room board, got into a showdown with the manager, was designated for assignment and wound up being traded to San Francisco.

Fortunately, the Dodgers' situation didn't get that out of hand. Izturis was back in the lineup Friday night, and said he's willing to play out of position at third base if that's what the team needs.

He just knew he needed to be with his wife. He missed the birth of their son six years ago when he was playing in his native Venezuela and didn't make it to the hospital in time. He wasn't going to let that happen with the birth of his second child.

He said watching Daniela take her first breath "was a good feeling. Whoever has a child, they'll know what I'm talking about."

Until baseball manages to put those feelings into its governing rules, teams and players will just have to stumble through their own awkward, on-the-fly guidelines.

"You have to use common sense and you have to use your heart and you have to remember that it's family first," Colletti said. "If you always put your family first, you'll always have peace in your life and peace in your heart."

It doesn't have to be a lengthy policy filled with legalese. Just remember the earnest feelings Izturis was able to convey with three words: "It's my child."

That said it all.

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