A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Monday, December 31, 2007

From the basement December 31

A rarity, a post from above ground. We're visiting my mother at her home in Trenton ON for a few days. I think it's really cool that my 66 year old mother - raised without indoor plumbing, blue collar her entire life, never learned to type - got wired a year or two ago. In fact she explained to me today how she rid herself of spam - although she calls it junk mail. Good on my mom. On to baseball.

I think owning an MLB franchise isn't about the baseball business anymore and probably hasn't been for a while. Maybe that's an exaggeration but nonetheless it is increasingly the case.

We all know there was a time - not that long ago it seems - when guys owned sports teams because they liked it and it was also how they earned a living. Tickets, hot dogs, beer, that was pretty much the extent of it. Worked fine in MLB if for no other reason than the players were slaves thanks to the reserve clause. How could you not make a go of it? Things changed, the players were, to a large degree freed, salaries rose and owners adapted in order to survive and prosper. The last of the old school, the Griffiths & Veecks were succeeded by much wealthier hobbyists and big media companies and corporations. They cashed in big on TV. Ted Turner was the visionary, recognizing the value in the cheap programming that his baseball team provided to his new superstation. WGN followed and currently several teams have stakes in their own RSNs. They also were masters in blackmailing local governments to build new stadiums, in better locations, with better sightlines, better concessions, better signage and lots of luxury suites for the local corporate community. Although the business changed, in one way or another the revenues seemed directly related to the baseball team, even if their beancounters wouldn't admit it. Today the lines are a lot blurrier.

The present and the future appears to be real estate development. Is the cost of owning and operating a franchise part of the price you pay to develop real estate around it? Are MLB and the other ball and stick leagues part of "Shoppertainment"?

From a recent SBJ feature on AEG. "Building entertainment villages is part of what Leiweke ( my note - Tim Leiweke is the CEO of AEG ) believes is the dominant sports business theme of the 21st century. In the 1970's and early 80's, he said, sports was driven by ticket sales. Later in the 80's, television money became vital, and in the 90's, amid a building boom, premium seats and suites became a huge part of the business. "Now, when you look at what sustains growth, it's about development around the arenas," he said. "Entertainment districts are huge."

From this excellent piece in The Sun Chronicle, "Team owners see their teams or facilities they can control as a way to catalyze other types of development," Bragitikos said. Chuck Bragitikos is the President of Vibrant Development Group which "specializes in developing compelling retail, dining and entertainment destinations." and has worked with the NFL amongst others.

From a recent banker roundtable in SBJ, managing director of Societe Generale, Randy Campbell explains what owning a big league team can do for you. "...these were sort of "mom and pop" clubs to a degree, in terms of maybe how they were run or operated or viewed. Now, you clearly have a lot more sophisticated investors not only looking at sports teams but looking at media rights, looking at stadiums, looking at development around stadiums. I think that people are recognizing that these sports clubs have great brands; they have great, almost a magnetic, power to sort of draw people to them. Kind of trying to think through how you further monetize that brand value, I think, is going to be the next key thing to do."

From the same aforementioned Sun Chronicle piece:

"In Arlington, Texas, the 135-acre "Glorypark" will encompass more than 2 million square feet of office and retail space, three major hotels and 2,000 residential units sandwiched between a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers and the new Dallas Cowboys domed stadium. The complex will open in 2009."

And.

"In Fremont, Calif., the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team is proposing a "ballpark village," complete with a new stadium, a retail-office complex, 3,100 residential units, and even a new elementary school."

The Cards are also constructing a ballpark village centred around the new Busch Stadium. And the D Rays proposal for a new stadium is based on the destruction of their current stadium and subsequent redevelopment of the site - although they don't own it but I digress.

Examples abound across all leagues and in fact on other continents. L.A. Live, The O2, Patriot Place, Xanadu, on and on....

The pro sports real estate "play" ( why do they call it a play? ) also seems to be a response to skyrocketing construction costs and the fact that John Q taxpayer seems to have cottoned on to the scam of publicly funded stadia for the benefit of super wealthy individuals and corporations.

From the same SBJ banker roundtable, Mitchell Ziets on stadium financing. "You're seeing less appetite from taxpayers and political officials to put public money in....folks are getting a lot more creative about how they're packaging and dressing up public money...you're getting a lot of deals where taxes are generated by the project or by a development project around the stadium or around the arena (and) are getting funneled back into the project. You're seeing that in Oakland with a development deal...You look more at development plans to sustain the financing plans."

See the December 06 posting by Phil Miller at The Sport Economist. "...sports stadiums are not the boon of economic development that they are often portrayed to be and, thankfully, public money has not been as easy to come by in many instances. That's why some recent public financing packages include plans to have ballpark villages developed as a part of an agreement for public financing....So politicians are seemingly more resistant, thankfully, to giving subsidies just for stadiums by themselves. But package in some secondary development (which, if it draws any extra economic activity to the site, will probably draw it from elsewhere in the region) with the subsidy request and see if you can get the necessary votes."

Maybe most importantly, will "shoppertainment" revenue be counted as part of team / league revenues? Gene Upshaw and Bob Kraft are already being asked this question in light of the upcoming Patriot Place. Stay tuned...

Scouts N The Hood

In April I blogged about the much discussed subject of the declining number of African Americans in MLB. Some blamed MLB and colleges - in part - for not scouting "urban" communities as enthusiastially as they should. John Helyar , "Caucasian scouts were disinclined to bird-dog the declining number of inner-city ball fields when college baseball programs had so much talent." I've read little about this subject in the baseball media since the controversy died out in the spring - culminating on Jackie Robinson Day April 16 - until a few days ago when this piece on MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton popped up. Coincidentally I read this piece in Baseball America about a Winter Meetings get together of college baseball coaches and MLB scouting directors about the same time. What's notable about the BA piece are the critical comments by Washington Nationals scouting director Dana Brown.

"As for the issue of getting more black players in college baseball, coaches indicated helplessness because the pool of black players at the youth levels is so small. Coaches also said their lack of scholarships was causing them to lose quality athletes of all ethnicities to football and basketball. But Nationals scouting director Dana Brown, one of just two black scouting directors in baseball, expressed frustration with the level of discourse on that issue. "I thought, personally, it was kind of window dressing," Brown said. "I thought it was something that was brought up. I'm scouting a lot of (prep) players across the country; certainly not all of these African-American players are going to be drafted. There's a lot of guys I see that are good students that could go to some of these elite schools that just don't get recruited. I don't buy that there's not enough African-American players that we can get in school that we can recruit."...Brown cited former Florida prep standout turned Southern star Rickie Weeks, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, as a black player who should have been more highly recruited. "What happened with Rickie Weeks?" Brown asked. "How does Rickie Weeks get out of Florida?...I just think that coaches have to make a conscious effort to go out and recruit players. They always talk about, 'Well, there's a drop-off in African-American players in the game.' Colleges have to scout them, recruit them, sign them and develop them also."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From the basement December 26

THE MITCHELL REPORT

I think MLB is pretty happy, honest. I don't think they wanted this or orchestrated it but they are certainly making the most of it.

MLB is show biz and I'm a believer that no publicity.....The Mitchell Report has been on the radar screen of us geeks for at least 20 months. The Mitchell Report only gets on the radar screen of the rank & file - who comprise most of the 79 million who attended last season - after it is released. How valuable is the widespread coverage it received on the evening news, the front pages, talk radio?.....It gets people talking about baseball and that can't be all bad.

MLB is plenty astute and sophisticated enough to manage public opinion. In fact The Mitchell Report is reinforcing an important message for MLB - a message that they have always promoted - which is that baseball is important to the "social fabric" of America or whatever....Didn't Mitchell tell us that "it is imperative for Major League Baseball to 'capture the moral high ground'." I think you're more likely to find this sort of opinion amongst general columnists and talking heads than in the baseball media. The baseball press made up their minds long ago and I think the general consensus is that yes the game is / was dirty but so is everybody else's so big deal. But the evening news and front pages of newspapers reach an audience much broader - and more important to MLB - than us hardcores. This is where the idea that baseball is important to America is reinforced and promoted. That ballparks are places where for generations, family, friends, colleagues & neighbors - America - gather in harmony. It's a tradition, not a business. How can the discussion and reinforcement of these notions be bad for your product?

Early indicators are that it's not having a negative impact on MLB. A lot of teams, including the Yankees, are hiking ticket prices and there has been no negative impact on MLB's credit rating.

In the near future, MLB will take great advantage of the big stage afforded them by Congress to solemnly ensure that they now recognize the scope of the problem and will take the necessary steps to protect the sanctity of the national pastime and blah, blah. More important is the grievance filed by the PA on behalf of Guillen. If the PA wins the grievance this will get very interesting. The dirty players "outed" in Mitchell will be able to tell MLB to shove it - I hope they do but I digress - but the PA, for the health of the industry can't be perceived as uncooperative...

Longer term, the real issues are articulated below by folks smarter than me in this piece.

“You have to remember these are commercial enterprises which oversee their own testing and that is an unacceptable conflict of interest because profit-making operations don’t want the negative publicity of catching all the drug cheats,” said John Hoberman, who has written books on doping in sports.

"Testing catches the careless and the stupid,” said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Penn State University. “If you believe only 1 to 2 percent use drugs, that is incredibly naïve. Drug use is the greatest problem facing elite sports, and testing creates the facade that everyone is clean.”“The major breakthroughs have come from law enforcement, not by any testing,” he said. “Testing is there to provide the fan, who is already disinterested in drug use, with plausible deniability because the leagues tell the fans the athletes are clean because they have drug testing.”

I surfed through my blog looking for Mitchell / steroids commentary and I think some of it holds up pretty well.

From the basement January 30

Fans know the players are juiced, we've known for years and evidently most of us don't care. The fans who expend the most time and energy on this subject are the hardcore geeks like myself and we will never abandon the game over drugs / cheating, because we love it. The casual fans, who comprise most of the gate, don't engage in these debates. They want cold beer, sunny weather, a 6-4-3 double play, a home run, a win for the good guys and a game played in under 3 hours.

From the basement Feb 23

MLB.com is a shill for the owners. Yesterday there was a fluff piece on the George Mitchell investigation, his stormtroopers are touring Spring Training. The last paragraph of the story is I think indicative of what we're going to be seeing from MLB in their efforts to manage the "issue".

"In the meantime, documented steroid use at the big-league level has become almost infinitesimal, down from the 5-to-7 percent of players who tested positive in 2003. Last season, no player on the 25-man roster of the 30 teams tested positive. It was announced after the postseason that Mets reliever Guillermo Mota had tested positive and he will be suspended the requisite 50 games to open the 2007 season."

So MLB is going to be pounding home two messages on the steroid front. 1. George Mitchell will tell us as definitively as anyone can, what happened. 2. Testing is working, positive tests are on the decline ( see paragraph above ).

As I said before, the results of the 03 "anonymous" testing that revealed 5 - 7 % of players positive seems absurdly low.

For MLB.com to describe present day steroid use at the big league level as "infinitesimal" is ridiculous. Well at least I did learn how to spell infinitesimal" from this PR piece.

Any baseball fan who claims that they didn't know that steroid use was commonplace in MLB over the last 15 - 20 years is either naive or lying.

Steroids and amphetamines will remain in the game, it's the perception of what's happening that is being controlled, not drug use.

The question that I want answered is why so much talk about it the last few years? We all knew Big Mac & Sammy were juiced, nobody said anything. What has changed? Has the zeitgeist done a 180 in America? Or is the zeitgeist unchanged, is Barry Bonds symbolic of something that a lot of Americans dislike? Maybe I don't need Buster Olney, maybe I need Lewis Lapham. ( and my bong ).

From the basement March 22

Roger Noll, Economics Professor at Stanford, makes an interesting comment, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with, on the subject of MLB's approach to dealing with "PEDs". ( As I'm seeing them referenced more and more frequently. ) "Kuhn vigorously tried to cleanse baseball of hard drugs, which did not go down well with some owners when a valuable player was suspended. While his policies and actions may have been excessively harsh, at least they were clear and fairly implemented, unlike baseball's current policies and practices regarding performance-enhancing drugs." Management in pro sports use drug policies to punish players who step out of line. The story is not that the athletes take PED's, it's the politics of who gets tested when and if they are tipped as to when they will be tested and are the results of the test made public or ignored. What percentage of players in the NFL are juiced? What percentage of the same group test positive? To what do we attribute the discrepancy in the 2 numbers? I think the explanations run deeper than simply that the cheaters are ahead of the regulators in the doping labs.

From the basement March 30

Jose Canseco is being ridiculed in the press again, the latest, he's at the centre of some reality TV thing blah blah blah. Jose was always an easy target because he is gauche, conceited, huge and he never met a microphone he didn't like. But the guys who get blackballed out of the game, Canseco, Caminiti & Rocker, are the guys that can tell the truth. You can't tell the truth if you want to remain close to the game, be a spring training instructor, be a broadcaster, coach at any level, be invited for old timers day, get invited to the owners box, or even look former teammates in the eye again. Caminiti & Canseco told the truth about steroids after they knew they had burned their bridges. Rocker told the truth about the farce that is sensitivity training when Ozzie Guillen got his wrist slapped last season over an anti gay slur. Yeah they're all nut jobs but that doesn't mean they weren't telling the truth.

From the basement November 12

THE MITCHELL REPORT

When it is finally released - expected now this offseason - there will be saturation coverage in the baseball press. An anonymous team official has been quoted as saying that the report will be "salacious". No doubt it will. Between BALCO, Radomski, Grimsley, Signature etc., there is no shortage of names to be named. Buster Olney thinks dozens of players, current and retired, will be implicated.

This will be the latest overreported "athlete conduct" story. Fans have proven - we'll tell you differently if asked - that we don't care about "athlete conduct". I.E. Vick, Pac Man, Browne Saunders / Thomas / Dolan, Bonds / BALCO etc. The NFL has not suffered, Knicks season ticket renewals were very strong, 79 million of us ( well, not me ) walked through turnstiles this season at MLB games and the beat goes on....Only the writers and blog geeks care if this era is "tainted", if there should be asterisks, how it will impact HOF voting, yada. ( Yes I'm a blog geek but if I ever participate in an online argument about asterisks in baseball somebody please come to my basement and shoot me. ) The Mitchell Report will have zero impact on the popularity of MLB.

From the basement November 18

Mitchell will present overwhelming evidence that the game was dirty. Fans know that, no surprise to any of us. Mitchell will provide a platform, that MLB controls, from which MLB can manage the message. Mitchell is a company man don't forget, Blue Ribbon panel member, Red Sox Director and long rumored commissioner ( too old now ). Initially MLB will express surprise at the extent of PED usage detailed by Mitchell, followed by constant apologies from MLB for their negligence and "betrayal of the fans", followed by solemn, ironclad guarantees that this era is over, that testing is working & will be strengthened, it's all under control. And the fans will eat it up big time, because they're ready to, because cheating ( at least chemically ) isn't fun anymore, because they'll enjoy the contrived public self-flagellation, because it's what they want to hear, because they never really cared in the first place ( not enough to stay away ) because Bonds has been punished and that is right and is simple and makes sense.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

From the basement December 22

HOT STOVE BASHING

MLB revenue growth is outpacing salary growth. I REPEAT,....OUTPACING!!!

Jeff Passan . "In 1992...., the sport's gross revenues were $1.5 billion. Payrolls from that season added up to about $784 million, meaning 52.3 percent of baseball's money went back to the players. By 2001...the money going toward players had increased to 56.1 percent, even with revenues at $3.5 billion....by 2005, owners were taking the majority of the profit, giving 48.7 percent back to players. Today, the numbers are shocking. Baseball claims it will reap more than $6 billion in revenue this season...the sum of the 30 MLB teams' opening day payrolls for 2007 was approximately $2,478,970,000 – about 41.3 percent of the gross revenues."

Remember this the next time - believe me, it won't take long - you read that Team X has grossly overspent for Player Y in the most recent contract signed. I have read dozens - I'm guessing - of opinions in the baseball media this offseason, all deriding GMs and owners for their perceived overspending. The writers make their argument by comparing the newly signed deal with already existing deals in the market. The wrong question is being asked. We shouldn't be asking how this new deal stacks up against other current deals for similar players. Instead we need to ask how this deal will stack up in it's latter years. Joe Sheehan . "The baseball industry is growing revenues at such a pace that each new offseason is a market completely detached from the previous one....the industry is awash in money, so much so that there’s virtually no way to reconcile each offseason’s contracts with those that came before."

The Hot Stove bleating over excessive salaries last offseason - Burnett, Meche i.e. - was equally as loud and off target. Commissioner Selig even whacked his owners' pee pees last offseason - David Glass evidently was a prime target - over their excessive spending. ( I digress, but what happened to the sabre rattling over collusion that resulted from Selig's scolding and the controversial "slotting" recommendations from MLB for the Rule IV draft? )

I think - obviously a stoned guy in his basement isn't so credible - the increase in salaries is not being driven any longer by primarily the large market teams. The small market teams - unless they're using their welfare cheques to pay down team debt ( can geek darling Neal Huntington - he's saber tolerant - solve that problem? ) - are spending their revenue sharing / luxury tax / central fund windfall on veteran players. Did Andrew Zimbalist get it right in the last CBA? Did he adjust the marginal tax rates ( whatever that means ) such that there is more incentive for small markets to spend on payroll? When he writes about "the cliff", is this what he's talking about? Does anybody understand Andrew Zimbalist?

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UPDATE FROM THE BASEMENT DECEMBER 23

Dr. Zimbalist sent me an email! I am truly astounded. He told me he couldn't post his comments here - Lisa Gray emailed me similarly recently - Blogger is one of the many things I don't understand. Dr. Zimbalist told me I could post the contents of his email and so here it is.

"someone sent me your comment about not understanding me. briefly, the new cba does not solve the incentive problem, it only ameliorates it. marginal tax rates (how much extra revenue sharing you pay for each dollar of additional revenue your team generates) have gone down for the low revenue teams from 48% to 31%, and more of the sharing is invariant to revenue. finally, the salary share in baseball revenue, properly reckoned, has stayed steady the last few years, though it is still considerably below where it was at the beginning of the decade."

I think I understand that. Nonetheless, I honestly don't understand much of what Dr. Zimbalist writes, which doesn't stop me from reading him. I've read 2 of his books, I read his semi regular column in SBJ ( unless it's about Title IX, which doesn't interest me, I think because I live in Canada ), his occassional commentary @ biz of baseball, Op-Ed pieces that I've surfed on to....

I don't understand a lot of it because I'm not smart enough. My comments in the original post re. Dr. Zimbalist were meant to poke fun at my "near smart", amateurish attempts to understand the baseball industry. Obviously there are people who understand Dr. Zimbalist. I suspect they're not stoned guys in a basement.

Thanks to Dr. Zimbalist for responding, I am so flattered. His comments will forever stand as the intellectual high point of this blog.

Now back to the regularly scheduled idiocy.
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Why has the players' percentage of revenues declined? Is this a sign that my theory on more players signing for the " home town discount " - due to the enormity of salaries - is valid? Are they not maxing out their market value via free agency? I.E. Peavy? Or is it temporary and there will be a "correction" as the luxury tax threshold increases in the last years of the CBA and there is less disincentive for larger markets to boost payroll?

Ultimately our opinions on the value of player contracts being signed this offseason have to be tied to our expectations of industry growth. Will revenues continue to grow? If yes we have to assume that salaries will grow as well.

In no particular order, are these the "issues" ( hate that ) which will determine the future of MLB revenues?

How much additional growth is there in the RSN business? I do know the Giants are the latest club to "get in", they with FSN. Is anybody next? Few, many?

Is the stadium boom over? The Nats move in to their new publicly funded ATM this spring. After decades of threats & haggling, construction of the new Twins stadium is going ahead. This leaves MLB with only the Marlins - soon to be the Miami Marlins? - D Rays ( does this remind anybody else of the Big O? ) and the A's in outdated "stadia". ( Neil deMause says stadia ) Will the novelty of new / retro stadia wear off - see Camden Yards?

Ticket prices are going up - seems every time I surf on to biz of baseball there is another report about ticket price hikes somewhere. Guess ownership isn't that concerned about a Mitchell backlash. Will ticket prices continue to rise?

Real estate development. The A's, Rangers, Cards, D Rays are all part of larger real estate "plays" ( whatever that means). I wonder if this is the next battleground between the PA & the owners? ( I'm not convinced that it's PEDs ) How the revenues from these "ballpark villages" ( the D Rays scheme is different, developing the site of their current stadium after it's detonated is their "approach" ) are treated? Is it baseball income? Watch how the NFLPA reacts to Bob Kraft's "legacy" ( how shallow, your legacy is a big box shopping development ), Patriot Place. He'll tell you it has nothing to do with his Patriots football team - althought it's called Patriot Place and is located beside the football stadium. Also see AEG's L.A. Live development, hopefully more another time on this subject...

The continued growth of BAM? ( I dislike BAM, prefer MLBAM ) Is it maxed out? Will MLB take BAM public as has been often rumored? If yes will the players get their hands on none, some or a lot of that cash?

The 09 launch of the MLB channel. The most successful launch ever for a cable channel, reaching 40 million homes? "Steve Greenberg, with the bank Allen & Co. that's advising MLB, says the 40 million households means the channel is worth $1.2 billion — "Every owner woke up with his franchise worth $40 million more."

FSG. Will other clubs copy John Henry & Mike Dee? Does it generate enough revenue to matter?

Will the love affair between Corporate America & MLB ( all pro sports really ) continue? Is the market "softening" ( hate that ) for stadium naming rights? Casey Wasserman didn't get a naming rights deal done for the initial season in Nationals Park. Will MLB / pro sports continue to appeal to the affluent who fill luxury suites and club seats? I hope not but again I digress.

Gambling. Teams are allowing lotteries to use their "brand" ( ick ) on their tickets. I think they're allowing the lotteries to sell the tickets inside their stadiums also. Evidently, it works. Lottery tickets with team logos outsell those without. I think that's how it goes.

Is there money to be made in the minors? They too have record atendance and a bunch of relatively new stadiums. The Red Sox recently purchased an A Ball club. Teams are starting to see their affiliates as RSN programming ( they have to move them into their broadcast territory to accomplish that in some cases ) and Miles Wolff tells me that teams are "buying into their affliates".

Fantasy Sports. The most underreported sports story of the year is CDM Fantasy Sports vs MLB. I read an SBJ feature on internet metrics and didn't understand a lot of it. I did understand that a lot of people who should know think that internet metrics are worthless. Having said that, the Fantasy Sports Association estimates that there are 3.69 million fantasy baseball players ( is that a "unique user"? ) - as opposed to 11.68 million for fantasy football. Perhaps more importantly, these same folks report that over 50% of fantasy baseball & football participants earn in excess of $75,000 per year. Contrary to the long held stereotype of sports fans, many of us are fairly prosperous ( well, not me ). Looks like MLB and the MLBPA along with all the "ball & stick" leagues will miss out on the fantasy sports cash cow.

World Series TV ratings suck relative to prior years but the value of it to advertisers has never been greater. Will pro sports continue to deliver the mass audience? Or will we all be doing what I'm doing here?

How large an impact will the new Yankee Stadium & Citi Field have on the industry?

Secondary ticketing. So much being written about this and it is really, really important. Unfortunately I don't understand a lot of it. I did read that teams might adapt the same model to ticket pricing that is used in the pricing of airline tickets. I don't know if that means that the stadiums will be overbooked and the food will be shitty but I think there is a mountain of cash to be made.

What WILL NOT have an impact on MLB revenues - The Mitchell Report.

I would wager that in a handful of years the contracts of Silva, Rowand, Hunter, Linebrink et al won't look so bad.

MORE HOT STOVE BASHING

The baseball media has never been larger. During Hot Stove season you can read rumors and speculation about upcoming signings and trades ad nauseam. I would think given the volume of speculation, that the Hot Stove League would have to be right about some stuff. After all, it's a finite subject. I got to the point where I concluded that I had read a rumor about every player on every 25 man roster and all of this offseason's FA's. Some of this crap has to stick to the wall, doesn't it? Evidently not. I think the baseball media and the bloggers - so far - have been wrong about most everything this offseason. I guess randomness in baseball applies not only to the game on the field but to punditry as well.

Some of what the Hot Stove got wrong so far this winter.

A Rod - Once Boras announced that A Rod was opting out the reaction was instant and near unanimous. A Rod was done as a Yankee. I think this stems from the unprecedented degree of competition in the media. Writers are pressured to form opinions almost instantly. Many wrote that in retrospect A Rod in the Bronx was the most viable option all along.

Managerial - Baker, Russell & Torre. Perhaps not Torre so much but Baker surprised all and well, nobody cares about Russell.

This would be the offseason of " the deal " due to the relatively small number of FA's this offseason. Save for Cabrera / Willis it hasn't been, has it?

Trades - Renteria, Cabrera / Willis, Lidge, Cabrera / Garland, Young / Garza, Milledge ( well not to DC ).

FA destinations. Cordero, Eckstein, Hunter, Linebrink, Rowand,

Johan Santana. Please, everybody stop it. Hasn't every player in the Angels', Yanks' & Red Sox' organizations been rumored as going to Minnesota at some point? I'm not saying he won't be dealt but the amount of conjecture devoted to it is inane.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From the basement December 19

Q & A with Miles Wolff

Miles Wolff's experiences and accomplishments in professional baseball are long and varied. He is most recognized for starting Independent pro baseball in 1993 with the formation of the Northern League. Mr. Wolff was also the owner & publisher of Baseball America for 18 years. Mr. Wolff has owned professional baseball teams in Durham, N.C., Butte, Mont., Asheville, N.C., Utica, N.Y., and Pulaski, Va. Mr. Wolff currently owns franchises in Quebec City and Burlington N.C. Mr. Wolff is currently commissioner of both the American Association & CanAm leagues and a former commissioner of both the Northeast & Central Leagues. Mr. Wolff has also served as play by play man for one season and worked as a minor league GM in different cities. Mr. Wolff is also a former owner of a professional minor league hockey team.

Mr. Wolff has written two books, Season of the Owl (1980), a novel about minor league baseball, and Lunch at the 5 & 10 (1970), an account of the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins by black students at the Woolworth's eatery. He is also the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (1997).

Mr. Wolff's most recent baseball endeavor is launching a CanAm League franchise in my hometown Ottawa. The as yet unnamed franchise debuts May 22, 2008 vs. the New Jersey Jackals.

Thank you Mr. Wolff for doing this Q & A with A Baseball Geek and best of luck with your efforts in Ottawa.

You have stated that the CanAm League strongly desires a franchise in Montreal. Obviously with franchises presently in Quebec City & Ottawa this makes a lot of sense. How are your efforts progressing in Montreal? Is there a suitable baseball facility in the Montreal area? I have read that there is a good baseball stadium in Trois Rivieres, do you see this city as a potential CanAm site as well?

There currently is no suitable baseball facility in Montreal. However, two groups are working on building a stadium and both are optimistic that something could happen for 2009. One group is working with a shopping development out in Mirabel and the other group is looking at a site in either Longueuil or Verdun. Trois Rivieres has a good baseball stadium, but the market is probably not big enough.

There has been speculation that Ottawa resident Tim Leiper will be named manager here. What's the latest on Leiper's status with the Pirates? He managed the Bucs' AA squad in Altoona last season but there have been wholesale changes in their organization this offseason. Is Leiper your first choice at this point and when does he expect his future with the Pirates to be clarified?

Leiper has a two year contract with Pittsburgh and is probably not available. He would be our choice if he did become available.

How important to the long term viability of Ottawa as home to professional baseball is a shared tenancy agreement with Baseball Canada?

I'm not sure it is question of long-term viability as much as simply that the stadium should be the home for Baseball Canada. Their offices are in Ottawa, there is no home park for the national teams, and they are an organization that is well run. The games or tournaments that could be held there would not make a huge financial change in the operating costs, but the visability for baseball in the region would be very important.

Are the CanAm umpires employed and supervised at the league level or are the individual teams responsible for umpiring in their parks? ( Reportedly during the 2006 Minor League Baseball umpire strike, the level of discontent with the replacement umpires in the IL was greatest in Ottawa. )

The Can-Am League is responsible for hiring and supplying umpires.

I've read varying accounts as to who(m) started publishing Baseball America, you or Canadian Alan ( sic ) Simpson. Can you clarify the relationship between yourself and Mr. Simpson in the early years of BA?

Allan Simpson founded Baseball America as The All America Baseball News. It was located in British Columbia but he was having difficulty with U.S. postal regulations and other problems being located outside of the U.S. We thought it was a good publication, and Allan agreed to sell it to us if we could get him a visa and move it to North Carolina. We bought it in 1981, got his visa, and changed the name to Baseball America. Allan remained editor until it was sold when I bought the Quebec club in 1999.

Toronto & Vancouver are the 2 cities in Canada that are home to affiliated baseball. Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa & Quebec City are home to independent league baseball. Can you explain the diminished number of affilated teams operating in Canada?

Weather is probably the biggest factor with full season clubs starting in early April. Increased difficulties in crossing the border has also made some MLB clubs shy away from Canadian affiliates.

Did you follow the fortunes of the independent Canadian Baseball League that folded during it's inaugural season of 2003? Any thoughts as to why it folded so quickly?

It was poorly run with individuals that had little knowledge of the business aspects of minor league baseball.

I note a trend in the management and ownership of minor league baseball teams - affiliated and independent - moving away from local entrepeneurs to corporate models. I'm speaking of Mandaly Baseball Properties, Fenway Sports Group, The Goldklang Group ( who are involved in the CanAm League ) and the Ripken Baseball Group. Why are we seeing this change and do you see it expanding? Do you see it as a model that could work in Ottawa?

There have always been groups that have tried to run multiple minor league clubs. Every city is different, so I am not sure it is something we will see more of. I don't think it is a model that would work in Ottawa.

I am certain that you know Bill Murray through his interests in independent leagues ( including the CanAm Brockton club ). Mr. Murray is listed on the aforementioned The Goldklang Group as "Co-Owner, Director of Fun". Tell us something about Bill Murray that might surprise us. Also, is Mr. Murray responsible for the rumored interests of his former collaborators Lorne Michaels and Dan Aykroyd in ownership of the Ottawa CanAm franchise?

Bill Murray is friends with several of the people that run independent teams. He has been to league meetings and has made valuable contributions to the discussions in these meetings. At the very first game in Brockton during a rain delay he led a high school band marching around the field. He is not responsible for the interest of Lorne Michaels in Ottawa. Michaels is interested because he is Canadian and likes baseball.

According to Baseball Amercia "roughly 100 players" are signed to affiliated ball every season from the 60 + independent League teams. Bob Wirz wrote recently that, "Numerous organizations covet prime Indy talent, with Milwaukee, Toronto and the Padres among the others most active of late." Has there been an increase in the past 5 - 10 years in the number of Indy players "graduating" to affiliated baseball? If yes, why is affiliated ball being more aggressive in signing players out of indy leagues?

There has been an increase in the signing of independent players by MLB teams. The reason for the increase is the success of independent players in affiliated baseball and at the major league level.

Professional baseball in North America continues to set attendance records in both the major and minor leagues ( including the 8 million plus who attended independent league games last season ). Sports Business Journal reported earlier this year that attendance at independent league games has increased 49% from 5 years ago. "Many of those fans will visit a new or extensively renovated stadium, as nearly two-thirds of the clubs have combined to spend more than half a billion dollars on such projects since 1998." I believe that the building boom of new baseball stadiums in the US is the primary factor contributing to record attendance at all levels of professional baseball. To what do you attribute the record attendance at all levels?

I think you are correct. The new facilities may be the most important reason for the growth in attendance. Also, teams have better management. The growth of sports administration programs across North America has given baseball a supply of talented young people that want to be in business operations.

You are part of both Indy and affiliated professional baseball. The PDA agreement expires next year. Subsequent to the last expiration of the PDA in 06 there were a lot of changes in affiliations - at least in AAA. Do you expect more of the same next year? If yes, why?

I think there will probably be less changes in affiliations. Teams are signing longer working agreements and now major league teams are buying into their affiliates which should mean more stability.

Are relationships between affiliated and independent minor league baseball not good? Bob Wirz recently wrote, "The Winter Meetings continued to be busy for many Independent Baseball people, even without open arms from the brass running the affiliated minors." Baseball America reported from the Winter Meetings that "...apparently MILB’s board of trustees has voted to ban independent league teams from attending the sport’s annual promotional seminar." And, "We feel that when get together with members it should be with (MILB) members only," Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. "They are not part of us. Why should we let them hear our best and brightest speak at the promotional seminar." Are relations strained, if yes, why?

Yes, relations are strained or almost non-existent. Before independent baseball, the minor leagues had a monopoly. Now, there are options for cities, and some minor league operators don't like this. Plus, there seems to be an increased level of arrogance among some minor league owners. Those of us who have been in the game awhile don't believe it is warranted.

Monday, December 10, 2007

From the basement December 10

Saturday, late afternoon, after family tobogganing, I went to the basement - because that's what married fathers do - and went online. I finally caught up on my baseball reading - interrupted last week by shovelling 40 cm of snow off various parts of our estate, 1 PD day & parent / teacher interviews - and was about to start writing a post when I surfed on to my favorite baseball blog where I found a link to a thread @ BTF - Baseball Think Factory. And down the internet baseball geek rabbit hole I went for the first time. Man, what a revelation. And not an entirely positive one.

I'm late to baseball on the internet. Probably because of age, born in 62. I think I've only been wired ( internet, not intoxicated ) a handful of years. I was enthralled instantly. The vast amounts of baseball geek information that I had access to. Even routine stuff like reading the boxscores became more fun. All the stats - minor, major, career - scouting reports etc. a few irresistable clicks away. What an improvement from the days of going to specialty magazine shops to find a Baseball America or The Sporting News to know how top prospects were performing or who that new Gonzalez back up infielder in KC is or that new Smith guy in the Padres' bullpen, is he a LH or RH? or...it's endless. Hardcore geek stuff like Maury Brown, Rob Neyer, Keith Law, THT, BP...some of it I didn't even know existed. Baseball geek crack available 24 / 7. Love it.

BASEBALL GEEK CLEANSING 2.0

I thought I'd become part of baseball 2.0. My own blog, commenting on other blogs, some email exchanges with other bloggers and even a few legitimate baseball writers. But after Saturday nite I realize that I've only been on the perimeter of 2.0 baseball conversation. I'm a baseball charlatan in comparison to these folk @ BTF. I think I should rename this blog, " I thought I was a baseball geek." To rip off High Fidelity, I'll be one of the Dark Ages baseball fans executed during the BTF baseball revolution.

Typically I comment @ Shysterball, Out of Left Field & until recently a AAA blog for our former local team. There are different reasons I comment regularly @ these blogs but my experience at all three is similar. Similar in that the tone of the bloggers and posters? commentors? ( I learned Saturday nite that people can be posters, I'd been unaware ) is most often polite, respectful and relatively light hearted. Hey, it's only sports. Similar in that a lot of posts generate no comments. When there are comments, a handful is typical, more than a handful is a lot and more than 10 is Super Bowl type #'s. Well, Saturday evening I posted the 275th comment on a thread started less than 24 hours prior and within 2hrs 15 minutes - and 5 comments, 1 an apology to a few of the BTF true believers - of having "joined the conversation" someone told me to STFU. I had to look up the acronym, I hadn't a clue what it meant.

I suspect that my BTF experience is more representative of the typical 2.0 conversation, not only 2.0 baseball. I think I have to pack up my bong, hunt down Andrew Keen, lay on a couch and talk to him about all of this until I make some sense of it.

I had never paid more than a passing glance to BTF but I understand why I was so attracted to the thread. I was astounded to see that writers whose work I respect and enjoy - and often refer to here - were participating in this "conversation" and golly I could too! Neat! Cool! This is the 2.0 baseball utopia! Me, Maury Brown, Keith Law, Rob Neyer, Tracy Ringolsby ( until post # 100 when he, using a pseudonym, dropped out ) Dayn Perry ( who I was unaware of prior ), Craig Calcaterra and John Brattain ( I think ) all talking about baseball. VALIDATION! I was surprised ( naive ) that these "industry" people engage in these web debates / chats. I thought they'd be sick of it after a day of reading and researching and writing but I was wrong, they were all there. And not all the "posters" were nasty and insulting. Some of the "postings" were the most insightful and intelligent I have read. And some of it was salacious, Law & Neyer openly feuding with BBWAA member Ringolsby.

A day later I remained stunned. Stunned that approx 48 hours after the thread started, 400 comments had been submitted on the subject - and derivations on the subject - of whether Rob Neyer and Keith Law should have been admitted to the BBWAA earlier that week. Stunned at the levels of anger ( I suspect a lot of it contrived? is that better? ) and vitriol and web chauvinism directed toward the BBWAA. ( And I've never been interested in what the BBWAA does. I'm only aware of Awards & HOF elections via baseball osmosis ) Evidently this is the norm in the BTF world, in both quantity and tenor of comments. What is it about the internet? Why is it that behind our keyboards, sitting in our basements, cubicles, offices, dens, living rooms, we become so confrontational and rude? Commentary directed to and by a community using false names who we'll likely never meet? What is that? Everybody wants to be the smartest guy in the chat room. Everybody wants to win, to be right. I've heard that having to be right is aggressive in and of itself. Anger is a staple of the internet. We're mad as hell and....we're addicted to it.

I wrote last post here that this is the age of 2.0 narcissism. Blogging is narcissistic. Even the reactions to the blogs are narcissistic. IMO, IMO, IMO ( I only recently learned this acronym and I'm already sick of it. I think it is redundant. I assume you are stating your opinion unless you state otherwise, you don't have to tell me ) The BTF thread dwarfs the posting that spawned it. What does it mean that a posting of several paragraphs illicits 400 + comments? Are we interested in the opinion at the site or are we interested in our responses to it? Is it about the reactions to the responses? What's left to be said after the first 50 or 100 comments? If you are the 350th comment, have you even read the original posting? or the 50th comment? Does that matter?

I tried to point out to the BTF zealots that maybe by comment # 275 - my initial posting - wasn't this all ridiculous? I was quickly informed that there was likely something wrong with me, the BTF crowd are all fine. No, threads of 100's - one evidently exceeded 1,000 - are not uncommon @ BTF and it is completely reasonable that they devote this much attention to the ways of the BBWAA. I was cowed and embarrassed, I wanted to fit in and I even apologized. But a few days later, I am right. They have collectively gone off the 2.0 baseball deep end. Threads of hundreds of comments is crazy, incomprehensible and jesus christ I'm a geek ( or I thought I was ) but it's the BBWAA!

For the most part, the 400 or so comments are a collective screed against the BBWAA - who in the estimation of the BTF folk represent the intellectually inferior Dark Ages writers - and an affirmation that the only baseball opinion worth reading is written by the math literate, web based, progressive BTF types. It was a reminder that the Moneyball debate is still alive. The debate is all one sided, the stat analysis guys won, but they enjoy reinforcing their superiority. Many GM's are of this school, most if not all teams employ consultants from this community and the best team is owned by one of their own. But old school newspaper BBWAA member Ringolsby challenged them on their turf and the BTF crowd were horny to have the old Moneyball argument all over again.

This thread is also the latest instalment in the petty, blogger / internet vs MSM debate. I read more and more about this feud. Initially it was confined to the virtually unread blogs ( this one is unread but not anti big baseball media ) where it is common to find this unfounded, adolescent, irrelevant, anti "the man" attitude. The MSM don't get "it". They've been co-opted by "the man". We're bloggers, we're passionate, we're real. Recently though I see an increase in big media writers / higher profile bloggers participating in this debate. I think the sniping from the blogosphere is irritating the big media writers. The 2 most talked about instances are Stephen A. Smith's criticisms of bloggers and the infamous Bill Conlin / Crashburn alley pissing match - made famous by Conlin's bizarre and racist remark; “The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth — I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers.” This BTF pissing match between Ringolsby - the MSM newspaper guy - and most everybody else in the "conversation" is the same feud. We're the progressive web people, you're a dumb newspaper reporter. There is much boasting in the 400 or so comments that these folks ignore the MSM when it comes to baseball. Odd that they're so pissed about what the BBWAA is doing though.

So what the hell is going on? What's changed? Maybe nothing. Maybe I just fell into an internet conversation with a bunch of other middle aged, middle class, caucasian baseball geeks ( I bet the BTF crowd overwhelmingly fit this description, birds of a feather... ) who need to get out of their or their parents' basements and GET A LIFE! But it is obvious and well chronicled that there is a change. General interest newspapers, which I was raised on and adore, are dying. Instead we have the age of obsession ( one of the BTFers told me I use that word too casually, 400 + comments about the BBWAA isn't obsessive evidently, I guess it's enthusiastic ) and special interest. Talk to your community of 1 ( yourself ) or 5 or 10 or....to the exclusion of all else. You can, easily. But should you, should I?

It's this age of audience fragmentation, of blogs and Facebook and My Space ( one word?) that helps make pro sports more valuable - to broadcasters and advertisers and perhaps to us as a whole - than ever. Sports is one of the last mass shared experiences.

More likely, I'm just a curmudgeonly, middle aged, narcissist struggling to fit into a medium that I'll never understand. Maybe the insults and anger in the "conversations" are a diversion - a form of joking and riffing - that I misunderstand. Maybe it's a silly game of text one upmanship that I'm too thin skinned ( I am, I wish I wasn't ) to enjoy.

Maybe I need May 22 to come so I can drive the 10 minutes to the ball park and sit outside and watch a baseball game.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

From the basement December 01

I've read that blogging is about the personal and media is corporate. Or somethin like that. Maybe Will Leitch could tell me, after all this medium belongs to his generation not mine, plus he's smarter than me. But I think I believe in that slogan - today I do - and that is why I have blogged in the past about AAA in my hometown. Somebody asked me why I blogged about AAA ( aka "The Lynx" until it moved at seasons end ), the inference being that there are subjects baseball more interesting than minor league ball in Ottawa. The person who asked me wasn't being snide or critical and they made a legitimate point. If I want baseball fans to read my blog shouldn't I blog about subjects baseball with a broader appeal? Point well taken but this blog is ultimately about me - again this is the 2.0 age of narcissism - and it's a big deal to me that independent ball is coming to town.

CanAm LEAGUE COMES TO OTTAWA

I'm thrilled. It was announced November 28 that May 22, 08 is Opening Day. Ottawa is officially bush league. The Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball ( CanAm League ) has reached an agreement with our city government to lease the baseball stadium for the 08 & 09 seasons.

I say bush league because that is how the independent leagues are perceived by most fans. I've never seen indy ball but I think the bush league perception is a bit harsh. I fully expect the ball to be well played and entertaining. According to Baseball Amercia "roughly 100 players" are signed to affiliated ball every season from the 60 + independent League teams. 8 million + fans attended independent league games this past season. For 15 seasons I watched many, many IL players with independent league experience. Amongst last season's Lynx with indy ball backgrounds were, Gary Burnham ( team leader in HR & RBI's ), Kane Davis & Chris Coste ( both who also played with the Phillies last season ), Jim Rushford and Pedro Swann. Edwar Ramirez began last season in the independent United League and was a member of the New York Yankees before seasons end. Joe Thatcher made his MLB debut last season with the Padre's, logging experience in the independent Frontier League in both the 04 & 05 seasons. A quick scan of CanAm League rosters spits up former big leaguers, Joel Bennett, Tim Bausher ( he was called up by the Red Sox but never played before being returned to AAA ), Rich "El Guapo" Garces - he pitched in the bigs in 10 different seasons, 341 1/3 IP / 296 K - and there are likely many more that I overlooked. Ok, I would prefer we remain a AAA city but CanAm ball has got to be a whole lot better than no pro ball at all. If nothing else, it gets me out of the basement.

The bush leagues. This is the present and the foreseeable future of professional baseball in Canada. Outside of Toronto only Vancouver ( formerly a AAA city ) has an affiliated team. The Vancouver Canadians play in the Short Season Northwest League. The other former AAA cities, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa are all now home to indy leagues. Winnipeg and Quebec City are indy cities as well.

Is indy ball in Canada to stay? Evidence abounds that we are losing interest in baseball as a spectator sport. The Expos died, TV ratings for the Jays are poor outside the GTA, the aforementioned departure of AAA from Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, London is a former AA city, Medicine Hat & St. Catherines were once homes to affiliated ball... The independent CBL, despite it's nationalist appeal ( well, I guess ultimately there was no nationalist appeal ) folded mid season in it's inaugural year of 2003. Four clubs averaged fewer than 300 fans per game. I'm in the camp who believe that Indy ball is most viable in non NHL cities. The Goldeyes in Winnipeg are an enormous success. They lead all of independent ball in attendance in 07 with an average of 6,542 and are consistently amongst the leaders in all of minor league ball. Les Capitales de Québec are also successful, finishing 2nd last season in CanAm League attendance with an averge of 3,300 per game. I don't believe it's coincidence that these two former NHL cities enthusiastically support indy ball. Not to be snobbish ( hey, I was raised in Madoc ) but there isn't a lot of competition for the attention of sports fans, or even non sports fans, in these cities. Vancouver was 3rd in Northwest League attendance @ 3418 but in a market with a metropolitan population of 2 million +. The true comparisons for Ottawa as an indy ball market are in Calgary and Edmonton. Both are home to the NHL and are of similar size to Ottawa-Gatineau ( approx. metropolitan populations of 1 million ). Calgary @ 1551 and Edmonton @ 1792 were last & 2nd last in Northern League attendance in 07. By comparison Gary had the next worst attendance @ 3616 per game. Both Calgary and Edmonton have since moved to the independent Golden Baseball League .

Will indy ball survive in Ottawa? The optimists argue that AAA in Canada suffered from having to play in terrible April and early May weather. Valid point, most if not every opening day in Ottawa there was snow somewhere and you wore a toque & mitts. The optimists argue that the shorter CanAm season - Opening Day May 22 - and better weather is a significant advantage. As Neate Sager points out, Lynx attendance post June 1st typically averaged 2,000 +. Average CanAm League attendance is approximately 2200 per. Sounds good.

Will the same 2,000 of us who supported AAA support CanAm? Attendance in Edmonton has dropped dramatically post AAA. In 04, Edmonton's last season in the PCL, they averaged approx 3500 per game. Last season that had dropped to 1800 for indy ball. Similarly, Calgary averaged approx. 2600 per game in their last PCL season in 02. Last season that had dropped to 1500 for indy ball.

CanAm supporters also trumpet the local appeal - the team will have players from the region - Mike Kusiewicz being the first name mentioned. ( Will Yan Lachapelle get a call? Marc Charbonneau?) As mentioned, the CBL - which mandated a minimum # of Canadians on each club - flopped. Jeremy Ware is a Canadian and former Lynx player, I don't think anybody knew who he was when he played here.

The early spin also promotes indy ball as fielding teams who are committed to winning as opposed to affiliated teams where the focus in not necessarily on winning but serving as a taxi squad ( AAA ) or developmental program for their MLB masters. Mike Veeck was quoted in SBJ earlier this year, "Affiliated ball is like running a movie theater. You provide the popcorn and the building and the ambience; the parent team provides the team. You can watch 13 games and see that your shortstop can't play, but in affiliated ball, your job is to keep and develop that shortstop. In independent baseball, that shortstop is gone. In independent, you're playing to win - to win for your respective town."

The CanAm is also promoting a stronger connection between fan and player. There is more roster stability in independent leagues, they are not the revolving door of AAA. Fans get to know players who return for multiple season. The "bush league appeal" of the Indy player is also being highlighted. The shitty pay, the long bus rides, the small crowds....these guys are in it for the "love of the game". ( I don't adhere to that. Jocks are jocks. They like to work out, play sports, hang out with the guys, party, fight and chase pussy. That's why a lot of "greedy" former big leaguers finish their careers in Indy, it beats being home with the wife and kids ).

Regional rivalries are also being pushed although I don't think many of us possess the required antipathy towards Quebec City. CanAm Commissioner - and the inventor of indy ball, baseball legend - Miles Wolff frequently expresses his desire to soon place a team in Montreal but as recently as 03 the aforementioned CBL couldn't find a suitable facility in the Montreal area. ( Welcome to indy, there was a Montreal franchise that actually played games but it never played a game in Montreal ).

It's the stadium stupid. I've written on this blog before that the principal factor in the unprecedented popularity of baseball in the US - record attendance at all levels, MLB and Minors ( both affiliated and independent ) - is the construction of new / retro style stadia across the US. SBJ tells us that attendance at independent league games has increased 49% from 5 years ago. "Many of those fans will visit a new or extensively renovated stadium, as nearly two-thirds of the clubs have combined to spend more than half a billion dollars on such projects since 1998." While the baseball facility in Ottawa is fine - AAA calibre - it does lack the retro / W.P. Kinsella esthetic that is so popular in the US. Views of a Canadian Tire parking lot and highway 417 doesn't give you that Iowa corn field vibe - no matter how good your drugs are.

Will Ottawans turn up their noses at the CanAm league? The CanAm is not one of the elite independent leagues. The best independent league is the Atlantic League which features many big league veterans including Carl Everett and Junior Spivey this past season. The Northern League has historically been a very strong indy league as well. Most won't realize, hell most never realized how good AAA ball was even after 15 seasons.

Who owns the Ottawa CanAm franchise? The league owns the franchise but what does that mean? Is Miles Wolff writing the cheques himself or are the other CanAm owners his partners? Mr. Wolff has expressed that he wants local ownership - not a surprise - but how long is he willing to wait? Mr. Wolff has speculated that potential owners could be Ottawa native Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels or Henry Champ. ( There is a history of celebrities with interests in indy ball, most famously Bill Murray ) Are the optics bad in having your #1 rival - Quebec City - owned by the same guy who owns your team? Not necessarily, this is a model that works in some minor leagues. I.E. Didn't former Ottawa CFL owner Horn Chen own ALL the CHL franchises once upon a time?

If there is a long term future for indy ball in Ottawa we best be prepared for change. Indy ball is very unstable compared to affiliated ball, leagues & franchise come and go frequently. Some leagues, one being the CanAm, have fielded "road" teams in order to have the requisite even number of clubs necessary for scheduling. SBJ points out that over the 15 year existence of indy ball, "A total of 23 independent leagues have fielded clubs in 163 different markets over those years. Forty clubs folded after just one season of play, and more than a dozen didn't even make it that long." J.J. Cooper @ BA writes, "In indy ball every offseason seems to be a matter of leagues replacing weak franchises with potentially stronger ones in a perennial survival of the fittest."

What is the future of the stadium? In less than 2 years the CanAm lease with the city will expire. The arrival of the CanAm franchise resolves in the short term a problem for the city - they own a baseball stadium but had no team to play in it. But what happens after the end of the 09 season? The rent of $108,000 per year is peanuts - almost literally - to the 4th largest city in the country. Having Baseball Canada move their operation into the stadium would help some but don't all signs point toward the selling and development of the stadium? There has been speculation that it will be transformed into a domed soccer / concert facility but nobody including me takes it seriously. Governments build facilities for pro sports because it is popular with a certain segment of the population, namely sports fans. I'm an example. I've lived here for 27 years and the only time I've called my councillor was to express my support for the construction of the baseball stadium. It was entirely selfish, I have long believed that public contributions to stadium construction for the benefit of private owners is bad government but I really, really like baseball. But the days are gone forever when Ottawa set the IL attendance record and if only 2,000 or fewer of us are regularly attending will the political will exist to maintain the stadium? Can city council justify it? Will the lure of the value of the land and the development charges and property taxes be too enticing to pass up?

I hope I'm wrong but the reprieve for professional baseball in town will be short lived.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

From the basement November 24

BARRY BONDS

IS HE FINISHED?

My initial reaction to the indictment - along with everybody - was that it ended his career. I'm having 2nd thoughts......

For starters, after reading this very informative piece by federal criminal defense attorney Keith Scherer, I'm convinced that if Bonds does go to jail it won't be until after the 08 season is completed. Says Mr. Scherer, "Unless Bonds takes a deal, his case won’t go to trial before the end of the 2008 season. It can take several months—often more than a year—to bring a relatively simple case to trial in federal criminal court. Even when both parties expect that the case will eventually end in a plea, it can take that long to get to it."

Also we assume that Bonds won't want to play. He won't want the hassle. He broke Aaron's record ( ok, he doesn't have 3,000 ). He should be rich ( what's he made? $180 million? How much has he kept?...). So, he'll walk away. But Bonds has put up with the scorn and the media circus for many years, perhaps it would just be more of the same for him. The baseball writers have portrayed him for his entire career as being oblivious to all that goes on around him. Wouldn't it be like Bonds to play one more season if for no other reason than to say "fuck you" to everybody in the game?

Maybe more importantly, as I and many others have speculated, nobody will employ him. I wonder if Billy Beane is the exception? ( Obviously he needs Lewis Wolff's approval ). The Hot Stove League, pre indictment, had Bonds moving across the bay for 08. Still plausible? Yes. Bonds remains a GREAT offensive player. Plus Beane knows now that he can get him really, really cheap because nobody will bid against the A's. ( Again, this assumes Bonds wants to play ) And Beane might be the one GM who wouldn't be dissuaded by the media circus. Beane loves the limelight and fancies himself unconventional. ( Well, from what I can glean from reading about him ) Beane may be the only man in MLB with an ego comparable to Bonds'.

IS BONDS GOING TO JAIL?

The popular wisdom is that Bonds is not going to jail. The supporting arguments are typically:

Indictments are easily obtainable ( the ham sandwich argument ).

The case against Bonds is weak, that's why it took 4 years for an indictment.

The indictment is a face saving move by the prosecutors.

Even without a conviction Bonds is further discredited.

Mr. Scherer thinks contrary. "The U.S. Attorney’s office isn’t perfect, and federal prosecutors lose on occasion, but they never bring a weak case to trial. This is especially true in a celebrity case like this one, one that is being overseen by the highest levels of authority. A loss in the Bonds case would be a career killer, and the prosecution wouldn’t risk taking this case to trial if it was as weak his Michael Rains says." ( Rains is one of Bonds' lawyers. )

BONDS - AN OLIVER STONE FILM

Mr. Scherer doesn't share the conspiracy theorists ( I'm in that camp ) opinion that Bonds was the ultimate target in the BALCO investigation. "The U.S. Attorney’s office doesn’t offer immunity to the target of an investigation." I am in no way qualified to disagree with a US federal criminal defense attorney on this point but what the hell, this is the 2.0 age of amateurism & narcissism. I agree with Diesel . "The crime Bonds is being pilloried for today is lying to a grand jury, when the opportunity for "immunity" was presented should he offer any testimony that would be self-incriminating. But, considering that what he said that day was going to become public knowledge, he was really faced with a witch's "water test": If he confessed to a crime everyone had already assumed him guilty of, then he would be finished. If he maintained his innocence — honestly or not — then he would face the punishment nonetheless."

Recent recommended reading for Bonds conspiracy theorists: This NY Times piece on the IRS special agent who has gathered key evidence against Bonds - amongst other steroid offenders - isn't a conspiracy rant but it does raise questions about the investiagators' ethics and motives. Jemele Hill , is lockstep with me on all things Bonds including conspiracy theory and race.

WHY DO THE YANKEES SPEND SO MUCH?

There has been plenty of speculation that the Yankees had no serious competition in the free agent market for A Rod and consequently they could have signed him for much less than the $275 - $300 million that they've agreed to. As well, Rivera @ $45 million for 3 years and Posada @ $52 million for 4 years, has raised eyebrows particulary in light of the advanced age of the players ( 38 & 36 respectively ).

There is plenty of opinion that the Yanks have grossly overpaid for all 3 players. Why? The easy answer is that they generate so much more revenue than anybody else. There are other opinions however and the best place to look is always the Sports Economist.

On November 15 one of the sports economists wrote about the "Yankee premium", i.e. why do they overpay? The conversation that followed the blog posting is very interesting, some ( I've edited ) of it is below. ( note my intellectually lame contribution ).

I understand the Yankee premium. What I don't understand is why the Yankees continue to pay it. So many times it seems from the outside that they are outbidding themselves. I don't see why they insist on a $200 mil payroll when $150 would get them the same results and add $50 mil to the bottom line. A-Rod is just the latest example. Since A-Rod is quickly signing the $30 mil per year deal, my guess is that no one was willing to match the $25 mil he was currently getting (for 10 years).

James Roane 11.16.07 - 4:38 pm #
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Hi Brian. Thanks for the post.

I've always wondered if this isn't the intersection between MRP theory and superstar effects (also as I am able to read it, part of MRP).

MRP = MP x MR. The arguments about similar players stats are all about MP. But for superstars it is the MR that matters.

And if Yankee fans fit the "superstar" idea, then we will not find an explanation in analysis of MP.

So... if Yankee fans simply want to see "the best" (superstars) and the technology is there to give it to them at the gate and on TV (and it is), then marginal talent differences can generate very large pay differences.

Perhaps we can get at this question using empirical models developed around superstar theory.

Rodney Fort Homepage 11.19.07 - 9:57 am #
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Pardon my ignorance but what are MP & MR? I suspect M denotes marginal?

Peter Toms Homepage 11.19.07 - 11:57 am #
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Sorry Peter.
MRP = marginal revenue product.

MP = marginal product (typically, contribution to winning or some such).

MR = marginal revenue earned from that marginal contribution.

Rodney Fort Homepage 11.19.07 - 5:14 pm #
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Hi Rod

I agree that this is largely about the MR rather than the MP. The MR in question here relates to two things: the MR of a win, and the MR of everything else, e.g. star quality, personality etc. Mostly we focus on the the MR of a win, and we think the Yankees will pay a lot more for a win than anyone else, since the revenue potential is large, but fans in the Big Apple have plenty of other entertainment opportunities if the Yankees start losing.

stef szymanski 11.20.07 - 6:36 am #

So, if I "get it" and I'm never certain that I "get" what the economists think, the Yankees overpay because their superstars / celebrities are more valuable in the NYC market than elsewhere. ( Rivera & Posada for example are not better baseball players in a different market but they are bigger superstars / celebrities in NYC than in any other market. )

Is this the same point that SBJ made in a recent feature on "team brands"? "You can be the Spurs and own San Antonio. Or you can be the Yankees and share New York....Walk the streets of New York, stopping fans along the way, and you will find you share of Yankees fans. But you'll also find Mets fans who despise them. You'll find Giants fans, but also Jets fans who decry them. The Yankees ranked first in New York, but the Mets were a close second. The Giants were third and the Jets were an eyelash behind them in fourth. Then came.....You get to play to vast audiences in the nation's four biggest markets. But you also have to play over lots of noise."

George Steinbrenner understood this, that baseball is show biz, superstars are essential, baseball is just baseball. He bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in 1973 and remade them into THE YANKEES, paying big dollars for the likes of Hunter and Reggie and on and on and on. Worked out ok for him didn't it?

WORLD SERIES ON TV Part III

One more time, does it matter that the 07 World Series was the 2nd lowest rated EVER?

Maury Brown asks the same question. "The postseason is no longer the event that captivates a nation. Note that this year’s World Series was watched by an average of 17,123,000 for the four games. Compare that to the ’78 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees which pulled on an average of 44,278,950 for six games)." If I get my bong out and the music is right maybe I can ponder baseball's place in America ( from a Canadian basement ). As for how baseball's relatively puny World Series ratings effect the bottom line, a quote from Bill Shaikin. "Revenues from traditional tickets and local broadcast rights have more than tripled since 1994. And, with the value of sports programming rising to national advertisers struggling to reach mass audiences amid the proliferation of cable and satellite channels, national broadcast rights have soared from $52 million to $935 million." I'll add to Mr. Shaikin's comments that sports are TIVO proof, we still watch ads.


In addition to huge increases in broadcast rights, clubs are investing in RSNs which soon become more valuable than the clubs themselves. YES - Yankees - is valued at $3 - $3.5 BILLION and the O's have never been worth more - although their attendance is declining - thanks to their ownership in MASN. Ted Turner was a broadcast visionary ( as well as a nut job and an anti semite ). He was the first to realize the value of baseball to broadcasters - it provided a lot of relatively cheap content - way, way back in the early 70's.

JAYS

Are the Jays, along with a number of other other mid / small revenue teams, increasing their spending in the amateur Rule IV draft? The Jays doled out the 7th largest amount of bonus money in the 07 draft. This appears to be a change in strategy from previous years. Jim Callis from Baseball America told me in an email last offseason that in the 06 draft the Jays, "...came in at 26th among the 30 teams despite giving out more late six-figure bonuses than most clubs. In the past, they haven't spent exorbitantly on anyone, and my guess is they'd rank below average on an annual basis." The baseball amateur draft is not like the drafts in the other "ball & stick" leagues where the teams with the earliest picks usually acquire the best available amateur talent. "Signability", is the key in the Rule IV draft which makes the Jays change in approach significant. See more of my blather here on the Rule IV draft.

Travis Snider is the best Jays hitting prospect since...? Delgado? He's getting rave reviews in Baseball America ( Midwest & AFL). Jays fans who are anti Ricciardi / Moneyball can point to Snider as an example of the failings of the Moneyball approach under Ricciardi. Snider was chosen in the 1st round in 06 out of high school. From 02 - 05 Ricciardi had practiced the Moneyball orthodoxy, selecting college players in the 1st round - Adams, Hill, Jackson, Purcey & Romero. So far only Hill - a tremendous player - has performed up to the standards of a 1st rounder. You can also argue that the change in approach is a result of the success of Moneyball in Oakland being copied by their competitors which negates any advantages it once had. Or you can argue that Ricciardi's draft performance pretty much blows.

I still have high hopes for one of Ricciardi's 1st round college picks. SP David Purcey - selected in 04 - also performed very well in the AFL. Purcey, along with fellow starter and 05 1st rounder Ricky Romero, are often cited as Moneyball busts by Ricciardi's critics. Both have struggled since being drafted but Purcey's strong showing in the AFL could be an indicator that he is on the rise. Purcey certainly has a high ceiling, I've seen him pitch for Syracuse and although he was hit hard I was impressed. LH's who throw in the 90's ( I saw the guns ) are very rare.

MORE ON FREE AGENTS

As I wrote here, signing free agents is bad. The baseball geekdom immediately and unanimously express their disdain for GM's short sighted enough to "block prospects with overpaid veterans who also cost valuable draft picks" and all that. Last offseason the Cubs were the object of such ridicule for blowing $300 million in the free agent market but it was key to them making the playoffs. Yes the Cubs had some young talent step up - Hill, Marmol, Theriot, Marshall - but free agents Soriano, Lilly, Marquis, DeRosa and Floyd made them a playoff team . ( Playing in the NL Central where 85 wins makes you champ - 83 in 06 - certainly helps as well )

Sunday, November 18, 2007

From the basement November 18

BARRY BONDS

I'm happy it's ending this way. The indictment and subsequent end of his career. Bonds the villian, the monster with the enormous head, the arrogant, disdainful, egotistical, spoiled, cheating, lying Bonds. His legacy is now written as most fans want. They now have his head on a stick, the monster has been killed, the national pastime saved. If the fans are fortunate he'll be led off to jail while they all gleefully wag their sanctimonious fingers. Smug asses. I hope he remains a condescending prick until the end.

None of his prospective 30 employers wants anything to do with him. That's not a conspiracy. Really, who wants the pain in the ass at this point? It's not about his productivity, OPS a staggering 1.045 last season, in a pitchers' park, in the pitchers' league, in a woeful lineup. It's not even about the possibility of incarceration, I doubt you have to pay him or reserve a spot on the 40 man for him while he's in jail. It's about the problem he is. If you're a GM, do you want to justify signing Bonds to your owner, to the commissioner, to the press, to your fans, to your manager & coaching staff, to your veteran players, to the folks who tend to the clubhouse, to your media relations people?....NONE of them wants anything to do with the greatest baseball player of their generation.

Why were we all surprised when the indictment was announced? First, it wasn't leaked beforehand. Out of the blue it hit the wires early Thursday evening. Also Balco had become an old story that we were bored with. Barry Bonds is being investigated by a grand jury? So, what else is new? It's only been going on for 4 years, no Bonds indictment, no new athletes implicated, Anderson remains silent....yawn.

Most obviously, we ( baseball fans & media - I count myself in the former group only ) were unable to read the legal & political tea leaves. I read this piece in January about the outgoing Balco federal prosecutor - Kevin Ryan - and persuaded myself that the grand jury investigation into Bonds was a personal witch hunt of his and that it would die out subsequent to his departure. I was left with the impression of Ryan as a failed Bay Area jock with a chip on his moralistic shoulder and a Field of Dreams ( honest, he makes reference to it in the piece ) notion of baseball's importance. He didn't like cheating or cheaters and he was gonna clean up this mess.

Evidently the opposite was true. Ryan's departure was key to indicting Bonds according to Lester Munson . ( thanks to Sports Business News ) From Mr. Munson. "Last winter, President Bush obtained Ryan's resignation along with those of other U.S. Attorneys, which led to a partisan political battle. Although neither Bush nor Ryan ever discussed the Bonds investigation as a reason for Ryan's departure, numerous observers expected a Bonds indictment under the new leadership in the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco."

I went through a phase this winter - maybe a result of seasonal affective disorder combined with too much pot - when I was all Oliver Stone about Bonds and the US government. You know, steroids in the state of the union address, grand jury, Grimsley, oil, Katrina.....( think Syriana meets Eight Men Out ) and then spring came, I left the basement, got some ultraviolet exposure and forgot about it. But now I wonder again...Munson reminded me that the Balco investigation was initially announced in DC by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. Was Ashcroft or his superior(s) trophy hunting? Shouldn't there be more pressing matters for the Attorney General than Victor Conte and Patrick Arnold? Wasn't Bonds the ultimate target? Anderson, why do they care? He's nothing more than a common gym rat / steroid peddler. Marion Jones? Collateral damage. The almost immediate response from the White House Thursday evening also smells funny, in fact they were aware of the indictment before Bonds. According to the AP, Bonds' lawyer ( one of his lawyers ) John Burris was unaware of the indictment when they contacted him....is that normal protocol...Oliver? Mr. Stone?

GEORGE MITCHELL

The end of Bonds' career sets the stage perfectly for George Mitchell. As Jeff Blair put it, the fans have their "pound of flesh". Now we can move forward. We're sick of reading and hearing about steroids, we're ready for healing and forgiveness. We want to like baseball, to believe that it is fair and good.

Mitchell will present overwhelming evidence that the game was dirty. Fans know that, no surprise to any of us. Mitchell will provide a platform, that MLB controls, from which MLB can manage the message. Mitchell is a company man don't forget, Blue Ribbon panel member, Red Sox Director and long rumored commissioner ( too old now ). Initially MLB will express surprise at the extent of PED usage detailed by Mitchell, followed by constant apologies from MLB for their negligence and "betrayal of the fans", followed by solemn, ironclad guarantees that this era is over, that testing is working & will be strengthened, it's all under control. And the fans will eat it up big time, because they're ready to, because cheating ( at least chemically ) isn't fun anymore, because they'll enjoy the contrived public self-flagellation, because it's what they want to hear, because they never really cared in the first place ( not enough to stay away ) because Bonds has been punished and that is right and is simple and makes sense.

Will MLB punish any of the players implicated by Mitchell? Unlikely. The owners don't desire a protracted legal battle with the PA which would keep this issue in the baseball press. Also, MLB gains nothing by publicly embarrassing the players. The players are the product. Instead MLB will tell us that they are responsible for allowing a climate which rewarded cheating and punished clean players. MLB needs the fans to like the players. We'll be told it wasn't their fault, they're good guys, their behavior was a natural reaction to the era in which they played.

THE FUTURE

What is the future of PEDs in MLB? I believe there was less juice in the game this season as evidenced by the notable decline in HRs. This probably has little to do with MLB's testing and everything to do with the Federal Government. The Grimsley, Radomski, Balco, Signature investigations have been much more effective in unearthing dirty players than anything MLB has done. I.E. This quote from an MLB.com piece from February 22. "Last season, no player on the 25-man roster of the 30 teams tested positive." Everybody was clean in 06? Stunning. Then why are the feds turning up scads of evidence of baseball players illegally purchasing PEDs?

But how long will the Feds remain interested in the problem of illegal steroid distribution? ( The pro athletes implicated in these investigations are not the primary targets, save for Bonds / Balco ) Will a change in administration be the end of it? If yes, does that mean MLB's testing will be the only deterrent to the use of PEDs?

Even if the will exists to remove PEDs completely from the game, ( and it doesn't ) is that a realistic objective? Are the chemists up to the challenge? For decades, in elite sports around the globe, amateur and professional, the cheaters have remained far ahead of the regulators. For all the efforts of WADA ( my Canada does not include Dick Pound ), governing bodies, pro leagues, cheating is as widespread - maybe more widespread - than ever. Is this because the rewards are greater for the cheaters? Does Patrick Arnold stand to benefit more working for Victor Conte than he does Bud Selig? There isn't even a test for HGH, so how do you prevent it's use? ( Some think that the benefits of HGH are overstated anyway ). More evidence of the ineffectiveness of testing in MLB was revealed in the 03 "survey" testing which concluded that 5 - 7 % of players were dirty. Laughable, ludicrous. Does anybody, fan, writer, player, owner, trainer, clubhouse gopher, coach, GM believe that in a typical 03 MLB game there were only 3 to 4 dirty players? And this test was conducted under conditions - anonymous, no punishment - which discouraged players from avoiding detection. Under different conditions, punitive measures for positive tests, would the results have been even lower? If the testing is that ineffective, is it fair? If we want fairness, let's turn back the clock and allow all the players to take whatever the hell they please.

Do we, the fans, honestly want a clean game? Do we want the players in the training room more frequently and on the field less? More importantly, do we want players who are smaller, weaker, slower? The evolution of the athlete, in every sport on every continent, is a fundamental element of the appeal. And for the past 30 years, steroids, blood doping, HGH etc. have been essential to that evolution. Fans think they want a clean game but if faced with it we wouldn't like it as much.

Does the industry, management and labor, want a clean game? Business is booming. who wants to change a winning formula? Certainly not owners. And the PA? If this were a John Sayles movie, Donald Fehr would be Chris Cooper, and he would be on a crusade to remove steroids & amphetamines from the game because they are destroying the lives of players and their families and lining the pockets of evil captialists. But this isn't a John Sayles movie and the agents' only concern is how large their 5% cut is, not if their client dies an early death from liver damage.

The last word to the smartest sports fans on the Web - The Sports Economists . From Professor Phil Miller's January 25 posting. "The reason why steroids are tolerated in sports while gambling is fought tenaciously is because steroids help the bottom line of team owners while gambling hurts it." That isn't about to change.

Monday, November 12, 2007

From the basement November 12

November, ugh. I recently took the space heater out of storage and have been firing it up most nights to stay warm here in the basement. The offseason ( 1 of the 4 seasons, regular, post & spring training are the others ) is well underway and like always, it is very entertaining ( actually it's more entertaining than either postseason or spring training ).

There's the nuts & bolts of the offseason to monitor; trades, rehabs, roster moves, non tenders, AFL & Winter League tidbits, 6 yr minor league FA's, major league FA filings, farm system assessments, Elias' soon to be released top secret Free Agent Compensation Rankings ( VERY important )....there's always something. I WON'T be paying much attention to awards season, through osmosis I'll know the results but I'm not interested in the chatter that results from it. It's "Hot Stove" season as well, scads of redundant analysis of each teams' strengths and weaknesses ( Nate Silver does a find job ), trade analysis ( I like BA's ), plus endless rumor and conjecture ( and conjecture about the conjecture ) concerning pending free agent signings and trades. However there are some matters unique to this particular offseason that are of interest.

FREE AGENCY - THE BEGINNING OF THE END?

Once you get beyond the best baseball player in the world, the most reviled baseball player in the world, a handful of top shelf CF's plus Lowell & Cordero, the free agent market is weak. Many have made the same point and it has led to the widespread conclusion that there will be more trades this offseason as a result. I agree.

Where did all the free agents go? An inordinate number of potential free agents were signed during the season, Zambrano, Buerhle, Dye etc. As Maury Brown explains, "...clubs are wrapping up contracts more often now – signing players to extensions, which in turn lowers the number of players in the free agency pool....What has happened over the years is a case of viewing free agency as an inefficient avenue in which to build contenders." This isn't to say that this offseason free agents won't cash in big, in fact Maury correctly points out that the diminished number of quality free agents will have an inflationary impact on their value. ( Record industry revenues of $6 billion doesn't hurt either ). In other words, Carlos Silva will soon sign a contract for $50 million. Marvin Miller got it right decades ago when he said the owners - for their own benefit - should make all the players free agents every offseason because limiting their availability inflates their value. ( Or somethin like that ).

I also wonder if the diminished number of free agents is attributable in some way to the record salaries being paid. In other words, has the money finally gotten so stupidly big that agents & players can't be bothered / or are too embarrassed to enter the free agent market? Would Vernon Wells have commanded more than $126 million as a free agent? Yeah, why not? But at that point does it matter to him?

Anyway, Maury's right, the new breed of Ivy League geek management has concluded that free agency is not a preferred option in constructing a team. Young talent - especially pitching - is considered more valuable than ever. This increased emphasis on player development was evident in the most recent Rule IV draft. From Jim Callis @ BA: "The Yankees aggressively signed players in last year's draft, and did so again, spending $7,432,500 in the first 10 rounds. But the Orioles ($7,672,500) and Nationals ($7,619,300) outspent them there, and the Tigers ($7,305,000), Devil Rays ($7,172,000) and Giants ($7,027,000) came close." This all makes sense, competing with the Yanks for amateur talent makes more sense than competing with them for top level free agents. But what's the end game with this strategy? If everybody "allocates more resources" to the draft because it's more "efficient", won't it artificially inflate the value of the amateur players? There won't be more and better players in the draft, there'll just be more money spread around amongst them.

I question if player development has become as efficient as the new breed thinks. Has amateur scouting, drafting, player development - whatever you wanna call it - improved that much since Sandy Alderson concluded it was pretty much shit? Isn't it still a crapshoot? Don't a lot of high picks still stiff? Doesn't the valuation of 16 - 21 year old baseball players remain a very inexact science? Put another way, I'm the only guy who thinks that paying Matt Morris $8 million a year is a viable alternative to ploughing it into the likes of Burnett, Bullington, VanBenschoten & Lincoln.

MLB LOSES

Well, you can't have everything. You can increase your revenues from $3.7 billion in 03 to $6 billion in 07 but you still can't have everything. MLB is losing their legal battle with CDM Fantasy Sports over rights to player statistics ( or the publicity rights associated with the stats depending on your viewpoint ). Essentially the courts have ruled that you don't have to pay MLB - who in turn where paying the PA - for their stats and the player names associated with them. If the battle has been lost - it's not over but so far it's not going well - it's a big blow to the "ball & stick " leagues who all filed briefs on behalf of MLB. Estimates are 15 - 18 million people ( men ) participate in baseball and football fantasy leagues to the tune of $1 billion + per year. I'm on MLB's side in this case - and I don't play fantasy baseball - but they've got so much friggin money I can't feel sorry for them.

INSTANT REPLAY

I don't like it in the NFL, too slow, although I'm in favor of it's use in postseason. I don't want it in baseball either. Oddly, I am increasingly in favor of using Ques Tec - or some other technology - for calling balls & strikes. MLB must have the data, ( Ques Tec is in about a dozen parks? ) and I suspect it would reveal that there are a lot of biases amongst the umps. MLB is a small community and it is naive to believe that a lot of hitters and pitchers - and some teams - don't get screwed by umps who(m) they are unpopular with. It's also time for Derek Jeter to hit with the same strike zone as Yuniesky Betancourt. Also, post Donaghy, shouldn't leagues go further to protect the integrity of their product?

STADIA

As expected, the Marlins and A's continue their efforts to construct new stadiums. The most unexpected news this offseason is that the Rays are negotiating with governments in FLA for a new stadium as well ( long term "The Trop" is far & away the Rays biggest problem ). I read no rumors or speculation about this anywhere. Not in SBJ, or Biz of Baseball or Field of Schemes. I thought in this era of the Web that nothing remained quiet. Not so.

What happens if one of, or a combination of, the A's, Rays & Marlins are unsuccessful in getting their new stadiums constructed? What are the options? Will Las Vegas or Portland do what DC did? Build it, pay for it and turn the keys over to the franchise owners? ( That's why MLB owned the Expos for as long as they did, they were waiting for somebody to pay for a new stadium. It does wonders for franchise values, they sold the Expos for $450 million ) The other option, increasingly speculated about, is to go the NFL G3 route. That has to be a better alternative than the continued subsidization of these clubs by their partners via luxury taxes and revenue sharing.

COLLUSION

Is the PA sabre rattling or are they preparing for battle? Fehr made accusations of collusion after the just completed GM meetings in relation to the free agent market and in particular to the free agency of A Rod. This following the PA's concerns this summer over Selig's attempts ( did he succeed? ) to enforce "slot recommendations " in the June Rule IV draft. Public comments such as these by Omar Minaya won't help the owners' case. “We’ve adhered to the commissioner’s slot recommendations,” Minaya said. “We’ve been good citizens. But not all the teams have done that, and the competitive balance is not fair. We have to take that position under review as an organization.”

THE MITCHELL REPORT

When it is finally released - expected now this offseason - there will be saturation coverage in the baseball press. An anonymous team official has been quoted as saying that the report will be "salacious". No doubt it will. Between BALCO, Radomski, Grimsley, Signature etc., there is no shortage of names to be named. Buster Olney thinks dozens of players, current and retired, will be implicated.

This will be the latest overreported "athlete conduct" story. Fans have proven - we'll tell you differently if asked - that we don't care about "athlete conduct". I.E. Vick, Pac Man, Browne Saunders / Thomas / Dolan, Bonds / BALCO etc. The NFL has not suffered, Knicks season ticket renewals were very strong, 79 million of us ( well, not me ) walked through turnstiles this season at MLB games and the beat goes on....Only the writers and blog geeks care if this era is "tainted", if there should be asterisks, how it will impact HOF voting, yada. ( Yes I'm a blog geek but if I ever participate in an online argument about asterisks in baseball somebody please come to my basement and shoot me. ) The Mitchell Report will have zero impact on the popularity of MLB.