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

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From the basement July 11 07

No baseball in the basement or outside the basement since Sunday, other than with the kids in the park. No boxscores plus I have zero interest in the Home Run Derby and All Star Game and as a result I have the oppportunity to catch up on some reading that I neglect during the season, i.e. Maury Brown. As well there is time to waste blogging about baseball.

BARRY BONDS

Bonds is steroids is Bonds in the eyes of the fans. I blogged a lot about Bonds during the offseason and I believe I am being proven correct on at least 1 point, which is only the chattering classes care about this matter. To quote Maury Brown "Revenues are at an all-time high, as are attendance figures.....". Despite this I continue to read that steroids presents a big problem for MLB. Once again, NO IT DOESN'T! If the rank & file fan was pissed about the players being juiced they would find alternate sources of entertainment, but they are coming in droves which indicates that they don't care. Only the geekdom care about George Mitchell, Kirk Radomski, Troy Ellerman et. al but we generate a lot of noise about it. Ask a fan at a game who any of the aforementioned are and you'll get a blank stare.

BLUE JAYS

I am a Jay fan albeit a very dispassionate one. My interest in baseball varys not one iota with the fortunes of the Toronto club but it is the club I follow most closely so...

43-44 at the break. Expectations were higher for the Jays this season than in many years, with justification. In all likelihood they will win 80 - 86 games and obviously not contend for a playoff berth. Gibbons is certainly gone, it's always easy to scapegoat the Manager, and then what...?

What will Rogers do? Maintain payroll or slash and burn? If they opt for the latter it is difficult to see Godcciardi sticking around, Ricciardi has already been down that road once. With the drastic increase in value of the Cdn dollar the Jays bottom line certainly has to be better than it has been in years. Nonetheless Rogers could conclude that the Jays would be more profitable with a small payroll. In this socialist era of MLB it can be more profitable to field a bad team as opposed to a competitive one. There is a lot of Revenue Sharing / Luxury Tax money available for low revenue teams. According to Forbes many of the most profitable teams are low revenue / low payroll. Stanford economist Roger Noll, amongst others, believes that low revenue teams are rewarded for making their teams weaker. As an example, the Royals last season received $32 million in revenue sharing, double what they recieved in 02 but yet their payroll has increased only 6% over the same time period. Meanwhile the Royals reported a profit of $10 million last season.

Fans in small markets appear to be finally realizing that the reason their team consistently stinks is likely because their owner wants it that way. There was recently a minor protest by Pirates fans against their ownership. The fans feel that they were hoodwinked by the Pirates ownership into believing that if a publicly funded stadium was built ( which it was, PNC Park ) that the additional revenues generated by the new stadium would result in an investment in a more competitive team, meaning simply better and more expensive players. The protest flopped but it has raised the profile of allegations that have been afloat for awhile, namely that the Pirates have been using monies received from MLB to pay down team debt in order to better position the club for a sale as opposed to using it to field a competitive team. Time will tell how effective the new CBA is in resolving this problem of low revenue teams pocketing money from larger markets to ostensibly assist in creating "competitive balance". In fact it was the key issue in the last negotiations. Donald Fehr, in a recent speech to the Sports Lawyers Association, was quoted as "The marginal tax rate on a revenue-sharing payer under the last agreement was 40%, the marginal tax rate on a receving club was actually higher than that, it was 48 percent." "We were able by moving a lot of the revenue-sharing money into the central fund...to lower that tax rate to 31 percent for both revenue-sharing payers and revenue-sharing receivers." Economist Andrew Zimbalist was employed by the owners to help resolve this problem, which he refers to as "the cliff", which if I understand him correctly is the point where it is more profitable to be shit than to be good.

Lastly on the long term for the Jays, with the impending sale of the Cubs they will be the last team in MLB owned by a Media conglomerate. ( Liberty Media is expected to flip the Braves in a few years, that deal is about stock swaps with Time Warner and tax planning / avoidance, the baseball team is a tiny part of the equation ). But not long ago it was all the rage in MLB, ownership of teams by the likes of News Corp. ( Dodgers ), Disney ( Angels ) and Time Warner ( Braves ). What happened? To quote from Sports Business Journal, " The teams became lost in large companies and became headaches from both an operational standpoint and from a public relations perspective." Will Rogers buck the trend? Did Ted Rogers boost the payroll in recent seasons simply because he was tired of being ridiculed by his buddies for fielding a middling team ( as has been speculated )? If his personal interest in his ball team wanes or disappears there could be big changes afoot.

OTTAWA LYNX

Of most significance to me this baseball season is that I will be losing pro ball in my hometown and I will miss it. According to Baseball America business is booming in Lehigh Valley PA where our hometown franchise is relocating and the team hasn't even taken the field. You can read it here.

The Lynx are last in the IL and the remainder of the year doesn't look promising as the parent club Phillies don't seem interested in fielding a competitive club here and really who can blame them? In affiliated ball there is typically incentive for the parent team to keep the franchise owner happy. Given the lame duck position of the Lynx owner the Phillies are absent that incentive, The evidence that the Phillies are neglecting their Triple A team is their failure to replace a nucleus of veteran "4A" type players who have left the team since the beginning of the season. P Brian Mazzone plus OF's Ron Calloway and Lou Collier started the year here and either retired or went to Korea to ply their trade. As well AAA vet C/1B/3B Chris Coste (recently promoted to Philadelphia ) has played most of the year in AA instead of here ( he played briefly here at the beginning of the season ). Contrary to most hoser opinion I've heard over the years here, these are the type of players you win with at this level, not prospects. Triple A is a veteran league. What I really wonder and will never know is if the aforementioned 4 veterans stopped playing here because they tired of the miniscule crowds and overwhelming disinterest. The Phillies have not replaced these "4A" vets with players of the same experience / skill level. Are the Phillies trying to find "4A" players to play here and the guys won't come because of the situation or are they simply saving some pocket change on payroll because they are leaving town?

Anyway, it hasn't impacted on my level of interest in the product, the ball is still top notch and hey, I'm a geek.

I doubt Indy ball will come here ( I hope I'm wrong ) but I think prospective owners would conclude there would be no more interest in that product than in Triple A, we simply don't like baseball here. BTW, anybody misinformed enough to think that Indy ball is crap should check out the Minor League Transactions in Baseball America from a few weeks back. Lots of teams are signing players out of Indy leagues and it happens every year. In fact 2 of the Lynx stronger performers this season, 1B/DH Gary Burnham & P Charlie Weatherby are former Indy players.

NAMING RIGHTS

Stadium naming rights have been a cash cow for pro sports but thankfully this trend may be dying. I think we can all agree that enough stadiums and arenas are presently named after banks. 2 NYU professors, Robert Boland and Lee Igel foresee an end or at least a dramatic delcine in naming rights deals. According to the professors, due to mergers, tight markets and bankruptcies, many of these deals don't "run to their contractual terms". Resultingly the bank / corporation that buys the rights after the first guy has gone belly up, buy it for a fraction of the cost of what the first guy paid. The Rangers lost Ameriquest as the naming sponsor for their ballpark and according to owner Tom Hicks he won't sell the rights again, he would prefer to keep the name to promote his team. I'm a geek and I can't even keep track of all the current stadium names. I.E. I've seen the A's play in Oakland and I would have to guess at what the name of the stadium was at that time, it has changed so frequently. Enough.

TV RATINGS

I have thought for the past handful of years that TV ratings for pro sports are grossly overreported. Every year the TV ratings for the World Series decline and I read the resulting misinformed opinions that baseball is declining in popularity, meanwhile as mentioned, business is fantastic. Well, SBJ just published a feature on this very subject and they confirm what I already knew. TV ratings are down for everything, because we have 500 channels now instead of 3 or 4 ( I'm old ) and has anybody heard of the Internet or video games? Sports is a more valuable TV property than ever because it has performed much more strongly in comparison to the other forms of TV entertainment during this era of declining TV ratings. Sports is also DVR proof which obviously makes it appealing to advertisers. As well, just because the ratings are down doesn't mean fewer fans are watching, it does mean that the market is more fragmented. The important number is not the rating but how many people total are watching. From SBJ, "The network's push toward viewers makes sense, since the increased number of games on television has created a growing base of sports fans.....Citing the ESPN Sports Poll, Bulgrin ( Artie Bulgrin, ESPN/ ABC Sports, senior VP, research, sales development) says 219 million people considered themselves sports fans in the United States in 2006, compared with 186 million 10 years earlier." From the same article a quote from David Poltrack, CBS's chief research officer, "The average ratings have held up remarkably well because of what you normally would expect to be the dilution that might come about."

Earlier this evening I saw this headline on the Globe & Mail website "MLB All-Star ratings decline". Geez, that ain't good. If you bother to read the brief AP article perhaps the key bit of information is the last sentence. "The game and pregame show averaged a 7.9/14, giving Fox the highest-rated night of prime time on any network since its "American Idol" finale on May 23."

I SEE DEAD PITCHERS

I know this isn't timely anymore, but I typed it a few months ago so what the hell...

Sunday morning April 29 and I'm doin what I do during baseball season, reading the boxscores. I'm reading the Cubs / Cards boxscore, ( the Cards got thumped again ) and I notice that Josh Hancock pitched 3 innings of relief. I wondered to myself if he would be put in the rotation at some point given the Cardinals problems with their starting pitching. I follow it all, but Hancock's name always caught my eye because I remember seeing him pitch here in the IL as a PawSox and he threw in the low 90's ( I often used to sit in view of the guns ). Later that season I recall mentioning his name to a scout ( maybe Vance Lovelace ) and that this guy threw fairly hard. Anyway, that all ran through my mind for a few seconds and I plowed onward through the "little words" as my wife condescendingly refers to them. A handful of hours later I am at Lynx Stadium for that afternoon's Triple A game and before the National Anthems the PA announcer asks for a moment of silence for Josh Hancock and I thought geez that's a coincidence.....

Steve Bechler died February 17, 2003 at the age of 23. Bechler died of heatstroke during an Orioles spring training workout. His death was much publicized because death during spring training is unusual ( well, on the field, perhaps not in the stands ) and his consumption of a weight loss drug containing ephedrine was controversial. I saw Bechler pitch here late in the 02 season ( I can't find the date ) and I distinctly recall asking fellow geek Bob Wormington during the game what he thought of Bechler's prospects of making it to the bigs. I remember wondering upon hearing of his death if I had seen his last start ever.

On July 20, 1999 ( this date I did find ) I attended the A's vs Rockies game in Oakland, courtesy of Enron ( that's another story ). Daryl Kile started the game for the Rockies and as I was seated a few rows from the field down the first base line I had a superb view of him as he strode from the bullpen into the dugout prior to the beginning of the game. A heart attack killed Kile on June 22, 2002 at the age of 33.

I understand a whole lot of people in St. Louis have seen both Josh Hancock and Daryl Kile pitch. But I'm questioning if I haven't seen an inordinate amount of dead pitchers for a guy who lives in Ottawa Canada?

So the All Star break is over, tomorrow morning it's probable pitchers, then the games later in the day, boxscores, stats, standings, transactions, rumors, prospects, Triple A team in town tomorrow for 4 game homestand, gotta get out to a game.......

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