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

Sunday, August 26, 2007

From the basement August 26

Ottawa Lynx

I saw Lynx GM Kyle Bostwick on the TV news during the last homestand and he flatly refuses to admit that the franchise is moving after this season. He won't say that it's not moving, only that they aren't certain. In fairness to Mr. Bostwick he takes his marching orders from Vermont based owner Ray Pecor. Why won't Mr. Pecor admit that this is it? The only plausible theory that I can come up with is that an admittance that they are leaving would weaken their position in their $10 million lawsuit with the city over the parking situation at the Stadium. ( Mr. Pecor publicy states otherwise but I suspect he knew Triple A was doomed here long before the city reduced the amount of parking spots at the Stadium, but this dispute is about breach of contract and not the viablility of the business ).

The evidence that the franchise is moving to Allentown / Lehigh Valley PA next season is overwhelming. In August of last year IL Commissioner Randy Mobley announced "The board of directors approved action of the Ottawa club to relocate to Allentown in 2008, and the partial sale of the right to operate the franchise currently controlled by Ray Pecor to Finley and Stein," Construction of a stadium is well under way in suburban Allentown PA, sponsorship deals ( including stadium naming rights to Coca Cola ) have been finalized, 2,000 season tickets sold, logo unveiled. I believe Mr. Bostwick when he says that there remain i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed but I have to think that he knows it's over, he's not allowed to voice that however.

There will be a spate of Lynx retrospectives in the Ottawa media next week, what with the last homestand ever starting on Wednesday. The question that will be asked repeatedly is why did Triple A fail in this market? Not only did it fail but the fortunes of the franchise varied drastically over it's 15 years here. In 93, the Lynx inaugural season, they set an IL season attendance record averaging 9772 per game. This season the Lynx are last in attendance, as has been the case for many years, averaging 1736 per game. Not only are they last in the IL in attendance , but the team 2nd last has easily more than double the Lynx at 4363.

So what happened? Like everything else, it's not one thing, but a combination of things. Let's look at the baseball climate in Canada in 1993. The Toronto Blue Jays had just won their 2nd consecutive World Series, Skydome was wondrous and everyone was on the baseball bandwagon. Since, the Jays have regressed to mediocrity and interest outside of the GTA is scant. At the same time, the MLB 94 strike was most detrimental to the Expos, who were in 1st place at the time and dismantled their winning team subsequently. The Ottawa market, obviously loyal to the Expos was embittered. Baseball lost it's allure, not only in Ottawa but in Western Canada where eventually Triple A franchises left Calgary, Edmonton & Vancouver in the late 90's and early 00's.

Locally there were significant changes in the pro sports landscape during the Lynx lifetime. In 93, the Lynx inaugural season, the NHL Sens were an awful team, in the midst of a streak of 4 consecutive last in the league seasons. The CFL team was a catastrophe on and off the field, on their way to folding after the 96 season. The Lynx timing was fortuitous, they fielded competitive teams making the playoffs in 93 and winning the IL championship in 95. Ottawa sports fans, desperate for a winning team latched on to the Lynx. Well things change, shit happens. The Sens got a lot better, making the playoffs in 97 and have not finished out of the playoffs since. The Sens success ( give them credit, 10 consecutive playoff appearances is a remarkable achievement ) in a natural hockey market drastically lowered the profile of the Lynx. Ottawa became all Sens all the time. I.E. The recent unveiling of the new Sens uniforms / logo - during peak baseball season - generated more interest and publicity than anything the Lynx have done all season, on or off the field.

Baseball wasn't trendy anymore, the Jays were mediocre, the Expos got screwed, the Sens were great, it was easy to forget about Triple A. As attendance dwindled to embarrassingly low numbers, going to the Lynx lost all caché. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd and conversely, if nobody else is going why should I?

So it's over September 03, after 15 seasons. I remember going to the Ottawa Nepean Sports Club ( the one and only time ) to pony up some cash, sign a petition supporting pro ball in Ottawa and walk away with some "bring Triple A to Ottawa" swag which I wore proudly. I called my Councillor to voice my support for the construction of the Stadium ( the one and only time in the 25 + years that I've lived here that I called my Councillor ). I've frozen my ass off many April nites ( afternoons for that matter ), waited out rain delays, took my kids in strollers and baby seats, went when the place was full and went when it was empty. Obviously I'll miss it and not in some romanticized W.P. Kinsella kind of way. I'll miss the baseball, the skill, athleticism, strategy, gamesmanship, I like the sport. I'll miss my city being part of Pro Ball, seeing prospects live before I see them on TV, seeing vets on the way down, seeing who's in the IL. I'm a geek.


The "Arena Baseball" era has peaked and is in decline. The degree to which HR continue to decline remains to be seen.

According to fellow local blogger Tao of Stieb , HR's in the AL are down this season from 1.123 per team / per game in 06 to .975 this season. That's substantial. Why are HR down? I attribute it to less bulk / juice in the game, brought about by testing, Radomski, Mitchell, Grimsley, BALCO etc. It's a whole different ballgame, so to speak, from the recent era of no testing. It could be that MLB has deadened the ball as well or likely a combination of the two factors. The history of MLB`s manipulating HR and scoring upward and downward is long documented and this is the latest adjustment. MLB wants to move the chattering classes ( principally the baseball press ) away from the HR / steroids debate and on to something more positive.

Rumors are widespread in the media ( no doubt emanating from MLB ) that George Mitchell will release his report sooner than later. Once all the spinning is complete ( it will be prolonged and sickening ) the owners and the players will get down to the brass tacks of what kind of a game they want going forward. No doubt there will be policy up the ying yang ( fans like policies, it sounds smart & serious, critics of MLB enjoy pointing out that the NFL had a steroids "policy" well in advance of MLB. I guess that's why there's no juice in the NFL, I digress...). But to what degree do they want the juice out of the game? I and many others have said it long & loud, the "Arena Baseball" era of Sosa, Bonds & McGwire put a lot of money in a lot of pockets. Bigger, faster, stronger players make for a more entertaining spectacle. How far do both parties really want to turn back the clock?. Business is booming. Also, steroids help players recover from injuries more quickly. Owners need the talent on the field, not in the trainer's room. HR`s will continue to decline but the genie is out of the bottle, chicks and guys dig the longball and the clock will not be turned back too, too far.


I like scalping, always have. I've scalped at Exhibition Stadium, Montreal Forum, Olympic Stadium, Skydome ( I've not yet been to Rogers Centre ), Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park & Soldier Field.

Scalping has undergone a lot of changes recently. It's gone digital and corporate. Corporations don't call it scalping ( that's too ugly ), they call it "Secondary Ticketing". Smaller entrepeneurs like Stub Hub ( since purchased by E Bay ) and Razor Gator to name a few, beat the big boys to the punch but the teams and leagues are all over it now. The digital scalpers provided an easy and lucrative opportunity for season ticket holders to, well, scalp. The teams and leagues spent some time considering whether or not to be associated with it and now they're "all in". There is just too much money to be made to be concerned about the optics of it. MLB just announced a 5 year deal with Stub Hub / E Bay "designating the secondary-ticketing company as the official on-line ticket reseller of MLB.com and the 30 clubs." There's certain to be a pissing match over this between big and small market owners over how the dough is divvyed up.

The teams also get really horny about the marketing opportunities that electronic - secondary ticketing provides. Data, data and more friggin data. The teams now know in great detail who is looking for tickets, to what games, how many, in what section.....the marketing people love it.

Got any ticket stubs in your scrapbook? ( I don't, too cynical for sentiment ) Well that's coming to an end as well. Ticketing, as the MBA / Corprate types call it, is going paperless, it is the present and the future. Tickets are being sent in the form of bar codes to cell phones and in turn scanned at the stadium. I don't own a cell phone....they'll still take my money.

MIT Sloan Sports Business Conference

I'm a geek, but to borrow from a friend of mine, these folks, recently gathered at MIT, by comparison make me appear uninteresed in baseball. I only started to scan read this article about "proprietary baseball data" amongst other things. I'm aware that this sort of thing goes on, but if you want a glimpse into how deep the baseball geekdom can go into statistical arcania, check it out. Having said that, I'm starting to change my mind on the ability of the math geeks to measure fielding, which is the subject of this link.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

From the basement August 12

Been out of town for practically the past 2 weeks. We returned from camping, washed some clothes, went to a baseball game ( thanks a lot to Carl Kiffner for hosting us in his box ), packed up the plantation again and headed for a cottage. My baseball viewing was limited to a few Jays games on CBC the holiday weekend ( no cable at the cottage ) and I gave up listening to the radio broadcasts because the reception was crap. Thankfully there were boxscores in the daily paper and most notably I had the opportunity to read John Helyar's "Lords of the Realm ".


This book is and isn't what I had anticipated. I read this book because the eminence grise of the baseball economics world, Andrew Zimbalist, references it in his book " In the Best Interests of the Game? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig ". If Mr. Zimbalist thinks it worthwhile I am automatically sold.

I assumed that due to Mr. Zimbalist's regard for this book that it would be heavy on the numbers but it isn't. Lords of the Realm is an exhaustive ( 600 + pgs ) look at the formation of the MLBPA and the subsequent labor battles with MLB up to the 94 strike. The focus is as much on the internecine battles amongst the owners during this era as it is on the aforementioned battles between the PA and MLB. Helyar is a former WSJ & Fortune reporter whose beat was pro sports, he knows the turf. He is slumming now at ESPN writing features. His piece on the diminishing number of African Americans in MLB was one of the most thorough I read on the subject and he also had an excellent piece on steroid abuse amongst players in the Dominican Republic this past winter.

The book does cover the changing economics of the industry over this time frame as well as the many legal battles that occurred during this era but it is primarily a detailed indictment of the owners or as Helyar refers to them, "The Lords". Helyar is an unabashed supporter of the players. In his estimation Marvin Miller is the great emancipator and the owners are the plantation owners. He gets a sympathetic ear from me, I have always been in the players' corner on labor matters but even I found his take excessively pro union. ( Zimbalist, Roger Noll & Helyar are all left wing, that's ok, they're exceedingly well informed but where are the dissenting opinions? I'd like to read them...I digress...)

The book also covers the reigns of the Commissioners of this era, Kuhn, Ueberroth, Giamatti, Vincent & Selig ( Selig was the de facto Commissioner post Vincent ), all are portrayed as incompetent and egotistical in varying degrees.

All in all the book is a very entertaining read. It is not a dense, numbers laden tome a la Zimbalist ( i.e. there is no mention of gini coefficients or regression analyses ) but simply an entertaining story populated with heros ( i.e. Miller, Dick Moss, Donald Fehr, Messersmith, Simmons, Hunter, Flood ) and villians ( too numerous but i.e. Walter O'Malley, Gussie Busch, George Steinbrenner) and zany characters ( i.e. Charlie Finley, Roy Hofheinz, Ted Turner, Jerry Kapstein, Howard Spira ).

Read it if you're a geek, you will be well entertained.


755 & 756 were hit while I was void of cable TV and Internet. I'm happy it happened when it did, I missed the great gobs of contrived outrage and moral rectitude that I'm certain spewed forth afterward. Yes he's dirty ( duh ) but get in line. Yes he's an asshole but again get in line. He is the greatest player of the past 20 years. Nonetheless he's gonna get his ass nailed to the wall. George Mitchell will soon be spinning for Bud Selig in every paper and on every TV News broadcast in the US and the Grand Jury investigating perjury charges against Bonds was extended. Radomski, Grimsley, the "anonymous" test results from 03, all this and more is forthcoming and only the proverbial pound of Bonds' flesh will satisfy the moralistic chattering classes...but don't get me started...the owners didn't know...my ass...but don't get me started...McGwire, the All American, caucasian in the extreme, & his "just happy to be here" flag waving, second banana, Garrett Morris like caricature of a black man, Sammy Sosa got free passes from the press and the fans in 98 because it represented a view of their country they enjoyed.....but an arrogant, ungrateful African American.....they don't like that...but don't get me started...I blogged it all this past winter...


I checked the schedule this AM and we're down to 2 homestands and it's over. 15 years of Triple A in my hometown comes to an end Sept 03. The chatter about the Can Am League coming to town has dissipated, more accurately disappeared, I thought all along that Miles Wolff was floating a trial balloon to gauge interest ( there was none amongst anybody I spoke to save for a few other geeks ). At this point I think the crux of the matter is what the city wants to do with the property. My money is on big box, I strongly hope I am wrong.


I read about Shysterball on Rob Neyer's ESPN blog and had some fun correspondence subsequently with the blogger, Craig Calcatterra. Craig's encouragement kick started me to post something during the All Star break and this AM I noticed that he was generous enough to add my blog to his list of links. Thanks Craig, this post is dedicated to you, I wouldn't have bothered had I not visited your blog today. How does a guy named Calcattera know from Yiddish? For that matter how does a guy named Toms? Oy!