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.

ARENA BASEBALL

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.

SCALPING

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.

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