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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

From the basement October 28

World Series games start too late?

Game 4 of the World Series tonight, I'm likely to fall asleep again before the completion. Woke up sitting on the couch around 12:15 last nite, checked the score & inning - 9-5, top of 8 - and said to hell with it and went to bed. Checked the time of the game this AM in the boxscore, 4:19. Wow.

What I've written above is the same griping that I have been reading for years in newspapers ( and more recently blogs ) on the stupidly late start times of World Series games and the harm it does to MLB. For years writers have been complaining about it - of course it's always about the kids, poor little one's can't stay up to see the end - and criticizing MLB for it's ignorance and incompetence in marketing itself. Over these years I've wondered....On the one hand I see the writers' point, I'm falling asleep, I have to guess most others are as well, that can't be good. On the other hand I always knew that the folks who run TV sports and MLB aren't stupid. MLB has grown it's revenues to $6 billion, it doesn't happen by accident, they do understand marketing & TV.

Well finally I've seen the numbers and no surprise, the writers and bloggers have it wrong. See the comments below from reporter Eric Fisher on his recent SBJ piece. ( Thanks to Maury Brown )

"The ratings data, over a period of years, shows that the later a game starts and finishes, the better rating – across all demographics with the exception of adults aged 55 and above. For MLB postseason specifically, ratings for all demos except the 55+ crowd went up after 11 p.m., and the World Series year after year gets 4 to 6 percent of its total viewing audience from viewers aged 11 and under. It’s a refrain the networks have been making for years, but it goes directly against the grain of East Coast columnist opinion claiming the late-night play is eroding youth interest in MLB......... Basically what we have is a collision of two less-than-perfect methods of research – Nielsen’s sampling versus the tiny focus groups of one or two in the homes of each columnist decrying the playoff TV schedule."


The baseball bloggers and the baseball writers are united, FOX's post season baseball coverage is awful. I read a lot of baseball stuff, blogs, big media, geek boutique, industry publications...and the reaction is loud, widespread and endless. I think there is so much being written about it because it's not - to this point - been an entertaining World Series for us hardcores ( TV numbers are great because casual fans know who the Red Sox are ) so it gives us one more thing to blather on about. As for the blogosphere in particular, I think the anti FOX bleating is in some part due to a contrived, anti corporate attitude. We're bloggers, we're not FOX. Big deal.

TV Ratings

I was disappointed that the Indians were eliminated because the TV ratings for an Indians / Rockies World Series would have been the worst ever - easily. In turn it would have been the most overreported story of the World Series. Great gobs of misinformed commentary amongst general sports columnists about the declining popularity of baseball in America. Instead the superstar Red Sox are in, TV ratings are great and MLB is doing a great job - it's all that simple.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From the basement October 23

Blue Jays

The only team - in any sport - I root for is the Jays. I hop on the Senators bandwagon Game 1, Round 1, ( even fly a flag on my truck, until it falls off, which is typically around the end of Round 1 ) and hop off within seconds of their final playoff game. I was a fan of our Triple A Lynx but it wasn't the same as the Jays. Ultimately the AAA team exists to support the big team, which I found a disincentive to investing in it emotionally. I was a Renegades / Riders fan when the CFL was here. I watch NFL, if anything I'm a Bills fan because for years all their games were broadcast in this market. Today I couldn't name 4 Bills players. Still I remain a fan of the Jays. Unfortunately I'm not optimistic about the future of baseball in Toronto. My pessimism has nothing to do with a disappointing 83 win season just ended - they were unlucky, good health is good luck - in fact I think they can compete for a playoff spot into September next season. Longer term I think there are some fundamental reasons that the Jays franchise will struggle.

The NFL in Toronto

Lots and lots of talk in Toronto concerning the NFL coming to town. The talk centres around whether or not it will happen - it will - and the resulting impact on the CFL. I haven't read any opinion on the effect the NFL in Toronto will have on the Blue Jays but it certainly won't be positive.

The Blue Jays already compete with the Leafs and Raptors ( the Argos are irrelevant ) for dollars, on an individual fan level and on a corporate level. When the NFL comes to Toronto the Jays will find selling tickets, suites, signage, sponsorships, merchandise, a whole lot more "competitive". The sports pie is only so big and the Jays piece will certainly be smaller than at present.

In the short term both the Jays and the NFL will share a facility but everybody knows that a new NFL only stadium will be constructed. When the NFL stadium is complete the Rogers Centre will compare poorly, in comfort, concessions, signage, suites, club levels etc. Corporate Toronto, which is to say corporate Canada, will turn their noses up at the drab, old, ghetto, Rogers Centre.

There's only so much oxygen and the NFL will suck up a lot of it. Fans have limited time and appetites for sports. To think that a lot of Toronto sports fans won't be devoting time and attention to the NFL - in the initial seasons particulary - is naive. Are the Jays en route to becoming #4 - of the big 4 - in the Toronto sports market?

The Rogers Centre

The Rogers Centre is crap for baseball. This problem exists regardless of whether or not another football stadium is ever constructed in Toronto. It always was a shitty place to watch baseball, even when the Jays were drawing 4 million per year. It's too big, too sterile, too much cement. I always felt like I was watching a baseball game in a shopping mall, right down to the food - MacDonalds. It was very novel and popular initially, the roof opened and closed ( a quantum leap forward from the Olympic Stadium ), the structure was mammoth, the jumbotron was not to be believed, the team was exciting. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

Read my lips, it's the stadium, stupid. The contemporary / retro baseball stadium is the biggest single factor in the unprecedented popularity of professional baseball ( MLB, MILB, Independent Leagues ) and the Jays don't have one and are not likely to get one. The Jays remain one of few teams in MLB playing in the now antiquated multi purpose facility. ( Oakland and Florida are desparately trying to get out of their multi purpose facilities. ) People love the new stadiums, more intimate, seats closer to the field, fewer seats, better sight lines, better concessions and a baseball "retro feel". Of the 79 million fans who went to MLB games this season, most I would agrue, could care less about baseball. People go with friends, family, co workers, suppliers, customers. They arrive late, leave early, eat, drink, chat, maybe watch some of the game, maybe not, and they love it. People like the atmosphere, the escape, the diversion.

But the importance of a stadium goes beyond mere attendance. Attendance isn't the key figure. The key figure is how much revenue a team generates per game and that involves much more than turnstile clicks. It's about ticket prices, suite prices, signage, sponsorships and the like. The newer the stadium, the greater the opportunities and Rogers Centre is now considered old, soon to be 20. ( Daniel Snyder is talking about his need for a new stadium and Fed Ex Field is only 10 years old! )

The AL East

I wish the Jays would / could leave the AL East. If this franchise played in any other division it would be compete for a playoff spot with some regularity. This has more to do with the magical parity elixir of luxury taxes, revenue sharing, wild card than anything the Jays are doing. But the Jays, O's and D Rays are at the biggest competitive disadvantage in MLB, playing the evil empires ( yes they number 2 now ) close to 1/4 of their schedules. I don't know how long it's been since an AL East team other than the evil empires made the playoffs but it's too long and is killing interest in the Jays.

I don't know if Rogers sees it that way though. The Yankees ( 10,000 per game above league average as a road draw ) and Red Sox are obviously very popular in Toronto both at the gate and on TV - they are the superstars of MLB. I haven't seen any speculation about realignment in a long time, contraction never happened and nobody foresees expansion, so maybe Jays fans are stuck with it.

The Suits

Ted Rogers will be part of the ownership group that brings the NFL to Toronto. What does this mean for his Blue Jays? I am in the camp who believe that Mr. Rogers boosted the Jays payroll the past handful of seasons simply because he was tired of owning a middling baseball team, he decided he wanted to win. I suspect his NFL franchise will become his new favorite play toy and that the Jays will suffer from his neglect ( his money ).

Bob McCown told his audience this past Friday that Jays President Paul Godfrey is on the way out. ( In so many words he said that. ) McCown is a credible guy - especially on matters Toronto sports -, he wouldn't intimate that without some sound knowledge. The better question is, who is his anonymous source and what is the motive of that anonymous source? Is Rogers trying to embarrass Godfrey, nudge him toward the door? Further evidence that there is something to this speculation is Godfrey's silence these past few weeks. Nobody has been more publicly associated with Toronto's desire to lure the NFL to town than Godfrey, for decades he has been pounding the drum. But now, when speculation is more rampant than ever and the NFL is making official announcments about Bills games in Toronto, Godfrey is nowhere.

If Godfrey is on the outs with Rogers ( Mr. & Corporation ) that isn't good for the Jays. Mr. Rogers hiring of Godfrey - and Godfrey's willingness to take the job - were an indication that Mr. Rogers was taking more of an interest in his baseball team. The recent increase in Jays payroll was also an indication that Godfrey had some schlep upstairs. If Godfrey leaves I will interpret that as a sign that Mr. Rogers is losing interest in baseball and the payroll will decline.


Paul Godfrey drank the Moneyball Kool Aid and hired one of Billy Beane's disciples - J.P. Ricciardi. Godciaardi did a marvelous sales job in Toronto. They told anybody and everybody that J.P. would compete with the evil empires because - just like Beane - although he had less money, he was smarter, he understood Moneyball. ( It was better than selling Buck Martinez as the savior. ) One big problem, everybody else read the book too. Opinion amongst the baseball geeks is that by the time Moneyball was published most of the teams had, in varying degrees, adopted the basic principles of it. Yes Billy Beane, Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, Bill James, J.P. et. al were ahead of the curve, but as Rob Neyer said not long ago ( I'm paraphrasing probably ) re. Moneyball, the low hanging fruit has been picked. In other words, everybody's doin it, so you ain't got no advantage any longer. Godciaardi knows Moneyball? Good, get in line. In fact, the Jays increased payroll the past handful of years - and Godciaardi's public lobbying for the increase - is an admission that Moneyball isn't the magic cure any longer.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

From the basement October 20


Yes, sports fans, baseball fans included, are full of it.

The Colorado Rockies are one of the great baseball stories of my era - and I'm not young, I'm 45 - but relative to their accomplishments they are practically ignored by the fans and the press this October. This despite them being the quintessential Cinderella team. Nobody outside of Denver knew who they were until about 3 weeks ago - in fact, nobody in Denver knew either - and next week they will be playing in the World Series. They're everything that fans claim to love in a team; a small market underdog - built without expensive free agents - , a young humble star at SS, an unsung MVP candidate in LF, a loyal vet at 1B who stayed through the tough times and is now being rewarded with a World Series trip and an unprecedented 21 / 22 hot streak that includes wins in a 1 game playoff - come from behind in the 13th no less - and 7 straight post season wins. Scrappy, gritty, no quit, unheralded, ignored, nobody believed in us,
lunch bucket, yada, yada. But who cares?

Fans lie. Contrary to what fans tell one another, the Rockies is not the kind of story they love, nobody's watching, TV ratings are awful ( what that means is a different rant ). They're even a secondary story on the baseball sites. Know what the fans are interested in? Fans love to hate the New York Yankees.

The Yankees were eliminated almost 2 weeks ago but remain the dominant story this post season. Fan interest this October is much greater in the Yankees' day to day soap opera of Torre, A Rod, Steinbrenner, than in the Rockies historic performance and inspirational Rudy ( which I've not seen ) subtext. Everybody is interested in the Yankees because baseball is entertainment and entertainment is about stars. The Yankees are superstars; the franchise, the owner, the players ( past and present ), the stadium, the logo, the lore. They are North American sports greatest villians - they represent wealth, power and greed - in the simple but fun morality play of good teams vs. bad teams.

Nobody in sports valued the importance of stars more than George Steinbrenner. Love him or hate him ( I miss him ) Mr. Steinbrenner understood that the Yankees were showbiz; Reggie, Billy Martin, Jeter, A Rod, Clemens, Steinbrenner himself for that matter. Gooden and Strawberry were brought to the Bronx long past their peak years because Mr. Steinbrenner understood that they were big stars if not great baseball players any longer. George Steinbrenner transformed the Yankees into THE YANKEES again. Mr. Steinbrenner wasn't satisfied with just winning, he realized the value in winning with swagger.

A Rod & The Yankees

All of that above brings me round to the debate about the lengths the Yanks should go to in their attempts to resign A Rod.

YES. The Yankees & Nets debuted their own RSN, YES, in 02 and according to Chris Isidore it is now worth about $3.5 billion. The Yankees own 36 % of YES. Much has been written about A Rod's value to YES - and by extension to the Yanks -, due to Scott Boras' manipulation of the baseball writers. Boras has even suggested that YES should pay a portion of A Rod's deal should he resign with the Yanks. Most baseball writers ( Gammons was sucked in early but has probably had a change of heart ) doubt Boras' claims re. A Rod's value to YES, but probably more due to their dislike of Boras than anything else. Nonetheless credible sources agree that Boras is overstating A Rod's value to YES but I have to admire his originality. Leave it to Boras to be the first agent to suggest that an RSN should pony up for some of the salary of the superstar of the network's primary attraction. Less attention ( although plenty ) was also given to speculation ( started by Boras if you believe the conjecture in the press ) that A Rod would become part owner of the Cubs if he signed with them. Boras is smart, greedy but smart. He realizes that payroll taxes on big market clubs are a disincentive to sign his client and is looking for creative ways around it.

The New Yankee Stadium opens in 09. Obviously this will boost Yanks revenues substantially. Again there is much speculation about how much additional revenue A Rod can generate in the new stadium and his value to the Yanks given that they will be competing with other local pro sports franchises for the luxury box dollar. In other words if you're a super wealthy corporation headquartered in NYC do you want boxes at the new Yankee Stadium or the Mets new Citifield or the yet unnamed Jets / Giants stadium or the Nets new Barclays arena?

We all know that the Yanks have the resources to pay A Rod more than their competitors, particularly with the new stadium opening in 09. Nonetheless there is opinion that A Rod is worth more to some other teams than the Yanks. For starters, the Yanks have to pay the 40% luxury tax on A Rod's $$$ - a lot of scratch. Perhaps A Rod is worth more in NYC wearing pinstripes than anywhere else but Isidore notes that the bottom feeding Florida Marlins could benefit the most from ponying up for A Rod. "The Marlins are an interesting possibility," said Tim Mahon, principal for Anderson Economic Group, a business valuation service, who has studied team values. "I think it makes much more sense than it does for some of the other choices." Mahon said that for deep-pocketed successful teams like the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Red Sox or Angels, "there's a marginal economic benefit from bringing him in, even as fabulous a player as he is. But look at the upside for the Marlins, not just in ticket revenue but also the structure of a new stadium deal." The Marlins would not be subject to the 40% luxury payroll tax either.

We'll know 10 days from the conclusion of the World Series if Hal Steinbrenner is the master promoter that his father was. But regardless of what the Yankee beancounters tell Hal ( and maybe they'll conclude that A Rod is worth whatever Boras decides ) the Yankees should resign A Rod because they are THE YANKEES and A Rod is THE SUPERSTAR and to not resign A Rod is to diminish the Yankees profile, their entertainment value, their brand ( I hate that word ).

Come on, A Rod in FLA, Texas, Chicago, Anaheim ( Jeff Blair thinks Stoneman stepped aside because Moreno wants to deal directly with Boras ) etc.? How boring.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

From the basement October 16

The post season is well under way but as far as I'm concerned the real baseball season - the regular one - ended over 2 weeks ago.

I start looking forward to the end of it when September rolls around, primarily because so many of the September games are de facto meaningless exhibitions. But as well I enjoy the end of it because it frees up a lot of time. I spend a lot of time during baseball season watching baseball and following the day to day grist of it; ALL the boxcsores, injuries, probables, transactions, stats, minor league prospects.....but once the box scores for the 162nd games ( this year there was a 163rd ) have been read, the day to day obsessive routines of the season end with it.

Yes the post season takes up some of my time but in relative terms a lot less. Now that the NLCS is complete, we're down to a paltry 1 game per day with plenty of off days in between. I don't spend time reading the the post season analyses because it's the post season. The analyses are irrelevant because the outcomes are literally a crapshoot. If there is one thing that the math heads have proven about baseball, it is that the randomness of baseball is what makes it baseball. Even the Rockies 21 / 22 run, while unprecedented in my time, is an example of the randomness. In other words, playoff prognostications, whether proven right or wrong, are complete bullshit.

So what happens in the basement now? Hopefully a lot more blogging and more frequent reading of a few brilliant web sites that I neglect during the season


This is the site of Raymond "Skip" Sauer, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, Clemson University. His vitae lists his Research Interests as "Industrial organization and regulation; financial economics; economics of sports; also monetary theory and business cycles, academic labor markets."

Thankfully Mr. Sauer is also a sports fan, as are his stable of 9 regular contributors / economists to The Sports Economist. I'll admit, I don't know a regression analysis from a coefficient, but if you want opinion and commentary on sports that is at the front of the curve, read this blog.

Wanna see how far off the deep end the math geeks can go into the statistical anyalysis of baseball? I dare you to try and understand the math - not the ideas or conclusions, the math - in the paper "The Monyeball Anomaly and Payroll Efficiency", co authored by Professor Sauer and Professor Jahn K. Hakes ( you'll find the link in the October 04 posting ). As Alan Schwarz revealed to us in his wonderfully entertaining history of the baseball geekdom, The Numbers Game, there is a community of math geniuses who are really, really, really into baseball stats.

But it's not the math that makes this site entertaining, it's the opinion and the commentary that you don't find in the mainstream sports media. Take the always popular subject of competitive balance. MLB takes great pride in the increased parity they have orchestrated the past several years. The prevailing wisdom amongst the chattering classes is that parity & the Wild Card ( the two go hand in hand ) are the principal factors in the 4th consecutive season of record attendance. Well, not so fast, Professor Sauer doesn't agree. "Many in the media....are singing the praises of "parity," as if the shrinking gap between the best and worst clubs this year is responsible for MLB's record attendance. I'm on the record as being skeptical of this claim." One of Professor Sauer's colleagues, Professor Dave Berri, also thinks that the impact of competitive balance on increased attendance in pro sports is overstated - he uses the NBA to illustrate his point - and makes this controversial remark , "If competitive balance is not necessary for the survival of a sports league, aren’t the rules designed to promote balance just an attempt by owners to take money away from players?" Hmmm, I'd love to ask Don Fehr if he is in agreement.

Listen to the interview - solely on the subject of baseball - with Professor Sauer courtesy of Bloomberg News ( you'll find the podcast link in the October 09 posting ) and you will hear more unconventional opinions on matters MLB. I.E. Professor Sauer doubts that steroids have had a material impact on baseball, he thinks they help the pitchers as much as the hitters and that the juice has made more of an impact on sportswriting than anything else. On the trendy subject of AL superiority, Professor Sauer agrees with the chattering classes that the AL is superior, but unlike the baseball writers he does not attribute it to the challenge of keeping pace with the superpower Yankees and Red Sox. Professor Sauer believes that the superiority of the AL is a result of the DH. He believes the DH has changed the allocation of talent in MLB, not just in the batters box but on the mound as well.

The next baseball econometric frontier? Professor Sauer is examining the productivity of managerial in game decisions. I doubt the Managers are ready for his conclusions, Paul DePodesta couldn't convince Jim Tracy that bunting is a bad strategy.


I can't remember where I read about this site but I bookmarked it in March and then the season started... but it's really good stuff, from a very liberal ( Village Voice ) perspective, on all the crooked shit that goes on building stadia ( I always thought the plural was stadiums, but Field of Schemes says stadia ) in the US. As you would anticipate from the Village Voice - and as the blog title indicates - the author Neil deMause does not treat his subjects ( leagues, owners, politicians ) with respect ( not that they deserve any ), in fact he's pretty much contemptuous of them all. I can abide by the editorializing because I enjoy his reporting, it's very thorough and well researched.

Recent subjects on Field of Schemes include the screwing over of NYC residents vis a vis the construction of the new Yankees Stadium as well as Congressional hearings on public stadium funding. If you think this wisecrack is funny - I do - you'll enjoy Field of Schemes. "....Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy takes on the question of whether sports facilities "divert public funds from critical public infrastructure." (Otherwise known as the "Did the Twins make the I-35 bridge fall down?" question.)"

In addition to the new Yankee Stadium, what I hope to bone up on this winter at Field of Schemes are the politics of stadium construction in:

NYC: Citifield - the new Mets stadium as well as the as yet unnamed Giants / Jets facility.

Miami: Will a new baseball stadium be built? When Charlie Christ succeeded Jeb Bush the consensus amongst the chattering classes was that this was a big boost for those ( The Marlins ) wanting to spend tax dollars on a new baseball stadium. Well, 07 ends soon and still nothing has happened. I say never underestimate Bud Selig in these matters.

Fremont / Oakland: Lewis Wolff wants a new baseball stadium for the A's, which if you believe the hype is gonna be super hi tech and as is the trend, is part of a much larger real estate play. ( I don't really know what a real estate play is, but...). Much larger as in 200 acres and $1.8 billion. I think the baseball stadium is more about influencing public opinion in favor of the development than say, a baseball stadium.

I suspect Field of Schemes will clarify all of this for me this winter.