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

Friday, January 25, 2008

From the basement January 25

My 3rd column for Baseball Digest Daily is here. The column title is " Beyond the Diamond ". Thanks to Joe Hamrahi for naming it, I was too lazy to think of anything. Anyway, we seem to be on a schedule of it appearing every Thursday.

YA GOTTA BE GOOD TO BE LUCKY

The Red Sox are oh so trendy. They even have their own honorary hipster band,
completely in keeping with Gammons ( official mascot ) and Epstein ( MLB's alpha metrosexual ). Everything they do is lauded as cutting edge and everybody associated with them is a genius. John Henry, Theo, NESN, FSG, Roush, Bill James, the preservation and renovation of Fenway, the farm system - Paplebon, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Bucholz... - the Red Sox are at the front of the curve in every facet of operating an MLB team. They are state of the art.

They certainly deserve the praise, they are a model franchise. But a lot of the fawning comes from their winning 2 World Series in 4 seasons. But there's a lot of luck in winning a World Series and even more in winning 2 in 4 seasons.

I wrote here in the fall that postseason prognostications are bullshit - whether proven right or wrong - because the baseball playoffs are a complete crapshoot. In November somebody way smarter than me - Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Economics, Imperial College London - explained it here.

"...sports championships are contests involving repeated trials, which work in favour of a dominant team when outcomes are based on averaging these trials (league or series play), but against it when outcomes are based on elimination. For example, suppose the Yankees buy themselves a 60% probability of winning each game they plays (those are pretty good odds). Then if they play a best of five series their probability of winning it is 68%. But if they have to win four series in order to win the Fall Classic, then their probability of success is only 22%. Moreover, even if the process is repeated seven times there is still an 18% probability they will fail (unlikely perhaps, but no so improbable)."

So what are the odds of winning 2 championships in 4 seasons? I'm not arguing that the Red Sox aren't deserving of their recent World Series victories, they won fair and square. But it's baseball and there is a whole lot of randomness, which is to say, luck.

Are the Red Sox that dominant or is 2 out of 4 just part of the probability equations? Are the Yankees of the past 7 seasons that much inferior to their predecessors who won 3 straight? Were Tino, Brosius, O'Neill & Bernie great pressure players or in the right place....Does this explain how a really mediocre Cards team - 83 regular season victories - wins the 06 World Series?

Is it why articles like this aren't worth reading?

FAN CYNICISM

I read not so recently in SBJ that a USA Today/Gallup poll from December revealed that " fans weren’t surprised by the player behavior outlined in the Mitchell Report.." I don't find that unexpected but it says something about our collective cynicism. Yes we know pro sports ( "amateur" for that matter ) is dirty but more importantly we don't care anymore or any less.

We know we're not going through male menopause in a corn field in Iowa. We know sports is a big, big business. We know baseball players aren't role models, we know they are entertainers. We don't care about sexual harrassment or animal abuse or game fixing. Signs of our moral ambiguity. Did good guys and bad guys go out about the same time as Hawkeye Pierce? Maybe that's not altogether bad.

CAN AM LEAGUE

After 15 seasons of AAA in Ottawa we will be watching the independent CanAm League here come May.

I've never followed indy ball. I've been aware of it. I see the indy leagues in the transactions and I've watched many AAA players here with indy experience but I can't claim to have followed it. But now that I'll be watching it I've started to pay some attention. I look for indy ball news in BA and Ballpark Digest. I asked my wife for a subscription to Independent Baseball Insider for Christmas.

Some of the stuff I'm learning is disappointing and reinforces what I suspected, which is we are near or at the bottom of the indy food chain. I surfed CanAm rosters from last season in preparation for a Q & A with CanAm commissioner and baseball legend Miles Wolff and found few recognizable names. The CanAm 94 game schedule was another indication that this ain't a premium indy league ( the best indy league is the Atlantic League which will play a 140 game schedule this season ). This piece from last week claims that the Northern League is having a tough time recruiting players and appears a poor sister in the indy pecking order. More important to me, the article lumps the NL in with the CanAm.

Oh well, sitting outside watching bush league ball is better than sitting in the basement.

POLITICS

"It is possible that the BALCO scandal could have been averted had Brian Sabean and Peter Magowan acted in a responsible fashion." So said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in reaction to allegations in the Mitchell Report that Sabean turtled when a team trainer - Stan Conte - raised concerns about Greg Anderson - Bonds "personal trainer" - peddling steroids in the Giants clubhouse.

Is Mr. Waxman really that stupid? Does he really believe that if Greg Anderson had been banned from the Giants' clubhouse that Victor Conte ( no relation as far as I know to the aforementioned Stan Conte ) and Patrick Arnold would have stopped manufacturing and selling steroids?

I doubt he's that stupid. I do suspect he's engaging in such hyperbole to bring attention to himself.

MY FAVORITE BASEBALL PLAYER EVER

Kazuhito Tadano, my favorite baseball player ever, has returned to Japan after playing in the PCL & IL the past handful of years. He also logged a bit of time with the Indians.

I am proud to say that I saw him pitch here in Ottawa as a Buffalo Bison. This is more memorable than seeing either Deion Sanders or Jose Canseco here.

I love Tadano because, as far as I know, he is the only pro athlete to have "appeared" in a gay porn. But it's not the fact that he "appears" in a gay porn that makes him my favorite. I love him because he claims not to be gay! I've always considered his stance on this Clintonian, " I did not have sex with that woman ". What do Tadano and Slick Wille think they were doing? Are there more amongst us who share their perspective on this?

FACEBOOK - THE COMMODIFICATION OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS

I love the internet ( that's not hip, isn't "inter webs" de rigeur? ) or more specifically baseball on the internet. I waste way more time during the winter in front of the PC than the TV.

I haven't gotten into Facebook though, probably due to my age more than any other factor. I am a Facebook member ( is that the correct term? ). I joined a group that was formed in support of a friend who was being sued for some stuff he wrote on his blog. Subsequent to that I joined a group whose common interest was bringing independent ball here and I also joined the Baseball Digest Daily group. But I never visit Facebook and I've entered the bare minimum of
information about myself because I prefer to be quiet about my politics and I'm way too old to be defining myself by my preferences in movies, TV shows and music.

Having said that, if you are part of Facebook I suggest you read this, especially if you're a leftist.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

From the basement January 12

Sometime between now and tomorrow I am expecting to see something I wrote here. Here is Baseball Digest Daily. The plan is that I will submit a weekly column on matters pertaining to the baseball industry.

I've been perusing BDD the past several days and the contributors are serious fans. A handful have impressive resum├ęs. There is one former THT writer, Craig Brown. And one current THT writer, Geoff Young. Rob McQuown worked for STATS, Inc. in their formative years. STATS, Inc. - as detailed in "The Numbers Game" by Alan Schwarz - had an enormous impact on how baseball statistics are compiled, interpreted and utilized in MLB. Mr. McQuown has also consulted for both management and labor. Gordon Berger is a former player agent ( NFL & CFL ) and has taught sports and entertainment law. Bill Chuck has contributed his writing to MSNBC.com and MLB.com.

BDD is also comprehensive, transactions, stats, standings, prospects and news. There is also some pretty good chat. Kudos and best of luck to Joe Hamrahi and his colleagues who have obviously invested a lot - and I don't mean solely monetarily - into this endeavor. Thanks to Joe for the opportunity.

Also I like what BDD is not. It's not cheerleading, or jock sniffing fandom or baseball as a metaphor for "life" ( whatever "life" is, not even I'm stoned enough to ponder that ) nor is it a Deadspin knockoff, which there are a plethora of.

I don't read Deadspin although I have read a few Will Leitch pieces that I found linked elsewhere. The bits of Mr. Leitch's writing that I've read I liked. His post indictment Bonds piece for instance. I don't read it either because I'm too old or I just don't like the hipster, slacker, pop culture, ironic, sarcastic etc. tone. In fairness to Will Leitch - like he'd give a shit - my perceptions of him and Deadspin stem primarily from:

1. His headshot, which I've seen a few times in SBJ and hasn't been updated in at least a year. He may be a recovering slacker ( I say recovering because I suspect he works way too hard on Deadspin to qualify for slackerdom any longer ) but retains the haircut. ( I, on the other hand am 45 and my hair has recently started leaving. ) Anyway, his haircut says hipster, it doesn't say Bristol CT. ( Maybe he's not in Bristol but that's not my point. )

2. I read he wrote a slacker blog before Deadspin. Once a slacker....maybe I'm just anti slacker.

3. His acolytes, they're everywhere on the net and multiplying daily. If imitation is the sincerest....Will Leitch is a sports web deity. His legion of imitators invariably list Deadspin on their "blogroll" and include lots of pictures / video and pop culture riffing. I think I "get it" but I don't give a shit, which isn't to say it's bad.

What is happening with baseball on the web?

I see more and more baseball blogs. I've been yammering on here off and on for about a year and already I see plenty of baseball blogs that have debuted subsequent to mine. I suspect this trend isn't about to change. I think I'm also ( I have zero empirical evidence ) seeing more baseball / sports blogs with a stable of regular contributors. I suspect - again only instinct - that it is an attempt ( probably futile and misguided ) by us ignored, near smart, amateurs to enlarge our audience ( perhaps audience is a misnomer ) and reduce the time commitment by joining the digital commune. Writing for BDD puts me at the front of this line.

How do we baseball web geeks spend our time online? Are we consuming information? Opinion? Are we chatting / arguing? Watching video, live games? The obvious answer is all of those. But how much time are we devoting to each? What do we want more of, less of? I want information primarily, particulary during the season. The fundamentals, box scores, stats, transactions etc. The opinions become redundant, i.e. how much is there to say about the Swisher trade or Clemens / McNamee? Chatting is an offseason time waster although if I was of Deadspin age no doubt I would be conversing via my laptop while simultaneously watching baseball, listening to music, masturbating (not to imply that masturbating is particular to the Deadspin generation) and doing my homework.

How many read the baseball geek sites? Is it a small group of us - thousands, tens of thousands? - who read THT that also read BP, that also read BA....Does it matter? Do we know? Even the big media companies can't agree on "internet metrics" or "analytics" or whatever. From SBJ's "ratings issue" last year. " ...there is no de facto standard of traffic measurement, and there likely never will be. Sites freely pick and choose among the sea of available numbers, traversing everything from page views and unique visitors to time spent online, constructing and depicting at will their own preferred version of reality." In a recent interview with Maury Brown, Bob Bowman President & CEO of MLBAM is unequivocal in his criticism of Nielsen Media's online rating system. Mr. Bowman admits that Nielsen is the "standard bearer" of the third party measurement agencies but calls their online ratings "a shot in the dark".

Do the big media companies and leagues understand the web? ESPN believes more is more, buying writers and web sites as fast as they can. They lured Rick Reilly away from Time Warner / SI for a reported $3 million per and also brought aboard Howard Bryant ( The Post ) and Selena Roberts ( NY Times ). According to this - H/T Shysterball - ESPN "...in the last 18 months, it has hired at least 15 writers and editors from major newspapers and magazines..." The buying spree is likely the genesis of this rumor. Amongst the many web sites ESPN has purchased are the internationally focused Scrum.com and Cricinfo.com. Why not buy up all the content? Disney is thought to be worth roughly $67 billion dollars with ESPN responsible for $30 billion of that figure. But does the buying spree mean that ESPN is making money off the web or they have so much money they just don't know what else to do with it?

Are the big media companies still trying to build the first "Facebook" of sports social networking? Time Warner / SI is attempting with Fan Nation, Disney / ESPN does the same schtick and I have to assume their competitors are doing more of the same. Or has the "Facebook" for sports been built. Is it called "Facebook"?

What about the leagues? Do they understand the web? The NHL is in court with one of their own - MSG - over digital rights and the NFL only recently brought all their digital under "The Shield". MLB, while the most succesful league on the web, is still grappling with control - should it be at the league level or franchise level? - of in-market broadband and mobile streaming rights. Rights to and league approaches to secondary ticketing on the web is also evolving, often
contentiously, in all the "ball & stick" leagues.

At least one banker wonders if teams are making money off the web or well, digitally. Mitchell Ziets from a recent SBJ, "...there is going to have to be a quest to monetize digital media. You're building on value obviously with MLBAM as a good example of one....It goes league by league, but it's not being monetized yet...when we do our advisory work on acquisitions, it's hard to figure out the value of digital media because they're not monetizing that." So why the huge investments in it? So that the consumer isn't somewhere else? Maybe the web can't be monetized? ( what a fucking awful verb ) At least not to the degree that big industry requires?

Is this the future? ( From this guy's book ) "The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves." Or baseball in our case.