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Saturday, May 08, 2004

"Baseball Wrong In Denying Pensions." No, It's Not.

The whining just won't stop: here's another article complaining about the "unfairness" of not paying pensions and medical benefits to players who didn't earn them. My opinion of the now-dismissed class-action lawsuit on behalf of these players hasn't changed -- they have no case, and their lawyers are an embarrassment to the legal profession.

Their cause has been taken up again by Chris Fast, son of Darcy Fast, one of the affected players. (Chris Fast has E-mailed me about this, too, and pointed me to this article.) Darcy Fast made his major league debut on June 15, 1968, at the age of 21. He made eight appearances for the Chicago Cubs that season, throwing a total of ten innings, then never returned to the majors.

Chris Fast, and the author of this article, think it would be "fair" for Major League Baseball to reward Darcy Fast for his ten innings of major league service with $10,000/year for life, plus comprehensive medical benefits. With all due respect, that's like a file clerk who worked at Google for two months in 2001 claiming a right to share in the proceeds of its IPO. Darcy Fast got exactly what he was promised: a minimum salary of $10,000/year (up from $7,000 the year before as a result of the first collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the MLBPA) and the right to a pension and medical benefits if he played long enough to qualify. He didn't.

Like Darcy Fast, I had a job at age 21: a summer job that lasted about as long as Darcy Fast's major league career. (Longer, if you count the three other summers I worked there.) What do you think would happen if I called that employer -- which was and is a hugely profitable world leader in its field, whose top personnel earn as much as major league baseball players -- to demand a pension and health benefits? What would happen if I sued for those benefits, and started calling the newspapers to protest the unfairness of it all?

If MLB wants to increase pensions and benefits for deserving personnel, Darcy Fast & Co. can wait in line behind all the coaches, scouts, trainers, groundskeepers, clubhouse attendants, receptionists and clerical employees who have given their lives to baseball with no public recognition and little reward from the industry's explosive revenue growth. It'll be a long wait.
Giants Owner Says He Never Would Surrender South Bay

Peter Magowan says he won't accept a buyout of his territorial rights to allow the Athletics to move south:

"You haven't done anything to affect your team. It's a one-time deal to make the investors richer. But that's not why we're in this. We're in this to try to make the Giants as safe as possible. That's why we got into this in the first place, to keep the Giants from going to Tampa Bay and keep the Giants in San Francisco forever.

"Anything that would weaken the Giants financially on a permanent basis, as I think putting the A's in San Jose would, runs the risk that the Giants aren't going to be safe in San Francisco."

State Won't Help Brewers

Reacting to the just-released reviews of the Milwaukee Brewers' finances, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle told the club not to come looking to the state for help:

"We're not going to do anything to help them out. I mean, this is a private business.

"The fact that they need to put some more people in the stands and win some more games - they're a private business - that's their responsibility, not the state's."

Doyle and an attorney for the Miller Park stadium district both expressed confidence that a non-relocation agreement signed by the state, the stadium district and the Brewers would prevent the club from leaving Milwaukee before its lease expired, even though the Brewers' secured lenders aren't parties to the agreement.

Hey, Carl! Got Any Reds Tickets?

Here's a genuinely nice gesture by a major league owner. Sue Kiesewetter of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds owner Carl Lindner is sending about 450,000 vouchers, each good for two Reds tickets, to Cincinnati-area schoolchildren, teachers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, nurses, police officers, firefighters and the like. The tab for the tickets is being paid by the Lindner family, not the club or any of Lindner's other businesses.

According to the article, Lindner's philanthropy is motivated by his appreciation for the good care he received as a patient at Cincinnati's Christ Hospital five years ago. He began by giving away tickets to nurses and public-safety workers, but has since expanded the list of recipients.
Might Angelos Not Block D.C.?

Thom Loverro of the Washington Times tries to read the mind of D.C.'s favorite bogeyman, as well as his fellow owners. Loverro doesn't think MLB would dare reject Washington in a straight up-or-down vote, but that if the Commissioner presents the vote as a choice among options, Peter Angelos might be able to assemble enough votes to block D.C.

Among the candidates for an Angelos alliance: the Mets, Yankees and Giants, who have a vested interest in broad recognition of territorial rights; the Phillies, who may not want another NL club that close; and the Marlins, who may want to keep D.C. open as an option for themselves. If Angelos picks up these five votes, he'd need two more from among the other 24 clubs to block Washington.

Twins Give Up Cable Network As Stadium Plan Hits New Obstacle

A double dose of bad news for Minnesota Twins management:

The club has abandoned plans to start its own cable network, signing an eight-year contract with Fox Sports Net that will bring Twins games into local households. Fox Sports agreed to pay $12 million this year for the Twins, double what it paid last season; this figure is expected to rise in future years. The Pohlad family lost a reported $10 million on Victory Sports.

Ths cable deal was struck hours after the Minnesota House's Ways and Means Committee had refused to vote the stadium plan out of committee, deadlocking 13-13. After the vote, House Speaker Steve Sviggum said, "The stadium bill is done and gone for the session. I have no plans to resurrect it at all." Other legislators may try again, particularly if the legislature is called into special session as many anticipate.

Before the tie vote, the Ways and Means Committee had also voted, 16-10, to replace the tax increment financing favored by Gov. Tim Pawlenty with extensions of existing taxes that are currently due to expire in 2005: a 2.5% alcohol tax, a 3.2% tax on malt liquor, and a 6.2% car rental tax. These tax extensions would not require a referendum. Gov. Pawlenty's chief of staff says the Governor won't support the bill in that form, even if it gets out of committee.


Friday, May 07, 2004

Yay for Baseball, But Who Pays?

Reader Maury Brown, Information Director for the Oregon Stadium Campaign, tipped me off to a new poll of Oregonians conducted for the Portland Tribune. The poll of 600 likely Oregon voters, approximately half of whom live in Portland (MOE 4% statewide, 6% for Portland) found Portland residents favoring efforts to attract a major league team by a 67-30% margin. Statewide, baseball was favored, 55-38.

However, only 35% of those surveyed said they thought attracting a team would require the use of public money. 38% thought it would not, witih 27% unsure. If one thing is sure about the fight for the Expos, it's that MLB intends to extract as much public money as possible from the chosen market.

A longer-term problem: while outgoing Mayor Vera Katz has made baseball a priority, none of her likely successors share her view. Two candidates are quoted in the article:

" 'If Paul Allen can’t sustain the Rose Garden and the Blazers, how in the world can you have a viable baseball plan?' said mayoral candidate James Posey. 'NASCAR would be a better option for me. It’s proven itself to be viable in bringing in tourism.'

“'If we can put together a financing package like that for baseball,' said Tom Potter, also running for mayor, 'we could put together packages to save our educational system.'"

Selig on A's Future, "Spider-Man 2"

Straight from the horse', mouth, courtesy of Barry Bloom at

Bud on the Spider-Man hubbub:

"We need to keep the focus on the field right now. We're going ahead with the promotion. We'll take the (logo) off the bases. If it bothered some people, frankly it isn't worth a great debate about it."

"We lost, okay? Shut up and move on."

Bud on the Giants' territorial rights:

"I'm very sensitive about market areas. I don't want to mislead anybody about that. The (Giants') territories are theirs. One thing about our rules, you can't start to bend them."

Except for the cross-ownership rules and the rules against undisclosed borrowing from fellow owners, right?

Bud on Oakland's need for a new ballpark:

""Even before Steve took me on a tour (Thursday) it was obvious just from reading the Oakland financial statement that they're not generating enough revenue for this franchise to be able to compete. That can be popular or unpopular, but that's a fact. Only those who look at statements understand why."

And to think that long-time insiders like Bud accuse "statheads" of burying their heads in columns of numbers rather than watching the games...

Bud on Peter Angelos and Washington:

"Peter Angelos has been unfairly chastised. He articulated a view that anybody who owned the Baltimore Orioles would articulate. But he won't (block a move to D.C.), nor has he ever threatened to. The rest is up to the relocation committee and ultimately to me."

Okay, folks, if the ultimate decision isn't to your liking, you now know where to throw the tomatoes...
Miami Commissioners Back Plan for $367 million Marlins Ballpark at Orange Bowl

The vote was largely symbolic, since the hold-up in the Marlins' plans relates to state, not local, funding. Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez estimates the proposed park has only a 65% chance of being built. Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel describes the financing plan:

Under the plan, the team would make an upfront payment of $20 million, rent payments totaling $127 million for 32 years and contribute $10 million from a ticket surcharge. The city, which is providing land at the Orange Bowl and plans to acquire about 28 pieces of property, would contribute $28 million in tourist taxes and help finance a $32 million, 2,500-car garage expected to pay for itself through parking fees. The county would contribute $120 million in hotel bed and sports facilities taxes.

A $30 million hole remains -- money the Marlins tried and failed to get from the State of Florida during this year's legislative session, in the form of a $2 million/year sales tax rebate. Marlins President David Samson says the club will press on with plans to start construction this year, while hoping the state comes through in 2005.

Naw, That Isn't Selig Blaming Net, Is It?

Monte Poole of the Oakland Tribune wasn't impressed by the Commissioner's visit. He wondered if MLB had sent an impostor:

"The fellow certainly looked like the commissioner, only with a better haircut. His glasses resembled those often seen on Bud, and he spoke in a nasal tone that sounded a lot like Selig.

But this guy spent a half-hour insulting the intelligence of everyone who listened.

The 'real' Bud would never do that.

Would he? "

Poole noted that Selig "declined to cite one physical shortcoming of the place," instead stubbornly reciting his mantra: "must...have...more...revenue." Poole also observed that with the West Contra Costa County school system on the verge of eliminating sports and closing libraries, local residents' priorities for use of their tax dollars might not be the same as the Commissioner's.
Sorry -- Deal with Giants Should Keep A's Out of S.J.

Skip Bayless of the San Jose Mercury News writes that as much as he'd like to see the Oakland Athletics come to town, MLB is right to enforce the territorial restrictions that will keep them out. He says that the territorial rights were key to the Giants' ability to obtain private financing of their new ballpark -- the percentage of Giants season ticket holders living south of San Francisco is estimated at between 60% and 80% -- and notes that with Barry Bonds aging and the club in a slump, the Giants' current popularity won't last forever.

Ballpark to Become Ameriquest Field in Arlington

Katie Fairbank of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Texas Rangers are on the verge of announcing a $75 million, 30-year naming rights deal for The Ballpark In Arlington, which henceforth shall be known as Ameriquest Field in Arlington. Ameriquest is described as "a subprime lending company"; I assume "subprime" is intended to describe the creditworthiness of its customers rather than the quality of its management.
Selig: A's Need New Stadium to Survive

There are some subjects, though, on which the Commissioner's resolve remains firm and unyielding. Taxpayer-subsidized ballparks, for instance. On his first visit to the Oakland Coliseum since becoming Commissioner, Bud revealed that he hasn't been paying attention to the AL standings since his Brewers switched leagues:

"Clearly for this club to be competitive in the future it needs a new venue," Selig said. "Once people around you start getting new ballparks and generating more revenue, it becomes hard for that particular franchise to compete.

"And to say the owner should dig into his pocket with no chance of that ever changing is just not possible. These people find themselves in a very uncomfortable position of playing in a park that's now 38 years old and just can't generate the revenue to keep its players and be competitive."

Hmm...let's see. The Rangers got a new ballpark in 1994. The Angels extensively renovated their park in the late 1990s. The Mariners got a new ballpark in 1999. For good measure, the cross-Bay Giants got a new ballpark in 2000. Since the last of these obstacles to Oakland's success was erected, the club has won three division titles and one wild-card berth.

Oakland's Steve Schott was quick to echo the Commissioner:

"Teams need to play in venues that generate the necessary revenue to compete for a championship year-in and year-out. We need a new facility to insure the A's will be financially competitive for the long term. We can't achieve that goal in our present facility."

No word whether Schott winced when Selig said, "there's no question the club will have to make a considerable contribution" towards a new ballpark.

Quick Reversal Reveals Game's Self-Hatred

George Vecsey of the New York Times uses MLB's reversal on the Spider-Man issue to call its leadership both clueless and gutless:

"Commissioner Bud Selig and his advisers could not maintain their crass posture for 24 hours. They heard people gnashing their teeth in rage, and they heard people mocking them, and all their plans and their charts and their contracts, and they just gave up. No biggie, Selig said."

"All the money that could be going to Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and other actually talented people is going to clueless executives who hatch (or at least submit to) a plan that cannot stand 24 hours of ridicule."

"When Selig attempted to eliminate the Minnesota Twins, which would have guaranteed a huge profit for Carl Pohlad, who had lent money to Selig, not one owner in baseball would describe this as the blatant conflict of interest that it was.

Now we discover that the Brewers, owned by the Selig family, are hemorrhaging money. Perhaps they could put 'Spider-Man' all over the empty seats in the new ballpark in Milwaukee. How long before they put 'Spider-Man' all over the Brewers' uniforms? "

"Baseball is having an identity crisis. Baseball does not believe in itself. Baseball will sell the whiteness of its bases for a measly $2.5 million. But when America guffaws, baseball backs off."

Spider-Man Web of Ads Unravels

According to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, the impetus to scrub the on-field aspect of the Spider-Man 2 promotion came from Columbia Pictures, not MLB. Columbia asked MLB to remove the on-base ads from the deal after monitoring polls on ESPN and AOL that showed fans overwhelmingly opposed to the concept.

Meanwhile, Bob DuPuy confirmed MLB's cluelessness. DuPuy "said in an interview that had baseball viewed advertising on the bases as a 'negative issue,' it would not have agreed to what he called Columbia's 'demand' that the 'Spider-Man 2' design be placed on them. 'We didn't want to offend any of our fans,' he said. 'It wasn't worth the risk.'"

How oblivious must MLB have been not to have realized that advertising on the bases would be considered a "negative issue" that might "offend some of its fans"?

Columbia's spokesman said that the studio hadn't discussed with MLB whether the revised promotion would mean a reduction in the studio's sponsorship fee. All the way from California, Bud Selig insisted it wouldn't.
Baseball "Serious" About D.C.

Stop me if you've seen that headline before, but yesterday MLB's Extortion Relocation Committee once again reassured Washington, D.C. that it was really, truly under consideration as the permanent home of the Expos. Mayor Anthony Williams said after the meeting:

"We were pleased to hear from baseball that they would not be here entertaining this proposal from Washington, D.C., if they were not seriously interested in our market. They assured us that they are not stringing us along."

The District of Columbia's current proposal calls for the District to pay the full cost of a 41,000-seat stadium in one of four locations: New York Avenue at North Capitol Street, the Anacostia River waterfront near South Capitol Street, a site overhanging Interstate 395 near the Southwest waterfront, or the current site of RFK Stadium. This last would be cheapest, at $278 million; the Southwest waterfront site would be the most expensive, $383 million. The park would be funded by taxes on tickets, parking, concessions, as well as a tax on the District's largest businesses.

An ostentatiously unimpressed Peter Angelos yawned: "The members of the baseball relocation committee are all very busy individuals. I think they came because they were invited to come by Mayor Williams." According to Jack Evans of the D.C. Council, Jerry Reinsdorf has assured him that Angelos's opposition "is not an automatic disqualification."

Yeah, that sounds reassuring...


Thursday, May 06, 2004

MLB Cancels Plan to Put Spider-Man on the Bases

Write it down: at 7:41 tonight, MLB surrendered to public pressure. The Spider-Man 2 promotion will continue -- but without the logos on the bases. In Bob DuPuy's words:

"The bases were an extremely small part of this program; however, we understand that a segment of our fans was uncomfortable with this particular component and we do not want to detract from the fan's experience in any way."

Geoffrey Ammer, Columbia TriStar's President of Worldwide Marketing, agreed:

"We don't want to do anything that takes away from a fan's enjoyment of the game. While we initially asked for the bases to be included in the MLB promotional package, they are only one element of a much larger family event with Major League Baseball. "

They got the message, folks.
Independent Reviews Show Brewers $133 Million in Debt

The independent panel charged with reviewing the Milwaukee Brewers' finances released its report this morning. Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides an overview:

In fiscal year 1994 -- at the time of the strike Bud and his cronies provoked -- the Brewers owed $32.4 million to their banks. "As of October 31, 2003, that had increased to $122 million. Those notes, plus debt owed to the Miller Park stadium district, bring the total debt to $133.1 million. According to the MMAC report, the club's debt is below the industry average of $140.1 million for the 12 Major League clubs that have new ballparks, but more than the overall industry average indebtedness of $120.5 million."

"Over a seven-year period beginning in 1994 and leading up to the opening of Miller Park in 2001, the Brewers averaged $53.2 million in operating revenue per year. Since the stadium opened, average operating revenue has been $110.1 million.

"In the seven-year period leading up to 2001, the Brewers reported operating expenses at an average of $60.6 million per year. Since Miller Park opened, the average has been $102.8 million."

The Selig family never made the $2 million/year alleged by HBO Sports, but did okay for themselves. Bud Selig's salary peaked at $543,000 in 1994; Wendy Selig-Prieb's peaked at $442,000 in 2001; and Laurel Prieb's peaked at $173,000 in 2002. The Seligs collectively never earned more than $736,000/year from the Brewers. The report found these salaries to be "within industry averages," though under any compensation system that took into account both job performance and the local cost of living, the Brewers' executives should be in the bottom quarter of the industry.

The Brewers were also quite good to Selig Leasing, a family-owned company that received between $358,000 and $521,000/year over the past decade to provide automobiles for club employees. Last year, according to the report, Selig Leasing received $521,000 for providing only about 40 cars, which translates to an average lease rate of $1,085/month.

There's lots more in the article, which the Journal Sentinel says will be updated later in the day.

(Thanks to reader Nathan Jenkin for the tip.)

Update: The reports themselves are online as PDFs: the Wisconsin State Audit Bureau report, and one from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
San Jose Group to Begin Pursuing Major League Team

The San Jose Mercury News reports the formation of a local group called "Baseball San Jose," formed for the purpose of attracting a major league team. Its two-part strategy: to remind MLB that San Jose is actually the largest city in the Bay Area, and to persuade MLB to change its territorial restrictions to allow the Oakland Athletics, or another team if Oakland moves out of the market, to play in San Jose. San Jose is currently considered Giants territory by MLB.
Spider-Man Update

The early reviews for MLB's decision to sell advertising space on the bases are in. They're not positive.

Scott Miller, "This Spider-Man deal is simply crass, and it's bothersome on a number of fronts. Baseball has been around enough and is established enough that there should be some level of class, some level of dignity." Miller also ridicules MLB President Bob DuPuy, "who was badly overmatched on a conference call early Wednesday evening" trying to defend the Spider-Man deal.

Laura Vecsey, Baltimore Sun: "And we thought All-Star games that end in ties were a bad idea." Vecsey also notes that during the 2001 playoffs, MLB invoked the uniform rules to prevent Giants pitcher Jason Christensen from wearing the initials "DK" on his cap to honor his friend and former teammate Darryl Kile. If only the Kile family had been willing to pay for the honor...

The New York Yankees: AP now reports: "But the New York Yankees, one of 15 teams at home that weekend, balked at the idea after the deal was announced. They’re will put ads on the bases only during batting practice, and then just for one game, team spokesman Rick Cerrone said."

Meanwhile, Jacqueline Parkes, MLB's senior vice president for marketing and advertising, dismissed Fay Vincent's objections in The New York Times: "We are trying to reach people 6 to 18. He is past that category in all respects." Bob DuPuy sounded positively Seligesque in his argument-by-assertion: "Any criticism of this, really, is misplaced. It doesn't detract from the game. It adds to the entertainment value. We've been accused over the years of not marketing enough to young people."

Four bases, four Teletubbies, Bob. Give you any ideas?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

More on the Spider-Man Bases

Ronald Blum of the AP has secured quotes from some MLB executives about the decision to sell advertising space on the bases from June 11-13. (Here's a large photo of the Spider-Man base.) Let's turn on the BS detector and see what happens.

MLB President Bob DuPuy: "This was a unique chance to combine what is a sort of a universally popular character and our broad fan base, including the youth market we're trying to reach out to.''

BZZT! There's nothing "unique" about Spider-Man 2. The original Spider-Man is the fifth highest-grossing domestic release of all time (unadjusted for inflation). Of the top 12, only three -- Titanic, The Passion of the Christ, and Forrest Gump -- wouldn't lend themselves to a similar promotion. (I don't want to think what a Passion of the Christ ballpark promotion-plus-giveaways would look like.) So would dozens of other films, including any animated "family" movie or anything else based on a comic strip character.

DuPuy: "It doesn't impact the play or performance of the game."

True. At least MLB rejected the proposal to put Spider-Man mesh on the backstop. But if that's the only standard, will we soon be treated to corporate logos mowed into the center field grass and painted on the on-deck circle?

The movie promotion has been in the works for more than a year and will include ad buys and ballpark events, such as giving masks to fans, said Jacqueline Parkes, baseball's senior vice president for marketing and advertising.

Fine. No one objects to the ad buys or giveaways. But who approved advertisements on the field itself during the games? That sounds like a throwaway, can't-hurt-to-ask request by Spider Man's ad agency, which MLB unaccountably accepted.

"'We need to reach out to a younger demographic to bring them to the ballpark,' Parkes said."

No argument here. But adding logos on the bases antagonizes millions of existing fans without attracting a single kid who wouldn't otherwise have come for the rest of the promotion.

Parkes: "They are looking for nontraditional breakthrough ways to convey 'Spider-Man' messaging."

No kidding. But if a medium hasn't been used before, you might want to think why.

Parkes: "It's the future of how we generate excitement inside the stadium and about the game itself."

BZZT! Advertising on the bases doesn't generate excitement about the game itself. The excitement it generates detracts from the game, as every exposure to the Spider-Man ad distracts the observer from what she wants to see. In Parkes' mind, the game exists principally to attract the largest possible audience for her ads.

Fay Vincent, who used to run both MLB and Spider-Man's studio, Columbia Pictures: "I'm old-fashioned. I'm a romanticist. I think the bases should be protected from this. I feel the same way I do when I see jockeys wear ads: Maybe this is progress, but there's something in me that regrets it very much." Asked how his friend Bart Giamatti would have reacted to this development, Vincent said: "Wherever he is, Bart is spinning. It's a good thing he's not around.''

On-field advertising also undercuts the Commissioner's attempts to level the playing field through revenue sharing and the growth of shared revenues. For hosting the Spider-Man promotion, the Yankees and Red Sox will receive over $100,000 each. Most of the other 13 clubs playing at home that weekend will receive $50,000, while all of the road teams will receive $0. (All clubs will, of course, share in the money paid directly to MLB.) If the taboo against on-field advertising falls, the Yankees and Red Sox would take in more money in a week than Bud's Brewers would make all season.
The Bases Will Be Decorated on Mother's Day, Too

This MLB press release indicates that Spider-Man 2 promotional dollars aren't the only excuse for violating MLB's rules that the bases must be white.

This Sunday, Mother's Day, MLB and a breast-cancer awareness foundation called The Big Bam! Foundation will add pink accents to the normal greens, tans and whites of the diamond. From the release:

"As part of the Mother's Day activities created to raise awareness for this important cause, Clubs will display a special Mother's Day logo incorporating a pink MLB silhouetted batter logo over a pink ribbon. Players will be wearing a decal of the Mother's Day logo on their helmets. The special logo will also be painted on the field of play and be displayed on commemorative home plates and pitching rubbers. In addition, the bases used during each game that day will feature the pink MLB Mother's Day logo and pink line-up cards bearing the Mother's Day logo will be used in each dugout.

One commemorative home plate per team will be autographed by all members of that team as part of the Mother's Day program. Each of the 30 team-autographed commemorative home plates will be auctioned off with proceeds going to Big Bam!"

The "commemorative home plates and pitching rubbers" won't be used during the actual game. The bases will. I'd love to mike the umps during the pregame exchange of pink line-up cards...
More Product Placements, Fewer Commercials?

David Pinto's excellent Baseball Musings notes that the Spider-Man logos violate MLB's playing rules, which require that the bases, and the pitcher's rubber, be white.

David also has this intriguing reaction to the Spider-Man promotion:

"Frankly, I'd rather see a big Spiderman Logo painted in centerfield. And to tell the truth, if painting a big Coca-Cola sign in the outfield, or wearing Ford patches on their sleeves helped the Royals compete with the Yankees, I'm all for it. In fact, I welcome it. I'm sick of commercials. Baseball games are 15 minutes longer than they need to be because TV stations need to sell more ads to pay for broadcasting the games. Television as a whole should go to product placement within shows to give us more content. Broadcasters can now superimpose any image they want on the screen, from 1st down lines in football to lead lengths in baseball. ESPN puts up ads on wall behind home plate. Let's see more of those and faster baseball games!"

This would be a throwback to old-time radio comedies. In shows like Fibber McGee & Molly, the commercial announcer was a recurring character who interacted with the cast (see the middle of this script, for example) while delivering his pitch. The mid-show plug was part of the script, not an opportunity for a quick bathroom break -- and the sponsor knew that listeners paid attention to the ads.

With networks now running 15 minutes an hour of commercials and promos during prime time, almost anything that reduces the interruptions would be welcome. I could certainly live with a "wacky Chevrolet salesman" character on a sitcom, if his lines were part of the script and his on-air time was used to eliminate one of the commercial breaks.
With Webs on Bases, Baseball Will Push "Spider-Man 2"

In a move that, with any luck, will cause Ralph Nader's head to explode, MLB and Sony Corp. have arranged a promotion for the opening weekend of Spider-Man 2 which provides for ads on the bases.

According to a report by Brian Steinberg and Stefan Fatsis in today's Wall Street Journal (no link yet, maybe later):

"Under a design nearing approval by MLB, the center of the top of first, second and third bases will be adorned with a 7.5-inch-square 'Spider-Man 2' logo consisting of black and yellow webbing against a bright red background. Home plate will remain white." Pitching rubbers and on-deck circles will be similarly decorated.

The NHL allows clubs to sell ads under the ice, but the NBA and NFL refuse to allow promotions to extend onto the playing field itself. Critical views range from the pretensions of John Thorn, who "calls the field 'a sort of a magic circle to which rules accrue and adhere. And if you violate the terms, you run the risk of offending the gods,'" to Bob Costas's calling MLB out for its hypocrisy:

"On the one hand they sell history whenever it suits them, and on the other hand they disrespect it. It isn't a matter of treating the game like it's religion. But I think people have lost the understanding of what the dignity of something is. Not everything is for sale."

MLB President Bob DuPuy predictably defends the move: "These are the same people that didn't like interleague play and didn't like the wild card. [The decoration] "really doesn't have an effect on the game within the foul lines. It's not like we are going to have a red-and-black ball. The game itself won't be affected."

Bob, we didn't like contraction, either. Or your boss/patron's mercifully aborted proposal to do away with the century-old league structure altogether and realign along geographic lines, with all Eastern Time Zone clubs in one league, everyone else in the other. Nor do we appreciate the cronyism which has damaged the game much more than a few logos on the bases ever could. And even if we're not as apoplectic as Ralph Nader, we really don't appreciate attempts to paint this move as something innovative, rather than simple, shameless corporate whoring.

In addition to the field decorations, the weekend-long promotion includes stadium signage, giveaways, Spider-Men climbing light towers and movie trailers on scoreboards. MLB did draw the line somewhere, rejecting a proposal from the film's marketers to hang Spider-Man webbing on the backstop because it would have distracted the players during the game. The promotion is estimated to cost Columbia/TriStar $34-$4 million.

Some teams were leery about the promotion, but were talked into it by MLB. Twins' vice president of marketing Patrick Klinger said, "it's coming from Major League Baseball. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for us." (Doesn't he remember MLB's last bright idea involving the Twins?)

Ironically, in light of the Commissioner's emphasis on sharing revenues, since the film's promoters view this as a form of advertising, large-market clubs like the Yankees and Red Sox will receive about twice as much as teams like Kansas City.

(Thanks to Greg Spira for the article.)

Update: Here's the press release announcing the deal.
The Boss Speaks Out

George Steinbrenner talks to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. He's not shy about expressing his opinions:

"On Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino: 'I have nothing against him except I wouldn't want him in my foxhole. Look at Lucchino's history. In San Diego, he ruined that guy out there [owner John Moores]. He ruined Eli Jacobs [in Baltimore]. He's not my kind of guy. Not a good man.'"

"On former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley: 'He was the smartest man I knew in baseball. He was a graduate of the same school I am, Culver Academy [a prep school in Indiana]. In those days the AL [owners] sat on one side of the table, the NL on the other. It was like a declaration of war. And I remember him saying, 'Mr. Steinbrenner is going to wonder why he ever got into baseball after sitting here listening to us.' Well, what Walter O'Malley wanted, he got done.'"

"On the Hall of Fame: 'I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't think owners should be. Maybe Connie Mack. But not George Steinbrenner. No way. It's for players. If they have an owners Hall of Fame, I'll consider it, but believe me, I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't belong there.'"

"On what makes him happy: 'Winning. Performing well for the fans who spend their money. This is what has to be understood: a lot of Yankees fans have spent big money supporting the Yankees, buying Yankee goods, and we don't get all that money. When people buy a Yankee cap we only get 1/30th [of the revenue]! That seems crazy, but that's revenue sharing. We support [other major league teams] in so many ways. We don't share our tickets, but when we go to their towns we don't complain when the Chicago Cubs [charge] an inordinate amount of money for a ticket to a Yankees game as compared to some other game. They don't complain to me and I don't complain to them.'"

Club Policy Has Shifted on Insurance

Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe explains how changes in the insurance available to major league teams may affect the Red Sox' negotiating strategy with Pedro Martinez. The club won't be able to insure Martinez' contract for more than three years, and the two insurers who cover major league players may refuse to insure him against shoulder problems, citing a pre-existing condition. Insuring Martinez will cost at least 10% of his annual salary, and potentially much more depending on the terms of the policy.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Losing Baseball Isn't the Ticket in Seattle

Blaine Newnham of the Seattle Times lambastes the Mariners' ownership for not reinvesting their profits in the team:

"You wonder, over and over again, why they didn't spend money to make money."

"[T]hey haven't treated it like a business. They haven't invested in their future, and it's beginning to cost them."

Newnham notes that the Mariners drew 250,000 fewer fans in 2003 than in 2002, and may suffer a similar falloff this season. He observes that at the Mariners' average ticket price, the two-year decline will cost Seattle more than Anaheim is paying Vlad Guerrero in 2004. He warns, "A losing season and high ticket prices is a bad combination. So is a disgruntled clientele."

Mariners fans aren't happy...

Bird Watching

Here's a surprise: Rob Miech of the Las Vegas Sun got Peter Angelos to say that MLB shouldn't move the Expos to Washington, D.C.

"Consequences have to be expected when you do that to any major league franchise," Angelos, who turns 75 on July 4, said of territorial infringement. "You'll cause some serious problems, and we don't want to see that happen to the Orioles.

"It's been a great franchise with a long tradition, and (the Orioles) deserve to enjoy the territory that's been allotted to them without any intrusions."

When the Orioles arrived in Baltimore, Washington already had a team. The "territory that's been allotted to them" by the Major League Constitution consists of the City of Baltimore, plus Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford Counties in Maryland, together with the right to exclude another team from playing within 15 miles from the outer limits of that territory. Much of the District of Columbia, and all of northern Virginia, lies outside that 15-mile zone of protection.

Ralph Nader Urges MLB Not to Allow Ads on Uniforms

I hereby apologize to all the self-righteous columnists whose one-note rants about steroids have come in for so much mockery here. When it comes to self-important, factually challenged Grand Pronouncements to no real purpose other than to proclaim the speaker's moral superiority to his audience, no one compares to Ralph Nader. Yes, the man who could best serve his stated causes by blowing his brains out with a shotgun has turned his pen, and his ego, back to the world of baseball.

Ralph doesn't like ads on baseball uniforms. I don't like ads on baseball uniforms. But only one of us believes this is a moral issue comparable to replacing the leather on baseballs with human skin. Nader's letter to Bud Selig opens:

"The great lengths of selfishness with which you are willing to go to desecrate baseball and alienate fans of the game should no longer surprise us. Still, your placement of advertisements on the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniforms for Major League Baseball’s opener on March 30 in Tokyo ambushed fans across the country and left them shaking their heads at this obscene embarrassment."

The fans I know were more "ambushed" and "alienated" by the 5 AM (Eastern) starting time than by anything on the uniforms. This isn't even the first time MLB clubs have worn uniform advertising patches in Japan. Such patches are regularly worn during postseason All-Star team tours of Japan, and when the Mets and Cubs opened the 2000 season in Japan, they wore AM/PM logos on their batting helmets, an insurance company's logo on their sleeves. You surely remember all the fans who responded by swearing off MLB for life.

Nader warns that The Evil Uniform Patch, worn for two games played before most fans were even awake, is "suffocating Baseball’s fan base." That base responded by fleeing the choking atmosphere of their home TVs to attend games in record numbers. He thunders that "over-commercialization is sapping the fun out of being a fan of Major League Baseball," though being lectured by Ralph Nader about fun is like hearing Courtney Love tell you to "Just Say No."

Like Old Man River, Nader just keeps rolling along, oblivious to logic, consistency, or anything but his own moral superiority over those he addresses:

"Commissioner Selig, no one is trying to get in the way of your ability to make money, but you need to look beyond the immediate bottom line to make Major League Baseball sustainable. As primary caretaker, this means your job is to respect cities and fans, ensure the integrity of the game, and eliminate self-interested and destructive tendencies. Advertising on uniforms runs counter to each of these critical principles."

"No one is trying to stop you from making money, except me."
"Major League Baseball won't be sustainable unless you do as I say."
"Listen to me when I tell you what your job entails."

Yet St. Ralph neglects to explain just how a uniform patch threatens the integrity of the game or constitutes a "destructive tendency." He no longer understands, or even cares, that when addressing audiences beyond his own steadily dwindling congregation, they don't react to his ritual invocation of buzzwords like "selfish," "greedy," and "commercialization" the way Fred Phelps' followers respond to any mention of homosexuality.

And like all self-appointed prophets, St. Ralph closes by warning what will befall Those Who Do Not Listen To The True Word:

"If you allow such an explicit interference of baseball with another greedy vehicle for corporate marketing -- using player uniforms as product placement surfaces -- apathy is not what you should expect from fans and sportswriters. There will be considerable resentment, and fans will drift away. A matter of taste can sour more quickly than you think."

By Nader's standards, MLB was "overcommercialized" fifty years before he was born. It'll be "overcommercialized" fifty years after he's dead. I look forward to starting that clock.
Twins Stadium Bill Passes First Legislative Hurdle

The House Taxes Committee approved the bill by a 15-13 vote, the narrowest possible margin. Before it passed, the bill was amended in two ways the Twins won't like: to require a referendum on any local taxes imposed as part of the deal, and to condition the Twins' money on a resolution of their dispute with local cable operators which has kept the club's new Victory Sports network off most cable systems.

The AP report notes: "A telling pattern emerged with the vote: No lawmakers from communities competing for the stadiums supported the bill while rural members tended to back it."
Cellphone Static

The Boston Globe quotes a number of fans who'd like to see cellphones banned from Fenway. They're especially irked by the antics of idiots who sit in seats visible in the background of game action, then pull out their cellphones and yap away while waving frantically to the people they're talking to. The Red Sox' TV producer doesn't like them either.

"From a TV producer's standpoint, they are distracting. They're impressing their 12 friends at home and themselves at the expense of a vast network audience."

The Globe also talks to two of the exhibitionists. One 23-year-old wasn't the least bit apologetic:

"We live in a cellphone age that only communicates by that method. This isn't 1918. Luckily we're in the best seats we could possibly be in, and we're going to tell everybody we can. We're going to communicate the happiness we feel.

"If they don't like it, tough. Times change, lives change, the curse is going to change."

If she'll let me know when and where she's getting married, I'll gladly drive up for the occasion, sit in the back of the church, whip out a cellphone and spend 15 minutes critiquing the wedding party's attire and discussing phantom aged relatives' surgeries and digestive disorders. Hey, I have as much right to self-expression as she does...

There may be a solution to the Age of Cell Phone Assholedom. Ban cellphones from all but one area of the stadium -- an area that gets a lot of foul balls and isn't screened. Make everyone sitting there sign ironclad waivers of liability. Wait.

Key Vote Today for Twins-Vikings Stadium Bill

The Taxes Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives votes on the stadium bill today. As Jay Weiner of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, passage is far from assured. One Republican said, "I don't know what I'm voting on yet," while a Democratic opponent of the bill thinks it doesn't have the votes to pass.

If it gets out of the Taxes Committee, the bill must still pass the House Ways and Means Committee before the full House can vote on it. The Minnesota Senate will have its first hearings on the bill tomorrow.

The opposition continues to focus on the bill's reliance on tax increment financing. This is especially problematic in the case of the Vikings, who already sell out and whose ability to spend more is limited by the NFL's salary cap. A spokesman for the Vikings whined that TIF "penalizes a successful league and franchise," as though a successful and profitable franchise should somehow have more claim on public dollars.

In the Twins' case, the bill assumes an attendance increase in the early seasons of 15,000 fans/game -- 1,200,000 fans/year -- and a 50% increase in club payroll. Last year the Twins drew 1,946,011 fans; their record, just over 3,000,000, was set in 1988, the year after they won the World Series. The Twins opened the 2004 season with a payroll of $53,585,000, so a 50% increase would push them to the $80 million mark.


Monday, May 03, 2004

Guest Review: Larry Hadley Reviews Sanderson and Siegfried on Competitive Balance

University of Dayton economist Larry Hadley contributes the seventh in his series of reviews of recent baseball economics articles appearing in academic journals. This time, he discusses Allen Sanderson and John Siegfried, "Thinking About Competitive Balance," Journal of Sports Economics, 4:4 (November, 2003), 255-291.

All of Larry's reviews, as well as other guest contributions, can be found here. If you've written something you think might interest the readers of this blog, or know of a piece posted elsewhere on the Web that might be of interest, let me know.
Northern Virginia "Optimistic" on Expos Bid

Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, says that by enlisting the support of local developers, the Authority hopes to reduce the cost of the stadium project from its current estimate of $400-$430 million. In addition, the Authority has restructured the commitment prospective owner William Collins would have to make, reducing the up-front payment in return for higher rent.

MLB President Bob DuPuy told's Barry Bloom, "There's still a significant owner contribution, but it's a much better proposal than they've had on the table before." Bloom also says that Puerto Rico is officially out of the running as a permanent home for the Expos: the final six candidates are Washington; northern Virginia; Norfolk; Las Vegas; Portland; and Monterrey, Mexico. The Relocation Committee is expected to meet on May 18, the day before a quarterly owners meeting. DuPuy doesn't think any of the six candidates will be eliminated at that time, but still expects that a city will be chosen by the All-Star break:

"My guess is that it's unlikely that we would announce an elimination of anybody at the meetings. We have a substantive [relocation committee] meeting in connection with the owners' meeting in two weeks. We'll then hone down the list and I'm still hopeful that by the All-Star Game we'll at least have a location decided upon."
MLB Posts Record Attendance in First Four Weeks of Season

Through four weeks, attendance is up 15.1% over 2003, to an average of 29,363/game. That's the highest ever for this point in the season.

Just imagine how high attendance would be if not for those legions of fans who have turned away from the game because of The Horror of Steroids...


Sunday, May 02, 2004

More on MLB's Drug Testing Process

I'm not persuaded by Jon Heyman's latest Newsday article about the government's seizure of MLB's drug testing records. Heyman says:

"The baseball players' union blew it by not handing over the results of the 10 players who testified at the BALCO hearing, as it was supposed to. Now, as Newsday reported Saturday, the feds got all 1,400 MLB steroid- test results from 2003 with their search warrant - not just the 10. That means about 60 to 90 players could be exposed.

"Serves them right, both the overzealous union and the players who cheated.

"Now the union is frantically filing papers to recover the results of all but the 10 testifiers. If Gene Orza and Co. had simply played ball in the first place, that's all the feds would have. That was the deal, the 10 players (including Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield), to see who perjured themselves in the BALCO hearing."

Here's how the tests worked. (The collection procedures are set forth in Addendum A to the drug testing agreement, p. 172 of the CBA. A .PDF of the CBA is downloadable here.) The collector received a master list of all players to be tested, along with an identifying number assigned to each player. At the time of the test, the player affixed the assigned identifying number to the specimen vial, then filled it. The collector then poured 45 ml of urine into one specimen bottle, 15 ml into a second. The player then verified the ID number on the bottle custody seals, initialed and dated the seals.

The samples, now identifiable only by ID number, were then sent to the lab for processing. They never left the lab, Quest Diagnostics, until they were seized by the Feds. The Collection Procedures further specify:

"At the conclusion of any Survey Test, and after the results of all tests have been calculated, all test results, including any identifying characteristics, will be destroyed in a process jointly supervised by the Office of the Commissioner and the [MLBPA]."

Most of the samples were destroyed, but apparently about 500 remained when the Feds swooped down on Quest Diagnostics.

In all, 1,438 tests were administered: 1,198 tests of players on the 40-man major league roster, and 240 re-tests of randomly selected players. After the season, MLB revealed that between 5% and 7% of these tests were positive -- over the 5% threshold needed to trigger program testing in 2004. (Heyman's May 1 article cites a union memo which says that 5.77% of the samples tested positive. That would be 83 samples, though because of the random retesting, the number of individual players who tested positive is probably around 70.)

Since 2003's testing was for survey purposes only, with no adverse consequences for a player who tested positive, there was no need to match names with ID numbers. The sheets containing this information presumably remained locked away in the files of the joint labor-management Health Policy Advisory Committee which administers the testing program. This, in turn, means that both MLB and the MLBPA had the list -- so even if, as Heyman says, the MLBPA reneged on a commitment to turn over the results for the 10 "BALCO players," the Feds could have gotten the same information simply by asking MLB.

Thus there was still no justification for seizing a list that includes confidential test results for 1,188 players with no known connection to BALCO. And even if there had been, once the Feds had the list of test results they had no legitimate reason to seize the remaining samples themselves, let alone to retest those samples for THG, as yesterday's New York Times indicated they plan to do. Even if Player X's sample tests positive for THG, that fact is utterly irrelevant to the BALCO investigation unless the government can prove he got the THG from BALCO rather than any other source -- and since the Feds already have BALCO's records, they already know which small percentage of the players could fall under suspicion on that basis.

Instead the Feds have deliberately chosen to trample on the privacy concerns that both MLB and the MLBPA took all possible steps to protect when implementing their confidential drug testing program. Their heavy-handed confirmation of both sides' worst fears virtually assures that the players will never consent to the broader testing program demanded by Congress, and that MLB and the MLBPA will jointly agree to destroy all physical evidence, and all identifying information, five seconds after it is processed to prevent an abuse of this magnitude from ever happening again.

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