Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog:
February 28, 2004: MLB Execs Rebut HBO Report. LINK
MLB President Bob DuPuy and Ron Manfred, EVP-Labor Relations, have condemned as inaccurate HBO's report that Bud Selig, Wendy Selig-Prieb and Laurel Prieb were collectively earning more than $2 million/year from the Brewers at the time they were seeking public money for Miller Park.
According to Manfred, over the past 10 years the trio earned an average of less than $600,000, and never more than $740,000. He alleges, "I suspect the $2 million figure was pulled out of thin air for somebody's agenda and purposes." HBO stands by its reporting.
This is an easy dispute to resolve: the Brewers need only reveal how much Selig, Prieb and Selig-Prieb were paid during these years. Oops; the team refuses to do that. And can the fundamental conflict between Bud Selig's roles as owner and Commissioner be any clearer, when two of MLB's most senior executives come forward to respond to allegations about a club's finances?
February 28, 2004: Twins Want Taxes to Count as Loan Repayments. LINK
Would you like to borrow money from the government and let your taxes count as interest payments? So would I. So would the Minnesota Twins.
Actually, the Twins have an even better idea: they want to have other people's taxes count as their interest payments. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Twins president Jerry Bell has proposed borrowing $220 million toward the cost of a new park from the State of Minnesota. The interest on the loan, $339 million over 30 years, would be paid from the growth in income and sales taxes on revenues generated by the Twins -- taxes which are mostly paid by third parties.
Under the Twins' plan, the club would repay the principal of the loan through annual rent payments. The club would contribute $25 million in upfront cash -- roughly 1% of 88-year-old owner Carl Pohlad's net worth, according to the latest Forbes billionaires' list -- and the remaining $305 million would come from local taxes, which would not be subject to voter approval. Wonder why they're so insistent on that point...
This plan sounds dead on arrival, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the State of Minnesota's projected deficit of "only" $160 million has led state legislative leaders to predict that some form of stadium bill could pass the legislature. They're letting Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who opposed publicly funding stadia while in the legislature, take the lead; his proposal is expected the week of March 8.
February 27, 2004: Can the Empire Eventually Be Reined In?. LINK
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com discusses MLB's frustration with the Yankees' attitude, as exemplified by club president Randy Levine:
"This labor agreement provides a choice. You can spend money and choose to pay the tax. ... We choose to do it because Mr. Steinbrenner chooses to invest in his product. That's a choice he's allowed to make. And if (other clubs) don't like it, they should not have voted for this labor agreement."
Stark reports that MLB has cast a skeptical eye on the Yankees' cable revenues. The Yankees report $50 million from their YES Network, but if a MLB-sponsored audit concludes that the Yankees are undervaluing their rights, the Yankees could owe millions more to the revenue-sharing pool.
The Yankees are ready for this, too. As Levine notes, their cable deal "is no different than the Red Sox and NESN, the Braves and Turner, the Cubs and the Tribune Company. ... They're all doing the same thing." Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times reported last summer that other clubs had also questioned the Cubs' accounting, but thought they could never get Selig to challenge the figures reported by one of his allies.
If MLB tries to audit the Yankees while leaving the Red Sox, Cubs and Braves alone, the resulting lawsuit will keep this Weblog busy for months.
February 27, 2004: Sox Adding to Fenway Ads Lineup. LINK
Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Herald reports that the Red Sox are expecting a 15-20% increase in sponsorship revenues this season, adding several million dollars to the Not-Quite-the-Yankees' coffers.
Earlier this week, Sox president Larry Lucchino said, "it is still our plan to be renovating Fenway, not exploring new ballpark possibilities." With the Red Sox on the verge of selling out the entire season despite the majors' highest ticket prices, it's hard to imagine how a new park could generate enough additional revenue to cover financing costs.
February 26, 2004: MLB to Strictly Enforce Restricted Area Access. LINK
This official release advises that from now on, "players, MLBPA representatives, managers, coaches, trainers, Club physicians, accredited media, Commissioner's Office representatives and designated Club personnel" will be the only people allowed in or on "playing fields, dugouts, clubhouses, managers' offices, shower rooms, and trainers' and doctors' rooms."
In particular, friends, agents, attorneys and personal trainers will be barred. Clubs have been warned not to evade the rule by granting credentials to these people.
February 26, 2004: Lon Simmons Named Recipient of 2004 Ford C. Frick Broadcasting Award. LINK
As I noted last summer, Simmons was the longest-tenured baseball broadcaster never to be honored by the Hall of Fame.
The nine runners-up included pioneers Jack Graney (Indians, 1930s-50s), Graham McNamee (World Series, 1920s-30s), Hal Totten (Cubs and White Sox, 1920s-40s), France Laux (Browns and Cardinals, 1920s-40s) and Ty Tyson (Tigers, 1927-51), as well as Ken Coleman (Indians, Red Sox and Reds, 1954-89), Joe Nuxhall (Reds, 1967-2004), Gene Elston (Astros, 1962-86, and Cubs, 1955-57), and Dave Niehaus (Mariners, 1977-2004, and Angels, 1970-76).
The stated criteria for the award are "longevity; continuity with a club; honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star Games; and popularity with fans." Over the next few years the winners should include Nuxhall, who is retiring from the Reds after the season, and two broadcasters who have been with their clubs since the beginning: Dave Niehaus in Seattle and Denny Matthews in Kansas City.
February 26, 2004: STADIUM ISSUES MINNEAPOLIS: Funding Idea Offered. LINK
The owners of the land on which a Twins stadium in Minneapolis would be built have proposed a way of financing the park without new taxes. The secret? Extending old taxes that would otherwise expire.
The plan calls for financing $118 million of debt by extending a 6.2% car rental tax for another 28 years, and paying off another $232.2 million of bonds through either extending the statewide alcohol tax at 1% for 28 years, or a combination of a half-cent alcohol tax and a half-cent Hennepin County tax on food, beverages and lodging.
The remainder of the $531.3 million project would be funded by the Twins ($120 million) and a variety of smaller contributions: "$24 million from the sale of parking revenue bonds, $13 million in seller financing, $11 million from the sale of permanent seat licenses, $7 million from the city of Minneapolis and $6 million from the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission."
February 26, 2004: Brewers' Dirty Laundry Aired on National Report. LINK
Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel summarizes a report called "Milwaukee's Best?" that aired on HBO Tuesday night. An "unidentified state official who worked on the Miller Park project" said that at the time the Brewers were seeking public funds for Miller Park, Bud Selig, Wendy Selig-Prieb and Laurel Prieb were collectively receiving over $2 million/year from the Brewers. The Brewers termed the report "outrageously inaccurate" and said the Selig clan was earning less than the major league average for such jobs, but declined to provide figures.
Sports economist Mark Rosentraub noted that the Brewers contributed less money to the construction of Miller Park than any other club in recent years, and estimated that $20 million of the club's projected $30 million 2004 payroll could be paid from revenue sharing receipts. He charged Selig with abusing the revenue sharing system in just the way the large-market clubs had feared:
"Rather than fulfill the promise of revenue sharing, what [Selig] has done is to underscore the concerns, the fears, the objections, that every large market team has. So the argument, eloquently articulated for several years, was then simply trampled on by the very family that made the argument."
Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' EVP-Operations, loyally defended the Seligs. "[T]he mistake that some of these politicians have made is that they have assumed that because the team hasn't performed well on the field that the Brewers ownership are bad guys, they have no integrity and are dishonest. That's unacceptable behavior and I will not tolerate it."
Ooh! You tell 'em, Rick. But he's right on the key issue. The Brewers' management hasn't been corrupt or venal -- it's been incompetent. Does that make Schlesinger and the Seligs feel better?
February 25, 2004: Out of Their Tree. LINK
The article's not online, but the current (March 1) issue of Sports Illustrated contains a five-page essay by Michael Lewis in which he comments on baseball insiders' reaction to Moneyball. Those insiders who realize that he, not Billy Beane, wrote Moneyball (Lewis names several who never understood this) won't be inviting him to dinner anytime soon.
Lewis observes, "baseball is structured less as a business than as a social club," including "a kind of women's auxiliary" of writers and broadcasters who insulate the Club against new ideas and critical thinking. One of the loudest, Tracy Ringolsby, is "just another guy who's assigned himself the job of barring people from the game who, in his view, have no business inside. He's not a writer, he's a bouncer."
Inside the Club, according to Lewis, "there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated." Intellectual curiosity is frowned upon: while dozens of businesses outside Major League Baseball sought to learn from the Oakland Athletics' example -- "if someone comes along and exposes the trade secrets of your most efficient competitor, you're elated" -- members of the Club studiously ignored Moneyball, called Billy Beane names or took every Oakland loss as a vindication of the status quo. People like this are "why it's possible for a team with no money to win so many games."
If you liked Moneyball, you'll love the article.
February 25, 2004: Orza Promoted to Chief Operating Officer of Players Association. LINK
Gene Orza, the MLBPA's #2 man, saw his title increased from Associate General Counsel to Chief Operating Officer. Michael Weiner, the union's #3, received Donald Fehr's title of General Counsel. (Fehr remains Executive Director.) Several other MLBPAers were also promoted.
February 25, 2004: Moreno a Thorough Baseball Man. LINK
Greg Boeck of USA Today profiles new Angels owner Arte Moreno. The article notes that after cutting concession and souvenir prices, the Angels saw their concession revenues rise by $2.5 million, their souvenir revenues by $1.25 million. Throw in the considerable goodwill Moreno earned from this move and his willingness to invest in the team, and it's easy to see how the Angels could soon displace the newly-undercapitalized Dodgers as southern California's favorite baseball team.
February 24, 2004: At Last, a Comprehensive, Inexpensive Baseball Encyclopedia!. LINK
I heard about this a few months ago and received my copy tonight. Although it's called the Baseball Encyclopedia, at its heart is Pete Palmer's Total Baseball database, updated through the 2003 season. Palmer and Gary Gillette have teamed with Barnes & Noble Books to offer this 1700-page, large-format paperback for just $24.95. Since it's a Barnes & Noble publication, it's not available through amazon.com, but you can order it from Barnes & Noble through the link above.
From a quick glance, here are the key differences between the new Encyclopedia and the 7th (2001) edition of Total Baseball:
A new Eighth Edition of Total Baseball (list price: $59.95) is also expected soon. If you'd prefer to manipulate your own data in electronic form, try Sean Lahman's downloadable statistical database (free but donations accepted; best for those who feel comfortable with database programming) or Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (a self-contained, user-friendly commercial program with considerable power).
Now please leave me alone for a while. I have hours of browsing ahead...
February 24, 2004: Brewers' Brass Talks, Sort Of. LINK
Two Brewers vice presidents tell Dale Hofmann of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel what the upcoming state review won't reveal. For example, it won't disclose how much Wendy Selig-Prieb and her husband Laurel Prieb earned for running the Brewers into the ground. Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' EVP-Business Operations, explains why that wouldn't be fair to them:
"Whatever the number is - whether it's $1, $10, $100,000 it will be taken out of context by other people who will just say, 'Look at what they make,' and when it shows that they make less than the industry average for the position, that will never get disclosed because it's too easy to pick on the Brewers, and why should the Brewers get a fair shake? So the naked number, whatever it is, will just get disclosed without any context, and frankly, we're not in the business of trying to appeal to people's prurient interests."
Of course, Wendy and Laurel should earn less than the industry average. The Brewers are a low-revenue, small-market team that lost tens of millions of dollars under their stewardship without ever posting a winning season, and it's not like other clubs were clamoring to hire either of them.
The Brewers won't disclose the details of their ownership structure, either, and say there's no way to trace whether their revenue-sharing money was used for player development or other purposes. The report will, however, reveal the extent of the club's debt; will explain how the club claims to have met its commitment to spend $90 million on Miller Park; and will disclose related-party transactions.
February 23, 2004: Going, Going, Almost Gone. LINK
Melissa Isaacson of the Chicago Tribune reports that at 7:31 PM this Thursday, the foul ball tipped by Steve Bartman in Game 6 of the NLCS will be destroyed before a national cable audience by Oscar-winning special effects artist Michael Lantieri. For now, the ball is on display at Harry Caray's Restaurant, under security Tom Ridge would envy:
"Thirteen surveillance cameras are trained on the ball inside the reinforced, tempered-glass case, with two alarms tied directly to the police station. At its peak exposure, when the ball is traveling to Wrigley Field on Wednesday, a day before its destruction, 11 armed guards will accompany it."
Grant DePorter, managing partner of Harry Caray's restaurant chain, paid $113,824.16 for the ball last December -- $20,000 more than actor Charlie Sheen paid in 1992 for the ball that rolled through Bill Buckner's legs to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Its final day will be spent in luxury:
"In its last 24 hours, the ball's schedule calls for a trip — by armored car, of course — to Wrigley Field 'just to say goodbye,' DePorter said. Then it's on to the Amalfi Hotel Chicago, where a fluffed pillow, luxury suite and even a masseuse will await.
"A server from Harry Caray's will present the last meal of steak, lobster and a Budweiser, all of which will be on roped-off display to the public — 'kind of like Lincoln's Bedroom,' DePorter said."
No word whether any White Sox fans plan to make like John Wilkes Booth. Imagine how insufferable the Cubs and their fans would be like if their club ever actually won a World Series? Good thing we're never likely to find out...
February 23, 2004: Former Ump in Ball-Selling Scam Pleads Guilty. LINK
Former umpire Al Clark and a memorabilia dealer pleaded guilty today in Newark federal court to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Clark, who umpired 25 years in the majors before being fired in 2001 for improper use of tickets paid for by MLB, admitted fraudulently authenticating hundreds of ordinary baseballs as having been used in historic games, including the 1978 AL East playoff between the Yankees and the games in which Cal Ripken tied and broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game record.
February 23, 2004: Paul Allen Employees Say Franchise Wouldn't Survive in Portland. LINK
Count the Portland Trail Blazers' management among those who don't think the Rose City could support major league baseball. Of course they've got a conflict of interest: the once-beloved basketball club, now known locally as the "Jail Blazers," lost an astonishing $85.1 million last year, according to Forbes, and really doesn't want competition.
Oregon baseball backers note that Portland is the largest metropolitan area with only one major league team, and would be the second largest two-club market, behind San Diego. But given the state's financial problems, it's hard to imagine any combination of local governments coming up with a stadium subsidy large enough to satisfy MLB.
February 23, 2004: Happy Birthday to Us!. LINK
Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog is a year old today. In that time I've posted 420 entries -- mostly links to articles published elsewhere, but also announcements of new material added to the site: the data, feature article, Boston Baseball article, guest article and baseball photo archives.
I've been averaging about 350 hits/day for the past two months, though a mention by Rob Neyer last Monday brought 1,800 new visitors. If you like what you've seen, please consider supporting the site, through a direct donation or a purchase from amazon.com. )I've added a few titles to my list of recommended books.)
I'm also happy to announce that my marginal dollar/marginal win analysis has been expanded to cover every season from 1977 through 2003. The 1995-2003 seasons will be discussed in Baseball Prospectus 2004, which should reach bookstores this week; 1977-94 will be presented in a six-part series on the Baseball Prospectus Website.
February 22, 2004: D.C. Tries to Cut Baseball Price Tag. LINK
According to the Washington Post, D.C. officials are considering ways to cut the $436 million price tag of their proposed new baseball stadium by 10% or more to reduce the amount an owner would have to contribute. The District, which has already offered $339 million in stadium financing, may also allow the owner to pay its share over time, through rent or a ticket surcharge.
February 22, 2004: A Plan to Better Market the Game. LINK
David Hallstrom suggests that "Pay Lots of Money to See Our Greedy, Overpaid Players" and "Baseball: So Slow You Can Nap To It" should join "Our Team's Gonna Suck, But Come Anyway" on the trash heap of discarded de facto MLB marketing slogans. He believes that Commissioner Selig should join them there.
Hallstrom also proposes a few points for MLB to hammer home repeatedly:
"Baseball is still affordable family entertainment. Baseball led the way in integration. Baseball has beautiful parks that fit in with the architecture of their neighborhoods, whether they were built in 1912 or 2002. Baseball has more than 125 years of rich history. Or about what the NBA and NFL have combined."
February 22, 2004: Mayor Now Backs Vote on Stadium Tax Proposal. LINK
Bowing to the inevitable, St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly has withdrawn his opposition to allowing the voters to decide whether to enact a 3% bar-and- restaurant tax to finance the city's share of a proposed new stadium for the Twins. Five years ago, St. Paul residents rejected a similarly-designated half-cent increase in the sales tax by a 58-42 margin. As an alternative, one council member has proposed a progressive payroll tax.
February 20, 2004: Arbitration Salaries Resume Record Pace. LINK
The Associated Press reports that the average 2004 salary of the 65 players who filed for salary arbitration will be a record $3.26 million, up $500,000 from last year. The average player received a 126% raise.
These numbers are heavily skewed by the multiyear deals signed by Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay. The 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner inked a four-year, $42 million contract with Toronto, while Pujols, who has finished fourth, second and second in the NL MVP voting in his three years in the majors, re-signed with the Cardinals for $100 million over seven years, allowing the club to buy out his first four years of eligibility for free agency.
When the AP breathlessly reports that "forty-two players in arbitration doubled their salaries, including 28 who tripled, 21 who quadrupled, 18 who quintupled and 15 who had six-fold hikes," these figures don't reflect a windfall for the players in question. Rather, the size of the increases illustrates how underpaid, relative to their actual worth, many of these players had been before they were eligible for free agency. If a club truly believed that an arbitration-eligible player was likely to be awarded more than he was worth, it could decline to offer arbitration and allow the player to become a free agent. The ones who make it to arbitration are the ones the clubs believe are worth keeping even at the much higher salary.
I've updated my list of arbitration results and filings through 2004. The document is available in HTML, Word and WordPerfect format.
February 19, 2004: How to Play Small (Market) Ball. LINK
Eric Neel of ESPN.com explains how small markets can still compete against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. On the baseball side, it takes smart management and a strong farm system. On the marketing side, it means forgetting everything Bud Selig said between 1993 and 2001:
"Whining about what the Yanks can do and what the little guys can't do is just that: whining. It poisons the well. Kills fan interest and short-term revenue, gives players a reason to be satisfied with less, and most important, distracts from the mission of finding combinations on the field and in the farm system that will work. "
Instead, work with what you have. Turn your small-market status into an advantage:
"Sell the underdog story. It's the oldest, truest, most inspiring tale in the big book of sports stories. You're the rag-tag band of rebels, and A-Rod, Jason, and Jeter are manning the Death Star. Saddle up. Make every seat sold a slap at the overfed overlords in Gotham. Hand out Steinbrenner voodoo dolls with every paid admission. Let the people inflict some pain and defy some odds. Let them in on the revolution."
When the Commissioner tells Congress, "At the start of spring training, there no longer exists hope and faith for the fans of more than half of our 30 clubs," at least 16 marketing directors tear their hair in frustration. And we can see how well this anti-marketing strategy worked in Milwaukee....
February 19, 2004: Rooftop Owners Help Pave Way/Raise the Roof, Fans: Finally Bucks Don't Stop Here. LINK
Yesterday Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry said that the Cubs' signing of Greg Maddux might not have been possible without the extra money the club expects to receive from new seats behind home plate, a revenue-sharing agreement with the owners of most of the buildings across the street from Wrigley Field, and four extra night games. Guess which headline above comes from the paper which owns the Cubs, and which from its leading competitor.
February 19, 2004: Sox Look to Boost Fenway Coffers. LINK
According to Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Herald, Red Sox plans to increase local revenue include adding a restaurant in the basement of the club's office building at 4 Yawkey Way and renting out meeting rooms for non-baseball events. As Sox executive Michael Dee explained, "We will never outspend the Yankees, but we have to outthink them."
February 18, 2004: A-Rod Deal: Rich Getting Poorer. LINK
Chris Isidore of CNN/Money uses the A-Rod deal to make another point. The new CBA is doing just what it was supposed to do: drive down the salaries of baseball's most expensive players, and of free agents in general.
"Figures from SportsBusiness Journal show that of more than 150 signings through mid-January, free agents took an average of a 26.6 percent pay cut, which cost them $796,000 a year on average."
Clubs now share 34% of their local revenues, a 70% increase from the 20% shared under the last CBA. Put another way, a player expected to generate $10 million of additional local revenue for his club is now worth $6,600,000, compared to $8,000,000 under the pre-2002 rules.
John Henry's Red Sox are about to benefit from this trend. Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez are eligible for free agency after the 2004 season; neither will come close to the contracts A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton signed under the last CBA.
February 18, 2004: Boston Owner Flips to Pro-Salary-Cap Stance. LINK
As the article below was hitting Boston newsstands, Red Sox owner John Henry was telling reporters that the Yankees' revenue advantage has grown so large that he's reconsidering his opposition to a salary cap, which may be the only way "to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams."
"There must be a way to cap what a team can spend without hurting player compensation in toto without taking away from the players what they have rightfully earned in the past through negotiation and in creating tremendous value. Revenue sharing alone, sufficient to address a problem of this magnitude, would require pure confiscation - but there is a simple mechanism that could right a system woefully out of whack."
George Steinbrenner immediately fired back, aiming directly at Henry's weak spot:
"We understand that John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction. Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston."
Ironically, when the Opening Day salaries are calculated, the Red Sox could well show a larger year-to-year increase than the Yankees. Boston added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. In New York, the Yankees lost three-fifths of their starting rotation when Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells left via free agency, cleared over $10 million of payroll by trading Alfonso Soriano and Jeff Weaver, and will save almost $5 million more by releasing Aaron Boone.
February 18, 2004: Sox $230M, Yanks $340M. LINK
Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Herald talks revenue with Andrew Zimbalist. Zimbalist estimates that the Red Sox have increased their local revenues by $40-$70 million since John Henry bought the club two years ago, largely from moving their NESN cable outlet to basic cable and adding more seats to Fenway Park. Boston now has the majors' second- or third-highest revenues.
However, over that same period the New York Yankees' revenues have jumped by as much as $100 million, thanks to the launch of the YES Network. Even if their revenues had remained flat, the Yankees would have been the highest-grossing team in the majors.
February 18, 2004: Inquiring Brewer Fans Want to Know. LINK
Last week, Dale Hofmann of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked readers what information they'd like to take away from the upcoming financial review of the Brewers' books. The #1 question: how much Wendy Selig-Prieb and her husband earn from the club. The Brewers have already said they won't be providing that information.
The fans also want to see a detailed breakdown of the Brewers' revenues and expenses, including what happens to the revenue sharing money they receive; a complete accounting of the club's debt, including when it was incurred and who it's owed to; a complete list of the club's owners, including their percentage interest; and how (and if) the Brewers have fulfilled their commitment to invest $90 million in Miller Park.
February 17, 2004: A-Rod Trade Fallout. LINK
Anyone reading this blog has almost certainly read far too much already about the Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez. Here are a few key links:
February 17, 2004: 10 Dismissed Umpires Lose Battle for Reinstatement. LINK
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has affirmed a district court's ruling with respect to 22 umpires who resigned in 1999 as part of Richie Phillips' suicide strategy.
An arbitrator had ordered nine of the 22 umpires rehired, finding that two AL umpires had never officially resigned and that NL president Leonard Coleman had abused his discretion by not explaining why seven NL umpires were not taken back. The district court affirmed the nine reinstatements and 10 of the 13 dismissals, and directed new hearings for the remaining three umpires.
Here's a link to a .PDF of the Third Circuit's opinion, though the file doesn't appear to be loading properly right now.
February 17, 2004: Lawrence S. Ritter, Chronicler of Baseball History, Dies at 81. LINK
In 1987, the now-defunct SABR Review of Books surveyed two dozen experts to compile a list of the best baseball books ever written. The two books receiving the most votes were Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia and Lawrence Ritter's The Glory of Their Times, an oral history about baseball in the early part of the 20th century. Larry Ritter died Sunday after a series of strokes.
I met Larry for in late 2002. A mutual friend, Evelyn Begley, asked if I could help him pry loose from his publisher printer's materials from another book, Lost Ballparks, for use in a second edition he was working on. He didn't want a lawsuit, just a pointed letter on lawyer's stationery to get the attention of someone at the publisher's office. Evelyn and I went to his Upper West Side apartment one evening (the day before, his visitor had been former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, a former colleague from his "real world" job as chairman of the finance department at NYU's business school) to discuss the letter and talk baseball.
Even though Larry was recovering from a stroke that had severely curtailed his mobility, his mind was unaffected. He embraced modern technology, spending a lot of time surfing the Web and occasionally forwarding anti-Bush commentaries. (As his NYU obituary notes, Ritter left NYU after the rise of Reaganomics: "I couldn't stand my students, and I certainly couldn't stand my colleagues.") Last spring he reviewed Andrew Zimbalist's May the Best Team Win and Michael Lewis's Moneyball for the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Even the night before he died, according to George Vecsey, he gave a thumbs-up upon learning that the Yankees were about to acquire Alex Rodriguez.
Larry sent me home with not only all the information I needed for the letter, but also with autographed copies of several of his books I didn't already own and a CD version of The Glory of Their Times, containing the original interviews he conducted in the 1960s. He had given away most of the baseball memorabilia he had collected over the years; one item he still treasured, though, was a baseball autographed by the legendary Steve Dalkowski. He also gave away most of the money he earned from The Glory of Their Times -- gave it away to the players he had interviewed, all of whom had retired long before MLB offered any pension to ex-ballplayers.
If you haven't read The Glory of Their Times, you should. And if you want to hear five hours of original interviews with Sam Crawford, Rube Marquard, Chief Meyers, Joe Wood, Goose Goslin and Lefty O'Doul and many more, talking about the game as it was played 75 to 100 years ago, the four-CD audio version offers an unforgettable listening experience. I'll make it easy for you to order:
February 15, 2004: NHL's Levitt Report Online (.PDF file). LINK
At the request of reader and Midwest League historian Joel Dinda, I've added a link to the recently-released "Independent Review of the Combined Financial Results of the National Hockey League 2002-03 Season," prepared under the direction of former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, Jr. Levitt concluded that during the past season, the NHL lost $273 million, exclusive of interest and depreciation, on revenues of $1.996 billion.
The report doesn't break down this result on a team-by-team basis, except to report generally that 19 clubs reported losses, with four teams losing over $30 million, two losing between $20 and $30 million and six more losing over $10 million. Eleven clubs reported a profit, with two earning more than $10 million. Player salaries came to 75% of gross revenues.
The NHLPA immediately challenged the report's definition of revenue, claiming that its review of four clubs' finances found $52 million in unreported revenue. Sound familiar?
February 15, 2004: Yankees Acquire A-Rod from Rangers. LINK
As worried Bostonians hasten to keep Red Sox fans away from open windows and sharp objects, here's even more bad news for Red Sox Nation: the Yankees may have gotten a bargain.
Ronald Blum of the Associated Press breaks down the numbers. The Yankees will pay A-Rod $15 million in 2004-05-06, $16 million in 2007-08, $17 million in 2009 and $18 million in 2010, with $1 million/year deferred without interest in 2004-07, to be paid in 2011. Texas will pay $43 million of A-Rod's future salary, all of the $24 million which has already been deferred from past seasons, and the $4 million still owed on his signing bonus.
As Blum notes, this means that for A-Rod's three seasons with the Rangers, the club will end up paying him $140 million. That's a bad deal of Mariah Carey-esque proportions.
From the Yankees' perspective, Rodriguez is signed to a seven-year, $112 million contract covering the 2004-10 seasons, an average of $16 million/year. The best 2003 free agent, Vlad Guerrero, signed with Anaheim for a reported $70 million over five years, or $14 million/year. Vlad and A-Rod are quite comparable offensively, but the positional difference makes A-Rod's the better contract, even with two extra years (A-Rod's Age 33 and 34 seasons) at the end. Vlad is also a much greater injury risk, having missed six weeks of the 2003 season with a herniated disk in his back.
A-Rod's contract also looks quite reasonable when compared to the Yankees' two other megadeals (annual salary in $ millions, ignoring all deferred signing bonuses):
In each of the next seven seasons, the Yankees will be paying Derek Jeter more than A-Rod. Jason Giambi will outearn him in three of the five years remaining on his contract. For good measure, all of the money being paid by the Rangers counts against their payroll, not the Yankees', for luxury tax purposes. Now if the Yankees would just forget the monumentally stupid idea of moving A-Rod to third so Jeter could stay at short...
February 14, 2004: Group Begins Drive to Get Sports Funding Cap on St. Paul Ballot. LINK
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that a St. Paul citizens' group hopes to collect 6,000 signatures for a referendum to limit the amount of money the city can spend on pro sports facilities. The proposal is patterned after one adopted by Minneapolis several years ago, which caps the city's contribution at $10 million.
Meanwhile, the Minneapolis City Council approved a land option that will make it easier to acquire the plot of land targeted for a Twins stadium on that side of the Mississippi.
February 14, 2004: Portland Running Out of Time for Expos. LINK
Although Oregon remains the only contender for the Expos with a state financing plan in place, the city of Portland has yet to develop a plan for its share of stadium financing. Oregon Stadium Campaign leader David Kahn says that stadium financing "needs to be on the highest tier" of Portland's priorities, but the city has other issues.
On the baseball front, Portland's AAA franchise is currently ownerless and may be taken over by the league if a new owner isn't found very soon. On the non-baseball front, Oregon voters just repealed, by a wide margin, $800 million in taxes voted by the legislature last year, triggering an estimated $545 million in budget cuts, including $285 million from schools, $188 million from human services and $58 million from public safety.
When David Kahn says things like "We can only move as quickly as circumstances allow; we have to be sensitive that there are other issues" and "From an atmospheric standpoint, timing does matter. We need to be sensitive to what we say publicly," he means, "We can't let the voters find out that we believe that bringing major league baseball to Portland is more important than better schools or a safer community."
February 13, 2004: Latin Fans Love Their Baseball. LINK
Who at ESPN.com came up with this awful headline?
Pedro Gomez discusses the possibility of putting a major league team in Latin America. He says that "[i]f it were somehow possible to eliminate the economics from the picture, placing a major league club in Latin America would be an overwhelming success," but recognizes that the economic disparities are too great. With tickets to winter league games costing just $2 or $3, the average Dominican earning $100/month, and even Mexico City unable to support two minor league clubs, any Latin American club would require an Expos-esque subsidy to compete.
February 13, 2004: If Grand Jury Exposes Players, Union May Squash Drug Testing Program. LINK
Grand jury subpoenas for the results of MLB's 2003 drug tests is likely to have the opposite effect from that intended by prosecutors: they could well doom drug testing on the major league level.
As Murray Chass of The New York Times and Hal Bodley of USA Today point out, the MLBPA will never consent to an extension of the drug testing program if there's any chance the results will ever be made public.
The drug testing agreement states: "The confidentiality of the Player's participation in the Program is essential to the Program's success." Except under very narrow specified circumstances, everyone associated with the program is prohibited from publicly disclosing information about a layer's test results, evaluation, diagnosis, treatment program, or compliance with the program. Rob Manfred, MLB's chief labor lawyer affirms that "one of the tenets of the collective bargaining agreement was that this testing would be anonymous and confidential. As an institution, we try to stand by the agreements we make."
The grand jury subpoenas are also outrageously overbroad. Although its investigation has centered on a single Bay Area lab with a known (and relatively small) client base, it has demanded not only the results of MLB's drug testing for hundreds of players with no connection to that lab, but also records of after-care programs for players who have tested positive for other drugs.
MLB and the MLBPA are negotiating with the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco to have the subpoenas quashed.
February 12, 2004: Aldermen OK More Wrigley Night Games. LINK
Without dissent, the Chicago City Council has voted to allow the Cubs to add four more night games in each of the next three seasons, raising their total from 18 to 30 by 2006. In return, the Cubs agreed to spend more to clean up the neighborhood, and to establish a $1 million contingency fund to address future problems.
The council also voted to declare Wrigley Field a landmark, but on terms that will allow the club to add 200 box seats between first and third bases and eventually to expand the outfield bleachers.
February 12, 2004: McCourt Righting Dodgers' Troubled Finances. LINK
Scott Van Voorhis of the Boston Herald reports on local boy Frank McCourt's plans for the Los Angeles Dodgers. McCourt expects to receive $14 million more from the club's new TV deal with seller-and-still-minority-owner Fox, plus another $10 million in additional revenue from other sources, including concessions and in-stadium advertising. McCourt also hasn't ruled out selling naming rights to Dodger Stadium.
February 11, 2004: Selig Predicts Great Season for Baseball. LINK
In equally surprising news:
"Local Politicians Tout Economic Benefits of New Stadium"
"Cheney Convinced Iraq Still Hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction"
"Yankees Have Majors' Highest Payroll"
"Pat Robertson: Jesus Was a Republican"
"Plenty of Good Seats Still Available at Comerica Park"
"Kucinich Trails in Democratic Primary."
February 10, 2004: MLB Throws High Heat at Web Portals. LINK
According to this CNet article, MLB Advanced Media is making no friends among Web businesses. Having failed to reach agreement with RealNetworks for an extension of their current deal to provide streaming audio and video of major league games, MLB is demanding sizable upfront fees from any distributor interested in providing live feeds or archived games. One source describes MLB's demands as "completely unreasonable."
Last year, MLB's feeds could be purchased either directly from the MLB.com site, or at a higher price from RealNetworks as part of a bundle including other video properties. While MLB seems to prefer the guaranteed revenues an outside distributor might be willing to pay, there's no reason MLB couldn't produce and market its own games directly to fans, receiving a smaller fee to use a sponsor's audio player and proprietary media format.
February 10, 2004: State, MLB Officials Discuss Team at Meadowlands. LINK
Although a New Jersey official met with Bob DuPuy and others about bringing a team to the Meadowlands, a MLB spokesman says the meeting "was not about the Expos."
Or, apparently, about anything else of consequence. New Jersey says it won't build a baseball stadium just to attract a team, and in any event the Yankees and Mets both hold territorial rights to the Meadowlands and aren't about to raise them.
February 10, 2004: Umpires Benefit from Medical Policy. LINK
Barry Bloom of MLB.com tells how over the past four years, MLB has become much more active in helping umpires lose weight and stay fit. Mark Letendre, a former Yankees and Giants trainer who now runs Umpire Medical Services, describes the problem in terms that might have prompted a lawsuit from Richie Phillips:
"We knew then that perception had become reality in baseball. A missed call happened because an umpire was fat and out of shape. The powers that be felt that to fix the game you had to deal with the integrity of the game. And the umpires are at the heart of the integrity."
But times have changed:
"You wouldn't believe the difference in the size of the uniforms from four years ago. We have a multitude of umpires who request smaller belts."
Over in the Fantasyland part of the article, umpire supervisor Jim McKean claims that he and his five colleagues disagreed with only 37 of the 46,000 game calls they reviewed over the course of the past season. Amazingly, all the supervisors are themselves retired umpires.
February 8, 2004: Best Baseball Weblog Nominee. LINK
This site is one of five finalists in Baseball Primer's balloting for Best Baseball Weblog. The other nominees:
If you're looking for other baseball-related Weblogs, directories can be found here and here.
February 8, 2004: Clarett v. National Football League (.PDF link). LINK
Here's a link to Judge Shira Scheindlin's decision allowing Maurice Clarett to enter the 2004 NFL draft. It's not directly baseball-related, but I've received a couple of inquiries about it, and some of the issues overlap with those raised by opponents of baseball's amateur draft. I'll discuss these issues below.
Clarett challenged the NFL's blanket rule against allowing a player to enter the NFL draft until three college seasons had passed since his high school graduation. Since MLB teams routinely draft and sign players straight out of high school and sign Latin American prospects at age 16, any similar challenge to baseball's rules would involve a much younger player, as to whom the league's defense that such players are too physically and/or psychologically immature to play pro ball would carry more weight.
A challenge to any aspect of baseball's amateur draft would encounter another obstacle not faced by Clarett: baseball's anomalous exemption from the antitrust laws. Although the Supreme Court held its nose the last time it reaffirmed the exemption, unless and until it's repudiated MLB can move to dismiss any antitrust claim as soon as it is filed. The Curt Flood Act of 1998 narrowed the exemption as applied to labor disputes involving major league players, but also (a) specifically disclaimed any effect on the draft, and (b) provides that only major league players have standing to sue under the Act.
Assuming this hurdle can be overcome, Judge Scheindlin's decision in Clarett still wouldn't help the vast majority of prospective challengers to MLB's draft, those of draft-eligible age who want the freedom to sign with the organization of their choice. She distinguishes between rules governing how the draft affects draft-eligible players and those which govern eligibility for the draft. The former fall under the nonstatutory labor exemption to the antitrust laws because they affect "wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment"; the latter don't, because they exclude prospective employees altogether rather than regulating the conditions of their employment. Scheindlin also cites approvingly to a line of cases which hold that newcomers to an industry are bound by the terms negotiated by their predecessors, even if those terms include a rookie salary cap or other detriment aimed only at them.
In sum, Maurice Clarett's successful challenge to the NFL's draft rules is unlikely to help anyone planning a similar challenge to MLB's draft rules.
February 6, 2004: RealNetworks Nixes Baseball Deal. LINK
RealNetworks, maker of the RealPlayer audio software, has broken off negotiations with MLB for an extension of the three-year, $20 million deal which made RealNetworks' RealAudio and RealVideo the exclusive standards for MLB.com's audio and video packages.
A RealNetworks spokesman explained, "It was our intention to find a profitable way to work with them, but we were unable to do that with terms that worked for us."
Twelve hours after reporting this story, CNet News carried this one:
"RealNetworks acknowledged on Wednesday that three flaws affecting different versions of its media player could allow attackers to create corrupt music or video files that, when played, take control of a victim's PC."
Security flaws aside, RealNetworks' software hogs memory, and the designers of the RealNetworks Web site try their best to prevent visitors from finding the link for downloading the free version of their player. It won't be missed.
February 6, 2004: Relocating Expos a Near Certainty. LINK
Bob DuPuy tells Hal Bodley of USA Today that he's really, really determined to find a permanent home for the Expos after the 2005 season.
"'We'll get it done this year, I promise you,' Major League Baseball's president said, his voice rising a few decibels."
According to Bodley, the other 29 clubs need to realize about $170 million from the sale of the Expos to be made whole. That translates to an operating loss of about $50 million over the past two seasons, over and above the purchase price.
February 5, 2004: Selig Looks Forward to 2004. LINK
Mike Bauman of MLB.com interviews the Commissioner, who's happy to tell him about baseball's "renaissance" in the wake of the labor agreement he negotiated:
"Look, the economic landscape of the game is changing," Selig says. "The fact that Anaheim and Florida won the last two years, that's something that couldn't have taken place seven or eight years ago. Wouldn't have been possible."
Ummmm...Bud? Seven years ago, the World Series was won by...yes, the Florida Marlins. They beat those big-market Cleveland Indians. The next year San Diego won the NL pennant.
Bud also credits himself with improving MLB's relationship with the TV networks:
"There's no question that for many years we were considered a bad broadcast partner, and we didn't market the game. Our broadcast partners and our major sponsors will tell you that is no longer true."
Would that be during the years when MLB's idea of marketing consisted of shouting "Come watch our selfish, greedy and overpaid players"? Or during the dreadful days of "The Baseball Network," when MLB's national TV contract was premised on the assumption that MLB offered a second-rate product that appealed to no one outside the home markets of the teams on the field? What nitwit was running MLB in that era, anyhow?
However, the article reveals one area in which MLB desperately needs to improve. Can't the editors at MLB.com find one picture in which the Commissioner is actually smiling? He may be delivering a message of hope and optimism, but he looks like he just saw something crawl out of a half-eaten sandwich on the table in front of him. If the poison-control people ever want a photo to replace their "Mr. Yuk" logo, almost any random shot of Selig would suffice.
February 4, 2004: Take Me Out to the Ball Game? (warning: .PDF link). LINK
This is apparently not a joke: a group of Hispanic businessmen are trying to buy the Montreal Expos and move them to Tiger Stadium. One member of the group, former major league player Nikco Riesgo, says:
"This is a very wise – and timely – move. The city is already implementing downtown improvements for the 2006 Super Bowl. Bringing the former Tiger Stadium back to life will complement the Super Bowl efforts, particularly in the Cork Town area. New businesses and new jobs will spring up around the stadium, just as has happened in other two-team cities."
Here's an interview with Riesgo, who explains that all the group needs to do is persuade Tigers owner Mike Ilitch to let another team play just down the road from his:
"What we have to convince to him that it is a benefit to the city as a whole, because the city is in such economic ruins. And the opportunity to have two home town teams that can play for a World Series should outweigh some of the negativity that he may feel about this team competing against his team. We have to convince him that it is a win-win and a cross-town rival will create more baseball fans whether you are a Tigers’ fan or an Expos’ fan the same way if you are a Yankees’ fan or a Mets’ fan."
Riesgo didn't last long enough in the majors to be hit by a pitch -- can someone check his minor league record for severe beanings?
February 4, 2004: Jays' Financial Position Improving. LINK
The Toronto Blue Jays report that their operating loss declined from $55 million in 2002 to $15-$20 million in 2003, and project continued improvement in 2004.
Jays president Paul Godfrey attributed $5 million of the club's progress to the rise of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar. Each one-cent rise is worth about CDN $400,000 to the Jays' bottom line.
February 4, 2004: Rodriguez Pact Could Have Ripple Effect. LINK
Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail talks to Gene Orza of the MLBPA about Ivan Rodriguez' contract, which allows the Tigers to buy out the remainder of his contract if Rodriguez suffers certain specified injuries.
Orza explains: "There is a vesting option based on health instead of performance, and the injuries listed are very specific. Lots of words ending in 'ism.' So when we looked at it, we said, 'Yeah, we can approve it.'"
As contracts become more difficult to insure, clauses of this nature could become a common way for clubs to protect themselves against the recurrence of a pre-existing condition.
February 4, 2004: Officials Crunching Numbers for Proposed Stadium. LINK
The Norfolk City Council is spending $250,000 to study the feasibility of a $300 million downtown stadium to house the Expos. Norfolk believes the public share of the stadium can be funded through local meals and hotel taxes ($5 million/year), an admissions tax, and an income tax on players and club employees (collectively estimated at $11.5 million/year by the group trying to bring baseball to northern Virginia).
Representatives of the group trying to bring MLB to Norfolk insist the stadium is "not going to be corporate welfare." They say they have a handshake deal with city officials regarding their contribution to a new park, but refuse to discuss the details.
Barry Bloom's article on mlb.com quotes Bob DuPuy to the effect that Norfolk's chances are as good as any other market's. He also identifies the Norfolk group's frontmen as "a pair of 26-year-old former stock brokers," a phrase not likely to inspire confidence.
February 3, 2004: Get Your Current Salary and Contract Information Here. LINK
A new Weblog by Michael Srihari called "Dugout Dollars" has team-by-team payroll information, as well as a handy summary that includes luxury tax payrolls and money committed for future seasons. Enjoy.
February 2, 2004: This Winter, Free Agents See Less Green. LINK
This "are the owners colluding, or aren't they?" article from the Washington Post contains this priceless note:
MLB has felt enough pressure from the union's investigation to petition the union not to file a grievance charging that owners are colluding on salaries, according to two union sources. According to those sources, the league cited the damage such a charge would do to the game.
The MLBPA's only possible response is three words long. The first is Go and the third is Yourself. Whether or not the owners are colluding, asking a union to ignore possible violations of the CBA (not to mention its own duty to its membership) "for the sake of the game" borders on the delusional.
William B. Gould IV, a SABR member who headed the NLRB when it brought the unfair labor practices charge that ultimately ended the 1994-95 work stoppage, notes that it took a quarter-century for the owners to realize how to turn free agency to their advantage:
"We've had a role reversal. In the 1970s when free agency was first established, the clubs were very anxious to limit the number of free agents. . . . Now, the clubs are anxious to create 'more' free agents because they realize the laws of supply and demand will cause prices to drop."
February 2, 2004: Judge Tosses Ticket-Scalping Cases, Cites Mariners' Internet Sales. LINK
A Seattle municipal court judge has overturned the conviction of one man charged with scalping Mariners tickets and dismissed the charges against another, finding that both were victims of selective enforcement.
As Peter Lewis of the Seattle Times notes, Judge Jean Rietschel found no rational basis for arresting street-level scalpers while allowing the Mariners to, in effect, scalp similar tickets through their Web site. The Mariners offer some premium tickets with no stated face value and allow their Web site to be used to resell tickets at a premium to Seattle residents despite the antiscalping law.
Judge Rietschel also "found that if the M's didn't pay undercover city cops to enforce the law, including instructing them exactly where to patrol, such busts would not occur."
February 2, 2004: Deal Struck on Brewers' Finances. LINK
After days of negotiations, the Milwaukee Brewers and the State of Wisconsin have agreed on a process whereby the state Legislative Audit Bureau will be allowed to "review," as opposed to "audit," the Brewers' books.
Milwaukee Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer isn't satisfied. He told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "From the Brewers' perspective, this looks to me like it's carefully designed to prevent embarrassing revelations to the principal owners. Secondarily, it's designed to paint as sympathetic a picture as possible of the Brewers. This will just set off more questions."
The key limitations include a requirement that the audit bureau's own notes and workpapers will remain confidential, and that all major financial information will be presented in summary form without a detailed breakdown. Key details such as categories of expenses, salaries paid, related-party transactions and even the percentage of the club owned by any given investor will remain confidential.
February 2, 2004: Rays' Partner May Spur New Energy. LINK
The St. Petersburg Times breaks down Stuart Sternberg's investment in the Devil Rays. By buying out five dissatisfied partners, Sternberg would own 48% of the Devil Rays and 77% of the general partnership, to managing general partner Vince Naimoli's 15% and 23%, respectively. However, Sternberg would not have any right to oust Naimoli from control of the team.
Here's a Q & A on the transaction and its implications for the D-Rays.
February 2, 2004: Stadium Panel: No State Money, Gambling. LINK
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's Stadium Screening Committee has recommended against the use of state money, or an expansion of gambling in Minnesota to raise new money, for construction of a new ballpark for the Twins. The only broad-based tax contemplated by the recommendations would be a tax on sports memorabilia, which might raise enough money to paint the exterior of the new facility.
The Committee also recommended against low-interest state loans to the club, and considered construction of a new stadium for the NFL Vikings as important as building a new park for the Twins. Stadium supporters scored one victory, though, inasmuch as the Committee recommended against referendums on any local taxes which might be proposed to fund part of the park.
All otherwise-uncredited content on this page is copyright © 2004 by Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.