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Archive for January 2010


Book Review: I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally

January 17th, 2010 | 52 comments »

Since I’ve spent most of the past 48 hours as a passenger in a car, I decided to make my long weekend into a Bouton book-a-thon.  I re-read Ball Four and then breezed through the sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally?  Next up is Foul Ball, which is of particular interest to me since I practice some historic preservation law and the book is about Bouton’s efforts to save a historic ballpark.  I digress, however…

I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally picks up right where Ball Four leaves off.  My only regret is that I read the Ball Five and Ball Six additions that were included in the latest published edition of Ball Four immediately after finishing Ball Four, which gave away some of what I read in I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.  Aside from that misstep, I really enjoyed this sequel.  I think it’s particularly good for someone, like me, who wasn’t around when Ball Four was originally published because it fully details the reaction from both the baseball world and the rest of the country.

By the time I finished reading Ball Four I was eager to find out where Bouton’s career took him after the 1969 season.  If you get ahold of the latest edition of Ball Four, you’ll also get the aforementioned Ball Five and Ball Six additions, written by Bouton at the ten-year and twenty-year anniversaries of the publishing of Ball Four.  I urge you to resist the urge to read through these until after you’ve read I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, written just one year after Ball Four.  Here you’ll journey with Bouton through his attempt to continue his baseball career in 1970 amidst the anticipation of Ball Four arriving on bookstore shelves.  Besides reading his own recounting of the feedback (or backlash, as was often the case) on the book, you’ll be able to read snippets of actual reviews and both fan letters and hate mail.  I felt like I was able to relive portions of 1969 and 1970 through the eyes of Jim Bouton (eyes one former teammate of his called “ass eyes”). 

The sequel is just as witty and honest as the first book and the two should definitely be read in tandem.  With each page I’ve read by Bouton, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for him and his writing.  I’ve read reviews that suggest Bouton is his greatest fan and these books are essentially a shrine to how highly he thinks of himself.  Well, who writes a book and tells nothing but bad things about themself?  Not to mention, Bouton’s writing is full of self-depricating humor.  Bouton’s not afraid to mention his own flaws right along with exposing everyone else’s.  I would say 99% of all of the negative reaction to Ball Four centered around Bouton revealing that…gasp…baseball players are human!  They curse, break the rules, act rudely, and chase women.  The horror! 

My first reaction after reading both books was that what he wrote was probably more shocking in 1970 than it is now in 2010.  Maybe, but baseball fans still put baseball players on pedastals and worship them as heroes.  It’s why they get so emotional over topics like Pete Rose gambling on baseball and all the current players rumored (and some, proven) to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.  I’m guilty of it too, I think it’s almost impossible to be a fan and not have a reaction about these things.  After reading I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally, however, I have a different outlook.  Bouton spends some time talking about the negative reaction people had to how Mickey Mantle was portrayed in Ball Four.  He goes on to talk about his own hereos in baseball and the lesser side of each one that he eventually uncovered.  Does he no longer have good memories of what those players meant to him?  No.  He’s able to separate the player he admired on the field from say the player he’s disappointed in for not signing autographs.  Probably my favorite quote from I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally speaks to this topic: “So I think it’s possible that you can view people as hereos and at the same time that they are people too, imperfect, narrow sometimes, even not very good at what they do.”  I think I’m going to strive to have this outlook from now on.

Since I declared Ball Four a must-read, I’ll have to say that I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally is a must-read as well.  Read them one after the other and save Ball Five and Ball Six for afterwards.  You won’t be disappointed and maybe you’ll come away with some new perspective for the game just like I did.

For love of the game,

Kristi

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Ball Four

January 16th, 2010 | 14 comments »

Years ago, I saw a quote by a former ballplayer named Jim Bouton: “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around the whole time.”  I didn’t know it then, but it’s the final line of his famous book, or expose depending in how you view it, Ball Four.  I knew back then that I liked Jim Bouton, because I felt the same way.  I’ve spent most of my life playing softball and watching baseball.  I clung to fastpitch softball until my body, and my ego, could no longer stand the toll.  When it comes to baseball, I have become more passionate with each passing year.  I coach fastpitch softball nearly year-round.  Two teams at once last spring/summer.  I had to write three legal journal articles in law school, one each for courses in Sports Law, Taxation and Historic Preservation.  This should demonstrate that I can make baseball relate to the study of absolutely anything.  I’ve blogged about the Braves for four years.  I’ve studied collective bargaining and revenue sharing for four years.  I’ve guest lectured on these topics for one year.  And in the past year, I’ve been honored to be involved with L.E.A.D., an inner-city baseball league in Atlanta. 

I often wonder why I’ve developed such a love for games that involve throwing and hitting a little round ball with stitches.  All I can say is that baseball and softball have been an integral part of my life, and a constant in my life no matter where I’ve gone.  I played softball from age 5 until 26.  No matter where I moved, Statesboro, Georgia to Columbia, South Carolina to Irvine, California to Gainesville, Florida back to Atlanta, Georgia, there was always a softball team to play on and a baseball team to root for.  I’ve cheered for the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox, the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Anaheim Angels (who regrettably became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during my time as a resident of Orange County, California), the Florida Gators, and the Gwinnett Braves.  From attending local baseball games to joining a softball team, I could always count on baseball and softball to make me feel comfortable in new surroundings. 

It’s for these reasons that I think I identified with Jim Bouton while reading Ball Four.  From the first pages it becomes apparent how much he loves playing the game.  Bouton played before free agency, so he certainly wasn’t playing for the money.  I’ve tried to heed the advice of another favorite former player of mine, Rob Dibble, that For Love of the Game was just a movie, but I just can’t seem to let go of the idea that those guys who are lucky enough to be out on the field playing the game I love have to love it as much as I do.  After reading Ball Four, I’m convinced that Bouton did love playing the game.  And not for fame or notoriety.  It’s obvious as you read his day-by-day recounting of his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros that he loved to play the game.

Ball Four reads like a diary.  Bouton kept notes throughout the season and the book unfolds day-by-day from Spring Training through the season’s end.  While Ball Four is best known for the stories he tells about the other players, I enjoyed it for different reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the stories about the players and the clubhouse antics.  Bouton is incredibly witty and I found myself laughing out loud at numerous places in the book.  But being someone who never played in the Majors, I enjoyed feeling like I was with him every day of the season, experiencing what he was experiencing.  I could feel his desire to get in the game, his frustration when he was misunderstood, his struggle to master the knuckleball, and his excitement when he had success.

Ball Four is like going back in time and having the opportunity to sit in the bullben with Bouton all season long.  I wasn’t even alive in the season of 1969 when all of this was playing out on the field, but I feel like I relived the entire season right alongside him.  If you’ve ever wondered what really goes through a ballplayer’s mind, this book will fascinate you.  It’ll make you laugh too.  And if you’re someone like me who enjoys learning about collective bargaining and free agency, this book will provide amazing insight into what it was like to be a ballplayer during the time period all of that was being born.  I couldn’t have asked for better research as I write my own book.

Overall, I give this book an A+ and label it a “must read” for baseball fans.  I’ve read dozens of books  on baseball and only one other, Feeding the Monster, has captured my attention the way this book did.  If you haven’t read it, grab a copy today! 

More posts to come on various topics in the book…

For love of the game,

Kristi

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The Mark McGwire Song

January 16th, 2010 | 1 comment »

For those here in Atlanta, I’m sure you’ve heard of Randy & Spiff, formerly the morning show guys on Fox 97 and now on True Oldies 106.7.  I don’t listen to them regularly, but I’ve always been a fan of their Shower Stall Singers segments.  My personal favorite was from 1991 or 1992 when the Braves played the Pirates in the playoffs and the Shower Stall Singers featured “Taking Care of Pittsburgh” to the tune of “Taking Care of Business.”  I’ve got the tape and have been meaning to load some of those great tunes for us Braves fans to reminisce about the good ole days when we were winning pennants every year. 

So, Randy & Spiff have recently been reunited on the morning airwaves at 106.7, thus reuniting the Shower Stall Singers.  My dad alerted me to a great song they played this week about Mark McGwire.  Really entertaining and totally stuck in my head.  Definitely take a minute to listen!

Mark McGwire Song

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Posted in Fun Stuff, General

Where Have All The African American MLB Players Gone?

January 13th, 2010 | 28 comments »

There was this great song in the 90s “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” that I am reminded of now as I ponder why the percentage of African Americans in MLB has decreased steadily over the past 15 years.  It’s certainly a phenomenon I’ve heard the last few years as a Braves fan.  Until now, however, I never took the time to ask why.  I’ve heard people say it’s because African American young men would rather play football.  Perhaps, but why?  I don’t think it’s simply because they prefer football, after all baseball is the national pastime.  Doesn’t every little boy want to grow up to be a professional baseball player one day?

Maybe it has something to do with the declining ability of African American young men to play college baseball.  One of the best things that came out of 2009 for me was the opportunity to become a part of a terrific organization here in Atlanta called L.E.A.D.  (which stands for Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct).  L.E.A.D. is America’s first instructional league for inner-city teens.  L.E.A.D.’s goal is to expose inner-city teens to competitive baseball, while also providing them with a strong sense of community involvement.  I could do a whole post on how phenomenal this group has been and how much I’ve enjoyed my experience with them, but back to the topic at hand…

The young men who are a part of L.E.A.D. have the end goal of using their baseball talent to gain collegiate scholarships in order to pursue greater educational opportunities.  Except scholarship opportunities in baseball are becoming more difficult to obtain.  The NCAA limits the  number of full scholarships in baseball to 11.7, however, the typical team roster is between 25-45 players.  In 2008, new rules were adopted that limited the number of players on aid to 30 for the 2008-2009 season and 27 for the 2009-2010 season.  Scholarships used to be split into amounts that allowed most, if not all, of the roster players to receive some sort of financial aid.  Unfortuantely, there was some abuse that caused the new rules had to be implemented.  Coaches were giving out “tryout scholarships” which lured the player to campus with a small scholarship.  The amount was small enough that the coach could cut the player during fall practices without if effecting his bottom line.

Sometimes rules aimed at one problem make way for a new kind of problem.  Under the new rules, only 27 players can be on scholarship and each scholarship must be for at least 25% of the tuition, room and board.  Compare that to football where 85 full scholarships are available for about 87 roster spots (active and inactive), or basketball where 13 full scholarships are available for 12-15 roster spots.  Which sport would you choose to play if you were a young African American athlete who could only get a college education through an athletic scholarship?

Consider this, the champions of the 2009 College World Series, the LSU Tigers, had two African American players, neither of whom were on baseball scholarships.  Instead, Chad Jones and Jared Mitchell were both on football scholarships.  Thanks to a friend of mine who pointed that out, as I think it uniquely illustrates the point.

All of this causes a ripple effect.  More African American teens either choose the football scholarship, or they choose to enter the MLB draft directly out of high school.  If the kid has to play on a football scholarship in order to play baseball in college, he’s increasing his risk of injury and may also ultimately decide that he should go pro in the NFL.  Going directly into the MLB draft from high school though causes a whole new set of issues.  Not only is the teen who goes directly to the minor leagues missing out on higher education, but he has to prove immediately that he can progress through the minor leagues or he is likely to get lost in the shuffle. 

The final result of all of this is a decline in African American players at the Major League level.  In 2007, MLB reached its lowest level for African American players since the 80s at only 8.2% (although this number grew to 10.2 in 2008).  The total population of players of color in MLB is 39.6%, with Latinos comprising 27% and Asians 2.4%.  There were only 4 African American managers in MLB in 2008.  There were only 3 African American General Managers at the start of the 2009 season.  No African Americans own a MLB club.  There are also no African American CEO or Team Presidents.  You can see the chart below to compare this with the NFL and NBA.

2008   Players Managers/
Head Coaches
General Managers CEOs/Team Presidents Owners
MLB (30 teams/25 man roster)   10.20% 5 3 0 0
NFL (32 teams/53 man roster)   67% 6 5 0 0
NBA(30 teams/15 man roster)   77% 11 3 5 1

I won’t pretend that I know the answer to the problem.  I don’t.  I do, however, recognize that something is happening here.  The number of African American baseball players has been declining for fifteen years, with 2008 being the first time since 1998 that MLB saw any increase in the percentage of African Americans playing the game.  Don’t get me wrong, MLB is doing a fairly good job diversifying if you count all players of color.  But I’m left to wonder why the number of African American players continues to decrease while the percentage of other players of color consistently increases.  The reasons I’ve stated above seem to factor in, but so does the structure of the MLB draft.  African American players enter through the draft, while Latino and Asian players generally do not.  Clubs are able to scout talent in Latin American and Japan and either scoop up undiscovered talent or outbid their competitors for the best talent in those countries.  Thus, we’re seeing a rising number of Latino and Asian players enter the game.  All the while, African Americans have been on the decline for the better part of two decades. 

As I said before, I have no definitive plan for how to change things moving forward.  This is all merely food for thought.  I’d love to hear what you all think!

For love of the game,

Kristi

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Is Scott Boras the Most Influential Man in Baseball?

January 8th, 2010 | 2 comments »

The following is a post from June 27, 2007, originally appearing on Chop ‘n Change, about Scott Boras’ impact on baseball.  Essentially, not much has changed since then.  What has changed, however, is how I view player salaries.  As such, I have added a couple of footnotes to revise my opinions.  So, what do you think?  Is Scott Boras the most influential man in baseball?  Leave your comments! 

Though it pains me to ask, I often wonder if Scott Boras is the most influential man in baseball.  Not just today, but in the past couple of decades.  Players like Alex Rodriquez have him to thank for their unprecedented, multi-million, multi-year contracts.  Use the search terms “Scott Boras is Satan” on Yahoo! or Google and you’ll find a host of baseball fans equating Boras with the man down under.  If he’s not the most influential man in baseball, he certainly is the most hated.

As a fan, I’ve spent the past decade or so hating Scott Boras.  I blamed everything that was wrong with the game on him and the players’ union.  In reality, the pendulum has simply swung from one extreme to the other.1 Let me begin with a history lesson.  In the beginning, the owners literally owned the players, in every literal sense of the term.  Owners could unilaterally decide when to trade or sign a player and how much to raise his salary (subject to very little limitation).  The reserve clause, in its inaugural form, allowed clubs to reserve only five players.  However, it wasn’t long before the reserve clause was an integral part of every player contract.  Owners convinced players that the reserve clause was essential to preserve what’s been called “competitive balance” in baseball.  The idea of competitive balance was best stated by sports economist Simon Rottenberg, who said, “But in baseball no team can be successful unless its competitors also survive and prosper sufficiently so that the differences sin the quality of play among teams is not ‘too great’.”  In fact, as late as the 1950s, baseball players testified in Congressional hearings that the reserve clause was vital to the preservation of baseball.  And it wasn’t just any average player testifying, it was players like Ted Williams and Stan Musial.  

The reserve clause, by its very nature, depressed player salaries, however.  This made it only a matter of time before the players would become discontent with the system. Things came to a head in 1970 when Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause after being traded and refusing to report.  There were cases before that, but I won’t belabor the point here (you can read my legal journal artice here if you’re really interested).  Unfortunately, Curt Flood lost his case and the reserve clause remained intact until Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally asserted they had achieved free agency for the 1976 season.  The short version of the story is that player contracts allowed owners to unilaterally renew the contract each year.  Messersmit and McNally both avoided signing their contract for the 1975 season.  Thus, at the end of the 1975 season they asserted that their owner could not renew them for the following season.  The case proceeded to arbitration within MLB instead of to the Supreme Court as in Flood’s case.  Peter Seitz eventually ruled that Messersmith and McNally were indeed free agents and the business of baseball (and the game) was changed forever.2  Fast forward to the present where Scott Boras represents free agents and negotiates for them multi-million dollar, often record-breaking, contracts.  As fans, we hate him because at one point or another we’ve all (except maybe Yankee fans) lost a player we loved because Boras was demanding more money than our team could afford.3 We blame him for the inflated salaries in baseball and for making the game about money and not about playing out of team loyalty or for love of the game.  Rob Dibble has said it before and I’ll say it again: “For Love of the Game” was just a movie.  Yes, there are guys who seem to still value team loyalty or who appear to play for love of the game and not for money.  For the Braves, these have been players like Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz who have all given hometown discounts to the Braves in the past to facilitate their resigning.  But in the end, we as fans need to realize that baseball players have a far more finite career than the average person, so it makes some sense that they make a lot more money than we do.  When their career ends, either due to an injury or retirement, their earning capacity out in the real world may be very small.  Sure, some of them go on to coaching and broadcasting careers, but that’s only a small percentage of the guys who have played the game.  For those who retire young, they may not have any marketable skills out in the real world and may not have amassed very much during their playing years.  For others, they began the game at such a young age that they lacked the ability to manage their money wisely (although I hear baseball has made strides in this area by providing education and counseling).  There are a whole host of reasons why a baseball player would want to seek to maximize his earnings during his playing years, just like any other average person does in his career.  Instead, we see the multi-million dollar contracts, or we lose our favorite player to another team because our team couldn’t afford him, and we have to find someone to blame.  We blame the player, the union…and we blame Scott Boras. Though my gut feeling is to dislike the guy, I have to admit that he’s simply doing his job.  He’s supposed to be a zealous advocate for his client, and his job is get his client the deal the client wants.  If the client wants the most money he can get, Boras is the man for the job.  He’s a sharp negotiator and great at his job.  You really can’t blame him for that.  Instead, blame the owners who negotiate with him.  If no one would pay the big bucks, Boras wouldn’t be the infamous character he is.  If the owners really thought he was a detriment to the game, they would all refuse to negotiate with him.  Instead, they fork over the big bucks to one of his clients because they believe that player can make them, the owner, more cash.  I guarantee you that in the long run the owner only spends what he thinks he’ll get back in revenue from increased ticket sales, advertising, apparel, etc.  The whole system is unbalanced and sometimes simply unfair.  But it’s the business of baseball as a whole that is to blame, not simply Scott Boras.  In fact, if you read my legal journal article, you’ll see that Boras actually has some interesting ideas that clearly show his regard for the game. So, is Scott Boras the most influential man in baseball?  Ever?  No.  This decade?  Last decade?  Some would certainly say so.  Me, I think George Steinbrenner has a leg up on him, but I’ll leave it at that for now.4

For love of the game,

Kristi

1 I no longer believe that the pendulum has swung to the other extreme (ie, I no longer believe players are overpaid in relation to team value and owner profits).  More on this at another time.

2 This is obviously an overly-simplistic explanation.  The creation of the MLBPA and the appointment of Marvin Miller to lead the group really drove the birth of free agency.  Another interesting thing to note is that Peter Seitz was the deciding vote in the arbitration.  Who cares, you ask?  Peter Seitz representing the NBA player who defeated the NBA reserve clause.  Makes you wonder how MLB ever let that happen.

3 Is that really true? I’m no longer inclined to think so.  I don’t think it’s a matter of our team not being able to afford the player.  Instead, I think owners make decisions about how to allocate their money – not just in terms of the team, but in terms of all of their business ventures.  Will keeping the player increase their sales of tickets or boxes?  Will his salary force the team to pay an additional amount in revenue sharing or luxury tax?  Can the owner make more money using that money to improve land he owns around the stadium?  I no longer believe that any team is “poor.”  No owner has ever lost money when he sells his team.  Instead, team values continue to soar, even for teams that claim they’re operating in the red.  I won’t get into it here, but check the numbers.  You’ll see.

4 I’ve changed my mind here too…I think it’s basically a tie!

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Welcome to It’s a Swing and a Miss!

January 7th, 2010 | 1 comment »

New year, new blog! After three years of blogging on Chop ‘n Change, it’s time to return to having my own personal blog. Nearly five years ago, I started blogging under the name BabeonBaseball. Attempting to give my poor “real world” friends a break, I took to the internet to discuss all things baseball. At that point in time, most of my blogging centered around the Braves, my hometown team. Eventually, I was asked to join Chop ‘n Change and gladly joined what turned out to be a great group of Braves bloggers over the years.

In the years that have passed, I have spent more and more time studying baseball adminstration and economics and less time blogging about the Braves. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Braves (although I have plenty to say about their offseason dealings, or lack thereof), but I am passionate about everything baseball. As they say, baseball is a jealous mistress. So, here I am out on my own again.

Since my last experience blogging on my own about baseball, I’ve had my legal journal article Can Money Still Buy the Postseason in Major League Baseball?: a 10-year retrospective on revenue sharing and the luxury tax published by the University of Denver.  I have also had terrific opportunities to guest lecture on revenue generation and development, revenue sharing, collective bargaining and competitive balance at Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University.  All of this has led me to work on a book that will further develop the ideas from my legal journal article and my lecturing. 

So, as I prepare to submit the first few chapters of my book to the publisher, I am embarking on this new blogging journey.  There will be no baseball topic that is off limits here.  For the first week or so, I’ll be reposting some past blogs from Chop ‘n Change that are on topics of general interest.  I’ll also be doing some book reviews for the many, many baseball books I’ve read along the way. 

Keep your eye out for a new tab to appear at the top of the page in the coming days that will link to reviews of every stadium I’ve been to, both in the Majors and Minors.  And I’m not just talking about telling you Fenway is the oldest park in use in the Majors.  I’ll give you the lowdown on the area around the stadium, where to stay, how to get around the city, where to eat both inside and outside the park, what kind of seats to buy, ballpark traditions and much more!  Ever wondered what it’s like to go through the draft as a player?  I’ll have some great interviews from players I interviewed for my book.  We’ll talk about revenue sharing, the luxury tax, club payrolls, how MLB Advanced Media is changing the economic landscape.  Do you have a question about collective bargaining or team administration?  Email me and I’ll cover that topic.

Special thanks go out to my friend Eric Richardson who inspired the name for this site.  Also, a big thank you to my friend, Jeremy Whigham, who has always designed me the most amazing graphics for my many crazy exploits.  Thanks to him, I have a terrific banner for this site that is even more than I envisioned!

For those who have followed me over the years, I hope you’ll join me for this new journey.

For love of the game,

Kristi

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