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Archive for May 2010


You Can Also Find me on SportsMoney!

May 24th, 2010 | 2 comments »

For those who don’t know, you can now find me on SportsMoney on Forbes.com!  I’ll still be writing here, and mostly about different topics, but check out my SportsMoney posts as well:

The Tebow Effect (I know it’s hard to believe, but I do watch other sports sometimes!)

Why NFL’s Supreme Court Loss Isn’t Much of a Loss 

Where Does Roy Oswalt Fit?

BCS to Congress: Stay Out!

Are MLB Players Overpaid?

Is Revenue Sharing the Great Equalizer in MLB?

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Is Scott Boras the Most Influential Man in Baseball?

May 20th, 2010 | 2 comments »

I’ve decided to resurrect an oldie, but a goodie, here.  I first posted this in July 2008, and it’s one of my favorites.  Without further adieu…

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 might be the most hated. 

As a fan, I’ve spent the past decade or so hating Scott Boras myself.  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. 

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 in 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 (although, keep in mind, they were still the highest paid players of their time, even if it was a pittance).  The reserve clause, by its very nature, depressed player salaries, however.  Thus, as you can imagine, it was 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 article for more detail).  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.  Basically, because they never signed their contracts for the prior season, they asserted they were no longer subject to the reserve clause at the conclusion of the 1975 season.  The case proceeded to arbitration within MLB instead of to the Supreme Court as Flood’s case had.  The interesting thing to note is that the MLB arbitrator at the time, Peter Seitz, had previously represented NBA player Rick Barry in his successful efforts to strike down that league’s identical reserve clause.  Seitz urged the players and owners to negotiate with one another to no avail.  Eventually Seitz ruled that Messersmith and McNally were indeed free agents and the business of baseball (and the game) was changed forever. 

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 he’s represented someone on our team who ended up playing elsewhere because Boras demanded more money than our team could afford to pay to keep the player.  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.  Former player and current baseball commentator, 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 that seem to be more genuine and play for love of the game and not for money.  For the Braves, these have been players like Chipper Jones and John Smoltz, who have 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. 

So, is Scott Boras the most influential man in baseball?  Baseball America named him the most influential non-player in baseball in 2007.  Is he the most influential man in baseball ever?  I don’t think so.  This decade?  Last decade?  Some would certainly say so.  Is he also the most hated man in baseball?  For many, he is.  Love him or hate him, he certainly has shaped the modern era of baseball.  For that reason, I’ll be dedicating an entire chapter of my book to what I’ll call “The Scott Boras Era.” [Sadly, for Boras, this chapter didn't make it in my final book after all!]

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Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

May 14th, 2010 | 4 comments »

The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran is a must read for fans who want a glimpse inside the game!  It combines elements from two of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four and Minor Players, Major Dreams, for a fascinating look at the life of a minor league veteran bullpen pitcher.  I read it cover-to-cover on my flight to and from Boston last weekend, and I literally laughed out loud on the plane at a number of places in the book. 

First, there’s the “withered old puppet of evil” the author, Dirk Hayhurst, lives with during the offseason, otherwise known as grandma!  She forces him to sleep on an air mattress, because she refusese to remove the plastic cover from the new mattress in the other bedroom for fear it will wear out.  She also routinely wakes him at the break of dawn to chase squirrels from her bird feeders and curses him out on a daily basis. 

When it comes to baseball, Hayhurst’s life is just as amusing.  I particularly liked when he bribed the guys with the radar guns in spring training to add one MPH to his pitches in return for a “log of dip and a six-pack.”  Then there’s “Coach Castrate” who is on a mission to make his life miserable all spring.  Then he goes “Star Trek geek at a convention excited” about meeting his idol, Trevor Hoffman and proceeds to embarass himself and his teammates with a lofty philosophical question Hoffman doesn’t understand. 

The philosophical question he asked of Hoffman is just the beginning of Hayhurst’s exploration into what it means to be a baseball player and whether it’s something he wants to continue to be a part of.  He starts out being disenchanted with a coach who informs the players they are gods of entertainment.  Then he’s sent to A ball only hours after making the AA club out of spring training.  He calls his agent to vent and is greeted by his self-created nickname, Shizzle, which he now finds ridiculous.

Next comes my favorite line in the whole book, as Hayhurst is confiding to his agent that he might not want to be a ballplayer anymore: “I don’t open up the f—ing wardrobe and frolic into Narnia every time the umpire says play ball.”  While I am one of those fans for whom baseball is all magic and happiness, I recognize that basebal makes me feel that way, not necessarily the guys who are grinding it out in the minor leagues every day.

I don’t want to go into too much more, because you should read the book yourself.  If you’ve ever said, why do these guys complain so much, I would give anything to play baseball for a living, then read this book.  While Minor Players, Major Dreams was a long-standing favorite of mine, I can say it’s be dethroned.  The Bullpen Gospels has everything it has and more, with a great deal more comedy.  I flew through it on my flight to and from Boston, which means I read the whole thing in about 5 hours.  It’s an easy read and will literally make you laugh out loud!

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Worshipping at the Temple of Baseball

May 13th, 2010 | 13 comments »

Last weekend, I worshipped at the temple of baseball, otherwise known as visiting Fenway Park.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: visiting Fenway Park is a MUST for any baseball fan.  The fact that I’m also a Red Sox fan only makes the experience that much more special…even when they lose…even when they are decimated by the Yankees at both games I attend!

Those who follow me on Twitter got to feel like they toured Fenway Park with me last Friday, but for the rest of you, I’ve uploaded my pictures on the slideshow below. 

If you’ve never been, visiting Fenway Park is like stepping back in time.  I’ve talked to a few people who see that as a negative, but the overwhelming response by fans (of any club) seems to be that they feel a little magic when they enter the turnstiles. 

The experience begins when you eagerly await outside the arched doorways with their green metal gates.  Then somehow above the roar of the crowd that has gathered outside the games, you hear the clanging and clicking of the metal as they roll up the gates, just like in the old days!  You step up with your ticket and push through the turnstile and you can swear you see men in suits with cigars making their way to the stands. 

The pictures is complete as you make your way through the stadium, which is quite cramped in areas.  From the original 1912 wooden seats in the grandstand to the beams holding up the upper leavel which can obstruct part of your view, the Red Sox have done a terrific job of maining this historic jewel.  Every time I go, I love knowing that I’m attending a game with my dad just like kids have done for generations.  I’m sitting in the same seats where someone once sat and watched Babe Ruth or Ted Williams play.  I’ve heard more than one person describe it as a “religious experience” for diehard baseball fans, and I wholeheartedly agree.   

I have been to ten of the existing ballparks and three that are no longer in service, and I can say without hesitation that Fenway Park holds an experience unlike any other.  It is a playoff atmosphere in the ballpark and around the surrounding neighborhood each and every time there is a home game.  You won’t see a Red Sox fan who isn’t wearing something Red Sox, whether it’s a shirt, hat, pin or other apparel.  It doesn’t matter who the opposing club is (although Yankees games like I’ve been to are the best) or what the club’s record is, Red Sox fans are all fanatics!  If you love baseball, it doesn’t matter what club you root for, you’ll enjoy a day at Fenway.  I know that it always leaves me wishing Braves fans (my other team of choice) were less apathetic at games.  And as an added bonus, Fenway is in Boston, one of the best cities in America.  The city is full of history, easy to get around, has great public transportation, is clean and has beautiful weather in the summer.  All baseball fans should make the pilgrimage to Fenway at least once!

Make sure you don’t miss

Batting Practice from the Green Monster: become a member of Red Sox Nation for just $14.95 and you can watch the Red Sox batting practice from the Green Monster at any home game.  You’ll need to arrive an hour before the gates open to the public, and you’ll be allowed inside half an hour before gates open to the public.  You’ll be escorted up to the Green Monster, where you can attempt to catch a batting practice homerun.  Terrific way to experience the Green Monster without having to buy one of the pricey tickets up there.  When the half hour is up, head down to the lower level in right field and go after the fouls and homers hit down there.  Watch out if you stand in front of Pesky’s Pole though, as foul balls seem to slice into the seating bowl out of nowhere.  A kid just a few feet away with me was nailed in the arm when he wasn’t paying attention – not pretty!

Fenway Park Tours: you absolutely must go on a Fenway Park Tour.  In fact, go on one even if you’ve been on one before.  I’ve been on two now (one in 2002 and one in 2010) and each guide is a little different.  You’ll get to spend 50 minutes inside Fenway Park learning all of the tidbits that make Fenway magical.  When we went on the tour in 2002, we were able to take pictures standing in front of the Green Monster and stare up at all of the dimples on the wall from balls that have crashed into it.  We were also able to sit in the dugout and take photographs.  However, on the tour we went on in 2010, we were told that they no longer tour the field, except in post-game tours.  We did get to sit on the Green Monster though in 2010, where seats didn’t even exist in 2002.  Tour tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the tour.  The tours run from 9-4 during the season, seven days a week (not sure about off-season).  If the Red Sox ticket office is not yet open, you go to the Team Store across Yawkey Way from the stadium for tickets.  It’s only $12 for adults and worth every penny.  Quite a few of the pictures below are from the tour, when it’s much easier to take photographs without people getting in your way.  As for the post-game tour that takes you around the warning track to the Green Monster, you buy those tickets from a booth inside the stadium during the game.

Yawkey Way: this street right outside the stadium is open to ticketed guests only the few hours before game time.  There are street vendors with food and souveniers, and it’s a fun atmosphere.  Be sure and look up above the Team Store sign for the day’s lineup, which is presented in photographs.  I took a picture of it as we walked through Fenway Park on the tour, which you can see in the slideshow below.

Original Ticket Booths: be sure you take a look at the ticket booths inside Gate A, which are the original ticket booths for Fenway Park.  They are no longer in use, but do display historic Red Sox memorabilia.  You can see these in the photographs below.

Grandstand Seating: I definitely think part of the Fenway experience in sitting in the grandstand seating, which features the original wooden seats from 1912 (although they’ve been painted, water-proofed, and some replaced).  Are they the most comfortable seats in baseball?  No, and they’re particularly lacking in leg room in the infield.  However, sitting in them completes that feeling of attending a game way back when.  I think sitting in them has to be part of your experience.

Bleacher Bar: another new addition we noticed is the Bleacher Bar, found near Gate C on the outside of Fenway Park.  Look through the pictures below and you’ll see one of a restaurant that looks out into centerfield through an open garage door.  This door is open when there is not a game (and closed during games).  So, go grab a bite to eat and gaze out into Fenway from centerfield!

Rubber Baselines: the most interesting thing I’ve noticed about Fenway is something I noticed the first time I visited in 2002.  The baselines are rubber!  Watch closely before the game and you’ll see them sweeping them off.  Because I’ve told this story and had people who refused to believe me, I took a picture of rubber basepath just past first base, which you’ll see in the pictures below.

Now for the pictures (you’ll even catch me in a few)… 

As a side note, the ownership group has done a great job of updating Fenway over the past ten years.  I went in 2002, 2005 and now 2010 and there’s something new and updated every time I go, while they still maintain the integrity and history of the ballpark itself.  Modern conveniences like cupholders have been added, additional seating areas have been added, flat screen tvs have been added in seating areas and the concourses, etc.  For a full list of the improvments made in the past ten years, see here.

Bottom line, baseball fans…book your trip to see Fenway now!  (Hmm, I think the department of tourism should pay me!)

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Posted in Ballparks, Fun Stuff

The Salary Cap Debate Continues…

May 11th, 2010 | 1 comment »

Last week, I engaged in one of the best debates I’ve ever had on whether Major League Baseball should have a salary cap.  This is going to require a little jumping around, but if you’re at all interested in this issue, it’s all worth the read!

Here is what you need to read – be sure you read the comments as well!  I have comments posted to both of Larry’s first two articles and will soon comment on the third.  There are some great thoughts from everyone involved!

Start here: Thinking Cap – Part 1 by Larry at It’s All About The Money

Then go here: Why MLB Does Not Need a Salary Cap by yours truly here at It’s a Swing and a Miss

Then back to Larry: Thinking Cap – Part 2 by Larry at It’s All About The Money

And Larry again: Thinking Cap – Part 3 by Larry at It’s All About The Money

Then come back here later this week (hopefully tomorrow) for my article on what the great equalizer really is…hint: it’s not a salary cap, salary floor or slotting in the first-year draft.

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Checking in with CJ Bressoud (5/11/10)

May 11th, 2010 | 2 comments »

For those that have been reading the site for a couple of months or more, you’ve gotten to know my friend, CJ Bressoud.  If you missed the first two posts with him, check here and here.

I think I identify with CJ’s story because it’s much like my own.  He’s encountered plenty of bumps along the way to realizing  his dream of playing professional baseball, but he never gives up.  When he makes the Majors, his story is going to be book and movie worthy.  I, of course, would love to write the book!

A comment from one of you prompted me to ask CJ about his recent release from the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels A).  While I’m disappointed that I have to report his release, I really love the response I received from him.  I should have expected no less from him:

Baseball is a beautiful game, professional baseball is a cutthroat business that gets ugly more times than not. I was given my release mid road trip, post a game that I pitched 1.1 innings with 3 ks and a pick off. My manager called me in the office, told me how much I mean to the team and how much of a leader I was for the younger players then proceeded to tell me that its just a numbers game and the big league roster had to make a spot so every level got a pitcher bumped down, so when it came down to the bottom the decision lies upon a minor league player development guy that has never played the game and he see’s a 24 year old free agent that is still in A ball, the decision is easy when its put in black and white who to release. But the thing is the situation is never in black and white to us players, coaches, staff, fans etc… It was this same guy a year ago that had the idea to convert me from a catcher to a pitcher, which I believe I did well considering the transition so late in my career. Not even a full year later he releases me with no true explanation but “its just a #s game”. I lost a lot of respect for people in his position. I understood the situation I was in, but on my end I felt like I was set up to fail, and when I didn’t they had to conjure an excuse to make room for a player that was less capable. Its a dirty world that the public eye rarely gets a chance to see better yet understand. The minors is full of rats and snakes, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, I have met some of the most incredible friends in the world threw my ventures in pro ball, plus I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

Currently I am going back to my catching roots, swing the bat on a regular with my buddy Cecil Fielder at his Knockhouse in Marietta Ga. I have a few Independent ball offers, so I’m weighing my options while I’m getting back into catching/hitting and expect to make my decision in the next  2 weeks where I will play. I’m 25 years old, and I know I can still play this game with the best of them. To my fans, you are my motivation, Thank You! – CJ Bressoud

I’m not the kind of girl who cries at sappy movies or at the drop of a hat.  However, I’m a sucker for a good sports story.  Reading CJ’s words made my eyes sting a little, because he’s just the kind of person you want to see succeed.  I just finished reading The Bullpen Gospels (book review coming this week), and I’ve previously read (and encouraged others to read) Minor Players, Major Dreams.  If you haven’t read these books and you want to know what being a professional baseball player really entails, go get them today!  Both give a great depiction of minor league baseball and the struggle most guys endure to become a professional baseball player.  Read these and you’ll understand CJ’s whole story.

While I hate that CJ is having to overcome this most recent bump in the road, I love his outlook on the situation.  Not that much time has passed since it happened, yet he’s staying positive, working hard, and giving thought to his next move.  While I’m sure it must feel somewhat personal, he’s been around baseball long enough to know that it isn’t.  He hasn’t let this setback change his attitude or confidence in himself.  We can all learn something from him on this one.  How many of us, our family, or our friends have been laid off in the past couple of years for reasons that seemingly had nothing to do with our performance?  Everyone should be able to identify with what CJ is going through.  I just hope you all have the terrific attitude and work ethic CJ has.  It’s because of that I’m confident that CJ will find another home in baseball and continue to pursue his dreams!

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Hard Slotting Coming to MLB Draft?

May 10th, 2010 | 20 comments »

First off, thanks to Pete Toms over at Biz of Baseball for posting a summary of Rob Manfred’s speech at Harvard regarding the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.  I had somehow missed this and am so glad I caught it!

Before I tell you why I’m against hard slotting in the MLB draft and what my alternative suggestion might be, I’d like to make an observation.  When I’m preparing to write something like this, I do a lot of research.  I hate being corrected or proved wrong – maybe that’s the lawyer in me.  Regardless, I came across something interesting.  What’s even more interesting is that I still find it interesting, despite it being something I already knew!  Anyhow, I digress, back to what’s so darn interesting.  Do you know how many articles and blogs there are about NBA and NFL draft slotting?  Not many.  Do you know how many there are about MLB and whether or not there should be a slotting system?  More than I can count!  NBA and NFL players make big bucks, and there are certainly some dynasty-type teams in both leagues…so why do MLB fans care SO much more about issues like this?  Well, because it’s the national pasttime, and we all want a piece of it, I guess.  Anyone who follows sports even a little knows there are FAR more analysts and bloggers in baseball than the other sports, but I still continue to find it fascinating.  What can I say, I’m easily amused.

Back to the issue at hand: slotting in the MLB first-year players draft.  If you read my salary cap post, you can probably guess that I’m not a fan of hard slotting.  It agitates that old free market economy concept I love so much.  Even so, I’ve come up with an alternative I’m still mulling over.  Before I get to that though, let’s review the NBA and NFL system and discuss why MLB does not have hard slotting at this point.

To set the stage for those who are unfamiliar with the NBA and NFL systems, here is a (super) brief overview.  The NBA does not have signing bonuses.  Instead, they have salary slotting.  A player receives a set salary based solely on the slot where he is drafted.  Period.  It’s that cut and dry. 

In the NFL, signing bonuses exist but are becoming less common.  Any signing bonus paid to a player up-front is pro-rated over the life of his contract in terms of the team’s salary cap calculations  If the player is cut before the end of his contract, the entire sum of signing bonus that remains is calculated into the upcoming season’s salary cap.  So, there is an emerging trend of little to no signing bonus and more guaranteed contract years (in the past when signing bonuses were larger, contracts were not guaranteed and a player who was cut was not owed the remainder of his contract, nor was it calculated into the salary cap calculations). 

Now to why hard slotting is absent from MLB.  First, the NBA and NFL systems will not work in MLB.  The biggest reason is because of the minor league system in baseball.  A drafted player is not expected to perform at the big league level immediately, nor is he receiving much in the way of salary in those early years in the minors (with the exception of the very top picks).     

Which leads me to what I hear most people say: shouldn’t the MLBPA support the idea of hard slotting?  I hate to pick on anyone, but one of the first articles I found was by Jeff Fletcher at MLB Fanhouse.  Here’s the pertinent part of his article:

I can’t figure out why baseball still doesn’t have a NBA-style bonus structure.

I mean, I know why. It’s because the players’ union has not allowed the owners to implement one in collective bargaining. One of these days the major league players in the union are going to realize: “Hey, all that money going to amateur kids could be going to us!”

I’m not here to blame Jeff Fletcher.  He holds the same misguided belief I once had about why there is no hard slotting in MLB.  Think about it…why would the MLBPA not want hard slotting?  Like Jeff says, huge bonuses to unproven guys is money not being spent on MLB players.  (As a side note for those who don’t know, the MLBPA does NOT represent the interests of minor league players.)  So, why wouldn’t MLBPA be begging for hard slotting?

Keep it simple, stupid.  The MLBPA loves seeing kids like Strasburg get giant bonuses.  Why?  Well, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to get more money for their players!  If some unproven kid going to minor league ball is worth some enormous bonus, what is a proven and successful major leaguer worth?  An ungodly amount, that’s how much.  Player X is a right-handed reliever who was 17-4 last year with a 2.20 ERA.  He just watched Player Y get a $7 million signing bonus from his club straight out of college.  What can the club possibly say when Player X comes in for salary negotiations and wants $9 million next year?  All Player X has to do is point out the $7 million given to the kid who might never make it to the Majors.  The club now has no ground to stand on and better start drawing up the contract! 

Bottom line: the MLBPA is not going to support hard slotting, because it will have the upward effect of depressing salaries in the bigs.  Don’t even argue with me that it might not – the point is the mere possibility that it will.  The MLBPA isn’t taking that chance.

Personally, I don’t support hard slotting.  I have the same reasoning as my argument against a salary cap – why does this have to be about restricting a person’s ability to make money?  When I was looking for my first attorney gig, there was a range of “signing bonus” money firms gave out for moving and bar expenses.  Do I think the American Bar Association should come in and set the signing bonus?  Of course not.  I should be able to factor that into my decision.  So should ballplayers.  If they say they want to play for Team X or that they will only sign for $5 million or they’ll go play college ball, fine.  That’s their right as an available employee. 

Does signability affect the draft?  Absolutely.  Have I pointed out before when a player like Jeff Francoeur says he wants to play for the Braves or he’ll go play college ball?  Yep!  Does it keep the draft from being perfectly fair?  Sure it does.  But if the Nationals can come up with $15 million ($7.5 million signing bonus and the rest in pro-rated salary over 4 years) to sign the top pick, then clearly signing bonuses aren’t keeping clubs from getting their dream pick.  So the Yankees pay first round money to guys they get in the fifth round, so what?  If the guy was really first round material, he would have gone first round and gotten the money from someone else.  Let the Yankees throw their money around to unproven players.

I can hear you screaming about fairness and the evil empire (aka, the Yankees), so I’ll offer an alternative that I could stomach.  The MLBPA won’t support my alternative idea, but I’m throwing it out to appease the rest of you.  The MLBPA might not be good at compromising, but I am!

I say MLB and the MLBPA sit down and set a threshold amount that can be spent by each club on signing bonuses for each year of the upcoming CBA.  So, let’s just say for sake of having an example, each club can spend $15 million on signing bonuses for the 2010 draft.  They can divide it up any way they choose between the rounds, but cannot exceed the maximum total amount.  This still limits the amount a player is going to receive, but there’s some flexibility.  If he’s really worth it, a team will spend a huge chunk of their allotted amount on him.  In a hard slotting system, he’s got no chance.

The system is still flawed, because inevitably the teams will simply sign the player to a  contract like Strasburg’s where he receives large sums over the next few years as salary.  Then you have to go to a system like the NBA where there are no signing bonuses and only slotted salaries.  Now I have a problem again.  My free-market sensibilities cannot handle slotted salaries.  Same reason I’m against a salary cap.  Hey, at least I’m consistent!

So, even I have a hard time defending my alternative.  It’s the best I’ve come up with if we simply must have some change.  However, I’m ultimately not in favor.  I don’t really believe that clubs are that greatly affected by the lack of  hard slotting in the draft.  Don’t believe me?  Consider what I found in an article by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  The Pirates only signed 23 of their 50 picks in the 2009 draft, which John Grupp notes is the lowest number of signings amongst MLB clubs.  However, the Pirates GM, Neal Huntington, revealed their strategy: they used large signing bonuses to get top high school pitching talent that slipped in the draft.  He seems to think they were successful in their strategy.  The Pirates spent $8.08 million on their top ten picks, which ranked sixth among all thirty clubs.  What does that tell me?  The Pirates might not be the richest club (not even close, actually), but they had a strategy and used what they did have to get what they wanted.  I didn’t hear any remorse about the 37 guys they didn’t sign.  I’m guessing they weren’t worth the money they wanted.

If you ask me (which you’ve basically done by choosing to read this), the real problem is in terms of international signings.  Not all clubs can afford to play that game, which I think is a far bigger problem than signing bonuses.  More to come in the future on what I think should be done there.

I’ll close with another random tidbit I find interesting.  The large majority of my followers on Twitter and on this website are Yankees fans.  We’re here talking competitive balance, revenue sharing, the competitive balance tax, salary caps and draft slotting, and my biggest contingent of followers are Yankees fans.  Some of them even support all or some of these concepts!  I find it endlessly intriguing.  Yankees fans: watch for my post later this week about my weekend in Boston at the Red Sox-Yankees series!

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Why MLB Does NOT Need a Salary Cap

May 3rd, 2010 | 26 comments »

Today, I was referenced in an article on It’s About the Money by my new friend, Larry.  I stopped by to give it a read and before I knew it, I had a comment that was too long to post.  So, here I am with a full article as my commentary on Larry’s article.  So, please go read his excellent article first and then come back for my response. [The links are hard to see on some computers, so be sure to roll your mouse over the words "Larry's article" in order to get there.]

Simply put, I do NOT favor a salary cap in baseball.  I actually think baseball is fairly well balanced on the whole if you look at a number of years.  Is it perfect?  Nope.  Are the Yankees able to do things that drive me crazy?  Yes.  Do I wish my hometown team spent more on payroll?  Yes.  Do I believe in limiting the amount of money someone can make?  Absolutely not. 

Baseball is a business…period.  Fans get too caught up in the nostalgia and love of the game and can’t seem to wrap their minds around this fact, myself included.  Fill in the blank: what if your boss came in today and said that no [fill in your job title] could make more than x amount per year?  You’d be outraged, right?

Consider this: even without a cap, MLB players keep the lowest percentage of league revenues of any professional sports players.  In 2008 (the most recent numbers I have), here’s the percentage of revenues the players in each league kept:

NFL: 59%
NBA: 57%
NHL: 56.7%
MLB: 52%

Maybe now you understand why the players are so against a salary cap.  There’s no salary cap and they’re already the worst paid professional sports players!

I used to favor a payroll floor, because I thought the bigger issue was clubs who spend such a ridiculously low percentage of their revenue on payroll.  However, I’ve decided that’s not really necessary either.  It does drive me crazy that some clubs receive more in revenue sharing than they spend on payroll, which means they’re not even dipping into their own revenue for payroll.  It also drives me crazy that clubs are able to divert revenue through related-party transactions with television/radio stations or concession companies that have common ownership. 

All that being said, if you look at baseball as a simple business, you can’t really justify forcing owners to spend a specified amount on payroll.  If they don’t spend on payroll, and they field a losing team, presumably they will lose out on revenue from ticket sales, merchandise sales, and after years of fielding a losing team they will lose their fan base entirely.  Except that rarely ever happens in baseball. 

Time for an example.  The last time the Royals were in the postseason was 1985.  For TWENTY FIVE years their fans have stuck by them despite the fact that they haven’t made it to the postseason.  In fact, they haven’t had a winning record since 2003.  Yet, the team is worth $314 million according to Forbes.  They even increased their value by 4% from ’08 to ’09, despite the fact that their ’09 record was an abyssmal 65-97 and they play in a frills-free 1973 stadium. 

The moral of the story is that you can make money in baseball without fielding a winning team and without building a new stadium.  So, now back to my original point, why would an owner put more money into payroll if they can still make money and increase the value of their franchise without having to do so?  I would imagine you can now see why I might have favored a payroll floor. 

The more I think on it though, the less I can support the floor.  Baseball is a business.  What other industry forces the businesses within it to spend a specified amount on salaries?  If you, as a fan, do not like what your club is doing in terms of payroll, then stop buying tickets, stop buying merchandise, stop supporting them.  The problem is that baseball fans think they have a right to a winning team in their city. 

I’ve thought about it, and here’s an analogy that illustrates the problem.  If your favorite grocery store in town wasn’t giving you what you wanted in terms of stocking your favorite items or keeping the prices competitive, you would simply start shopping in another grocery store.  You could abandon the one you originally preferred with little thought or remorse.  You can’t do that in baseball though. 

I’ll use myself as an example.  I’m a Braves fan.  If the Braves were a club who spent less on payroll than they received in revenue sharing, I would be irritated.  But would I stop going to games or stop being a Braves fan?  Probably not.  See, there’s not another team in town, so I can’t just go watch another MLB team play on Saturday.  And even if there was, I have an emotional attachment to the Braves.  I remember going to games in the late 80s with my dad when the Braves were bottom-dwellers and no one was in the stands.  Then I remember the worst-to-first miracle and all of the postseason games I went to for 14 straight years.  I’ve lived all over the country, and I’ve rooted for several teams, but I’ve never felt about a team like I do about the Braves, because I don’t have the history with the others.  So, even if the Braves owners were spending less on payroll than they received in revenue sharing, I’d probably still be a Braves fan.  That’s why clubs like the Royals still have fans and can still increase in value every year.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think a salary cap or a payroll floor is the answer.  I don’t think there is an answer, there’s only a problem we can’t solve as fans.  Baseball is a business, but it’s one we approach with emotion and history.  That’s why there are so many books and blogs and analysts.  Fans want a salary cap even though MLB players make a smaller percentage of league revenue than players in leagues with a salary cap.  Why?  It’s because you want your team to be competitive, because you’re not willing to switch allegiances to another team.  You want a payroll floor for the same reason. 

The problem isn’t with baseball, it’s with fans.  Baseball has seen eight different World Series champions in the last ten years, with fourteen different teams playing in the series.  So, almost half of all teams have made a World Series appearance just in the past decade.  By comparison, the NBA has only had five different champions in the past decade, and only eleven different teams played in the championship.  The NFL has had seven different Super Bowl champions, with fourteen different teams playing in the series.  Yet, MLB fans cry out about competitive imbalance far more than fans of the other leagues. 

The bottom line is that MLB players share less in the league revenue than the other leagues (without a salary cap) and the championship series has seen just as many, or more, teams compete in the last decade as the other leagues.  I think revenue sharing and the luxury tax have been a part of improving competitive balance over the past decade, as has the Wild Card.  Remember that competitive balance is not perfect balance.  I do think competitive balance could stand some more improvement in baseball, but I would do it through an international draft and perhaps different scheduling, but not through a salary cap or payroll floor.  That being said, I think Larry wrote an excellent article and made some good points, and I thank him for including me in the article!

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