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Archive for August 2010

The Hardball Times: About those leaked financials…

August 27th, 2010 | Comment »

Check out my in-depth look at what the leaked financials of several MLB teams has taught us about how the current collective bargaining agreement is working on The Hardball Times!

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The Pirates Prove My Point

August 23rd, 2010 | 9 comments »

First, if you haven’t read it before, please read this post: click here.  It contains my thoughts on why MLB fans are always in search of more competitive balance and why mechanisms like a salary cap or hard slotting are not the answer.  It makes a number of the points that the Pirates have now helped me prove….

Today’s post is where I get to say, “I told you so!”  Thank you Pittsburgh Pirates.  Put simply, just because a team is in a smaller market and not winning does NOT mean that Major League Baseball needs a cap or hard slotting in the draft or anything else to improve competitive balance.  The current system is actually pretty great (see here for how MLB compares with the other pro sports in terms of competitive balance), and MLB as a whole is doing exceedingly well.  In fact, as it turns out, at least one of the “poorer” clubs isn’t doing so poorly after all.

The real thanks goes to the Associated Press, who obtained financial data for the Pirates from 2007, 2008 and 2009.  Not surpringly (at least not to me), it shows the Pirates have turned a profit.  While losing.

The Pirates eighteen-season losing streak is the longest in professional sports history.  In the years covered by the financial statements, the Pirates received just slightly less than half its income from MLB in the form of revenue sharing, national television revenue, and MLB merchandise sales.  Meanwhile, their payroll lingered at the bottom in the Majors.  In fact, their 2010 payroll is only $2 million more than their 1992 payroll.   

Nevertheless, MLB officials say the Pirates are complying with revenue sharing rules.  I’m sure they probably are.  So, what’s wrong with the Pirates making money at being a perennial loser?

I’ve said it quite a few times…baseball is a business.  Owners face decisions about where best to allocate their resources, and the answer is not always club payroll.  Sometimes they have to placate investors.  Other times they have another business venture that produces a greater return for their dollar.  There are hundreds of reasons an owner might not choose to pour money into payroll, or into the club in general.  It’s his/her/its prerogative as the owner of a business. 

Perhaps the problem isn’t with the Pirates or even with baseball.  Maybe it’s simply a paradox created by the relationship between teams and fans.  Here’s what I’ve said before on this (and still whole-heartedly believe):

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.

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. 

So, what do you think about the information that has come to light with regards to the Pirates?  Are you mad?  Do you think MLB should find a way to keep owners of losing teams from making money?  Is revenue sharing a mistake?

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The Hard Slotting Debate Renewed

August 17th, 2010 | 1 comment »

As happens every year following the draft, the airwaves, newspapers and blogs have been filled today with demands for a hard slotting system in Major League Baseball.

If you’ve read my work for any appreciable amount of time (thank you), you know that I’m not in favor of most restraints on player salaries.  Accordingly, I’ve spent all day leaving comments on blogs and yelling at the radio voicing my disapproval of hard slotting in the MLB draft.

You can read my thoughts on why hard slotting is unnecessary here.  I don’t have much new to say, just want to bring it to the forefront of the blog.

I will say that it was interesting to see seventeen first-round picks unsigned yesterday morning.  In fact, thirteen of those guys were still unsigned thirty minutes before the deadline. 

One suggestion I’ve heard today is to move the signing deadline up.  One disadvantage of signing late is in missing playing time over the summer.  It hurts the player and the organization.  In that respect, I could support a deadline that falls earlier in the summer.  That being said, it won’t solve the last-minute-signee problem.  Whenever the deadline is, some players will hold out until the bitter end.

Does that mean we need hard slotting?  No.  To me, that is not a legitimate reason to restrain a person’s ability to earn money.  Why is the owners’ interest more important than the player’s?

What I’ve heard a lot today is that the system should be like the NBA.  That’s like comparing apples to oranges.  The NBA’s slotting system applies to first-year salary, not a signing bonus (which is the issue in MLB).  A first-round NBA pick will be playing on the pro team immediately.  The same is not true for a first-round MLB pick.  In fact, many first-round picks never make it to the Majors.  Some of them don’t get guaranteed contracts either, they only get that signing bonus.  You can’t simply take the NBA model and move it to MLB.

You can read the rest of my thoughts on my old post – from why the biggest myth surrounding hard slotting is that the MLBPA should support it to how the Pirates paid out the sixth highest amount in signing bonuses in 2009, despite being the “poorest” team in MLB according to Forbes.

**UPDATE: I’ve been following the debate on another blog, and I spotted this comment from Mike Darcy (who granted me permission to republish) that touches on a couple of points I hadn’t previously discussed:

Not only will MLB lose access to legitimate two-sports stars who will smartly decide to take more money from the other sports, but it will have a longer-range impact. There is already a great concern in MLB about the loss of black athletes to other sports. These kids already see the guaranteed money that top players get in other sports, as well as the endorsement contracts many sign before they even play a game, so this will further the perception (and it’s more than a perception) that if they want to make money they should stay away from baseball. This will cause a further drain, because at a much younger age these kids will elect simply not to play baseball in even more numbers than they are already. (And, yes, I know that MLB is more lucrative once a player makes the majors, but this means nothing to a twelve-year-old deciding on what sport he’ll play.)

Last, and probably of greater concern than what I’ve mentioned above, it will also remove the flexibility MLB teams have in luring talented players on the bubble. I’m not talking about legitimate two-sports stars (those will be lost since MLB teams won’t be able to compete with the other professional sports), I’m talking about other exceptional athletes debating what to do. One example is Austin Jackson, who the Yankees drafted in the 8th round. They gave a record-signing bonus to Jackson for an 8th-round pick (800K), because Jackson was going to Georgia Tech on a scholarship to play basketball, which is his favorite sport. I’m guessing by his height (6’3″) that Jackson wouldn’t have been good enough for the NBA, but he was heading off to college to dedicate a lot of his time playing basketball. Even if he eventually signed to play baseball (an unknown), he’d still be in the minors, as opposed to being a MLB player. And while, in this case, some people used to question if the Yankees had an advantage in signing Jackson because they have more money, in reality the Yankees overall don’t spend that much more money on their draft picks than any team. And in Jackson, it was Yankee money, but it’s the Detroit Tigers who are benefiting, since not only do they get Jackson without spending the upfront 800K, they also unloaded Granderson’s contract on the Yankees. The Tigers benefit. The Yankees benefit. MLB benefits here. Jackson benefits.

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New Website!

August 12th, 2010 | Comment »

I’m very excited to share my new website:

Finally, I have one place that organizes and links to everything I do online: this blog, my Forbes SportsMoney blog, my Comcast Sports Southeast blog, my fiction blog, etc.  There’s a live feed on the home page that shows my latest posts from SportsMoney on and from here.  My SportsNite segments, radio interviews and media kit are up, information on my book and other publications, and much more to come! 

A huge thanks goes out to Mara Lubell of Works Progress Design for my tastefully and beautifully designed website!  I spoke with a number of web designers, and I knew when I hung up the phone with Mara that she was the one I wanted to work with.  I couldn’t be happier with my website!

Watch soon for a new design here that will compliment the new design!

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I’m In Love!

August 4th, 2010 | Comment »

I usually don’t blog about this sort of thing here, but I couldn’t resist.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. Tonight, however, I may have changed my mind.

He was dark and handsome, although a little grey around the edges. He told me all about SEC football, from his pride for the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national championship to which players he thought were must-sees in 2010.
He invited me to listen in to coaches calls every Wednesday, and even rattled off the schedule. I marked a recurring appointment on my calendar for 10:20, Meyer Time.

His smell was familiar and soothing. I had to tear myself away to eat my dinner before it grew cold.

Follow the jump to see a picture I snapped. Continue reading »

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The Legend of Chipper Jones

August 3rd, 2010 | 8 comments »

I have a follower on Twitter who is a Braves fan in Venezuela.  He often asks me things about the Braves that your average fan in Atlanta does not.  Last night, he asked a question that inspired this post.  Here was what he tweeted:

Chipper Jones is one of my idols, he’s my fav player ever. What you think Chipper means to the Atlanta city?

I thought about it for awhile, and then replied that while he’s one of my favorites and should go down as one of the greatest Braves of all time, there are a lot of fans here who don’t care for Chipper Jones.  My twitter friend replied:

really? why?? I mean, Chipper is Braves’ Derek Jeter!

Unfortunately, no, he’s not.  Braves fans either love or hate Chipper, which I don’t think is the case for Jeter in New York.  There are two versions of the Chipper-hating.  The first comes from an affair he had with a Hooters waitress in the mid-90s that produced an illegitimate child.  You can read about it here (although you should note that after the article his wife did divorce him).  He then proceed to marry another woman (not the Hooters waitress who got pregnant, although some websites mistakenly identify her as his second wife) only a few months after divorcing his first wife.  It was basically two years of (unflattering) news stories on his love life.

When news of the affair broke, I was a teenage Braves fan.  I’d had a lifesize poster of Chipper in my bedroom, which I promptly tore down.  I was heartbroken that he was anything less than perfect, on or off the field. 

Over a decade later, the last thing I think about when I look at Chipper Jones is the affair of the illegitimate child.  For me, his personal life has nothing to do with what he’s accomplished on the field for the Braves.  He’s a future hall-of-famer and his #10 will be retired in the next year or two.  He’ll also go down as one of my favorite Braves.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a large contingent of fans who can only remember the times when Chipper has been injured.  The injuries have been numerous over the years, often coming at the least convenient times for the team.  However, I think this year should have taught everyone something.  In the past, if Chipper was out of the lineup, the odds of getting a win were slim.  Until this year.  We finally have a team full of people who step up when Chipper is out, including the bench players like Conrad and Infante.  For once, the burden isn’t on Chipper to be the sole producer. 

Injuries aside, Chipper Jones has put up first-ballot HOF numbers in his career.  He’s a career .305 hitter with a .405 OBP and a .535 SLG percentage.  His 434 career homeruns place him behind only Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray on the all-time list for switch hitters.  He was on the 1995 team that won the World Series, was MVP in 1999 and won the batting title in 2008. 

In addition, Chipper has taken hometown discounts to stay with the Braves and has gone to the team to restructure his contract when he thought they needed some extra cash to field a winning team.  He’s been unselfish and a leader in the clubhouse for many years. 

There’s no doubt in my mind he should be celebrated as one of the greatest Braves of all time.  Will he be though?  If you’ve ever listened to sports talk radio in Atlanta, you know there are a lot of haters out there.  I’ll let some of the Yankees fans who follow this blog comment on the treatment Jeter receives in New York, but I’m positive it’s better than the way a surprising number of Braves fans treat Chipper Jones.

Braves fans – what do you think?  Does Chipper deserve to be remembered as one of the greatest Braves of all time?  Why or why not?

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