May 30, 2002
I can't believe these guys get paid to write this crap

Two incredibly stupid columns by sportswriters about the prospect of a baseball strike. The first, by Kansas City writer Jason Whitlock, is probably better fodder for a hardcore libertarian than a squishy liberal like me, but I think even Ralph Nader would get a good horse laugh at howlers like this:

Critics of the owners say that if the game is in such bad financial shape, "Why don't the owners exercise some financial discipline?"

It's a legit question. But if you think about it, it's not all that hard to understand.

You ever needed to lose weight? Has the doctor ever looked at your cholesterol level and told you to cut out the six-egg, five-cheese omelet you enjoy each morning? Has a doctor ever taken out a restraining order forbidding you to come within 100 yards of Hayes Hamburgers after midnight?

OK, let's say you've never needed to lose weight. Have you ever tried to get out of a painful, destructive relationship with someone you're really attracted to? Has one last sleepover ever turned into 10 more months of dysfunction and an unwanted pregnancy?

You feel me?

Just because the owners lack the discipline to correct the problem doesn't mean that there's no problem.

Good Lord, man, we're talking about men who've made gazillions of dollars in other businesses. They did so by being smart, savvy, ruthless, and financially disciplined. How do you think the Board of Directors at MegaCorp would react if the CEO came to them and said "Look, I know we really need to control our costs, but I just can't seem to stop blowing millions on high-risk, low-yield ventures. Could you maybe see about getting some laws passed to make what I'm doing illegal?"

The owners' lack of discipline, which is really a lack of hiring the right general managers and letting them do the job as it is anything else, is the problem. The day that owners and their GMs realize that there are far better and cheaper alternatives to throwing ten million bucks at stiffs like Derek Bell is the day that baseball's financial problems (as cried about by Beelzebud and his cronies) disappear. Any business that needs to be rescued from its inability to hire the right people and make smart financial decisions is one that deserves to fail.

Whitlock finishes up by firmly supporting the owners' calls for a hard salary cap, "legitimate" revenue sharing, and an end to guaranteed contracts:

If the owners take the proper, hardcore negotiating position and my sportswriting colleagues properly explain what's at stake, I believe baseball fans will side with the owners, and there will be little fan hostility.

Well, if you're going to write about these issues without having the faintest clue about the facts behind them, then yeah, you could probably swing a bunch of gullible fans to your side. Perhaps if you actually did some research, like maybe reading The Baseball Prospectus once in awhile, you might learn a thing or two about baseball's finances. Why, just today, there's a great article about how the Angels, a team that got $9.5 million revenue-sharing dollars for being in the small market of Los Angeles, could redo its books to conform to Selig standards and really rake in the dough. And over on an obscure site called ESPN, there's this article which shows just how solvent most clubs really are.

Research, buddy. All the kids are doing it these days. Try it sometime and see.

A different kind of ignorance is displayed by St. Petersburg's Gary Shelton:

Look around. It is May, and how many teams have a realistic chance to win the World Series? Three? Four? How many teams have a chance to win next year's World Series? And the next? About the same number? And so it goes.

Now look at the NFL. How many teams have a chance to win the 2005 Super Bowl? Pretty much everyone except the Bengals.

That, more than anything, is what is wrong with baseball.

Joe Sheehan neatly demolished that argument in March:

The 16-game schedule, and 12-team playoffs, enhance the perception of competitive balance in the NFL.

An MLB team that is 60-80 after 87.5% of the schedule is completed is playing the kids and looking towards next year. An NFL team that is 6-8 after 87.5% of the schedule is completed is often a two-game winning streak from the wild card.

This is perhaps the biggest factor in the way the two sports are perceived. People think of the NFL as having great races in which everyone has a chance, but there's simply a limit as to how much separation you can create in 15 weeks. If MLB played a 16-game season, you'd not only have tremendous races, but a lot more turnover. Add in six playoff spots per league, which lowers the bar for success, and you have a huge pileup between 9-7 and 7-9 that looks like a "great race," but is actually just a function of structure.

I canít emphasize this enough: NFL competitive balance is as much perception as it is reality. Expecting MLB, with 162 games and one wild-card spot, to shape itself to meet the perception of another league is a bad idea

Another thing to keep in mind is that NFL teams get a lighter schedule, as well as higher draft picks, for finishing with losing records. They call it parity, and a lot of people call it boring. But hey, they have a salary cap, so they must be doing something right.

Shelton goes on to display his ignorance of baseball:

Those who do care, however, always seem to have the same question when they ask about the Rays. It's a question asked with pained eyes and a pleading voice.

"Is there any hope?"

Sure, if you want to be the Minnesota Twins.

Sure, if you want to be the Oakland A's.

Sure, if you want to trade in fifth place for, say, a nice little season where you finish third.
But if you're talking about winning the World Series? About leveling the playing field with the Yankees? About reaching the World Series? No, there isn't a lot of hope.

What, exactly, are you saying here, Gary? Last I checked, the A's were in the playoffs the last two years, and were it not for Terence Long losing a fly ball in the sun, would have battled the small-market Mariners for the 2001 pennant. The Twins were in first place most of the year last year and are in first place now. They have at least as good a chance of winning the AL Central as the White Sox, another "small market" team even if they are from Chicago. And the lesson of the 1987 Twins and 1997 Marlins is certainly that once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen.

The Rays are the same as the Royals, who are the same as the Tigers, who are the same as the Padres, who are the same as the Pirates, who are the same as the rest of baseball's great unwashed. None of them has a chance. Either.

Anyone who thinks that a well-run organization like the Padres, which is maybe a year away from being a serious force in the NL West, is the same as the Devil Rays and the Royals, two of the worst-run franchises in the league, is smoking crack. Even the Pirates are starting to head in the right direction, now that they've dumped Cam Bonifay. Don't be shocked if the 2003 Pirates pull a surprise like the 2001 Twins did.

People seem to have grown weary of it. Attendance is down 5 percent. Remember those spanking new ballparks that were supposed to be the place to be? People aren't going there, either. Pittsburgh built a new park, and its attendance is down 33 percent, according to Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal. In Milwaukee, where another new park opened last year, attendance is down 27 percent. It's down 25 percent with the Rangers and their star-studded lineup, for goodness' sakes.

Attendance is down in these cities because the teams have not been successful. Fans like winners. The novelty of a new stadium wears off if the team inhabiting it sucks. Surely a Devil Rays fan can grok that.

Oh, and the Rangers' "star-studded lineup" includes legit All-Star A-Rod, the 38-year-old (albeit still productive) Rafael Palmeiro, the rehabbing Juan Gonzalez, career scrub Todd Greene filling in for the aging Ivan Rodriguez, overacheiving 33-year-old Herb Perry, and four guys with season and career OPS in the .700 range. In Hollywood terms, that's star-studded the way a Love Boat reunion movie is.

I can't believe these guys actually get paid for this. Look, if you want to get more mad at the players for striking than the owners for their perfidy and cluelessness, go right ahead. The players are more visible, and Lord knows plenty of them deserve our scorn. But for the love of Bart Giamatti, please understand the issues before you spout nonsense about finances and attendance and whatnot. Don't make me have to mock you, too.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 30, 2002 to Baseball