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You have a strange definition of “only”, Bud

Or maybe it’s your definition of “logical”, I’m not sure.

But while first-year manager Bo Porter continues to fire up his players and general manager Jeff Luhnow oversees year one of a complete organizational overhaul, many longtime Astros fans continue to criticize the club’s impending American League debut.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday he fully understands fans’ complaints and sympathizes with their pro-National League pull. But Selig told the Houston Chronicle the only “logical choice” for baseball was to relocate the Astros to the AL, and he believes fans won’t question the move five years from now.

“The American League is very attractive,” said the 78-year-old Selig, who plans to retire Dec. 31, 2014. “We had a division number of six (teams) in the National League Central. And all the National League clubs had complained to me for a long time: ‘Commissioner, this isn’t fair. The other (divisions) are either five, and one division only has four.’ … And it made no sense.”

[…]

Selig said the primary reason for the Astros’ AL relocation came down to simple geography. With St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were the odd team out. According to the commissioner, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds have “tremendous” rivalries. The Astros did not, he said, because of their isolation.

“The teams left in the National League Central all had a geographical (base) – there was a relationship. Houston was sitting down there; there was no relationship,” said Selig, who stressed he made the decision in the best long-term interests of baseball. “And I understand they’ve been in the National League for a long time, and I’m sympathetic to that. But we had to move a team, and … the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move. … I didn’t have an alternative.”

I can think of at least three reasonable alternatives, none of which would have necessitated the need for all-season interleague play, as we will now have with an odd number of teams in each league. Note that the Cincinnati Reds get their traditional rival the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as their Opening Day opponent. Baseball could have done any of the following:

1. Left things as they are. The divisions have been unbalanced since they were created in 1994, with the NL Central having a sixth team since 1998. Why did we hear so little about how “unfair” this was until there arose an opportunity to impose a condition on a somewhat sketchy new buyer? Every team in the NL Central has won the division at least once since 1995 with the exception of the pathetic Pirates, and the number of teams in the division is the least of their issues. I don’t buy the premise that there was a problem that needed to be solved.

2. Expand to 32 teams and go to four four-team divisions in each league. This would solve the balancing issue, and would make scheduling easier to boot. You could use it as an impetus to get rid of that silly interleague play altogether, since all that really does is vary each teams’ strength of schedule, which is a definite competitive liability for some teams each year, and make rainouts harder to make up. There’s plenty of money in baseball these days – the biggest problem is bottom-feeding owners – and no sign of that reversing course any time soon. I’d nominate Montreal as one expansion location, as that might help MLB make up for the grievous sin it committed against them a decade ago; I don’t have a clear favorite for a second franchise location, but there are plenty of potential sites. I can understand why the owners might not want to do this, but it’s surely a logical possibility.

3. Use divisions for scheduling purposes only and ditch them for playoff seeding. This is basically what the NBA does, where the top eight teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and winning your division carries no special benefit. MLB could simply take the four teams with the best record – or the top five, with #4 and #5 playing that one-game death match as they do now for the right to advance – and be done with it. This deals with the “unbalanced division” problem and almost certainly ensures that a team with a losing record cannot make the playoffs. It can’t dilute the concept of a “pennant race” any more than the three-division/wild card setup already has.

So there you have it, three logical alternatives to shifting (or shafting, depending on your perspective), the Astros. Maybe the league switch was the “best” solution by whatever criteria Selig and MLB had, and maybe it was the only solution that could get sufficient political support to actually happen. But it sure wasn’t the only logical solution. So happy Opening Day, at least for those of you who can see it.

How cursed is Houston as a sports city?

What curse?

So another Super Bowl is history, and as you might have noticed the Houston Texans were not be playing in the game. This continues an unbroken streak of Houston football teams not making it to the Super Bowl, some in particularly heartbreaking fashion. The Astros have never won a World Series, having only won one pennant in fifty-plus years of existence. Were it not for two NBA titles by the Rockets in the 90s, the city of Houston would be completely championship-free for the major sports. You may be wondering how Houston compares to other big league sports cities in this department. I was, so I did a little research to find out. I limited myself to the last 40 years, mostly because ancient history is only of so much comfort to most fans. (For what it’s worth, Bill Simmons uses a 35-year period for assessing true wretchedness.) With that in mind, here’s what I found. Let’s start with the cities that have had nothing to celebrate in that time span.

Cleveland

Franchises – Browns (two versions, NFL); Indians (MLB); Cavaliers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Buffalo

Franchises – Bills (NFL); Sabres (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

San Diego

Franchises – Chargers (NFL); Padres (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 0

Seattle

Franchises – Seahawks (NFL); Mariners (MLB)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – SuperSonics (NBA), 1979

Any discussion of cursed sports cities has to start with Cleveland. Their last title of any kind was a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship by the Browns in 1964. Since then, they’ve had The Drive, The Fumble, the relocation of their team to another city where it then went on to win a Super Bowl a few years later plus another this year, and all that is before we discuss the Indians (last World Series win 1948) or the Cavaliers. See here, here, here, and here for more. Really, there’s no question about it. No other city is in Cleveland’s class when it comes to sheer sports misery.

Buffalo is first runnerup, though I doubt anyone in Houston will offer much sympathy to them. Besides the Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls, not to mention the Music City Miracle, the Sabres are oh-for-two in Stanley Cup finals, with the most recent loss being as controversial as it was gut-wrenching for their fans. They’re not quite in Cleveland territory, but they’re closer than anyone else. San Diego has lost two World Series, both times getting swept by teams of the ages (1984 Tigers and 1998 Yankees), and one Super Bowl, but it’s hard to think of anyone in San Diego as being cursed. Seattle managed to never win a pennant despite fielding teams that featured as many as four future Hall of Famers plus Jay Buhner; I include them here since their one title was won by a franchise that has since relocated.

And here are the teams that have won one or two titles, thus putting themselves in a similar class as Houston:

Atlanta

Franchises – Braves (MLB); Falcons (NFL); Hawks (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Braves, 1995

Phoenix

Franchises – Cardinals (NFL); Suns (NBA); Diamondbacks (MLB); Coyotes (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Diamondbacks, 2001

Kansas City

Franchises – Royals (MLB); Chiefs (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Royals, 1985

Indianapolis

Franchises – Colts (NFL); Pacers (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Colts, 2007

New Orleans

Franchises – Saints (NFL); Pelicans (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 1 – Saints, 2010

Minneapolis

Franchises – Twins (MLB); Vikings (NFL); Timberwolves (NBA); Wild (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Twins, 1987 and 1991

Tampa

Franchises – Rays (MLB); Buccaneers (NFL); Lightning (NHL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Buccaneers, 2003, and Lightning, 2004

Milwaukee

Franchises – Bucks (NBA); Brewers (MLB); Green Bay Packers (NFL)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Packers, 1997 and 2011

Houston

Franchises – Astros (MLB); Texans (NFL); Rockets (NBA)

Championships in the last 40 years: 2 – Rockets, 1994 and 1995

Out of that group, I’d probably rank Minneapolis and Kansas City as more cursed than Houston. The Vikings are also 0-4 in Super Bowls, with several other heartbreaking playoff losses, the Twins can’t get past the Yankees, the North Stars won the Stanley Cup after relocating to Dallas, and the Timberwolves watched Kevin Garnett win two NBA titles with the Celtics. Both Kansas City teams have been poorly run for years, though the Royals are a little better these days. New Orleans would have had a decent claim to superior cursedness before their Super Bowl win; as long as Drew Brees can play at his level, they’ll have a chance. The other cities for the most part don’t inspire much sympathy. Atlanta may have the hapless Hawks and the feckless Falcons, but they also had Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Indianapolis replaced Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck and rebuilt a contender after one season. Tampa and Phoenix haven’t been big league long enough to inspire real misery. No city that roots for the Packers can truly be cursed.

So, putting it all together, I’d probably rank Houston as the sixth most cursed city, following Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I see it. How would you rank the losers?

The Hall of Fame and guilt by association

John Royal hits on one of the least admirable traits of Hall of Fame voters.

There are some voters out there once again claiming that Jeff Bagwell used ‘roids, and these same folks are claiming that Craig Biggio used them as well. How do they reconcile these statements with the truth that there’s no evidence that either cheated?

They use the eye test and the guilt by association standards. So because Bagwell bulked up and started hitting homers. He’s guilty. And while Biggio didn’t really bulk up, his power numbers also spiked; ipso facto, they both used PEDs. They were also teammates with Ken Caminiti, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens, thus they must have used steroids.

This extreme stupidity has so far kept Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame, and could possibly keep Biggio out this year. And while this line of thinking is moronic, it’s kind of interesting to see if it’s going to keep being applied over the next several years, and if it is applied, will it be applied to all eligible players.

Take next year’s ballot. Among those on the ballot will be Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, two of the best pitchers of the ’90s — they’re also acknowledged as two of the best ever. There have never been any allegations of either of these two taking steroids. Just as there was no suspicion on Biggio while he played. But what makes Maddux and Glavine any different than Biggio?

Both Maddux and Glavine played on teams with Ken Caminiti, Gary Sheffield, and David Justice, who used steroids. Sure, neither Maddux or Glavine looked like they used steroids, but by the unwritten rules being established, neither Maddux or Glavine should be inducted into the Hall of Fame because they are steroid users. And that same argument should apply in about five years when Chipper Jones appears on the ballot.

And if Craig Biggio is supposed to have used steroids because he played with Caminiti, Clemens, and Pettitte, then watching the fools explain why they won’t apply the rule to Derek Jeter when he’s up for induction is going to be like watching a train wreck.

Let’s look at the list of superstar PED users Jeter has been teammates with: Clemens, Pettitte, Justice, Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch, and the Johnny Appleseed of steroids, Jose Canseco. If the excuse for Biggio is guilt by association, then it must be a without a doubt fact that Jeter juiced, and as such, he can’t go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But the national media and the New York baseball writers will have the vapors if anybody attempts to besmirch the sainted Jeter like this.

I have heard the Bagwell/steroids “accusations”, though I don’t know how much effect that has had on his enshrinement prospects. Honestly, there are a lot of baseball writers out there who just flat don’t get how good Bagwell was, and how much his stats were depressed by the Astrodome early on in his career. The type of voter who never votes for anyone in his first year of eligibility will probably be enough to keep Biggio out this year, but if the same steroids silliness gets attached to his name, who knows what could happen after that. As if I needed another reason to hold this process in contempt.

RIP, Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, whom Red Barber said was “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson”, has died at the age of 95.

Marvin Miller

It is impossible to overstate Miller’s impact on Major League Baseball. While some — including Hall of Fame voters — have long given Miller short shrift (or piled on utter disdain), baseball today cannot be understood without understanding Marvin Miller’s contributions. He was a truly transformative figure who, after Jackie Robinson, did more to correct the excesses and injustices delivered onto players by baseball’s ruling class than anyone.

When Miller took over as the head of the MLBPA in 1966 there was no free agency. Players were told by ownership what they would make the following year and if they didn’t like it, tough. They couldn’t switch teams. They couldn’t do what any other worker can do and shop their services elsewhere. They were stuck thanks to baseball’s reserve clause and the ridiculous Supreme Court decision which exempted baseball and its owners from the antitrust laws.

Miller took all of that on and he won. He started small, negotiating the union’s first collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, which raised the game’s minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000. In 1970 he got the owners to agree to arbitration for the first time. In 1970 Curt Flood, with Miller’s support and guidance, challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption — and the dreaded reserve clause, which kept players tied to one team against their wishes — in the courts. Flood ultimately lost that case in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision. The decision did not, however, blunt Miller’s resolve, and he took his fight to other forums.

In 1974 he exploited a loophole — and an oversight by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley — to get Catfish Hunter free agency and baseball’s first $1 million contract. Up next: the whole enchilada. In 1974, he got Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the season without contracts, placing them in cross-hairs of the reserve clause and giving them standing to fight the provision in arbitration. In 1975 they won, with the Seitz Decision ushering in the age of free agency. Baseball players’ indentured servitude was over.

In all Miller led the union through three work stoppages: two short ones — 1972 and in spring training 1980 — and then the long, season-altering strike in 1981. In all three stoppages, the union prevailed. Overall during his tenure the average players’ salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000 a year and their working conditions improved dramatically. It is no understatement to say that Miller turned the MLBPA into the most effective and successful labor union in the United States. Not just in sports: in the entire United States.

The New York Times has a thorough obit that you should read as well. Truly, Miller was one of the giants of the game, who changed it for the better in a profound way. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a monument to pettiness and spite, but he took it in stride. Rest in peace, Marvin Miller.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann remembers Marvin Miller.

Why I hold the Hall of Fame voting process in contempt

This story has the best distillation of why the Baseball Writers Association of America should have had the Hall of Fame voting privilege taken away from them years ago.

Former BBWAA president Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer didn’t need a jury to help him with his decision.

“I wasn’t going to vote for him anyway, so this won’t affect it,” said Hoynes, who is in his 30th year covering the majors. “I just think he’s guilty. I don’t care what the court said. I think he did it. I think he knew he was cheating, and I’m not voting for him.”

He doesn’t need any facts. He knows what the truth is, and that’s good enough. To steal from William F. Buckley, I’d rather have the Hall of Fame decisions made by the first thousand people in the Houston telephone book than these arrogant ignoramuses.

Even if you do truly believe that Roger Clemens cheated and got away with it, the simple fact remains that he would not be the first cheater, admitted or not, the be enshrined. Whitey Ford wrote at length in his co-memoir with Mickey Mantle about the various ways in which he doctored the baseball. Gaylord Perry’s spitballing was the worst kept and most openly joked about secret in the game. (Anecdote reported by Thomas Boswell: Among the substances Perry allegedly used to lube the ball was Vicks Vap-O-Rub. This led Billy Martin, who might have been managing the Tigers at the time, to ask the home plate umpire to “smell the ball, please”, to which the ump replied “Billy, I have allergies and a deviated septum”, leading Martin to fume “Great, I have an ump who can’t see OR smell!”) Both are members in good standing in Cooperstown, and last I checked people like Paul Hoynes – who would have been a BBWAA member when Perry was on the ballot – have never uttered a peep of protest about that. Because that kind of cheating is totally different than this kind of cheating.

My way of looking at it is that if cheating is all it took to be a Hall of Famer, everyone would cheat and everyone would be better than they would be otherwise. It turns out that it’s hard to cheat successfully and actually gain an advantage from doing so. Doctored baseballs are hard to control. Way more scrubs than stars have tested positive for steroids, mostly in the minors. Corked bats don’t actually help you hit a ball farther. You can’t cheat your way to the top in baseball. I don’t know why that’s so hard to accept.

Clemens cleared

The saga ends.

A federal jury today acquitted baseball superstar Roger Clemens on charges of lying to Congress about the use of performance enhancing drugs in a stinging rebuke to a four-year campaign by legislators and federal prosecutors to turn the legendary pitcher into a cautionary icon for baseball’s doping scandal.

The 49-year-old Houstonian, winner of seven Cy Young Awards for pitching excellence during a 24-season career, mounted a successful multimillion dollar defense led by famed Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin to defeat six felony charges with maximum cumulative penalties of up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

The charges stemmed from Clemens’ sworn testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2008 where the retired veteran of four major league baseball teams vehemently denied receiving injections of anabolic steroids or human growth hormone from long-time strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee between 1998 and 2001.

The committee, accepting McNamee’s version of events, referred Clemens’ contradictory testimony to the Justice Department for a perjury investigation.

The protracted inquiry involved 93 federal agents and four assistant U.S. attorneys interviewing 179 people at 68 locations to collect evidence that led to the charges and ten weeks of legal proceedings featuring 46 witnesses.

All for nothing, as it turns out. Can we please now consign the whole “steroid era” thing to the past and move on? I’d appreciate it. Allen Barra has more.

Calling a ball a ball and a strike a strike

Bobby Valentine says that’s the way he wants it.

A day after being ejected, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was still steamed about umpiring, and said technology should be used to eliminate human error in calling balls and strikes.

“I want a ball called a ball and a strike called a strike. Figure out how to do it,” Valentine said before his team began a series Monday at Miami.

Valentine, upset with plate ump Al Porter, launched a tirade with two outs in the ninth inning of Sunday’s loss to Washington. The Red Sox dropped all three games in the series, and Valentine said his frustration about the way pitches were called built through the weekend.

But he said he has long been in favor of using technology to get such calls right. Covering the Little League World Series as a network announcer convinced Valentine change was needed.

“It was the most criminal thing I ever saw,” he said. “I wanted to cry when a kid, in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and his team down by one run, was called out on a strike three on a pitch that was six inches outside. He couldn’t reach it with his bat. I cried for him. That kid is scarred for life playing our game by an injustice.

“And then someone says the most ridiculous words that I ever hear — ‘But we like the human factor.’ It’s criminal that we allow our game to scar a young person like that. And then it continues. I think in 2012 it should not be part of the process.”

Valentine declined to propose a specific solution, but said the technology exists to improve the accuracy of calling pitches. He said he doesn’t fault umpires, because he believes it’s impossible to see the final few feet of a pitch traveling 90 mph and sometimes breaking sharply.

I share Valentine’s feelings about “the human factor”, which stopped being charming once it became undeniable how random it is. The technology to do this any better than the umpires isn’t there yet. When you see the “K Zone” on ESPN or whatever, you’re not seeing the whole picture, because the strike zone by definition is three-dimensional. If any part of the ball passes over any part of the plate at the right height, it’s a strike. It’s just a matter of time and having enough cameras in the right places to make it feasible. The question is whether the powers that be, and that very much includes the umpires themselves, want to see this happen. Cameras are only being used in a very limited way right now, for home run calls, so there’s a long way to go before the idea of technology supplementing, or perhaps supplanting, human arbiters takes hold. I think it’s inevitable, but I believe it’s at least a decade, if not a generation, away.

Retire #50!

I was enjoying this story about JR Richard, was was inducted into the Astros Walk of Fame at Minute Maid on Friday night, until I got to these paragraphs:

The Astros have been more liberal than most teams in retiring numbers, and the list of pitchers so honored includes Larry Dierker, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and a pair who died prematurely in Don Wilson and Jim Umbricht.

Richard hopes his No. 50, which has been given to nine players and now bullpen coach Craig Bjornson since Richard retired, will be next.

“When it happens, it happens, but I would like it to happen as soon as possible,” Richard said. “And the reason why I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn is because when you look at the statistics, my number should have been the first one retired.”

Team president George Postolos said in an email Thursday the one embedded in Texas Avenue is the only honor on the table right now.

“For this season, we are going to keep the focus on the Walk of Fame and the celebration of our 50th anniversary, and we are very pleased with how the program has worked so far,” Postolos wrote.

He added he is pleased with Richard’s work at the Astros’ Urban Youth Academy and other charity events.

Richard hopes to work in a more permanent role for the Astros and said he had brief conversations with the new regime upon its arrival but nothing has materialized.

“I ask. I’m not to the point of begging,” he said, adding that his goal is to “enhance the younger ballplayers or whatever the case may be. To be able to fit in and hold a part and a position. … Not just to be there.”

I had to do a doublecheck, but sure enough Richard’s #50 is not one of the Astros’ retired uniform numbers; that list will likely be augmented by Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt at some point down the line. My mind absolutely boggled at the thought that Richard had not yet been so honored. It’s not just that he was a very good pitcher for a five year stretch from 1976 to 1980, it’s also the tragedy of what might have been. It’s not hard to imagine him following the path of Randy Johnson, another tall, dominant, late-blooming flamethrower who became an elite hurler after gaining better control over his pitches, and finishing a Hall of Fame caliber career a decade later with 250+ wins and 3500+ strikeouts. (It’s also not hard to imagine arm trouble finishing him off by the time he was 33 – he’d thrown a whole lot of innings over those five seasons – or given his rocky relationship with team management a trade or free-agent departure to a stadium that wasn’t as pitcher-friendly as the Dome.) But sometimes these things are about more than just the numbers. Richard was a one of a kind pitcher, with a unique and compelling life story following the stroke that ended his career and nearly killed him. He’s an indelible part of Astros history. They should fully embrace that. John Royal, who I must say is wrong about Jimmy Wynn, an excellent and vastly underrated hitter whose numbers were completely obscured by the hitters graveyard and deadball era he played in, agrees.

More replay for MLB, please

They’re thinking about it, but don’t rush them.

Major League Baseball currently is exploring the expansion of instant replay with the World Umpires Association, and no timetable has been specified for any adjustments to the current policy.

The owners and the MLB Players Association agreed in collective bargaining last year for a new Basic Agreement that replay could be expanded to be used on fair-foul calls down the lines and balls deemed trapped by fielders. Any formal expansion of replay requires collaboration between owners, players and umpires. Replay is currently used only to determine the legitimacy of home runs — whether the ball was fair or foul and whether the ball was over the fence.

“I’ve had very, very little pressure from people who want to do more,” Commissioner Bud Selig told a small group at a sport and society conference at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

The umpires union has told MLB officials in recent meetings that a significant assessment of options needs to take place if replay is to be changed. Right now, any possible expansion would not occur until next season at the earliest.

Want to know why this is needed? Here’s one reason:

This particularly egregious example of a blown call, which happened in April, has been widely discussed around the Internet. Arguably, instant replay isn’t really needed for stuff like this. I mean, at least one other umpire must have seen what everybody else in the stadium saw on that play. If there were some way for another umpire to step in and say “that call was wrong”, either on his own or via an appeal from one of the teams, replay would be superfluous in a case like this. But there is no way to challenge a call in baseball as you can in football, so this sort of thing is breezily dismissed by the so-called purists as “the human element” instead of decried as the wholly avoidable travesty that it is. But hey, as various people have pointed out, at least this terrible call didn’t ruin a perfect game or change the outcome of a World Series.

The bottom line is this: Baseball games should be decided by the players. Sure, there will always be external factors that cannot be controlled – wind, weather, bad hops, etc. But bad umpiring needn’t be one of those factors. Whether or not technology is part of that solution, the culture has to change. I don’t see any reason why that can’t start now.

No, San Antonio will not be getting an MLB team any time soon

You are right to be skeptical.

Nothing wrong with the team they have now

It’s a development that has become as predictable as yellow pollen in the spring. A Major League Baseball franchise, struggling financially, seeks a new stadium deal, a new location, a new life.

In the midst of resulting contention, options are explored. Such as relocating to another area.

San Antonio, for instance.

These days, the city has again cropped up in reports and online forums as a suggested target for the Oakland Athletics, frustrated in a bid to move to nearby San Jose, Calif., or the Tampa Bay Rays, fighting to draw meaningful crowds over the past three seasons despite superb results.

“If, however, the smoke leads to fire, then one must ask: What will become of the A’s?” a CBSSportsline.com blogger offered last month. “Will we once again be subjected to half-serious rumors of contraction? Are the Portland/Las Vegas/San Antonio/Charlotte/New Jersey/Mexico City A’s in our future? Will the status remain quo?”

It’s familiar distant speculation about baseball, the kind of saber-rattling to which San Antonio sports fans have become accustomed over the past decade.

After all, the city was mentioned in various levels of conjecture as a possible destination for the Montreal Expos as early as 2003, the Florida Marlins in 2006 and Seattle Mariners in 2008.

It all amounted to a mound of beans, and these latest wild pitches will, too.

The powers that be in San Antonio and Bexar County are equally skeptical, as they should be. The simple fact is that there aren’t enough people in the San Antonio urban area or MSA for this to be worthwhile. It’s basic math – look at the numbers:

MSA 2010 Pop ================================================== San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA MSA 4,335,391 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL MSA 2,783,243 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX MSA 2,142,508 Urban Area 2010 Pop ================================================== San Francisco-Oakland, CA 3,228,605 Tampa-Saint Petersburg, FL 2,062,339 San Antonio, TX 1,327,554

In each case, fewer people than Tampa, and less than half of the two-team San Francisco/Oakland area. What’s the value proposition for a franchise owner to move to San Antonio? Some day maybe, but not now. That’s really all there is to this.

Two wild cards are one too many

I don’t care for this.

Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format to 10 teams Friday, adding a second wild card in each league.

The decision establishes a new one-game, wild-card round in each league between the teams with the best records who are not division winners, meaning a third-place team could win the World Series.

This is the only change in baseball’s playoff structure since the 1995 season, when wild-card teams were first added.

“This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Actually, Joe Sheehan and Scott Lucas have shown scenarios in which the new playoff structure would actually put a division winner at a disadvantage. Indeed, if this had been in effect last year the Red Sox would have benefitted at the expense of either the Rays or the Yankees, as both of them would have had to go all out to win the division and avoid the play-in game while the Sox, who were comfortably ahead of their competition for the #5 spot could have rested the roster and gotten their ace ready for the game. Add in the one-year provision of the team with the home “advantage” playing the first two games on the road, and the 2012 playoffs may not be the bonanza being envisioned.

I don’t care for Sheehan’s solution – contract two teams and go back to two divisions per league. If it were up to me, I’d expand by two teams and have four four-team divisions per league a la the NFL. You could even consider an NFL-style playoff structure, with two wild cards and the top two teams getting byes. Or you could just go with the four division winners. I understand Sheehan’s appreciation of pennant races, but once the divisions were introduced you allowed for the possibility of an inferior team winning the pennant while a better team goes home without getting a chance to play. It’s a tradeoff, and you have to decide whether it’s better to force good teams to miss out or to let mediocre but lucky teams benefit. Personally, I think what they had before this change was fine, and if they kept it as is, with the Astros remaining in the NL, it would be better. I don’t necessarily oppose the idea of expanding the playoffs, I just don’t think MLB is doing it in a smart way. I’m willing to bet they’ll figure that out and tweak things further in the coming years.

Why salary caps suck

In a sane world, the Houston Texans would not have to worry about whether they have or can free up the cap space to re-sign Mario Williams as well as whichever else of their free agents they would like to retain. They would be free to negotiate with him and try to work a deal that makes sense for both sides, with the financial limitations on them being their valuation of Williams and their own cash flow. But NFL owners decided long ago that they couldn’t trust themselves to make sensible, rational decisions about payroll, so they successfully bargained for a salary cap with the NFLPA. The angst over Williams, the Texans’s former #1 overall pick, is the direct result and comes at the inopportune time when the franchise finally has all the pieces it needs to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl, but now may be forced to discard some of those pieces because they have to under the cap. There’s no level on which this makes sense.

You can also see the effect of cap madness in the fact that the Rockets cut Jeremy Lin in the preseason; specifically, in the reasons why they dumped him instead of one of their other point guards.

Would Linsanity have taken hold in Houston? That is doubtful, but had that trade gone through, my guess is that in short order Lin would have shot past current third-string point guard Jonny Flynn on the depth chart. He played better than Flynn and at least as well as Dragic in camp practices.

Head coach Kevin McHale wouldn’t have hesitated to play Lin with the second unit. We might even have had Sage Rosenfels-like loyalists calling for the personable whirlwind of a player to start ahead of Kyle Lowry. But when it was time to make the decision, Flynn’s expiring contract at $3.4 million for this season was too valuable a commodity.

Emphasis mine. Jonny Flynn has played a total of 81 minutes for the Rockets over seven games, scoring 22 points. That’s less than Lin’s scoring average so far. The sole reason Flynn has value to the team is that when he departs via trade or the end of his contract after the season, the Rockets will have an extra $3.4 million in cap space, with which they can continue their pursuit of a game-changing free agent. Now, the Rockets may have passed on Lin regardless, and even if they had kept him he might be basically occupying Flynn’s space on the bench, getting only garbage-time minutes. But the fact that a player’s contract is more valuable to a team than an actual player who might be superior, that’s just screwed up. This is a ship that has long since sailed in both leagues, but these are the kinds of things I think about whenever I hear someone advocate a salary cap for Major League Baseball. While I admit I can see the advantage from an owner’s perspective, I have no idea why any fan would want their team to be forced to operate under those conditions.

No more Not-Stros

Glad we got that settled.

New owner Jim Crane ended a week of speculation and rare attention on a national level and anticipated backlash among Houstonians, saying he would not change the name of the club – a possibility he floated last week.

“You asked for change and we added several fan friendly initiatives last week and we hope you like them,” Crane said in a video message to season ticket holders. “We will continue to listen, and to look for additional ways to improve on and off the field.

“One thing that we are not going to change is the name. We received strong feedback and consensus among season ticket holders and many fans, and we will not change the name Astros. The Houston Astros are here to stay.”

Crane said he would consider the franchise’s second name change last Monday at a press conference to announce lower ticket prices and the end of the ban on outside food at Minute Maid Park.

You can watch the video here. I had said this wouldn’t go over well, and an unscientific Chron poll confirmed that fans were strongly against the idea. Of course, if the real idea was to remind people that they did still care about the Astros, then mission accomplished. Just don’t do it again, OK?

MLB labor deal calls for more use of replay

This overview of what’s in the proposed collective bargaining agreement for Major League Baseball has the following interesting tidbit:

MLB wants to expand replay to include fair-or-foul calls, “whether a fly ball or line drive was trapped” and fan interference all around the ballpark. Umpires still must give their approval and it’s uncertain whether the extra replay will be in place by Opening Day.

As you know, I approve of video reviews where possible to ensure a correct call was made. The “human element” should be about the players, not about the possibility of an egregious, uncorrectable error from an arbitrator. I just hope MLB gives some thought about how to resolve these situations when a call needs to be reversed. It’s usually easy enough to handle when the call should have been “foul ball” or “proper catch”, but how do you restore equity when a ball that was declared foul should have been called fair, or when a catch should have been a trap? It’s hard to know what “should” have happened when the action comes to a premature halt. Obviously, there will need to be a certain amount of umpire discretion, and some outcomes will be less than fully satisfactory though still better than they would have been otherwise. Expect a few bugs in the system, and be willing to go back and make refinements as needed.

NBA lockout to end

Glad to hear it.

The NBA will be back on Christmas Day, pending approval of a tentative settlement of a lengthy, combustible lockout that came closer than ever before in league history to swallowing an entire season.

A 66-game schedule beginning with a triple-header — likely the originally intended season openers centered around a Finals rematch between Miami and Dallas — will begin Dec. 25 once the agreement is finalized, vetted by an army of attorneys and approved by the players and owners.

“We expect our labor relations committee to endorse this deal, this tentative agreement, and we expect our Board of Governors, at a meeting we will call after that, to endorse the deal,” commissioner David Stern said Saturday at a 3:40 a.m. ET news conference that followed a 15-hour negotiating session at a Manhattan law firm. “And we expect that a collective bargaining agreement will arise out of this deal as well.”

Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, which will be reconstituted as a union after disbanding Nov. 14 and taking its fight to the federal courts, estimated that the process — including a vote by the union membership — could be accomplished in three days to a week.

“I think it was the ability of the parties to decide it was necessary to compromise and to try to put this thing back together some kind of way and to be able to put an end to the litigation and everything it entails,” Hunter said. “And we just thought that rather than try to pursue this in court, it was in both of our interests to try to reach a resolution.”

Both sides will meet with their attorneys later Saturday and begin the process of withdrawing the lawsuits each has filed against the other. After convening at least twice by phone during the negotiations Friday, the owners’ labor relations committee will be briefed on the details of the agreement Saturday. At the same time, details of the broad agreement will be refined and B-list issues resolved, leading to a frenzied run-up to a shortened free-agency period — which could be so compressed it may coincide with the estimated start of training camp on Dec. 9.

“We’re confident that once we present it, [the players] will support it,” Hunter said.

Players gave ground on their share of revenue, which everyone expected, but apparently did a little better in the end than what had been offered previously. I think the key to this lies in this winners and losers compilation from ESPN:

LOSERS: The middle class

As owners and the league have spent a year obsessing about player costs, one clear factor has emerged: The poor-value contracts are the big deals for middling players. With or without stiff taxes, you can expect more teams to catch on to the idea of paying for stars and filling in the rest of the roster cheaply.

WINNER: The D-League

As more teams seek bargain players, more teams will invest effort in getting the most out of the NBA’s little brother.

LOSERS: Superstars

They have long made far less than they are worth, and that’s not going to change now.

NBA owners are going to need to learn something that MLB owners have finally started to understand: It’s not paying for stars that kills you. Star players by definition can’t be overpaid because they can’t be replaced. Indeed, star players are often underpaid by the metric of what they could be earning. It’s overpaying for replaceable players that kills you. Too many NBA teams are comprised of fungible talent locked into multi-year multi-million dollar deals, and that’s not sustainable. The adjustment to more of a stars-and-scrubs market is going to be painful, but it was inevitable. I’m just glad it didn’t take a fully lost season to start the process.

Sports Authority will not impede Astros move to AL

One of the odd side stories that came out after MLB officially approved the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane was this contention by attorney Kevin W. Yankowsky of Fulbright & Jaworski that the Astros’ lease at Minute Maid Park required them to be in the National League. At the time, Sports Authority Chair J. Kent Friedman said it was an “interesting analysis” and that he’d have their legal beagles look it over. It didn’t take them long to kick it out.

On Tuesday, McLane and Crane completed the transfer of the Astros.

[…]

Crane said he will attend the winter meetings. One thing he won’t have to deal with is any challenge from the Harris County Houston Sports Authority over the Astros’ move to the AL. A partner from Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. last week said a move to the AL would violate the terms of the lease at Minute Maid, but the HCHSA said in a release that its legal team has a differing opinion. Withholding consent for the Astros playing as an AL team, the HCHSA determined, would be “unreasonable.”

Here’s the Sports Authority’s full response:

The Lease provides in Section 5.1(a) that the Astros have the right to use the Stadium for “the operation of a Major League Baseball franchise.” There is no reference in this Section to league affiliation. Further, as defined in the Lease, the term “Major League Baseball” expressly includes the National League, the American League and all Member Teams. In addition, Section 5.1(a) of the Lease expressly uses the uncapitalized word “franchise” instead of the capitalized, defined term “Franchise.” Only the capitalized, defined term “Franchise” is limited to a National League franchise. The uncapitalized term “franchise” is not so limited. Finally, the reference to “Baseball Home Games” (basically defined as Astros baseball games as a member of the National League) in Section 5.1(a) of the Lease is not a limiting phrase. Rather, it is used as an example of a use incidental to the use of the Stadium for the “operation of a Major League Baseball franchise,” not as an exclusive use. This interpretation is confirmed by the use of the phrase “including, but not limited to,” which precedes the phrase “Baseball Home Games.”

Accordingly, the Astros are permitted under the Lease to operate a Major League Baseball franchise in either the National League or the American League and to play their games in the Stadium attendant to such operation. Therefore, the Sports Authority is not in a position to prevent Major League Baseball from potentially moving the Astros to the American League.

The Astros transfer to the American League does require a minor change to the Non-Relocation Agreement to confirm that the Astros cannot play any home games outside the Stadium in violation of the Non-Relocation Agreement. The Astros have agreed to this minor change.

Even though the Astros cannot assign their interest in the Lease or mortgage their leasehold estate in most instances without the consent of the Sports Authority, the Sports Authority may not unreasonably withhold its consent. The Sports Authority’s withholding of its consent based solely on a potential Astros move to the American League could be considered unreasonable and therefore a violation of the Sports Authority’s covenant not to act in an unreasonable manner in this regard.

I don’t know, I have a hard time believing this will be the end of it. I just have a feeling that there’s a lawsuit out there to force the issue. I certainly could be wrong, I have nothing more than my gut to go on, but this is what I think. What do you think?

MLB approves Astros sale

It’s official.

Jim Crane’s $610 million purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball’s owners this morning.

All that remains is a formal closing of the transaction, which likely will take place early next week. At that point, McLane’s 19-year ownership of the club will end.

As we know, this not only means that the Astros will be changing leagues, but that the MLB playoff format will change as well.

Two wild card teams will be added to Major League Baseball’s playoffs no later than 2013, the same year the Houston Astros will begin play in the American League.

Commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday that baseball’s owners unanimously approved Jim Crane as the Houston Astros’ owner. As part of his agreement to buy the club, Crane will shift the Astros to the AL after 2012, creating two 15-team leagues.

“It’s a historical day,” said Selig, whose new format ensures that an interleague game will be contested “from opening day on.”

Selig did not offer specifics on the schedule or playoff format, but said his committee for on-field matters favors the one-game playoff among wild-card teams in each league, saying it would be “dramatic.” The additional wild cards could be added for the 2012 season, but will be in place by 2013 for sure.

I’m not a hidebound traditionalist by any means, but count me among those who thought the current system, which as noted before produced two of the most compelling playoff races we’ve seen in a long time, was working just fine and didn’t need any further tweaking. But never let it be said that MLB and Beelzebub Selig are letting moss grow on them.

A potentially troublesome, or at least potentially hilarious, side item here has to do with the Astros’ lease at Minute Maid Park.

An Astros move to the American League could violate the team’s lease agreement with the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, according to a local attorney.

Kevin W. Yankowsky, a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., outlined his findings from a review of the lease in a Tuesday letter to J. Kent Friedman, the Sports Authority’s chairman of the board.

Yankowsky, an Astros fan since the 1970s, will make a presentation at the Dec. 1 Sports Authority Board of Directors meeting urging a strict enforcement of the Astros’ lease to play their home games at Minute Maid Park. The wording of the lease agreement, Yankowsky said, spells out that the Astros cannot play at Minute Maid as anything but a National League team without receiving prior consent from the Sports Authority.

[…]

“My position would be: (The Sports Authority) simply ought to refuse to renegotiate their lease,” Yankowsky said. “All they have to do is stand on their rights and let Major League Baseball know that come 2013 they intend to stand on their right. Then it’s up to baseball.

“Baseball can either sue the Sports Authority or give in. The Sports Authority doesn’t have to sue anybody. They can sit back and say, ‘We’ve got a valid lease, and this is what it says, and we’re going to enforce it.’ ”

Citing provisions from a 2000 agreement that expires at the end of 2029, Yankowsky said the terms spell out that the home team — the Astros — be a National League franchise.

[…]

“In the simplest form, what this means, in my judgment, is come opening day of 2013, the Sports Authority can refuse to let them play because it’s not a permitted use of the stadium,” Yankowsky said. “They can quite simply lock the doors and say, ‘No, it’s not a permitted use.’ The play of Major League Baseball games, by definition, are limited to games in which a National League team is the home team.”

Friedman called it “an interesting analysis” and said he has asked the Sports Authority attorneys to review the matter.

“We’ll take a hard look at it,” Friedman said. “If there is a legitimate legal position to be taken by the Sports Authority that benefits the community, we ought to take it. If it’s a stretch or if it’s something that ultimately doesn’t benefit the community, then that’s not what we should be doing. But that’s easy to say. How to sort through all that remains to be seen.”

While I applaud the outside-the-box thinking here, I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than a minor annoyance for MLB and the ‘Stros. Let’s be honest, this is the sort of problem (if it really is one) that is solved by whacking it with a checkbook until it dies. There’s a negotiated settlement in someone’s future, if it comes to that. I hope I’m misunderestimating Attorney Yankowsky’s interpretive skills, because I love me some misdirected chaos, but I’m not holding out much hope. Greg has more.

Astros almost to the AL

It’s happening.

Prospective Astros owner Jim Crane and his group of investors have reached an agreement with Major League Baseball that would shift the franchise to the American League, two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed Friday.

One person familiar with the situation said the transfer of the team from Drayton McLane to Crane is on the agenda at next week’s owners meetings in Milwaukee, but negotiations over the final details likely will continue until then. The Associated Press, citing two people who spoke on condition of anonymity, also reports the sale is on the owners’ agenda and that part of the sale agreement would involve the Astros moving to the AL effective in 2013.

The AL agreement would appear to be the final hurdle for Crane to close a deal he and McLane announced May 16. The Chronicle reported Nov. 4 that the $680 million purchase appeared to be headed for approval Thursday, with the AL negotiations being one of the final sticking points. The Astros have been in the National League since 1962 and the Central Division since 1994.

Spokespersons for Crane and MLB declined comment.

“If it’s on the agenda, then the deal is done,” one person with knowledge of the situation said.

“They usually don’t get this far unless it’s something that’s going to be acted on,” another person with knowledge of the situation said.

Assuming no further delays, it ought to be made official this week. I still don’t understand why anyone wants to have an odd number of teams in each league, and I don’t understand why I haven’t seen more about how this will drastically affect scheduling. I guess we’ll know more soon.

Houston to get 2013 NBA All Star Game

Assuming the lockout has ended by then, of course.

The game will be played Feb. 17 at Toyota Center, which also hosted the 2006 game.

“It’s a done deal,” a person familiar with the bidding process told the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “We’re just waiting for the NBA to make the announcement.”

There is no timetable as to when the NBA might formally award the game to Houston, although an announcement could be delayed until the end of the labor lockout, the person said.

[…]

The last time the All-Star Game was here it had an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million.

sigh How is it that after all these years, the Comptroller’s office can provide before-the-fact estimates of “economic impact”, but can never seem to provide after-the-fact sales tax figures so we can have some kind of objective data points? Yes, I know there’s more to “economic impact” than that, but it would be a nice starting point. And if the Comptroller’s office does provide this data, why is it that the reporters who write these stories never seem to be able to include it? This has been your regularly scheduled rant about “economic impact” estimates.

During the past decade, Houston has been host to some of the country’s top sporting events, among them Super Bowl XXXVIII and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 2004, the NBA All-Star Game in 2006, NCAA South Regionals in 2008 and 2010 and the Final Four this past April. Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, also will host the 2016 Final Four.

Before this busy decade, there was quite the long drought for such events. As the story notes, the last NBA All Star Game to be held here in 2006 was in 1989, at the Astrodome. The last MLB All Star Games was 1986, and the last NCAA championship game – there wasn’t a “Final Four” back then – was 1971, both also at the Dome. The last Super Bowl was 1974, at Rice Stadium. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to be in the mix for these things, but it’s nice while it’s lasting.

No MLB or NFL for SA any time soon

San Antonio is many things, but a Major League Baseball or NFL city is isn’t, and won’t be any time soon.

Those are the findings of California-based Premier Partnerships, which recently submitted the results of a six-month feasibility study commissioned by Bexar County and San Antonio to determine the viability of professional sports in the area.

The company, which describes itself as a sales and marketing firm that focuses on “revenue optimization” of sports initiatives, found that San Antonio, while hungry to pursue heavyweight leagues, is lacking in corporate sponsorship dollars and infrastructure.

The $50,000 report, which runs more than 250 pages, concludes the city “should continue to build its sports landscape and take a ‘wait and see’ approach with larger professional leagues.”

[…]

The study shows San Antonio lags behind major sports markets in critical areas.

For example, it found the average NFL host metropolitan area includes 18 Fortune 500 companies, ranks 18th as a media market and has a $53,800 median household income. The San Antonio region, in comparison, has six Fortune 500 companies, ranks 37th as a media market and has a $48,000 median income.

Major League Baseball host areas average 17 Fortune 500 companies, average 13th as a media market and have a $71,800 median household income.

“Clearly, the matrix of this (study) shows that it would be difficult to get it,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff, a longtime proponent of luring big-league baseball to San Antonio. “Instead of us talking about getting something in Major League Baseball or the NFL, it makes more sense to look into the future a little more. In 10 or 20 years, what might be available then?”

Fortune 500 companies are useful for buying up luxury suites, which is where the real money comes from, but the overall population is important, too. As we’ve seen before, even as the city of San Antonio has grown, the San Antonio MSA – excuse me, the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA – still lags behind most of the existing ones with MLB and/or NFL teams. As a media market, San Antonio is only #31; Dallas is #5, and Houston is #6, and most other major league cities are in bigger markets. Put it all together, and I think Judge Wolff has the right idea.

Steroid prevalency: Opinions differ

Richard Justice writes about steroids in sports, in particular steroid use among high school students, and quotes a familiar source.

[Don Hooton] cites a Procter & Gamble Co. study in which 2,000 kids were asked if an adult, parent, coach or teacher had talked to them about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Eighty-four percent answered, “No.”

“We think that just because something makes the headlines or is on the 10 o’clock news that it’s getting through to our kids,” Hooton said.

He’ll speak at all 30 major league ballparks this summer. He’ll speak to dozens of high schools and middle schools and to countless medical organizations. He has forged relationships with the NCAA and the Canadian Center for Ethics in sports.

So are fewer kids using steroids?

“We’ve seen no indication at the youth level that steroid use has diminished at all,” he said, “and there’s reason to believe it’s increasing. Steroids are moving out of the locker room and into the hallways.”

How so?

“When you’re competing for the attention of the opposite sex and girls like the beefed-up look, guess what boys are doing.” he said. “We’re seeing steroid use among kids who have never stepped on the field. It’s believed that half of the users of steroids at the youth level aren’t athletes.”

He said a University of Iowa study asked young steroid users why they were doing something that could be so harmful.

“The top two reasons were ‘to look better’ and ‘to feel better about myself,’ ” Hooton said.

“The third reason was to improve in athletics. The horse is out of the barn with steroids, and it’s a social phenomenon. Depending on the study you believe, 4 to 6 percent of high school students are either using steroids or have used them.”

Mr. Hooton has been the leading force behind Texas’ high school steroid testing program. Our experience differs greatly from what he cites, however. From a Dallas Morning News story in January, which I blogged about at the time:

[T]he random steroid testing program for University Interscholastic League athletes in Texas is shrinking. The Legislature initially funded the effort in 2007 with an annual budget of $3 million, but the allotment for the current school year is $750,000 – after a cut to $1 million a year earlier. A total of 4,560 athletes are scheduled to be tested in 2010-11, compared with 35,077 in 2008-09.

While the economic downturn played a role in the reductions, Hooton said he believes state politicians don’t fear steroid use as much as they did when the bill was enacted. That, he said, is because the 51,635 tests done over the last 2 ½ years have resulted in 21 positive tests, two unresolved and 139 not passing for procedure violations, such as unexcused absences. Last spring, all 3,308 tests were clean. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry said the results to date indicated the funding might have been excessive.

Hooton said the results of the testing, done for the UIL by Drug Free Sport of Kansas City, Mo., don’t accurately measure steroid use among the state’s high school athletes.

“Those people who read the results as proof we never had a steroid problem in the first place, we just gave them all the ammunition in the world,” said Hooton, who runs the foundation out of his McKinney home. “We’re going to budget this down to defeating the purpose of the program.”

That’s a 0.04% positive rate for tests in Texas, which means 1) the overall problem is vastly overstated; 2) steroid use in Texas is far less prevalent than elsewhere; or 3) the testing we did sucked. Regardless, this vast discrepancy, which Justice does not mention, leaves me highly skeptical of the problem and of the need to “solve” it by spending our limited revenues on a bunch of expensive tests, which if you follow Mr. Hooton’s logic ought to be done on all high schoolers, not just athletes. As a father, I have a great deal of empathy for Mr. Hooton. As a taxpayer, I’m not buying what he’s selling. As a news consumer, I’d like to see all the facts brought to bear in these discussions. We now have several years’ experience and over 50,000 test results in Texas. You want to make the case we need to be doing more, you need to explain why we need to keep looking for something we have so far largely been unable to find.

MLB needs to stand by all of its players

A brief history of baseball’s other color line.

There is no Latin American Jackie Robinson, no single Hispanic ballplayer who lifted his people onto his back and crashed through baseball’s racist barricades. But there always has to be a first, and many of the game’s historians point to two Cubans, Rafael Almeida and Armando Marsans, who made their debut with the Cincinnati Reds a century ago. Of course, baseball was still segregated then. The Reds took great pains to highlight the irreproachable ethnicities of their newest employees: yes, they were Cuban, but they were purebred Spaniards, without so much as a trace of African blood.

One thing that was not in dispute was that the Cubans could play. “Uncle Sam’s monopoly of the baseball market has been seriously threatened,” one reporter surmised, noting that “this little nation of brown men whom Uncle Sam set up in the nation business” was liable to “rise up and lick Sammy at his own game.”

Politics has prevented us from testing the accuracy of this prediction. As a source of talent, Cuba, whose diamonds are off-limits to American prospectors, produces a small fraction of the Hispanic players who now represent more than a quarter of all major leaguers and an even larger percentage of those in the minors. No American institution owes a greater debt to Latin Americans than baseball. Our national pastime would be nothing today without the likes of Pujols, Bautista and Reyes, and it all started with Almeida and Marsans, who played in their first major league game on — I’m not making this up — July 4, 1911.

So how is baseball honoring their legacy, almost exactly 100 years later? By holding its 2011 All-Star Game in the cradle of America’s new nativism.

That would Arizona, where MLB still hasn’t said anything about SB1070 and the insult it is to a large portion of MLB’s players and fans. I never expect much from Bud Selig, but he’s still managed to disappoint me here. Even a symbolic gesture would have been better than the nothing we’ve gotten, as it least then we’d know that he noticed. The silence so far is shameful.

“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.

MLB realignment?

Well, this is interesting.

A simple form of realignment being seriously considered has been raised in the labor talks between Major League Baseball and the players’ association, according to four sources: two leagues of 15 teams, rather than the current structure of 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League.

According to a highly ranked executive, one consideration that has been raised in ownership committee meetings is eliminating the divisions altogether, so that 15 AL and 15 NL teams would vie for five playoff spots within each league. Currently, Major League Baseball has six divisions.

A source who has been briefed on the specifics of the labor discussions says that the players’ union has indicated that it is open to the idea of two 15-team leagues, but that the whole plan still hasn’t been talked through or presented to the owners.

“I’d still say the odds of it happening are less than 50-50,” one source said.

Apparently, the Astros have been identified as the NL team that could change leagues, from the six-team NL Central to the four-team AL West, where they’d be joined with the Rangers. I’m not a big fan of this idea, mostly because I don’t think more interleague play would be advisable, but if we’re going to think about changing alignments and schedules, I’d prefer an approach that’s both more radical and more simplistic. David Pinto wrote a series of three articles for the Baseball Prospectus back in 2007 that proposed abolishing the leagues and going to five six-team divisions that made a lot of sense on many levels, and allowed for easy expansion to boot. I’d love to see the discussion be broadened to include such ideas. What do you think?

Alomar, Blyleven enter HOF

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and (at long last) Bert Blyleven for their election to the Hall of Fame.

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were chosen to the baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, in an election in which voters again rejected candidates closely identified with baseball’s steroid era.

Alomar got 523 votes and Blyleven 463, with 436 of 581 votes (75%) required for election.

Rafael Palmeiro got 11%, in his first year on the ballot.

Palmeiro is one of four players in major-league history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, along with Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. His 568 home runs rank 12th on the all-time list, one spot ahead of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and one spot behind Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

Palmeiro also was the first star suspended after owners and players agreed to test for performance-enhancing drugs and penalize first-time offenders with mandatory suspensions.

Mark McGwire got 19.8%, in the first election after he admitted to using steroids. In his previous four years on the ballot, he received between 21% and 24%.

I felt that Palmeiro fell short despite his traditionally qualifying 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, so that doesn’t bother me. McGwire will be the player that the BBWAA loves to crap on the most until Barry Bonds becomes eligible. Other results of interest, via SBNation:

Barry Larkin, 62.1%
Jack Morris, 53.50%
Lee Smith, 45.30%
Jeff Bagwell, 41.70%
Tim Raines, 37.50%
Edgar Martinez, 32.90%
Alan Trammell, 24.30%
Larry Walker, 20.30%

Larkin ought to have an excellent shot at election next year when there are no likely inductees on the ballot. I’m not a fan of Morris, and I think Lee Smith is overrated, but I can live with their candidacies, and at least they wouldn’t make it before Blyleven. Bagwell had a decent first showing – to address Bubba’s comment, quite a few players have made it in despite less than 50% support on their first ballot – and now that he’s not a first-timer, perhaps some of the bizarre animosity towards him for not ratting out teammates (a standard that would exclude the likes of Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter, by the way) will fade. Still not enough love for Raines and Trammell, Edgard Martinez does about as well as you’d expect – I wouldn’t have voted for him this year, but Jay Jaffe has me reconsidering – and Larry Walker will likely hang on over the years but not get any momentum, which is okay by me.

So there you have it. Congrats again to Alomar and Blyleven, and better luck next time to the deserving hopefuls that fell short this year.

The 2011 Hall of Fame ballot

Brace yourself for lots of posturing and moralizing about the eeeeevils of steroids and the general decline of society.

Suspected steroid users Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez are on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, joining Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, both of whom fell just short in last year’s vote.

Former Most Valuable Players Jeff Bagwell and Larry Walker, and former Rookies of the Year Benito Santiago and Raul Mondesi also will be on the 33-man ballot, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America said Monday.

Mark McGwire, 10th on the career list with 583 homers, received 128 votes (23.7%) in totals announced last January following his fourth appearance of the ballot — well under the 75% needed for election. He admitted before last season to using steroids and human growth hormone during his playing days.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both under indictment on charges related to their denials of steroids use, become eligible for the Hall ballot in two years.

Palmeiro is 12th on the career list with 569 home runs and had 3,020 hits, joining Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the only players in the 500-3,000 club. Palmeiro wagged his finger at Congress in 2005 while denying he used steroids, then tested positive a few months later and was suspended for 10 days.

He tested positive for stanozolol, a person with knowledge of the sport’s drug-testing program told The Associated Press at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity because the drug wasn’t announced. Palmeiro testified before a congressional panel that he “never used steroids.”

Jose Canseco claimed in his 2005 book that he used steroids with Gonzalez, who was 35 when he played his last major league game. Then-Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks said in 2007 that he had no knowledge that Gonzalez used steroids, but said he was suspicious the two-time AL MVP did because of his injuries and early retirement.

[…]

The complete ballot: Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Barry Larkin, Al Leiter, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Raul Mondesi, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Kirk Rueter, Benito Santiago, Lee Smith, B.J. Surhoff, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker.

JuanGon doesn’t have a Hall of Fame case, so I’m not too worried about him. Palmeiro, on the other hand, is in a pretty exclusive club and would seem a lock were it not for the steroid thing. Given the climate, I’ll be surprised if he gets as many votes as McGwire has gotten.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about Palmeiro’s case for the Hall. I don’t care about the steroid thing. I’ve decided that if I had a vote, I’d completely ignore any steroid allegations and admissions on the grounds that there are plenty of other voters who will gladly reject entire classes of player based on whatever damn-fool thing they believe about the stuff, just to provide a little balance. Palmeiro’s raw numbers are certainly impressive, but he played in a great offensive context, and my gut reaction is that he’s a somewhat better version of Fred McGriff. I’d like to see how a guy like Jay Jaffe evaluates his case before I make a commitment. As such, I’d leave him off the ballot this year, but am prepared to change my mind.

Beyond that, my choices are: Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Larkin, Raines, and Trammell. I’m also on the fence about Edgar Martinez and may reconsider that decision next year. Bagwell has better triple-slash stats than Palmeiro despite playing most of his career in the Astrodome, so he’s an easy choice. Who would you be voting for if you had a vote?

UPDATE: I agree completely with Linkmeister about the continued shameful omission of Marvin Miller.

So how about that instant replay?

I presume you’ve heard about the perfect game that wasn’t, thanks to the blown call by the umpire with two outs in the ninth inning. If not, see here, here, and here for the details. All I have to say about this is something I’ve said before, which is that I do not understand the resistance to making a best effort to get as many calls right as possible, which in this day and age means an appropriate use of available technology. So I’m going to let Ken Funck say it for me this time:

Add an umpire to the crew, put him in a video booth, and have him buzz the crew chief on the field when he sees something was missed. Since that extra umpire might have the best view of a given play, let him correct any egregious mistakes he sees. There’s no clock in baseball, and umpires already manage the timing of the game by, say, sweeping the plate clean while a catcher gets his bearings after taking a foul ball off his grill. No need for challenges or formal booth reviews—on a bang-bang play, just slow the action down for another few seconds to see if the replay umpire needs to fix an obvious mistake. If not, the game moves on. Giving this power to an umpire in the booth doesn’t undermine the authority of umpires, it expands it, and it protects them from the sort of unfair criticism that [umpire Jim] Joyce is likely to catch in the coming days. It would also add so little time to the game as to be negligible, and there are other, better avenues of speeding up games (e.g., limiting pitcher/catcher conferences or the number of times batters can step out of the box) that aren’t an accomplice to situations such as Wednesday night’s missed call.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work life, it’s this: humans will sometimes make errors, so you need to set up processes to catch them before they lead to tragic consequences. Joyce certainly feels terrible today, but really, he shouldn’t. He did the best he could in the situation he was placed, and made a mistake that any other umpire, or indeed any other fan, could just as easily have made. The true error wasn’t made by Joyce, but by those whose blind adherence to empty slogans like “tradition” and “authority” and “the human element” put him in a position to fail so publicly. I hope they, too, had difficulty sleeping last night.

There was a time when I was willing to take it slow on instant replay in baseball, but that time has passed. We’ve seen way too many examples of blown calls that could and should have been easily corrected if the right tools had been available. It’s time to use those tools and get the job done better.

Having said all this, by the way, I don’t want to see Commissioner Bud Selig overrule the umpire, even if he has the power to do so. The point is to get the call right at the time. MLB can do a better job of that if it chooses to do so.

Selig avoids All Star Game issue

We always knew he was a weenie.

With a lengthy non-answer, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday gave no indication he would move the 2011 All-Star Game from Phoenix in response to Arizona’s immigration law, saying MLB has already done everything it should do regarding equality.

[…]

The players’ union has come out against the law, and some — including the city of San Francisco — have called for MLB to pull its Midsummer Classic from Arizona.

But asked about it after a quarterly owners’ meeting adjourned, Selig responded only by citing MLB’s progress in hiring minorities.

“We have enormous social responsibilities,” Selig said.

“We’re a social institution. We have done everything we should do — should do. Our responsibility, privileged to do it, don’t want any pats on the back. And we’ll continue to do it.

“We’ve done well. And we’ll continue to do well. And I’m proud of what we’ve done socially, and I’ll continue to be proud of it.

“That’s the issue, and that’s the answer.”

That’s also a whole lot of nothing. Honestly, though, it’s not unexpected. While sportswiters and bloggers may call on Selig to take action, I don’t see him doing anything unless he’s compelled to do so. Maybe Congress could force the issue, but that’s a long shot at best. No, if Selig can be goaded into action it’ll have to be the players’ union, which didn’t directly address the All Star Game in its statement but did say they would “consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members” if the law went into effect, which it now has. Your move, MLBPA.

More pressure on MLB over the 2011 All Star Game

Keep it up.

A New York congressman who called for the league to move the 2011 game from Phoenix is the latest person to push for an economic boycott against the state in protest of the new law. Companies have been pulling conferences out of Arizona resorts while others have suggested consumers shun companies, such as US Airways, that are based in the state and have yet to condemn the the law.

“I think that when people, states, localities make decisions this monumental, they should know the full consequence of that decision,” Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., said. “I think Major League Baseball, with 40 percent Latino ballplayers at all levels, should make a statement that it will not hold its All-Star Game in a state that discriminates against 40 percent of their people.”

Forty percent is an overstatement – from what I’ve seen elsewhere, MLB is about 27% Hispanic – but the exact number is not particularly important for these purposes.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who focuses on sports, said the economic loss from one game would have “a pretty small impact” on Arizona but that the attention it would draw could be damaging.

“A publicity campaign that goes on for months and months and months makes other people, who have nothing to do with Major League Baseball, stay away from Arizona,” Zimbalist said.

It’s not just the All Star Game, though that would be a nice symbolic place to start. About half of the teams have spring training sites in Arizona. Get them to pull out, and you’re starting to talk serious hurt. Plus, just getting the first high profile rebuke like losing the All Star Game would send a message that this is the right thing to do. Someone has to be first.

More here, here, and here. It’s great to see sportswriters, players, and managers like Ozzie Guillen speak out. Here’s one player who won’t participate if the All Star Game is in Arizona next year:

[Padres star Adrian Gonzalez] told FanHouse that he will not attend next year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix if the law is in effect, and that he’d like for major league baseball to boycott spring training in Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law on April 23.

“I’ll support the Players Association 100 percent,” said Gonzalez, who grew up in both Tijuana and a suburb south of San Diego. “If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I’ll probably not play in the All-Star Game. Because it’s a discriminating law.

“I know it can’t be done, but they should take spring training out of (Arizona) if it’s possible.”

That’s a lot of people speaking up, and there will be more to come. I just hope Bud Selig is listening. And as long as we’re sending messages to the Commissioner, would someone please tell him to drop that stupid “league that wins the All Star Game gets home advantage in the World Series” idea? Thanks.

MLBPA opposes Arizona immigration law

Good for them.

New York, NY, Friday, April 30, 2010 … The following statement was issued today by Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner regarding the immigration law recently passed by the state of Arizona.

“The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of Major League players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans. All of them, as well as the Clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law.

“The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team. The international players on the Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October. In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing Major League teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 Major League teams are now in Arizona. All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status. This law also may affect players who are U.S. citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent.

“The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

“My statement reflects the institutional position of the Union. It was arrived at after consultation with our members and after consideration of their various views on this controversial subject.”

Well said. Though I would prefer for it to not come to that, I hope the union follows through on its consideration of additional steps in the event the law doesn’t get blocked. It would be nice if Commissioner Selig followed their lead, too. Now maybe MLS will take a stand, too. Thanks to David Pinto for the link.

Don’t play ball with the state of Arizona

What Kevin Blackistone says.

About 10 years ago, the NCAA made one of its most bold and upright decisions: it refused to allow any more of its postseason tournaments, like March Madness, to be held in South Carolina until the state stopped flying the banner of the long defeated racist Confederacy in the face of 21st century societal progress.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams explained at the time that the organization wanted to “ensure that our championships are free from any type of symbolism that might make someone uncomfortable based on their race.”

As such, it is time for the governors of college athletics to expand their postseason ban. Arizona should be next, immediately.

The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., should lose the BCS National Championship Game scheduled to be played there next January unless Arizona legislators rescind soon and for good an anti-immigration law they just passed that gives police the right to stop and search for documents anyone police suspect of being in the country illegally.

After all, that law means racially profiling people who appear to be Hispanic, no matter what Arizona lawmakers claim. That means making an entire group of people, as the NCAA spokesman said, uncomfortable in Arizona because of their heritage. That’s unquestionably wrong.

In my previous post, I mentioned former Arizona Governor (and world class bozo) Evan Mecham, whose racist antics cost his state a Super Bowl, among other things. Evan Weiner recalls that, and notes that there are other sporting events that may – ought to – be yanked until the Arizona Lege makes amends.

The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

Houston is on that list as well, with the Dynamo ownership being on the USA Bid Committee. Note to local activists: Why not put a little pressure on the Dynamo to raise a stink about this? If there’s going to be any real blowback against Arizona for this bit foolishness, it’s got to come from the grassroots, and this is a good entry point. Here’s their contact info:

HOUSTON DYNAMO FRONT OFFICE

1001 Avenida de las Americas, Ste. 200
Houston, TX 77010

Phone: (713) 276-7500
Fax: (713) 276-7572
E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter
Facebook

Let them know, politely, that you don’t want any Arizona city included on the USA Bid Committee’s list for the FIFA World Cup, and that you would like the Dynamo to take a stand on the matter. If you’re a Dynamo fan, especially if you’re a season ticket holder, make sure they know that as well. They have an interest in keeping their fans happy. Obviously, the Dynamo haven’t done anything wrong, but this is how stuff gets done.

And Astros fans can get involved, too.

Major League Baseball is set to hold its 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks play, and activists are calling on MLB to pull the game out of Arizona in protest of the new law. The idea is being espoused by activist bloggers at Daily Kos and Change.org, hosting a petition on its website to move the All-Star Game out of Arizona.

Some are calling on baseball fans to boycott at least one MLB game. A Facebook group is specifically calling on fans to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks’ May 7 home game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The group wants the D-Backs to state a position on the new law.

There’s hashtag, #AZMLBB, being used on Twitter for discussion of this movement.

Unfortunately, the Astros do not display Contact information as prominently as the Dynamo do, so you may have to figure out the best way to let them know how you feel yourselves. They’re on Facebook here. As with the Dynamo, they too will want to keep their fans happy. Stace has more.

Watch for the loophole

So today Olivia and I went to the Astros game, which they won by a score of 5-0, and there was a situation that occurred that could have been a lot more interesting that it turned out to be. With Lance Berkman on base, Carlos Lee hit a long fly ball that caromed off the wall in right-center. Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan then made a great play in fielding the ball and throwing it in to the cutoff man, whose relay nailed Berkman at the plate by a good fifteen feet – it was so not close Berkman just pulled up and let himself get tagged. I wish I’d seen if the third base coach gave him the go sign or not, because whoever thought he could make it was waaaaaaay off.

Anyway. After the play ended, the Astros protested that Lee’s ball had actually cleared the yellow line on the fence, which made it a home run. After a discussion, the umps reviewed it on instant replay, and ultimately let the play stand. What made this a potentially interesting situation is if they had ruled it was in fact a homer, the Nats could have made an appeal play, claiming that Berkman never touched home plate. As far as I could tell, they would have been correct to do so, in which case one way or the other Berkman was going to be out at home.

It never came to that, of course, and if it had I’m not sure they would have thought of it. But it was the first thing that occurred to me, and having thought of it now, I’ll bet that one of these days we’ll see a situation like this play out. I’d say the lesson to be learned is to always touch whatever base you’re going to, because you just never know. You can just imagine someone becoming this century’s Fred Merkle as a result.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

I think the key bit in this story about the Astros’ policy forbidding fans from bringing their own food into the stadium is this:

Most MLB teams list their policies on outside food and drink on their Web sites. Details generally can be found by clicking on the “A to Z Guide” under the stadium tab.

As for the Astros, Pam Gardner, the team’s president for business operations, said the team has opted to provide less expensive tickets rather than following suit with other teams regarding food and beverage rules.

“Our financial model, dating back to the Astrodome, was dependent on a number of revenue areas, including food and beverage,” Gardner said in an e-mail. “We elected to make our appeal to fans in the form of a $7 (for adults) and $1 ticket (for children) every day. I don’t think you will find many teams offering a $1 ticket.”

Indeed, only the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers advertise seats for a buck each. (The Brewers call them “Uecker Seats” in honor of broadcaster Bob Uecker, who made several bucks bragging for assorted commercials about his seat locations.)

The Colorado Rockies advertise their cheapest tickets at $4 each, and the bottom price for Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals games is $5.

That’s a perfectly sound business model, and if you care more about the game than the grub you can do quite well. You’re not really saving any money by supplying your own snacks if those seats cost you an arm and a leg. I’ve always considered the concession stand to be a key part of the stadium experience, and so it seems to be for the fans quoted in the story. Ken Hoffman, a man who knows his stadium food, agrees. What do you think?

From the “Math is hard” files

Inside this article on the Astros’ poor home attendance numbers so far comes the following mathematical muddle.

Through May 20, only 10 of the 30 teams in the majors were seeing an increase in average attendance over last year. Of the 20 teams experiencing a decline, the Astros — at 13 percent — were one of nine whose average was down more than 10 percent. Among the others are the New York Yankees (14 percent) and New York Mets (22 percent), who not only are winning but would have figured to benefit from the fact they’re playing in new parks.

ESPN has a handy dandy reference page for MLB attendance going back to 2001, so you can examine the numbers for yourself. It’s true that the Yankees, who nonetheless still have the best average home and overall attendance in baseball, have seen their numbers decline since last year. It’s also true that last year they were in a stadium that had nine percent more seats (57,500 to 52,235) than they do now. In fact, if they were filling every seat this year, their attendance would still be down from last year’s 53,069 mark. If they were filling seats at the same 92.3% rate as last year, their attendance would be down nine percent. What I would actually say is that their attendance is down eight percent relative to last year, because they’re at 85.2% of capacity this year, and 85.2 is an eight percent decline from last year’s 92.3. That’s a definite issue, one having to do with their pricing model for tickets, and it’s certainly gotten their attention. But however you present it, if you’re going to talk about how their attendance is down despite having a new stadium, I think you’re leaving something out if you don’t mention the reduced capacity in that new stadium.