Monthly archives: March 2004
Devil Rays in the Details
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
--Wily Mo "Author" Shakespeare (a quote which I had to memorize and recite in English class in ninth grade)
The Devil Rays surprised the world by beating one of the strongest teams in their division and in all of baseball, besting the opposition's ace. Meanwhile their "ace" excelled. A home run by a newly acquired vet gave them the lead. Meanwhile, the oppisition's offense sputtered as their highly-touted leadoff hitter went hitless.
Oh, sorry. I was reminiscing about the Devil Rays' 2003 opener. The beat the Red Sox, 6-4, and scuttled Boston's alleged plans to employ a bullpen by committee. I have no idea what happened in today's Yankee-Devil Rays Far Eastern division battle. I was too busy fishing at 5 AM to watch it.
I was just illustrating a point that the Devil Rays have done this before. Terry Shumpert delivered the big blow last year; Tino Martinez did this year (much to the chagrin of the WFAN callers, I am sure). Last year, Joe Kennedy faced Pedro Martinez in the opener; this year, Victor Zambrano faced Mike Mussina. Last year Johnny Damon went hitless; this year Derek Jeter did. See it's all good clean fun. The biggest difference between the two games was that yesterday/today the D-Rays beat up on the Yankees starter; last year it was the pen, but both loses may point their opponent to fundamental problems in their makeup. Anyway, to paraphrase Pete Townshend, meet the new Devil Rays, pretty much the same as the old Devil Rays. I think Tampa Bay has improved but besides potentially breaking 70 wins for thr first time, not a whole lot else will reach the heights of their first game.
They tell us that it was the season opener, and I guess we'll have to take their word for it. All I know is the Phils only just employed their regular season lineup for reportedly the first time yesterday, but these two other teams are already playing games that matter (at least the Yankees are). Such is the wacky world of Bud. Great, you pack the Tokyo dome, but ignore your real fanbase in the process. Opening Day? Not really. It's more like an exhibition series on steroids. And that's all it should have been. As for me, I'll wait for the real thing, interleague baseball in San Juan with the wild card on the line. Now that's a classic content.
O Braves New World That Has Such Pitchers In’t!
"They're out there panicking. I can feel it."
—Bill Ray Valentine
The Braves' pitching is in a freefall and they know it. After over a decade of pitching superiority, the staff wavered last year. This year it took a nosedive with the departure of former ace and future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux.
In an effort to correct some of the problems the Braves have acquired Juan Cruz from the Cubs and Chris Reitsma from the Reds. Both have good potential and are still relatively young (25 and 26 respectively). However, both were given up on by their former times. Cruz no longer had a spot in the rotation, and frankly, Reitsma was the Reds yo-yo between the majors and the minors and between the rotation and the pen for the last couple of seasons. Both have some good stuff and have shown great promise at times but haven't been to establish themselves.
Reitsma becomes the righty setup man and Cruz, apparently, will be the number-five starter. Both could have big seasons after working out the kinks with legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Then again, it's more likely that one or both will be a bust. And the Braves gave up three pitching prospects (Jung Keun Boing and Bubba Nelson for Reitsma and Andy Pratt in the Cruz deal).
The Braves either feel that they can contend or don't feel that losing three pitching prospect is too onerous. Well, there's one thing that I am now certain of: the Braves will NOT win the NL East in 2004. It may be the Phils or the Marlins, but not the Braves. I'm sure of it.
A team does not pick up odds and ends from another team and then expect to be a contender. In Cruz's case, he was almost traded for Maddux, who took his spot in the Cub rotation. Considering that the Braves have lost three major members of their lineup: catcher Javy Lopez coming off an incredible season, Vinny Castilla at third, and Gary Sheffield in right field.
This team has succeeded through adversity in the past. Hell, they haven't had a major-league first baseman since, seemingly, the days of Sid Bream. They flip-flopped second baseman for a time, etc. But they never had anything like this.
I expect the Braves to finish closer to fourth than first in 2004.
Devil Made 'em Do It
After an offseason of signing over-the-hill stars and never-has-beens, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays seemed destined to a typically poor D-Ray season. Hadn't they done this before? I thought it would be different when Sweet Lou Piniella came to town.
Well, that's what I used to think. Then I read this in today's Lee Sinins ATM Report:
The Devil Rays released SS Deivi Cruz, 3B Fernando Tatis and Ps Mike Williams and Todd Jones, sent 1B Fred McGriff, C Pete LaForest, C/INF Edwards Guzman and Ps Todd Ritchie, Travis Harper, Dewon Brazelton and Jesus Colome to the minors and placed P Jason Standridge on the 15 day DL.
McGriff, who was in camp more to be given a chance to impress another team than to make the Devil Rays, was given permission to try to work out a deal with someone else.
In one fell swoop (or one swell foop), the D-Rays have divested themselves of almost all of the overvalued talent (Cruz, Tatis, Williams, Jones, Ritchie, and McGriff). Really, what isTampa Bay doing with McGriff, a 40-year-old first baseman who had a league average adjusted OPS last season?
I don't know if they wised up in the intervening months or if they are just going with younger, cheaper players. This team has improved by getting rid of the dreck. What about Robert Fick and Tino Martinez at first, you ask? Well, neither is what you want in a young rebuilding team (or I guess a building team since they were never good enough to be classified being called built in the first place).
I do feel bad for McGriff, who remains nine home runs short of 500. I think that if he is forced to retire now, he will receive very little support for the Hall, though I would say that he fits the de facto standards.
Shadow of a Dowd
Don't whisper. When you whisper, anyone could hear you a block away.
I never make up anything. I get everything from my books. They're all true.
He thought the world was a horrible place. He couldn't have been very happy, ever. He didn't trust people. Seemed to hate them. He hated the whole world. You know, he said people like us had no idea what the world was really like.
—Various lines from Alfred "Sterling" Hitchcock's classic Shadow of a Doubt with the too-soon-forgotten Joseph "Oxy" Cotton
The New York Post has picked up a story that was posted on Will Young's blog regarding the estimable John Dowd. That in and of itself would have been interesting enough for me: the media proper—or at least the Post paying attention to what a blogger says?
But it gets better. Dowd evidently spoke last month at Young's sports management class at GW, and with a captive audience decided to drop some pearls of idiocy along with a few outright canards, not that he hasn’t done that before. The guy makes Jon Lovitz' Tommy Flanagan, or even Pete Rose, seem credible.
The line that caught the Post's attention was:
Selig was attempting to find a way to return Pete Rose to baseball. Immediately, Fay Vincent called Selig to tell him that he was making a grave mistake, but he was ignored. Dowd’s theory is that Selig is acting on behalf of George Steinbrenner who wants to ensure a place for himself in the Hall of Fame despite having been banned from baseball in the early 1990s [ed. note – I do not agree with this theory at all]. [ed. note, Jr. – That was Young's editorial note, not mine]
Dowd continued to make individuals of shaky moral character seem credible when George Steinbrenner, Bud Selig, and Bob DuPuy, three men who I would never let into my house without first hiding the silverware, replied with incredulity to the delusion rantings. (Read the Post quotes.)
It seems that Dowd's proof for all of this was that Selig had once tried to enforce a gag order, as is Bud's wont, on Dowd regarding the Rose case. Dowd claimed that Selig attempted to get him disbarred. Although it's my believe that letting Dowd spout about Rose, Giamatti, and the little men who live in his underpants is the quickest and most effective way to get the loon disbarred.
Did Dowd ever consider that Rose's case was being decided in the court of public opinions and Selig did want the volatile Dowd stirring the pot?
It seems incredible that Dowd is a lawyer at all when he makes statements like the following:
In every baseball contract, a clause is included that states, “You will not sue the Commissioner”. Thus, Pete Rose broke another rule.
I also says in many standard leases that the landlord isn't liable for a darn thing. Contracts say a lot of things, it doesn't mean that they'll stand up in court if challenged. And besides to paraphrase Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, "What are you going to do? Ban me for life for suing you?"
There are other gems that the Post ignores in going for the obvious lunacy. Check out these:
Dowd set out to complete his investigation in three ways: honestly, completely and fairly. [Mike: How 'bout a fourth way, the American way. It's a good thing they didn’t hire that investigator who advertised cheap and easy.]
For this reason, he and his team would not write anything down as a fact unless it could be corroborated three ways. This was a nuisance because the evidence that Rose bet on the Reds could only be corroborated in two ways and was not included in the final report.
Ten people were found by the investigation that witnessed Rose betting on the Reds.
If you read the Dowd Report, you know these statements are laughingly false. The Dowd Report is nothing more than a prosecutor's brief. There is no regard for fairness. Circumstantial evidence, hearsay, and incorrect factual information are all taken at face value without any further remarks or investigation. Dowd's "corroborated three ways (baby)" means that he would set about to find someone who would say X about Pete Rose and then his two friends would confirm that the guy told them that. "He said he was talking to Pete Rose on the phone and that he was betting on the Reds from the dugout." People never lie, right? Especially when they are trying to impress their low-life, degeneratized friends. Dowd claims ten people witnessed Rose betting on the Reds, then why aren't they all in the report? "You'll have to excuse Mr. Dowd, he multiplies everything by 10. Aside from that he's perfectly normal."
And worse yet, Dowd and his slipshod Report have been reinvigorated by Rose's even sillier admission of guilt. The only credible piece of evidence that Rose bet on the Reds and therefore, should be banned for life is his own admission in his short-sighted grab for money, his public apology cum book deal. On the strength of Dowd's lamb-A's report, Selig was probably preparing to reinstate Rose. That's probably why he wanted Dowd to keep mum. But Rose ruined it for himself and now makes Dowd look credible and feel emboldened:
Dowd does not really feel vindicated after Rose’s confession because he knew that he was right the whole time.
Lovely. It's great to have an impartial investigator be so confident and so concerned about being right.
Coulda Woulda Shoulda
History can predict nothing except that great changes...will never come about in the form in which they have been anticipated.
—Johan "Don't Call Me Wayne" Huizinga
A-B has its predictions posted for division, pennant, and Series winners. Go and kibbitz. It don't cost nothin'. Some dolt actually picked the Phillies to win it all. Ancient Chinese secret huh?!?
Competitive Balancing Act II—This Is Pop: Redefining Large- and Small-Market by Population
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, III, and IV
Like many businessmen of genius he learned that free competition was wasteful, monopoly efficient. And so he simply set about achieving that efficient monopoly.
—Mario "Mendoza" Puzo regarding Don "Joe" Vit(iell)o Corleone
What is a small-market team?
In 1872 the Middleton (CT) Mansfields fielded a team in the National Association, the precursor to today's National League. Middleton had around 6900 people. They competed against teams in New York with about 1.5 M people, Brooklyn (400 K), Boston (250 K), Philadelphia (675 K), Baltimore (275 K), and DC and Cleveland (about 100 K each). Now that was a small-market team. I guess it's no surprise that their record was 5-19. There is no record of their attendance, but I'm thinking they would make Expo games seem crowded.
Altoona, PA was a charter member and briefly fielded a team in the Union Association, a one-year, rival major-league—considered the weakest major league all time—in 1884. They were the first (of many) UA teams to fold, with a 6-19 record. With so many UA teams folding, they propped themselves up by co-opting the minor Northwestern League's entire roster. Kansas City replaced Altoona. Consider that Altoona, PA had about 20,000 people.
Today a small-market team connotes a team with an old stadium (e.g., the A's) or one that has a bad stadium deal (e.g., the Marlins) or one whose cable deal is not remunerative enough (sometimes intentionally if they have a common owner) or one whose stadium lacks luxury skyboxes or one whose stadium is not publicly funded, etc., depending on the individual defining the term. Basically, it's a team with limited resources, that is, low revenue. With revenue sharing becoming more and more an issue with the last CBA, a team that spends less money on players is a small-market team.
Take a look at the Phillies. For the last four years of the old Collective Bargaining Agreement the Phils received $42 M dollars. Money they have since invested in free agents like Jim Thome and David Bell, used to re-sign Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell to long-term deals, and allowed them to take on the contracts of Kevin Millwood, Eric Milton, and Billy Wagner. In some ways you could say the Indians paid the Phils to snatch Thome from their roster: Thome made $9.5 M in 2003, the first year in the contract he signed with the Phils. The Phils made $11 M in revenue sharing in 2002 and $8.8 M in 2003. The Indians paid about $13 M in revenue sharing in 2001 and paid again in 2002 (though I cannot find the exact figures). Cleveland's metropolitan population is about half of Philly's.
Basically, the Indians were penalized for having developed and trying to maintain a premier team and the Phillies were rewarded for ignoring their team and their natural resources, the fans, for many years. The Phils' coffers were bursting but they waited to use the extra funds until they were moving into a new stadium (well, it started the year before).
Clearly, any sharing of funds based on how a team makes decisions (i.e., payroll luxury tax) or what those decisions yield (i.e., sharing local revenue) affect how teams will run their teams in the future. That's the point. Baseball owners want to keep salaries low and, especially with a small-market commissioner, are jealous of teams with high local revenues.
The Indians, even before Thome left, had started to slash payroll even though they were still making a modest profit based on revenue. The Red Sox reportedly did not consummate the A-Rod deal ultimately because the added $3 M it would have taken to get him (after the union balked at Boston cutting his salary) would have put them too close to the luxury tax threshold.
Apparently, a team that spends money on players and/or generates a good deal of revenue is a large-market team. A team that spends less and/or makes less in local revenues is small market. This may work for their purposes, but not mine.
So what are my purposes? I propose top study the relationship between fanbase size and team record. A small-market team to me doesn't entail local media contracts, stadium age or quality, capital available to ownership, community concessions, etc. Those things change over time. Some are a product of team management or mismanagement—or the team may be hiding revenue/costs from one business, say, a cable channel, in another, say, a ballclub— and of the state of MLB in general.
I want to look at the most important resource available to a given team and the one it has the least control over, population (although Steve Garvey did do his part, the team player he's always been). There could be an investor who wants to bring major-league baseball back to Altoona but he probably would not get very far. I want ask, "Have the more populous cities' teams been more successful throughout baseball? And if so, are they still more successful today?"
Another interesting question is whether those small-market teams have been allowed to relocate to greener, that is more populous, pastures when they are available? As the population has moved to or expanded in the west and south in recent years, has major-league baseball followed? Does the fact that baseball has not had a team relocate in thirty years mean that there are no areas that could better support a team, other than the six that baseball has since expanded into?
The reason that I ask these questions is to help determine if there is a competitive imbalance on the playing field between large- and small-market teams (using my definitions), and if so, does it make a substantial enough dent in their financial statements that they are forced to pull up stakes and leave, that they are negatively impacted to such a degree that they have to relocate to survive? (No team has folded since 1899 and that was to reduce the NL's number of franchises from an unmanageable 12 down to the traditional eight.)
So small markets are less populous than the large ones, but how much smaller and where's the dividing line between the two groups? In the 1872 NA it was relatively easy to see that Middleton, CT had decided disadvantages, but are Kansas City and Cincinnati in the same boat?
Well, let’s start with the dividing line and go from there. In some instances, especially, in the nineteenth century, if we consider the top half of the teams as large markets and the bottom half as small, we will misrepresent the sizes of the cities relative to the most populous cities in the country.
For example, New York and Philadelphia, the two largest cities in the country at the time, both had teams kicked out of the National League (i.e., forfeited to the league) by baseball czar William Hulbert in 1876 after they failed to complete a road trip in the west (i.e., Midwest). They didn't field a major-league team until the maverick American Association was formed in 1882 (and even they did not have a New York team. The original Mets, until the next year). The NL did have teams in Troy (NY), Syracuse (NY), and Worcester (MA), however.
Los Angeles was probably the third most populous city in the US in 1958 (they passed Philly sometime between the 1950 and 1960 censuses) when the Dodgers moved there, but had been ignored by the majors until its inclusion was almost required (two of the other three major league sports had already had teams in LA; and the minor-league Pacific Coast League had been given special "open" classification making it almost a third major league). Then it had a second team within three years.
My dividing line will be determined by taking the number of major-league teams dividing by two (rounding down), and finding the city whose rank in population matches that number, irrespective if the have a ballclub or not. Then any city that has at least as large a population as the dividing-line city is a large market. Anything below the dividing line city is a small market. It's somewhat arbitrary but it's consistently arbitrary. If LA was in the top three or four most-populous cities in the Fifties and there were 16 teams (dividing line at the eighth most-populous), than in reality there was at most seven large-market cities.
Also, I have defined fanbase as consisting in the portion of the community available to the team, Therefore, the fanbase in cities where there are multiple major-league clubs equals the population of the city's metropolitan are divided by the number of clubs. Maybe that overstates the fanbase of, say, the old Boston Braves and understates the Red Sox's, but both teams had the same fanbase available and the NL club had been popular for years when they were successful (before the AL). They lost their fanbase through long years of sucking. Besides in any city there are fans of teams unrelated to the area. Should we poll Cub fans in Houston and educe the Astros fan base accordingly? Also, in multi-team cities there are fans, usual casual ones, of both teams. What do we do with those? Well, using Solomon-like wisdom, I have split them in half. Besides what portion of the local or national fanbase embraces a team is a function of how well managed and marketed a team is. The Yankees changed uniforms on a regular basis until they became the Yankees. The uniform has barely changed in eighty odd years since and are seemingly ubiquitous. It's a good thing they didn’t resemble the 1916 Giants unis.
One last thing, population is defined by the government via the census. Therefore, teams from different cities sometimes represent the same metropolitan area (e.g., San Fran and Oakland, Baltimore and DC). If the government calls it one community, so shall we. I know that some will take issue with the way the government draws its metropolitan borders. For example, Trenton is considered part of the New York metro area, but is closer to Philly; however, Atlantic City is part of the Philadelphia metro area but is considerable farther. Take it up with Uncle Sam. Their definitions are the best I have. One other issue with them is that they are reassessed with each census. The concept of metro areas as a concept came about in the Fifties. Before that they just counted everyone in the city limits. So in one census Baltimore and DC are separate metropolitan areas, but in the next they are one. Eh, what are going to do?
One last thing continued, if a team does not play a full season or moves to a new city midseason, both of which were common in the nineteenth century, that club will be considered as existing the entire season. Dividing teams by the percent of the schedule completed is too cumbersome and may actually be misleading given the unbalanced schedules of the era. (The only exception is if a team in a given city replaces another team in the same city, as happened once with the Reds once, I believe in 1890, they're considered one team since that's how baseball saw them.)
To be continued…
To Cabrera Is Human
A-B's round table on "Miguel Cabrera, Dud or Stud" is now up.
The Phils are getting down to their final roster spots, and surprisingly they are leaning towards keeping former starting centerfielder Doug Glanville around as a sixth outfielder. He is having a good spring (.323 BA, 3 HR, 6 R, 5 RBI in 31 AB), but David Bell has been almost non-existent in the spring training lineup and when he's been in, he's been as bad (1-for-7) as he was in last year's brief (85-game) appearance. (I just heard that he is starting to field grounders and throw every third grounder to the mound. The rest he just tosses to the side.)
The Phils are considering sending 25-year-old, erstwhile third baseman Chase Utley (.311, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 45 AB) down to Triple-A for the proverbial more seasoning. The same goes for 23-year-old pitcher Ryan Madson. Oddly, manager Larry Bowa seems to agree with me that both should stay on the roster: "To me, you only have so many shots to go for it, and you take your best team."
The estimable GM Ed Wade has a different opinion:
"It remains a balancing act. Whether we're at the point where we should up-tempo some guys remains to be seen.
"Is development vs. the makeup of the big league club an overriding factor? No. Is it a factor? Yes."
To paraphrase Bill Paxton in Aliens, "In don't know if you've been keepin' up with current events, Bell is getting his A's kicked!" Apparently, the prospect of part-time fielder (at third or anywhere else) Shawn Wooten and super sub Tomas Perez filling in for Bell is okie dokie with Wade. Or does he plan to take Quad-A, 30-year-old journeyman Lou Collier north to play the hot corner in Bell's usual absence.
How much seasoning does Utley need? He's 25 and has a lefty bat that would complement Bell's righty one well even if Bell is healthy and playing well. The Twins jettisoned their All-Star catcher and installed a 20-year-old behind the plate. Of course, that 20-year-old, Joe Mauer, is considered the best prospect in baseball and the Twins were small-marketing the decision, but Mauer hasn't played one inning of major-league ball as yet. Utley played significant time last year, albeit at second base, not third, but Utley did play third exclusively throughout 2002 and into the Arizona Fall League as he was being groomed to replace Scot Rolen. Why are the Phils always so concerned about seasoning?
This is especially true of Madson. More from Bowa that shows he just doesn’t get it:
"On pure stuff, Madson would make the team. But I understand the situation. He's one of our top guys. If he sits there not working, you're only hurting him.
"Do I want him? Yes. Do I want to hurt him? No. We have to look out for his best interests."
Why would spending the season in the pen hurt Madson? Thirty years or so ago Earl Weaver established that the best place for a starting pitcher to develop was long relief. The Phils have been trying to thrust starting pitching prospects into the rotation ever since Randy Lerch was a pup and aside from the current crop, they have almost to a man been complete failures. Again, take a look at the Twins. They would not have won the division last year had they not moved their best pitcher, Johan Santana, from the pen to the rotation.
The Phils have a couple of spots available in the pen. Madson (2.84 ERA this spring) is reportedly competing with Amaury Telemaco (1.08), David Coggin (0.00 in 10 IP), Bud Smith (7.36), and Geoff Geary (2.25). Telemaco is said to have the "inside track" possibly because he helped prop up the rotation as the Phils faded last year. Coggin and Smith are out of options, and the Phils broadcaster expressed the opinion that he would be claimed off of waivers if the Phils attempted to send him down. Given Coggin is a former first-rounder, the Phils don't want that to happen. Smith is a former Cardinal prospect who the Phils received in the Rolen-Polanco trade. Smith is actually a year younger and had some success in 2001 with the Cards whereas Coggin has yet to enjoy any real success in the majors in parts of three seasons.
So if I were a betting man, I'd put money on Coggin and Telelmanco filling out the staff. However, it won't be for the best interests of Madson. It'll be to spare the Phils the embarrassment of losing a former first-round pick.
And Utley will languish in Triple-A until Bell Vets Stadium-like implodes. Meanwhile Bowa will be occupied with getting enough ABs for sixth outfielder Glanville:
"It will be hard to get six outfielders at-bats," Bowa said. "They got at-bats last year because Pat [Burrell] struggled and Marlon [Byrd] was hurt. I can get five guys at-bats. Six? I don't know."
Mind you, this is a manger who has trouble filling out a scorecard while chewing gum. Even with the injuries last year, only two bench players got more than 134 ABs (Ledee 255 and Perez 298). Also, the Phils went all last season with just five men playing the outfield, and one of them only (Michaels) only collected 109 ABs. The prospect of adding a sixth man to that mix is ludicrous at best especially with the injuries in the infield to Thome and Bell and the fact that both catchers are well over thirty (Lieberthal 32, Pratt 37). The solution? The Phils may trade Ledee to keep the over-the-hill Glanville. At least then they couldn't njustify keeping Utley off the roster.
Finally, I may be mentioning the Twins a lot because the Phils played them in a wild 9-8 loss yesterday. Burrell looks fully recovered from his poor season last year and is prepared to rebound like Schmidt in 1979 after his just very good 1978 season. Burrell hit a home run that he had to reach for and muscle over the left field fence for his first of spring. He ended up 2-for-3.
At the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Millwood allowed back-to-back home runs en route to a three-inning, seven-hit, five-run start. Actually both starters had a rough time. Both allowed a bunch of home runs (Radke 3, Millwood 4). Then the pen settled helped settle the game down a bit. However, struggling/injury closer Billy Wagner allowed two runs in the final inning for a loss and setup man Roberto Hernandez gave up two a few innings earlier. Wagner just needs to heal and get his appearances in. Hernandez just isn’t that good. But Millwood is a concern. He has a 15.96 ERA and is 0-2 this spring while throwing just 7.1 innings in three appearances. He says that he was just working on some pitches and the next start will be "for real". After his meltdown at the end of last season, it does give one pause.
In other news, Jimmy Rollins went 3-for-3 with a homer and seems to be settling into his role at or near the bottom of the lineup. Good. Cormier looks ready for the season and Coggin did pitch well although he got himself into trouble after two quick outs. Lou Collier meanwhile does not look comfortable with the throws from third and mishandled a ball to get the leading runner at second on one play (for an error)—and yet Utley still didn’t get a trial there. He played briefly at first, however (and hit a ball off his knee so maybe the roster problem will be solved by a DL visit).
Big Concrete Slab: They Imploded Vets Stadium and Put Up a Parking Lot
If you missed it, Veterans Stadium, which stood as an empty, concrete husk, was put out if its and our misery in an awe-inspiring implosion at 7:00 AM EST today. The demolition looked like a giant set of dominoes configured in a circle. Once set in motion, the whole structure fell in about a minute, each vertical section in turn falling inward. The result was a cloud of dust around a demolished building, like something out of a war zone, but the dust quickly dissipated and the Vets remains looked like some ancient ruins to a once-great structure, like a corpse at a funeral that looks better than the person it once was.
The implosion was shown from every angle possible on local TV throughout the day. Finally, the Phils' local broadcaster capped the night with a half-hour special devoted to the Vet's history and demolition. They also showed the pre-implosion festivities that included the Phillie Phanatic doing his best Emmitt Kelly with an oversized plunger that he almost triggered on the way to the stage. It also included Greg "The Bull" Luzinski, as the other secret "imploder", the event being dubbed the last "Bull Blast".
Here's a quick overview:
The Phils also rebroadcast the ceremonies from last season's final game. It was great to see various ex-Phils, great and small (Terry Harmon, Jerry Martin). It's sad to consider that two of the Vet pillars, Tug McGraw and Paul "The Pope" Owens, have passed away in the intervening six months.
When I visit the new Citizens Bank Park—and could someone come up with a decent nickname for the place—, I will be in my third generation of Phillies stadia. My first game came in 1970, the last season at Connie Mack Stadium, when I was five. I don’t remember much besides the fact that the place was huge and the outfielders appeared to be ridiculously far away from everyone else (which leads me to believe that I had an upper-level seat in the outfield). I also have a program from the game somewhere, which informs me the visiting team was the Dodgers. I remember driving in Philly with my dad when I was in high school and his telling me that a vacant lot that we passed was where Shibe/Connie Mack used to stand. At least the site of the Vet will be used in some connection with the stadium: it'll be a parking lot for the fans, reportedly yielding 5,500 spots. They are also reporting that the outline of the stadium as well as a marker for home will be left in the parking lot. Maybe that's as much as it deserved.
I have finally completed the literature review for and prelude to my competitive balance study. Next up is a more logical way of partitioning the teams by into small- and large-markets by the actual populations they represent.
Home delivery of All-Baseball.com and Mike's Baseball Rants is now available via My Yahoo. And it's all absolutely free! For a limited time only!
Just do this:
- First, get a Yahoo account.
- Go to My Yahoo.
- Scroll to the bottom of the page and press "Choose Content."
- Go to the bottom of the next page and, under "Web and Internet", click the box and then the link that says "RSS Headlines (BETA)".
- Put "baseball" in the search box and check out all the choices.
Do it today!
(Thanks to Jon at Dodger Thoughts for the instructions.)
Get Your Phil
I’ th’ East my pleasure lies.
--William "Author" Shakespeare, Antony "Osuna" and Cleo "The Lip" Patra"
The All-Baseball round table for the NL East is up and guess who's the favorite to win the division.
East of Eden
The East Wind...is an impassive-faced tyrant with a sharp poniard held behind his back for a treacherous stab.
--Joseph "Jocko" Conrad
The All-Baseball round table on the AL East is now up.
...And Leon is getting laaaaaarger.
Competitive Balancing Act I, Scene IV—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, III, and IV
[T]he sanity of society is a balance of a thousand insanities.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Zimbalist is probably the most prolific writer and speaker on the topic of competitive balance (He also has a new book with Bob Costas, of all people, May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy ). He is second to Rottenberg in influence over academic study on the topic (and seems to have a rival in Doug Pappas—at least on April Fool's Day).
His theories are grounded in the academic and are based on Coase/Rottenberg. However, Zimbalist has had a flare for blue-skying and theorizing beyond the strictures of the free agent model beyond which most of the academic studies have not ventured.
In his 1992 book Baseball and Billions, Zimbalist devotes a section to "Free Agency and Competitive Balance" (pp. 95-104, hardcover edition). He starts with Rottenberg and then points out some "nuances…that require qualifications in his conclusions." He explains that after free agency "poor clubs [are] no longer as able to sell off their stars[; therefore], an important source of revenue is curtailed", thereby possibly creating "greater competitive imbalance". He also points out that "Rottenberg did not consider that free agency might raise transaction costs (the costs of making and enforcing a contract)."
However, he points out that "competitive balance… has become noticeably more equal [since 1976]", citing playoff and World Series teams.
- He points out that the start of the era of greater competitive balance more closely coincides with the establishment of the reverse-order amateur draft in 1965. It "eviscerated the 'bonus wars' of the 1950s and early 1960s."
- Second, Zimbalist points to a greater "compression of baseball talent".
- Citing Scully, he opines that "baseball's growing balance is a function of population dispersion, in particular, there is a tendency for small- and medium-size cities to grow more rapidly than big cities[, resulting] in a leveling of media markets." This can be seen by looking at the census figures for up-and-coming cities like Las Vegas and Orlando. Zimbalist points out, however, that "this dynamic has not yet come to baseball. In fact, local sources of income have grown considerably more unequal over the last twenty years."
However, revenues have been equalized because of national media contracts and licensing, i.e., equally shared "central revenue sources…have been growing the most rapidly." But Zimbalists seems dubious, correctly, that the central revenues will continue to outpace local ones and cites this as the main rationale for revenue sharing.
- Zimbalist also points to the Yankees dynasties of the past being facilitated by its incestuous relationship with the Kansas City A's, which also ended in the mid-Sixties, when CBS purchased the club.
Zimbalist then points future trouble spots opining that the amateur draft has potentially run its course as a leveling agent. He points to the Todd Van Poppel and Brien Taylor signings, neither of which did much to help the parent club. He speaks of a GMs getting over a "learning curve in dealing with free agency". Finally, Zimbalist presages what is now considered the largest problem facing competitive balance, that local revenue growth for some teams has outpaced central revenue growth. "This, of course, could engender financial instability."
Finally, Zimbalist closes the section by comparing free agent MRPs for large- and small-market teams. His findings are that the prevailing opinion, that star players mean more to large-market teams than small, is not supported by the facts. His rationale is that a) team revenues over the long haul are not so easily swayed by a free agent signing, but rather by a tradition of winning, and b) a free agent signing in a small market can have a greater affect than in a large market. Also, he points out that teams do relinquish a draft pick in signing a free agent so Coase's assumption that there is an absence of transaction cost is not supported.
There is an interesting passage near the end of the section:
It will always be in MLB's self-interest to exaggerate the economic difficulties of its weaker franchises, since it provides a ready rationale both not to expand the number of MLB teams and to allow existing franchises to move to greener pastures [Mike: or at least threaten to do so].
When I next caught up with Zimbalist, in his 2001 article in The Milken Institute Review, his tune had changed considerably:
Owners on the lower half of MLB’s economic ladder might well opt to minimize payrolls and ride the revenue transfers to profitability.
He uses the Blue Ribbon Panel report as a leaping-off point and proceeds to assess competitive balance since Baseball and Billions. He blames "baseball’s new national television contract in 1994[, which] cut payments by over 60 percent," coupled with a great disparity in local revenue growth for helping create the competitive imbalance. ("[In 1999,] the Yankees earned $176 million in local revenue, while the Montreal Expos managed just $12 million.")
He then points to expansion as a corrosive agent in the trend towards talent compression:
The distribution of baseball skills follows the familiar bell-shaped curve. The larger the number selected to play major league baseball, the greater will be the difference between the best and the worst players.
I am still not sold on his talent compression theory and will test it with a study or two later in this series. He points to the pre-World War II years as an era in which talent disparity was great, and, therefore, superior players set the records that still live to this day. However, "by 1998 talent dilution had almost reached the level of 1930. So, today, the McGwires and Sosas can more easily excel."
Next, he looks at team payrolls citing the inequalities by quartile that from the Blue Ribbon Panel:
And by no coincidence, correlation between team payrolls and team won/loss percentages was statistically signifi- cant at a 99 percent probability level in every year between 1995 and 2000 (and in no year between 1985 and 1994). [Mike: though he cites no study on the matter.]
The final half of the article is devote to the Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendations. First, citing The Wall Street Journal, he calls the Panel's financial cliams, accepted uncritically from the teams, "not credible". He also includes the great quote by the soon-to-canned baseball president and chief negotiator, Paul Beeston, "Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me."
He does say that the Panel's report "offers solid evidence of baseball’s growing competitive imbalance, and interesting ideas on what to do about it." Zimbalist fleshes out the Panel's revenue sharing plan:
[The report says] MLB should levy a 40 to 50 percent tax on a club’s net local revenue, then put the money into a central pool and distribute 1/30th of the pool to each club…The real impact would come indirectly, through the incentive effect of this local revenue tax. Assuming the tax was set at 50 percent, each increment to a team’s net local revenue would be reduced by 48.3 percent. This is because half would be taken away by the tax and 1.67 percent would be returned by the equal distribution from the pool to each club. Now, suppose Steinbrenner were contemplating signing Johnny Damon and estimated that, with Damon in the Yankee outfield, the team would generate an additional $16 million in annual local revenue. Without the local revenue tax, Steinbrenner should be willing to offer Damon any salary up to $16 million. With the tax, he should be willing to offer only $8.27 million [$16 million X (1 – 0.483)] [Mike: The new CBA calls for 34% tax].
Though he does argue that revenue sharing would affect salaries more than competitive balance: "the redistributive impact of revenue sharing is likely to be considerably weaker than its negative impact on salaries." He also says that their second recommendation, a 50% tax on payrolls over $84 M, would have the same effect.
Zimbalist does agree with the Panel's recommendation to amend the reverse-order draft, i.e., to add foreign-born players to the draft pool.
As the signing bonuses for foreign free agents increased, U.S. amateurs also demanded higher bonuses. Rather than lose draft picks, low-revenue teams began to skip over the top prospects. The high-revenue teams, though lower in the drafting order, started to get better domestic, as well as foreign, talent. Thus, changes signing new talent, which had promoted competitive balance, seem to be aggravating imbalance today.
The owners were unable to make this last change in the new CBA. However, Zimbalist argues that if the owners remove the compensation rule that gives a team a draft pick when it loses a free agent. By doing so, the draft would no longer be part of the negotiation process and the owners could institute whatever rules they want.
Zimbalist concludes that "to remain effective over time, any reforms baseball adopts in the name of competitive balance will have to sustain both the financial means and incentives for clubs to compete on a more equal footing."
He proposes that baseball break up its monopoly of its own accord. And have the "two competing business entities" with common rules and an intersecting playoff system:
With two separate businesses, it would be inconceivable that Washington, the nation’s seventh largest media market, would be without a franchise for 28 years. Just as McDonald’s and Burger King race to be the first to open a new restaurant at any promising street corner, each of the two leagues would try to exploit a potential market. Worthy host cities would not have to go begging for teams. Moreover, cities like New York might find themselves with a third or even a fourth team, and the relative revenue advantage of the Yankees would diminish.
He does say that the plan "has about as much chance being implemented as Ralph Nader had of being elected president," given the politics involved.
He warns baseball to proceed with care when making any changes. He cites the fact that teams do not have to reinvest revenue-sharing funds and says the 1996 revenue sharing plan as possibly exacerbating competitive imbalance. He notes that balance may be restored by the new stadiums being planned or built in a number of the poorer teams' markets and by the national media revenue increases ($6 M per club per year). He ends by saying, "It is possible that errant reform will produce more harm than good."
Zimbalist's take on baseball's competitive balance (or imbalance) continued to develop as witnessed by a speech he gave May 29, 2001 at a panel on free agency and collective bargaining (where evidently any mention of competitive balance was verboten).
On the topic of collective bargaining, Zimbalist sums up the owners' approach well:
[I]n the process leading up to collective bargaining, the owners get together…they discuss what they want to propose to the Players Association, and they can’t agree on anything, except one thing: and that is that they want to smash the players. So they come to the collective bargaining table with some plan either to introduce a salary cap or introduce luxury taxes or some other restrictive practice to affect the labor market. And that’s what confronts the Players Association as each collective bargaining session begins. The two sides are at loggerheads…
Zimbalist then proceeds to sneak competitive balance into his oration. He starts by stating that the having the two topics free agency and collective bargaining implies that the two are at odds and that "somehow free agency is part of the problem in collective bargaining rather than part of the solution", which is what he believes it to be. Free agency is beneficial to the sport in two ways: 1) It lifts salaries to the true market value, and 2) "it promotes a higher quality product [by attracting] a better quality of player."
However, "[I]nsofar as competitive balance is a problem in baseball today, and [Zimbalist is] one who believes that it is, I think that free agency actually tends to support balance, greater balance." There are two reasons that free agency does this. First, that it makes it more difficult to keep a winning team together. The other reason is that it allows owners to maximize profit by piecing together a team that will potentially barely win their division. There are more teams that can do this with the aid of free agency. This maximizes profits by promoting more fan interest.
Even though high player salaries grab the headlines, but as Zimbalist shows, salaries' share in baseball's revenues has remained steadily at the same level, slightly above 50%. However, the owners claim that two-thirds of the teams are losing money and that revenue imbalance has created a competitive imbalance.
To remedy these problems the owners propose contraction, increased revenue sharing, and additional restrictions on the labor market, i.e., to free agency.
Zimbalist is cynical on the topic of contraction, that it is nothing more than a bargaining chip in the negotiation process. It can also be used as an additional threat when a team cannot exact a new stadium or other concessions from a community. It had been that they could just threaten to move, but contraction add the threat to obliterate the team altogether to their weaponry. He warns, however, that contraction would potentially face "serious political obstacles in Congress" in the form of a withdrawal of "baseball’s antitrust exemption." He also takes a look at the issues in Florida that potentially could have led to the Marlins' contraction and concludes, "The problem in Florida is bad management and a bad stadium contract. It's not a bad stadium and it's not a bad area" even though those are the reasons usually cited for their potential contraction. The final obstacle to contraction is the players association. However, they have ceded the right to challenge contraction in the last CBA starting in 2006. Zimbalist dismisses contraction with " contraction is not going to happen…it’s a political ploy."
Unfortunately, Zimbalist starts running out of time just as he starts gathering steam. He does have an opportunity to land some mighty blows on the topic of competitive balance:
[I]t seems to me that the public discussion about competitive imbalance so far has been characterized by polarized extremes. People are writing articles either saying there is no problem, baseball has always had competitive imbalance, we don’t have to do anything about it, or they’re writing articles that say this is a cataclysmic event, the world has changed in the last five years, something has to be done drastic right away or baseball is going to implode. I think reality very clearly lies in between those two extremes and I would hope that some of the discussion can become more balanced and more nuanced.
Very well said. He blames the 1996 CBA for promoting bottom-feeding: "Any team that at the beginning of the year thinks they don’t have a chance to win does better economically by shooting for the bottom. And that’s actually hurt competitive balance."
Zimbalist ends with revenue sharing and how it may affect competitive balance:
Well with competitive imbalance the real issue here is the fan. We’re concerned about competitive balance because we’re concerned about maintaining and maximizing fan interest. The only way we’re going to know about how much competitive balance we need that maximizes, that optimizes the situation in baseball, is going step-by-step. So I think the appropriate way to approach that question [revenue sharing] is to move with a moderate amount…do it in steps over the years of the next collective bargaining agreement. See where that takes you, and then move from there.
The final entry in the Zimbalist litany is a speech he gave in 1992 ("The Economics of Baseball"). A lot of it is a rehash of Baseball and Billions. However, he has a section near the end on the viability of expansion to new markets:
One of the ways you can figure out whether a city is viable or not is to consider the following: the Cincinnati Reds are in the smallest media market of any baseball team. Cincinnati is the thirtieth media market in the country. The Cincinnati Reds have operated profitably for time immemorial. It's a profitable ball team in spite of the fact that it's the thirtieth largest media market. No other ball team is in a smaller media market. If you consider that, with the fact that four cities, including the Bay Area, have two baseball teams and there are two teams in Canada, then without admitting any new teams to cities that are smaller than Cincinnati, you could have thirty six teams instead of twenty eight teams in major league baseball. And there are another twelve or fifteen cities that are within ten percent of the media size of Cincinnati. So if you had an expansion program that went to the year 2000 or 2005 and you posit a population growth of only around one percent for those cities, then those cities also would be large enough. So there are enough cities out there which can support a major league baseball team.
It's an interesting point that runs counter to commonly held theories. It's something that we'll explore further in a future section.
Finally, Zimbalist proposes regulation for the sport:
We need a national, a federal sports agency that oversees the game in every aspect, one that would set a timetable for expansion, that in return for the tens of millions of subsidies that cities give to baseball teams that a certain amount of free access television, ticket pricing controls could get put in place, other kinds of controls on the exploitation of minor leaguers and amateurs could also be put in place. There have been bills that have come up in Congress from time to time to introduce regulation. So far they haven't made it, and of course, like every other political change that might be salutary in this country, it's going to take a lot of work.
That's just about the most extreme idea that I've in any of the studies on competitive balance. Given the gains that the owners made in the last CBA, unless they do something stupid to really tick off the powers that be, it seems a long shot.
— Baseball and Billions (Basic Books, September 1992)
—"Competitive Balance in Major League Baseball", The Milken Institute Review, First Quarter 2001, pp.54-64)
—"Free Agency and Collective Bargaining Panel"Weidenbaum Center Forum: Economics of Baseball, May 29, 2001)
—Speech entitled "The Economics of Baseball" (Conway, New Hampshire, August 19, 1992)
James, as opposed to Zimbalist, has written a scant few pieces on competitive balance. However, his influence in the baseball community at large mirrors Zimbalist's in the academic world. Obviously, he's had his influence on me since I named the piece after him. His economy of language is like the sparse notes that Louis Armstrong used in his later solos that expressed more than his more frenetic earlier works.
James first investigated competitive balance in his 1983 Abstract, in which he first establishes his oft-quoted "Law of Competitive Balance":
There develop over time (within a season, between seasons, within a game, between games) separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two
I love how the man can straight through the BS. Unlike the various studies that have added variables for everything under the sun while missing the big picture, James keeps it simple and cuts straight to the bone. Competitive balance is about how easily bad teams become good teams and visa versa. That's it.
The difference in strategy "is in how the two teams view the need to make changes." Winners end up developing a "self-satisfaction." Instead of replacing a sub-par player as a losing team would, they say, "We won the pennant with him last year." Winners don't address problems because they cannot see their problems. They are "frozen by [their] success." Meanwhile, "the more help you need, the more seriously you look at the options that can help you…A team which losesa pennant race by three games or less is much more likely to win the race in the following season than is a team which wins by three or less (Italics his)."
James backs this up with a study: He looks at all teams that won 90 to 96 games in a 162-game schedule. The teams that won a pennant or a division title, the "winners", ended up retaining 81% of their starters while "losers" (i.e., 90- to 96-game winners who did not win a title) retained only 75%. The winners' winning percentage on average decreased from .571 to .536 (35 points) while the losers went from .570 to .549 (21 points; note that by James' Law a winning team will decline on average in the next season). Twelve of forty losers won a division title or pennant the next season while only three of eighteen winners repeated.
He then uses the example of guarding the lines late in a game as anecdotal evidence of the influence of the Law in an individual game. "It increase the chance of a single, but decreases the chance of a double. The move generally allows more singles than it prevents doubles, thus it increases the chance that the opposition will be able to put together a big inning. But, because it prevents the double which would put the runner in scoring position, it decreases the chance of allowing a single run (Italics his)." Teams play for the big inning and for preventing the big inning early in a game, but their strategy changes later in the game. "The one-run inning becomes much more important, so you guard the line."
Next, the bugbear of competitive balance, free agency, is James' next topic. At the onset, free agency was expected to cause a great deal of competitive imbalance (which James points out was the expectation when rosters were expanded to 25 men, the fear being that the Yankees could use the extra roster spots to stockpile talent). However, what resulted was "exactly the opposite of what they originally said. Then they said it would destroy competitive balance; now, it is going to enforce competitive balance (Italics his)." This was James' stand in 1983, but it would change in his later writings as we'll see.
James then examines how the Law affects World Series play. He finds that the first-game losers won game two 56% of the time. Teams trailing two games to one win game four 52% of the time. Teams that trailed 3-2 won game six 62% of the time. "Why? Because they adjust."
Lastly, James applies the Law to individuals. "The less talent you have, the more you are forced to learn, to adapt, to adjust…The process constantly diminishes the distance between the best players and the worst…An finally, it defines greatness…Great ballplayers continue to experiment, continue to try things, continue to learn before they are on the road to oblivion…[that is] what you have to do to defy the Law of Competitive Balance."
Bill James revisited the topic of competitive balance in 1990 in that year's edition of The Baseball Book. He examines how few teams defended their division titles in the Eighties, three after twenty in the Seventies:
The human mind searches ceaselessly for cause and effect relationships, so when championship teams stopped repeating in the 1980's there was a causal connection drawn between this fact and the other most obvious change in the game, that being the advent of free agency in the late seventies. It is human nature to make such a connection…That was what the Abstract was about, in essence.
James says that even though he was skeptical for much of the Eighties, he believes that it was more than a random fluctuation. He does not have an explanation for why competitive balance had been so strong but itemizes eleven thoughts on the topic:
1) "Throughout the twelve decades of professional baseball, the difference between the best teams and the worst teams has gotten constantly smaller." He means that on a per-decade basis the differences between the best and the worst teams has gotten smaller each decade.
He does make the following unfortunate prediction: "In the next decade, it is extremely likely that the range [i.e., of the winning percentage of the best teams] will be more like 58 to 63 percent, although one or two teams may win more."
2) There is probably some randomness involved in the severe dropoff in repeat champs in the Eighties.
3) "Even historical trends which last for more than a century may eventually reach maturity…I don't think it is possible to get a great deal more balance among teams than we have now." This proved to be quite prescient.
4) Expansion causes the appearance of competitive imbalance since new teams are less likely to be competitive. He finds that this lasts up to ten years after expansion. In the Eighties the effects of the two rounds of expansion disappeared. Baseball expanded in 1993 and 1998 so it is just escaping from one round of expansion, but according to James' findings there is still some effect from 1998.
5) James finds that the effects of the reverse order draft didn't take hold "until the late 1970's, about twelve years after the first draft." So the draft's leveling effect was not fully realized until the Eighties.
6) There were teams in the Eighties that, like the Braves in the late Fifties and early Sixties, should have dominated but didn't. He points to the Mets, Blue Jays, and Sparky Anderson-lead Tigers.
7) The then-new strategy of "bail-out" trades, those made at the trade deadline to either dump salary or to get something in return for a year-end free agent, became popular in the Eighties. "But the effect of this roster strategy is to put a team into a pattern of contending in some years, and not in others. More teams now are in a position to contend…If a contending team can make a trade…it may vault that team up to a level that it is impossible for any team to match year after year."
8) Free agency does have an effect. "The role I see free agency playing is rather different, almost opposite, from the [usually suggested] role…which is that free agency tears apart championship teams…Players of today do not, in fact, change teams more often than players of other generations. What I see is that there may be Too much stability in personnel for teams to repeat…[T]here are all of those players who can't be moved. The effect: competitive balance." Willie Wilson's contract with the Royals is "the classic example".
9) The positives of parity (more teams enter the season thinking they can contend and more teams actually contend) outweigh the negatives (indistinguishable blandness).
10) James draws parallels between Stephen Jay Gould's theories on a general improvement creating competitive balance and his Law of Competitive Balance.
11) Finally, "[c]ould anything cause parity to go backward? Will we ever see a .700 baseball team again?" James sees only one possible for reversing the course of ever-increasing competitive balance, a new league.
James returned to the issue of competitive balance eleven years later when he revised his classic Historical Baseball Abstract. First, he establishes an "Index of Competitive Balance" based on the average standard deviation of winning percentages per season over the decade and the decadal average standard deviation of winning percentage. James is trying to account for variations among the teams in a season as well as over longer stretches of time. There is of course the problem of standard deviations being an inappropriate measure across leagues with different numbers of teams and with different lengths of schedules. He never fully explains how the index is derived ("because it's boring") but does state that lower index scores indicate less competitive balance and that a perfect score is 100%.
Here are the index scores per decade:
This contradicts James' previous statement that competitive balance has been ever-increasing over the twelve decades of baseball history. It looks relatively flat for the first half of 1900s. In the 1990s section of the book, James assesses the decade thusly, "[A]s the decade has moved on, competitive balance has begun to fray [even though] overall competitive balance was greater in the 1990s than in any other period in baseball history." His stand on free agency has changed as well: "Many things suggest that free agency now is destroying competitive balance, although it took twenty years for this to happen."
Frankly, I'm very surprised by James' turnaround on competitive balance in the past decade. I'm also confused because so little of the reversal is documented. As a matter of fact, the data cited contradicts his assertions.
Perhaps the growth of competitive balance that steamrolled through the three previous decades has slowed, but a) is still grew slightly and b) there is not indication that free agency is affecting competitive balance in the Nineties any differently than it did in the previous decade and a half. I could see revenue imbalance and the shortcomings of the previous CBA having more of an affect. Besides maybe the precipitous growth of the previous few decades were the anomaly and slower growth is more the norm.
Also, I have a germ of a theory that adding an extra round to the playoff system has had an affect. The number of playoff teams were doubled to eight out of thirty from 4 out of 26 in 1992, 4 out of 24 in 1976, 2 out of 20 in 1968, and 2 out 16 prior to 1961. You'll recall the theory that teams that make the playoffs do less to improve themselves than those who do not. So perhaps there are more teams doing less to improve themselves, given more make the playoffs. However, I would think that this would help both components of James' index. I keep attacking this from different angles but I can't see how the extra playoff teams negatively impact competitive balance. I'll see if I can come up with anything intelligible when we conduct our own study.
Anyway, I agree with James' original approach of attacking the competitive balance in a less cause-and-effect approach and more of an anecdotal approach, of course, supported by the meaningful data. My concerns with the strict data modeling approach are based in my belief that you cannot properly model all of the things that affect competitive balance. To control for whether or not there is a reverse-order draft ignores the reality that the influence of the draft has changed over time as international players, who do not enter the draft, have driven up the signing bonuses requested by in-demand draft-eligible players, thereby causing low-revenue teams to bypass those players. Free agency cannot be controlled for as well. Even if one controls for free agency weighting by the number of free agents, a myriad of issues is ignored: bail-out trades, long-term contracts to young players, arbitration pay raises, teams colluded not to sign free agents, and the fallacy of the assumption that the number of free agents has a direct, linear affect on competitive balance.
I will now undertake to study competitive balance using the approach that there is a story with many facets and no one model that explains it all.
—"The Law of Competitive Balance", The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1983: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball (Ballantine Books, 1983, pp. 220-223)
—"The Parity Party", 1990 Baseball Book (Villard Books, 1990, pp. 32-34)
—"Index Fingered", The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, 2001, p. 19)
—"The 1990s in a Box", The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, 2001, pp. 311-312)
Other studies/articles on competitive balance:
I know the Table Round, my friends of old;
--Alfred Lord "Baltimore" Tennyson
There are no chaste minds. Minds copulate wherever they meet.
--Eric "The Red" Hoffer
The NL Central Round Tableis now up, and it's good.
Competitive Balancing Act I, Scene III—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, and III
Sisters is probably the most competitive relationship within the family, but once the sisters are grown, it becomes the strongest relationship.
— Margaret "Don't Call Me David" Mead
So far we have found little to refute the Rottenberg/Coase theory that free agency does not affect competitive balance. However, I found a couple of studies that were of interest because, if nothing else, they tried something different.
The first is a thesis from one Peter Fishman at Duke University ("Competitive Balance and Free Agency in Major League Baseball", May 2002). He also had professors Andrew Zimbalist and Rodney Ford help him out on the project. What makes his analysis different are two things: A) He takes into account the actual numbers of free agents in (or prior to) a given year whereas the others just use an on/off dummy switch for the presence of free agency. And B) his conclusion is that free agency has negatively impacted competitive balance.
Fishman's analysis takes into account the reverse-order draft, Andrew Zimbalist's talent compression (i.e., via a measure for percentage of American population playing major-league baseball), expansion (with a dummy variable for the first two years of an expansion team), number of games played, number of teams, and number of free agents. His findings are that "free agency does indeed have an effect on competitive balance" (p.10).
It sounds like a thorough study and therefore, a very credible answer, right? Well, I have a number of issues with it, the first being that the number of free agents tells you nothing about the quality of free agents. In the Seventies, you rarely saw average players on the open market, just superstars. That's how baseball is: look at the number of African-American role players before, say, the Seventies. Baseball integrated but just for the very good players. If you were a black backup catcher in the Fifties, you'd never see the light of day in the majors. Eventually, the conservative elements in the game came around or died out and things changed. It was the same in free agency. I'm sure if Joe McEwing had declared himself a free agent in the late Seventies, he would have effectively ended his career. But now the stigma has been lifted.
Fishman actually responds to this criticism in his "Extensions" section (#4 "log NFRAG", pp. 15-16):
There has been an increasing number of free agents since 1977. There was an average of 27 free agents per year during the late 1970’s compared to 122 annually during the 1990’s. The players who declared free agency during the 1970’s were generally of higher caliber than the average player (of the 122) who declared free agency in the 1990’s. Given that higher caliber players have a greater effect on winning, this might suggest that a linear model…would not be appropriate…My regression model counted the number of free agents, but it did not assess the overall quality of the free agent pool from year to year.
He reruns his regression again and concludes that the findings cannot disprove the Coase model (the results are still negative but are now not significant). He leaves the issue open for future investigation, but I think this one issue is enough to scuttle his original findings, and I have others.
Using the number of free agents is problematic at best. There are any of a number of potential free agents that re-sign with their original clubs for substantial increases. The fact that a large-market team can resign a good number of these players but small-market team cannot is supposedly the basis of competitive imbalance today. Besides telling nothing about the quality, the number of free agents tells you nothing about their point of origin.
Also, players often seem to switch teams in the year prior to their free agent year. Their new team will either use the players for their stretch run or will use their own resources to sign the player to a long-term contract without them ever testing the free agency waters. The flow seems to be from small- to large-market here as well, but this study ignores them.
Another problem is collusion, a practice used throughout baseball for three seasons (1985-87). However, it is not even mentioned in this study. Teams colluded to not sign players that were still desired by their previous teams in order to keep salaries low. The number of players who declared themselves free agents may not have changed, but the possibility of changing teams and following the Coase theorem sure did.
What about arbitration-eligible players? We have seen a great deal of them not being tendered contracts and being made (possibly unwilling) free agents. Those that do not get released have their salaries affected by the free agent signings and affect free agent signings.
Also, there have young players who have been locked up in long-term contracts in the mid-Nineties Indians mold. They may not have been eligible for free agency or even for arbitration as yet, but their contracts extend sometimes into the free agency period.
There are also those players that, in a given year, are under a multi-year contract that was signed when they were free agents. Potentially, their big-money contract would affect future signings by their teams. However, the players' free agent status is only recorded in the year they were free agents.
There are also other minor points: International players are not in the draft, so they are not included in these analyses. The nature of the draft has changed to the point where high-profile prospects are often passed over by small-market teams because they are afraid of the potential asking price. And yet, the amateur draft is merely represented in the study by an on/off switch. In one of Fishman's extensions (#2, "New York Yankees Effect", pp.14-15), he finds that removing the Yankees from the equation results in a negation of his original findings. Could one team have caused such an imbalance? Some think so today.
I have some problems in general with modeling, but I'll reserve them for after the final free agency study. One last problem is that the way that these studies all look at competitive balance within a season, not from season to season. Here's an example of what I mean. Compare the competitive balance between these two leagues:
Justice League, Year 1
Justice League, Year 2
The Little League, Year 1
The Little League, Year 2
One would think that the second league is far more competitive than the first given that the standings were reversed in the second year. However, as far as these studies are concerned both leagues are equally competitive in either year because their standings, by the win-loss numbers, are the same. But which team would you rather be, Team D, who finished 28 games back both years (in the Devil Rays mold), or Team Z, who finish way back in year one and the win the division the next (a la the Cubs in 2002-2003)?
The last free agency study, by E. Woodrow Eckard in 2001 ("Free Agency, Competitive Balance, and Diminishing Returns to Pennant Contention", Economic Inquiry, Vol. 39, No. 3, July 2001, pp. 430-443), takes a look at competitive balance from season to season instead of within one season only.
Less balance within a league means that teams with good, middling, or poor records tend to repeat them year after year. Over a given number of seasons it implies greater variation among teams in cumulative win percents and less variation in individual team win percents.
Eckard calculates "cumulative variance", i.e., the variance in winning percentage across all teams over a given period. He finds that "there are diminishing marginal returns to each additional year's 'production' of a championship-caliber team. Incentives are thereby reduced for successful clubs to bid continually for the services of the top players necessary to remain in contention." He then goes into how this affects of continual winning causing fan apathy, using Atlanta as an example, and thereby affecting attendance.
Frankly, this is where my eyes glaze over. I don’t buy these arguments necessarily. Fan apathy can result from continual winning but it sure as heck results from continual losing more often. Baseball is a form of entertainment and as long as there is some dramatic tension for the fans, they'll show up at the stadium. The Yankees seem to be able to sustain this dramatic tension for their fans.
However, there are a number of studies that delve into attendance being tied to fans' ennui based on Rottenberg's "uncertainty of outcome" hypothesis. Here are some examples: Young Hoon Lee ("Competitive Balance and Attendance in Japanese, Korean and U.S. Professional Baseball Leagues", July 2002), Brad Humphreys ("Alternative Measures of Competitive Balance in Sports Leagues", August 2001), and Leize Gaillard ("Attendance and Competitive Balance in Professional Sports", Davidson Economic Times & Review, Spring 2003).
My objection to these purely academic studies is that they do not properly model the game. There are plenty of wholes that can be punched in the basic premises of these studies. For example, the basic assumption that free agency either exists or it doesn't is specious at best. Fishman improved on this by adding in the count of free agents in a given year. However, he also assumes that the number of free agents correlates linearly to the degree of competitive balance in a league. That is, as the number of free agents increases it directly affects competitive balance. However, that assumption can be easily obliterated. Consider that if all players were made free agents every year, the competition for an individual player's talents would lessen. We have seen this in the last couple of seasons as scores of arbitration-eligible players are made into free agents when they are not tendered contracts. As a result the glut of talent has kept salaries from increasing.
Now if only a handful of players were eligible for free agency, the salaries of the best free agent players would be kept artificially high and therefore, would only be signed by the highest-revenue clubs causing competitive imbalance. Salaries in general would rise as more players were eligible for free agency since they would also create a case for a number of arbitration-eligible players, thereby apparently negatively impacting competitive balance. However, at some point there is a glut on the market and salaries can be kept low, positively affecting competitive balance presumably. Therefore, the relationship between the number of free agents and competitive balance is not nearly linear but rather an arc.
In the last section of the literature review, we'll look at a couple of the big guns, Bill James and Andrew Zimbalist. Then we'll try our hand at our own study.
Nights of the Round Table
The third entry in All-Baseball's ongoing divisional round table, and even though it's on the AL Central, I somehow end up defending a move for the Expos to
Also, the second entry in my competitive balance series is done. Sorry this is taking so long but there are a lot of documents to weed through, summarize, and render up in
I am done with the parochial independent studies. Next, we'll check out two studies that had some interesting eccentricities and look at a couple of the
A Called-Out-To-The-Woodshed Event
They’ll nail anyone who ever scratched his ass during the National Anthem.
—Humphrey Bogart referring to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The union's wrong, here. Baseball is the national pastime, but it's the repository of the values of this country. There's something simply un-American about [resisting stronger testing for steroids]. This is about values, about culture, it's about who we define ourselves to be.
—Joe Biden "My Time"
Quick, change the Cincinnati club's nickname back to he Red Legs lest we think that baseball is riddled with steroid "Pinkos"!
Instead of finding Osama bin Laden or fixing the intelligence problems that led to September 11 and the false claim that there were WMDs in Iraq or stimulating an economy that witnessed about 10% of projected new jobs coming to fruition last month, our government is now tackling the tough problems, like steroid use by professional athletes and what Bono can say in acceptance speeches.
Baseball and football officials, including commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA chief Donald Fehr, were called to a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee to clap erasers, write "I will not let my players take steroids in class" one hundred times, and to, in general, act contrite.
The usually reasonable John McCain opened the hearing with this salvo on the sports' "legitimacy problem": "Sports organizations that allow athletes to cheat through weak drug testing regimes are aiding and abetting cheaters," Next James Nabors, the senior Senator from Tennessee, stood and proclaimed, "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
Bud Selig, the staunch supporter of the un-American activity of labor negotiations, instantly turned to Donald Fehr and said, "Don't blame me. It's his fault." Well, almost:
"I realize that we have work to do," Selig said. "We need more frequent and year-round testing of players. We need immediate penalties for those caught using illegal substances."
In other words, "Please don't take away my antitrust exemption. It's the union's fault after all."
Fehr responded with, "I believe that the program that we instituted has had some effect." Given all the reports of players "shrinking", that appears to be the case. However, McCain was unimpressed:
"Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies. I don't know what [those remedies] are. But I can tell you, and the players you represent, the status quo is not acceptable. And we will have to act in some way unless the major league players union acts in the affirmative and rapid fashion."
To which, Fehr responded, "Ooh, I'm shaking!"
At that point, McCain with one hand dissolved the DH rule in the American League in the form of a mini Edgar Martinez doll rent in two and smote Fehr with a lightning bolt with the other.
To quote Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, "What, are you going to arrest me for smoking?" What law will the government enforce or enact? Make steroids illegal? Already done. Could they make the union liable or culpable in some way when their members use steroids? I guess, but how would that be conducted? I thought that the current administration wanted less government, not Joe Biden and John McCain collecting urine samples in major-league locker rooms.
The only real leverage, other than using the court of public opinion, is to revoke the game's antitrust exemption. But that puts pressure on the owners, not that the players. The players couldn't care less. Actually, the removal of the exemption could be a big plus for the players in many ways.
If you think about it, now is the perfect time for the union to play Congress against the owners. Extract concessions from the owners and then allow them to change the steroid policy to placate the demagogues. The players don't need the overblown PR nightmare that the issue has become, but the owners don't need to know that. Demand that they give up on luxury tax or better yet, implement true revenue sharing. "Sure we'll reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we need a little something in return."
Unfortunately, someone as shrewd and fearless as Marvin Miller is not running the union. Fehr, you'll recall, is the man who lost to the owners for the first in the last CBA. And with the John Smoltzes of the baseball world openly flaunting their willingness to give up player rights for free, Fehr's power is far from centralized.
How will this play out? Probably just like Selig's last appearance before Congress, to get his wrists slapped over contraction threats, which is to say, that'll be that, at least as far as Congress is concerned. Congress rid themselves of their 'roid rage. However, the players have been served notice. Dean Wermer put them on double-secret probation.
With this issue being such a hyped black eye for the sport, something will be done. However, what and how it affects the players will come down to who blinks first, Selig or Fehr (who by the way, is in the midst of a contract renegotiation to ensure that he's still the union chief come the next labor negotiations).
There's also one wild card in the whole story, the BALCO investigations. The worse the news is there, the more intense the pressure will be on the players to accept more stringent testing and punishment. If Barry Bonds is indicted, it'll be 1961 all over again with asterisks flying left and right, but Billy Crystal won't be making a feel-good movie about this one.
Berry Berry Dos
Our discussion of the NL West is now up. Enjoy. Seacrest...Out!
All Baseball Be Berry Berry Good To Me
The All-Baseball crew will have a series of round tables over at the main site. The first is on the AL West. Here's a spoiler: I picked the Raiders.
The Legend of Teddy Ballgame: The Revenge of the Headless Hoseman
John Henry Williams, the son of Ted Williams, died today of leukemia.
Before you get all weepy-eyed about that fact, remember that Williams fils had Williams pere cryogenically frozen after having his head removed. The cryogenic facility has been accused of being substandard and J.H. Williams has spoken of potentially selling his father's cells.
I'd love to be a fly on the wall (cloud?) when Williams younger approaches the pearly gates (insert appropriate afterlife symbol here). I would imagine that Teddy Ballgame would be waiting for his son and that he can't be pleased. A trip to the woodshed for enternity may be in order. This was a man you'd be wise not to tick off. Ask the Washington Senators.
Williams' death leaves a couple of lingering questions: Will Ted be removed from the deep freeze? And if not, will his son join him there? Of course where Williams the younger is headed, the freezing won't help.
I happened to catch my two first games of the spring season today. I was able to watch the Reds-Phils and Yankees-Jays games simultaneously--I love picture-in-a-picture.
Anyway, I didn't catch both the games in their entirety, but it was enough to whet my appetite for the upcoming season. The Phils lost in a nail-biter to the Reds in the ninth, 2-1. The Yankees pounded Toronto. I happened to catch two big hits by Jorge Posada, a homer and a seemingly catchable 3-run double (Is Jose Cruz Jr back in Toronto?).
But there were two things of interest, one per game, that I wanted to point out. The Phils-Reds game was particularly amusing because both teams wore basically the same uniforms, a red top and off-white pants. The only difference between the tops were the team names. The Phils wore pants with pinstripes while the Reds had ones with one stripe done each side. When I first tuned in, I thought it was an intrasquad game. I guess one team's traveling secretary didn't talk to the other's. It sounds like John Candy's excuse for how he ended up mud wrestling in a strip club in Stripes. It's spring training for them too after all.
In the Yankees game, it seems the YES broadcasters were already in mid-season form, sucking up the airwaves with their inimitable (let's hope) style. They were all over A-Rod for missing a bullet down the line because he seemed to hesitant slightly (even though it seemed to me that he wouldn't have gotten it anyway). They showed the replay about a half dozen times and cut to footage of Graig Nettles in the dugout as well as archival footage. All the while they were citing Nettles as saying that A-Rod's biggest problem will be reacting to the ball getting there quicker.
In all fairness to Wilson, he helped turn a nice double play by shuffling a throw to short from his glove. When Wilson came up to bat he infallible commentators said the usual, "You ever notice how often a player turns a double play and comes up to bat in the next half inning." It's a little bit ironic, don't you think?
Well, I don't. There are only nine guys in the lineup. With the number of good plays in a game, like a Spinal Tap drummer surviving fortnight, the law of averages catch up with this sort of thing. Anyway, Wilson struck out in his next AB. So much for the kismet.
Don't Be Roid-iculous (Coosin Larry)
Your country is calling you. Our people are calling us. The people of America are calling us to relieve them from the distress that has infested this entire Nation… Your people are asking you to deliver them from this condition that now exists. They are asking relief.
—Huey "Don't Call Me Terrence" Long
Life is fountain of joy; but where the rabble also gather to drink, all wells are poisoned.
—Friedrich "Fat Freddy" Nietzsche
McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.
—Joseph R. McCarthy (No, not the Yankee manager)
No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.
—Edward R. "Stump" Murrow
Players today are shiftless moneygrabbers, shadows of the players of yore, right? Why, that's what their employers and their commissioner tell us, every time there is a new labor negotiation and at arbitration time every year. Listen to talk radio and every fan will spit that opinion into your ear.
And now in light of the BALCO investigation (get it? BALCO. Balki. "Don't be ridiculous"? It’s all good clean fun), we are told that the players today are so lazy that they even need help to playa kid's game, one we'd give our eyeteeth to play for a living. And their union, who, to quote Mike Lupica, "still consider themselves the de facto commissioners of the sport", is helping them do it. That's what the media are telling us. That's what the president and former owner of the Teaxas Rangers told us in his State of the Disunion Address.
Here's a sampling:
To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now. (Applause.)
[N]ow the genie is out of the bottle, and we happen to know what's in the bottle, and we are where we are with this, baseball being dominated by headlines about drugs and drug users and drug pushers the way it was around the time of the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985.
—"Loopy" Mike Lupica, with whom this column has somehow been confused by a few emailers
Major League Baseball's cat is almost out of the bag. It is one, big, scary cat, one of those snarly, demon-eyed cats Stephen King writes into novels. It has a head like Egypt's sphinx - or Disney's Lion King on feline growth hormones.
MLB's horse is almost out of the barn. It is big enough to make the original Trojan horse run for the Aegean Sea. Or as they say in the underground labs, "Beware of geeks bearing gifts"…
And if there are lingering doubts about [Pat] Burrell, check out the young women he dates.
Nobody with that kind of stable would risk becoming a boy soprano for a few extra homers.
—The estimable Bill "Jocko" Conlin
Now, for most fans, they're guilty until proven innocent…
They [attorneys for the BALCO defendants] also continue to say Bonds never used steroids…
It's getting to the point that you expect the next excuse from one of these sluggers will be: "Yes, but the dog ate my steroids.''
—Skip Bayless, whose name I was tempted use in an extremely obvious and extremely appropriate play on words but thought better of it for the sake of the children
When it comes to steroid use in baseball, everybody is a suspect, and they should be. There are too many knuckleheads in the game who want you to believe the following: The cow jumped over the moon, water isn't wet and all of these jumbo players are just eating more spinach.
According to Barry Bonds, among those knuckleheads, the baseballs last season were really soft. Right now, between hitting computer keys, I'm holding an official Rawlings baseball from last season, and it is really hard.
My fingers don't lie. As for Bonds' tongue, well, uh. Hmmmm.
—Terrence "Don't Call Me Terry" Moore (My fingers don't lie either, Terrence. Read between my fingers, why don't you?)
When the president of the United States says "get rid" of steroids, as George W. Bush did in his State of the Union address in January, it's no longer a privacy issue. When the attorney general, John Ashcroft, says steroids are "bad for sports, bad for players and bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models," it's no longer a privacy issue.
— Dave Anderson in his open memo to the MLBPA Re steroids
It didn't occur to Barry Bonds on a gloomy Tuesday in sports that his name soon might be affixed with a big, fat, dirty * [asterisk], if not removed from the books altogether. Rather than provide explanations that might save his endangered legacy from the gutter, he took the cheap, cowardly and typically Barry way out.
He played the race card.
Indeed, Lupica has made a cottage industry out of the BALCO scandal with three articles in three days drawing from the 'roid well. But before we all follow along goose- Stepin Fetchit-ing behind these pie-eyed pipers, maybe we should consider a few items that aren't getting much attention. We'll start by following the bloviating Lupica down through the looking glass or the Mike-roscope.
Today, "The Mouse that Roared" went after players union and MLBPA executive Gene Orza:
They're right, you're wrong.
If you are looking for the credo of the Major League Baseball Players Association, there it is. They're right, you're wrong. They are right about a keeping a salary cap out of baseball, even bragging in negotiations about protecting the Yankees.
They are right about preventing Alex Rodriguez from going to the Red Sox, because they know better than Rodriguez what is good for him. And of course they are right about steroids.
There are so many things that I disagree with those statements that have nothing whatsoever to do with steroids (A-Rod, cap, etc.), but unlike Lupica, let's stay on topic. Mini Mike is pointing to the statements by Orza yesterday:
"Let's assume that (steroids) are a very bad thing to take. I have no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes. But I would never say to the clubs as an individual who represents the interests of the players, 'Gee, I guess by not allowing baseball to suspend and fine players for smoking cigarettes, I am not protecting their health.'"
Mike had already established that MLB did all that it could to bulk up its steroid policy:
Commissioner Bud Selig, and his lieutenants Rob Manfred and Robert DuPuy, somehow managed to get testing for illegal drugs written into the last collective bargaining agreement. It isn't nearly as much as the sport needs, isn't close to the kind of drug testing baseball does in its minor leagues. It was as much as Selig and Manfred and DuPuy could get off this union.
Perhaps Orza's is an inappropriately timed statement, but as John Perricone at Only Baseball Matters documents extremely well, may have a basis in fact. Only Baseball Matters cites actual medical professionals at National Institute on Drug Awareness (NIDA) to answer Lupica's screed-ending query, "If steroids aren't bad, why are his players getting tested for them?" Quoth John:
The simple truth is that there have been essentially no studies done that have concluded that steroid use will cause anything. How can I say this? Because there have been essentially no studies done at all. Look it up. Go to the NIDA and try to find the huge library of studies and reports and data. It's not there. If it's not there, then where is it? I don't know, and neither does Lupica. (Italics his)
OK, maybe you say it's not the time to be debating the pernicious effects of these drugs. Though I don't know when the appropriate time would then be. Perhaps it's just that, to quote Austin Powers, "That train has sailed." And who's to say if steroids are being used, are they being used in a responsible manner. Their use breaks the law after all.
Yes, steroids are illegal, and baseball should be doing what it can to ensure players are not doing illegal things. I do not say this because it warps young minds like the remix of Marilyn Manson and Judas Priest on the upcoming "Grey Album II". I say this because players are assets only if they can play. If they are injured, absent, or otherwise engaged, say, in jail, then they are not of any use.
Some aren't concerned about the illegality of steroids but rather their effects on the game. After all, the power-hitting of the last decade is directly attributable to steroid use isn't it? Look at the three big-name players involved, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield, all home run hitters.
The prevailing theory is that players 'roid up, that they put on massive amount of muscle through steroids and that they can therefore, hit balls farther and ergo there more home runs. One has to wonder if steroids really do make players that much stronger why pitchers don't combat this strategy by taking the drugs themselves. You never hear about pitchers blowing up over the winter. However, the added strength would seem to be a greater aid to pitchers who could perhaps gain a few miles on a fastball. Hitters, on should remember, have a task that requires more than just strength. There are many talents that go into being a good hitter. That's why players of such disparate body types as Richie Sexson (6'6" and 205 lbs.) and John Kruk (5'10", 204 lbs. allegedly) can be effective hitters. The thinner Sexson body type can even generate more power sometimes.
As far as how much effect steroid use has had on the game, one has to wonder given all of the more offensively minded parks that sprang up since Camden Yards, two rounds of expansion in six years, finaglings with the strike zone, the disappearance of the batter's box, accusations of a livelier ball, and a myriad of other factors.
Also, if one looks at the other, non-big-name players mentioned in the BALCO investigation, Marvin Bernard, Benito Santiago, and Randy Velarde, are not players that you would expect to hear. Both Bernard's and Velarde's career high in home runs is 16. Santiago's high since 1996 is 16 as well (though he hit 30 in '96). What happened to all the home runs that the steroids should have helped them hit? Oh maybe the outfielders were using steroids to give them super leaping ability to catch all of the dingers these three should have hit.
OK, say you, I've I'm dubious of the findings from the BALCO investigation, maybe I should listen to ex-players like Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti who claim that steroid use is wide spread. Why former Bonds teammate Andy Van Slyke says that "unequivocally [Bonds] has taken them". Witness this interchange from an interview with Sporting News Radio's Rick Ballou:
Ballou: Are you telling us, in your opinion, that it looks like Barry Bonds has taken steroids?
Van Slyke: Unequivocally he's taken them, without equivocation he's taken them. I can say that with utmost certainty.
Now, I never saw him put it into his body, but look, Barry went to the bank with the robber, he drove the car, he got money in his pocket from the bag that came out of the bank. Come to your own conclusion. Did he spend the money?
You decide. I think he did.
"Unequivocal" to Van Slyke seems to mean the same thing as "inconceivable" did to Wally Shawn in The Princess Bride or as "ironic" to Alanis Morissette, which is pretty much nothing. And Canseco is as credible a witness as Pete Rose today. Besides, didn't baseball test its players last year and find 5-7% use steroids? That's cause for some concern, but no cause for Mariotti's "big, fat, dirty *".
Finally, is anyone else suspicious that Bill Romanowski is the only football player involved? If you go to ESPN's main football page today, you'll find articles about free agent signings, the upcoming draft, and even baseball-flunky Drew Henson, but not one steroid article.
How can this be? Of course, steroid use is more widespread in the NFL than in baseball. The NFL does indeed suspend players for steroid use but I for one am dubious. Added bulk and muscle is obviously more of an asset in football than baseball and I have to wonder if only one player was enticed by its advantages. They say otherwise:
"I was very upset we were painted with the same brush as baseball [in the State of the Union]," said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the National Football League Players Association. "Our players have supported testing for steroids and getting steroids out of the game. They support a zero-tolerance policy.
It makes me wonder why this story is breaking in an election year after the president already made it part of his domestic agenda. Consider that this is an embattled president that has been looking for soft issues from gay marriage to Janet Jackson's breast in order to deflect scrutiny on many policies. It's easier to take potshots at already unpopular archetypes like baseball players than to answer questions about what he did and did not know about WMDs. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but is it a coincidence that Howard Stern is now being hounded off the air after he stopped supporting Bush's policies and started opposing him (and wasn't Jackson's breast a serendipitous godsend, so to speak, for the religious right as well as relatives of Colin Powell)? That the leaks have occurred and that they help certain people's agenda, I think, is more than a coincidence and more reason for everyone to make sure come November that those parties are no longer in a position to make those decisions.
Look, if the players used illegal substances, they should pay just like anyone else. However, there is a presumption of innocence that should be maintained here. The players have not been indicted yet on any charges, let alone been found guilty. Right now it's all circumstantial evidence and hearsay. Let's let the justice system handle it.
Unfortunately, baseball is again being upstaged by an overblown, off-field issue. If the players are indicted and found guilty, I don't want to hear about asterisks and revoked records, but I know that I will. It's not like this is a dream on "Dallas" and a whole season can just be forgotten.
Ah, it makes one harken for the simpler, halcyon days when our baseball players just gambled on the game and the majors practiced segregation.
Competitive Balancing Act I, Scene II—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, and III
This morning I opened the morning paper—well, actually the morning paper is reading ESPN online, but you get the nub of my gist—and looky look what issue Giants owner Peter Magowan used to deflect attention from new allegations that Barry Bonds received steroids? Why, it's none other than competitive balance, that bugbear of the egalitarian major league baseball ownership:
"In terms of competitive balance it is not good for baseball," Magowan said Monday in his first appearance at spring training.
"The Rodriguez trade moves us back to where we're escaping. The team with the highest payroll can add the highest-salaried player. It's good that A-Rod is playing in a big market, but it should be another big market," he said.
"I think all of us in baseball would prefer to get a salary cap if we could," he said. "The Yankees are probably the only ballclub that would not want to have one. They have a payroll of $185 million. We'll probably start the season at $80 million. The Yankees could be the only team to have to pay a payroll tax."
Of course, Magowan, who evidently is watching too many reruns of "Escape from New York" on TNT, fails to mention that between the money that the Rangers will kick in to get rid of the best player in the league, the Yankees also dumped Drew Henson, Aaron Boone, and Alfonso Soriano amigo money. In total, A-Rod will cost the Yankees $2.14 M more than they were spending before the Boone injury
(That is, the cost is $21 M for A-Rod's contract. Subtract the $40 M over seven years that the Rangers are paying on his contract, or $5.7 M—the Yanks also get $27 for deferred money. Then subtract $5.75 for Boone, $5.4 for Soriano, and $2 M for Henson in 2004, and you get $2.14 M. You can add in the Henson money, $12 M in total, if you want. You can subtract the contract of whomever they get to replace Enrique Wilson at second if you want as well.)
"[A]ll of us in baseball" want a salary cap? I think the players would disagree. However, is it surprising that the owners want a salary cap? Payroll is a very big expense. Of course the owners want to limit it. What owner doesn't? Just ask Marx.
That's why all of the owners except the Yankees are treating the payroll tax threshold as a cap. That's the reason that A-Rod slipped through the Red Sox fingers in the first place. It was reportedly over $3 M that would have pushed Boston too close to the payroll tax limit.
However, Magowan's blast was just the opening salvo in MLB's new war on the Yankees. It took a few weeks but the doomsayers are coming out in full force. I guess spring training brings out the best in all of us.
The denuded Jayson Stark, who somehow looks odder without his Groucho 'stache than with, reports that "MLB suspects the true value of YES to this club is actually much higher [than the $50 M a year that the Yanks report and]… sources say that MLB is ready to bring in an independent auditor to determine YES's true market value to the team. If that value turns out to be more than $50 million, the Yankees would have to pay another 40 percent of that difference. Not just this year. Every year. Retroactively." (Italics his)
But that certainly would not be the end of it as the Yankees would try to block any such action. Not only that, they may go on the offensive and there are plenty of targets to go after with the Braves, Cubs, and Red Sox all having some ownership over their cable partners. As Doug Pappas found, there is some reason that each is undervaluing their cable deals or using their relationship to hide money some way or another (e.g., the Cubs charge themselves three times the norm for advertising).
However, I can't imagine that the Bud and his boys would actually follow through. I think it's another idle threat, like contraction. Although, it's the typical knee-jerk reaction that we're all used to by now. But the last thing the powers that be in MLB want is to open their books to anyone.
Anyway, before we foray into more articles on competitive balance, I just wanted to remind you that the issue has not died since the signing of the last CBA.
An Historic Overview of Independent Studies
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
—"Ryan" Franklin D. Roosevelt
Well, now that we have looked at some introductory articles and fully refuted, hopefully, the Blue Ribbon Panel's report, it's time for a full overview of the studies on competitive balance. Most of the studies have something interesting to offer if you can get past the rather dry, academic manner in which they are presented. However, most have severe limitations because of the definition for and scope of competitive balance that the author chose. But without further ado…
Simon Rottenberg, "The Baseball Players' Market" (Journal of Political Economy, 64, 1956, pp. 242-258)
By 1956, the reserve clause that bound players to their teams had been in effect in some form or another for 77 years. There had been challenges to it, most recently in the early Fifties accompanied by Congressional hearings, but none had been successful. The owners had maintained that the reserve clause was necessary to insure competitive balance. Without it, the richest teams in the largest markets would monopolize all the talent, they claimed, and the result would a lack of fan interest or worse, an economic infeasibility for baseball as a professional sport. As it was, baseball's collective monopsony, i.e., a state in which teams act in congress to ensure that there is a singular buyer for a given player's skills, reduced player competition and, therefore, salaries. What a happy byproduct!
Rottenberg did the seminal work on competitive balance in the sport in 1956. He argued that a player ended up on the team that valued him most if player sales are unrestricted. Whether by free agency or via player sales by poorer teams, the teams with the most means would end up with the players they most desired.
However, extremely one-sided competitions would have diminishing marginal returns (or MRP for marginal revenue product) as fans would lose interest. His "uncertainty of outcome" hypothesis stated that the closer the competition between teams within a professional league, the greater the fan interest in the sport and the greater the attendance. So acquiring more talent becomes less critical if the subsequent competitive imbalance would create fan boredom and a decrease in revenue. Additionally, the dominant team's interest in a player is limited by the number of players it can have on its roster by league rules (though some can be hidden in the minors as well), by the number of players it can field at any given time by the rules of baseball, and by diminishing marginal returns for the additional wins.
It's like the farcical Onion article from last season, that the Yankees had signed every major league player. After you have one All-Star shortstop, you don't need another. Consider that the Yankees did not get involved in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes until Rodriguez offered to move to third. With Derek Jeter on the roster, they did not need another shortstop, even if he was the best player in the league.
The marginal revenue generated by the additional talent and the attendant, additional wins would not outweigh what it would take to acquire that talent. All teams, even the Yankees, strike a balance between revenue and cost of talent no matter whether the rules entail free agency or the reserve clause. Teams would limit themselves from getting too dominant or so was Rottenberg's opinion.
Ronald H. Coase, "The Problem of Social Cost" (Journal of Law and Economic, 3, 1960, pp. 1-44)
Coase established an economic theory that buttressed Rottenberg's argument. Coase does not cover baseball specifically, but he seems to have an affinity for the business of baseball: "[T]his paper is concerned with those actions of business firms which have harmful effects on others." Perhaps he understood it better than the lords of the game back in the day: "[I]f we are to discuss the problem in terms of causation, both parties cause the damage. If we are to attain an optimum allocation of resources, it is therefore desirable that both parties should take the harmful effect into account in deciding on their course of action". It sounds like competitive balance to me.
His Invariance Proposition (strong version) held that in the absence of transaction cost, the resulting allocation will be independent of the original property rights. In baseball terms, if a player's MRP is the greatest for a certain team, he will end up on that team.
And that was just about the beginning and the end of the conversation. Just about all academic study is preoccupied with defending or refuting Rottenberg/Coase. The two major points of Rottenberg's hypotheses have been the foundation of all conversation on the topic. Either one studies the effects on fan interest and therefore revenue from the competitive (im)balance within a game or throughout a season or one studies whether free agency has affected competitive balance. Sure, there are independent authors who have struck off in their own direction (James and Zimbalist for two, both of which will be covered later). However, the academic conversation has only served to tweak Rottenberg.
Steven Cheung,. "The Fable of the Bees: An Economic Investigation" (Journal of Law and
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About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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