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Pontificating Peter Peter Gammons bloviates
2002-08-18 23:18
by Mike Carminati

Pontificating Peter

Peter Gammons bloviates on the insignificance of baseball and on how the owners and players are like spoiled Kenndey children trying to split the inheritence. It all seems pretty disingenuous coming from a guy whose career has been built suckling at the teet of Major League Baseball. His prediction that baseball will be become a second-tier sport ("[T]he NFL... will soon be to baseball what the Yankees are to the Souix Falls Canaries."), are unfounded.

Why is the situation so different from '94? He asserts that, "[T]he '95 comeback isn't happening again: the entertainment attention span is far different, football has lapped baseball in interest (hmmm ... maybe competition has something to do with that? ...), Ripken and Mark and Sammy ain't coming back through the door and, oh yes, these are completely different economic times." Well, let's take those in reverse order. Yes, today is a fairly bad financial time for many, but hasn't baseball been a form of cheap entertainment during poor financial times? I understand that the squabbling between the owners and the players is alienating a number of fans because of its juxtaposing with layoffs in many industries, but how will the players accepting less money help former Enron employees anyway? In 1994 Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire weren't the monoliths they appeared to be in '98: Sosa, who had just hit 25 home runs in strike-shortened '94 season, had yet to learn to lay off pitches and take a walk once in a while; McGwire had just completed two injury plagued seasons in which he played a total of 74 games with 18 home runs. No one anticipated them resurrecting baseball four years later. Perhaps greater stories are yet to be told by players for whom we have hardly any expectations. Cal Ripken's streak was a very rare story and one whose importance to society as a whole will be difficult. But maybe Barry Bonds chasing Henry Aaron would do it. As has been asserted a dozen different ways football is no more and arguably less competitive that baseball. It outpaces baseball in viewership but cannot replace baseball in the heart of thinking fans. Besides hasn't football been more popular than baseball since before '94? Our "entertainment attention span" may be shorter or it may not be. How do you measure that for certain? Yeah, the Sopranos are starting up again, but there were good shows in 1994, too.

He then takes the owners' party line: "Is there a long-term problem with competitive balance? Absolutely, when teams in the lower half of revenues have won five postseason games in five years." A) Why are they using postseason games when we are in the midst of dynastic run by a team in New York? Or maybe the question answers itself. B) Why is there a problem with competitive balance just because the owners say so? They won't divulge their real financial numbers. Teams are selling for more than ever. Team revenue growth is outpacing player salary growth according to the owner's own numbers. Owners are still willing to hand over cash in astronomical numbers (witness the recent Darin Erstad contract). Team ownership is more secure than ever with extremely financially strong backers.

"Should the players tell the owners how to share their revenues? How presumptuous, considering that labor lawyers have no experience running anything but briefs." The players would rubber-stamp the last CBA. If the owners want more revenue sharing in the next one, then the players have the right to put in their two-cents worth. It's called negotiating, Peter. The union may not know much about running a team but neither do most of the owners.

"Will the theory of bringing the bottom and the top closer together work? No one knows for sure, but it's worth trying as long as there is a floating threshold based on revenues and the teams taxed are limited to something in the four-to-seven range." The problem with any plan based on revenues alone is that small markets can generate big revenues (e.g., Cleveland, Seattle, St. Louis) and big markets can generate small revenues (Phillies). Besides the revenues as reported are, let's say, questionable and some teams are openly hiding money in cable contracts to sister companies. A plan based on salaries is even worse. His provisos seem good ones (4 to 7 teams, floating threshold), but how does he know a) that the owners and/or players agree and b) if this is an equitable plan? Has he done the research? If the players and their "labor lawyers" are "presumptuous" in dictating revenue sharing terms to the owners, how is Peter the Great (or Grate) better equipped?

"What makes this all so preposterous is that this has nothing to do with the majority on either side." Has he polled the owners and the players?

"[T]hey can't figure out how to split the difference between a threshold of $102 million and $130 million? The players can't live with the same 35 percent luxury tax they agreed to in the last deal, a tax that, incidentally, slowed down nothing?" The players would re-sign the last CBA in a heartbeat. If the luxury tax and revenue sharing of the last CBA did nothing, why are the owners willing to lose the playoffs to expand those programs? Of course, they could maintain that it's not the programs that are in error but the ratios used for them. But that's why negotiating and splitting the difference is so important. It's to get the right ratios.

"What they ought to be doing is coming up with creative ways to market and grow baseball, something they have never done, both because of a lack of leadership and creativity among owners... and the lack of responsibility accepted by the union." He left out "and so's your old man." Gammons needs an editor more than I do. His ego won't allow it. My funding is my major stumbling block. I guess he wants the union to be more responsible. Responsible for what? Helping to drive up revenues and attendance for a sport that was mired in a rut in the late sixties until a strong union created free agency and intrigue and millionaire players? Please. As far as marketing and growing baseball, how about spending a whole offseason promulgating contracting their business? Or telling the press that a good number of teams are ready to go under and that most should not think about the postseason as a possibility even in spring training? Or lining their pockets by mining local (interleague) rivalries at the expense their two crown jewels, the All-Star game and the World Series?

"Commissioner Bud Selig should have gotten this deal done without all this." Yes, but that wasn't his agenda. If it were, why would Paul Beeston have been fired after making a good deal of progress with the players? "He [Bud] should also have set up a management office to teach some of these teams how to run their baseball businesses, because while the playing field is unlevel and there are gross inequities inherent to the current system, the fact is that the Brewers, Tigers, Royals, Devil Rays and other teams are what they are for a reason -- bad management. The A's, Reds, Astros and Giants compete every year because of good management." Bud teach the poorly managed teams how to do it right? That's like Mario Mendoza being a batting coach (oh yeah, he is). Look, Bud still owns the Brewers and they are chasing the Devil Rays for worst-run franchise and will probably pass them next year. He obviously is not concerned with bad management.

Gammons then makes some assertion on evaluating talent that a 12-year-old with a decent baseball card collection could have come up with. (Wow, players start to produce less as they get older? How interesting!) Then he lays a big one: "Contraction is a good idea, and the union leaders always believed it...[I]n 2004 or 2005 Montreal and one of the Florida teams should go." The union believed in reducing the number of salaried positions that its constituency could occupy? Why should two teams go? Who does this benefit? The only affects are the damage done to the fan base in the contracted communities. Do revenues go up in the resulting baseball business? If so, why did they agree to expand in the first place?

He concludes: "This is an industry that needs to seriously re-evaluate itself, its leadership, its business practices, its understanding of the product and its customer." Miss Foley from English class would be giving him that puritanical, pedantic look with the crumpled up nose regarding his run-on sentence by now. ("Is the industry actually re-evaluating its customer or its understanding of the customer?") Evidently, baseball does not feel the way that Peter Gammons does, because it is not pausing one minute to re-evaluate a damn thing. When they try to, they instead appoint Blue Ribbon Panels to assert what their own positions are. Either that is because it is an extremely poorly managed business or it's because they feel these issues do not seriously impact their bottom line. I kind of think that it's a little of both.

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