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June 21, 2002

Prospectus Feature

Baseball's Brave New World

by Gary Gillette

Let's say—just for the sake of argument, you understand—that you're a die-hard baseball fan and you can't figure out the "new math" propounded by Major League Baseball owners hell-bent on contraction.

Let's say, for the sake of history, that you've got more than a few gray hairs on your noggin, if you have any hair on the old chrome dome at all. (Of course, you could be using Grecian formula, but then you're also probably using Rafael Palmeiro's potion as well and are too busy pitching woo to have any time to think about baseball history.)

Let's say that you actually care about this stuff, that all of this talk about money and drugs and labor negotiations hasn't bugged you so much and made you so cranky that the national pastime no longer fans your interest. I mean, if you listened to the messages emanating from the game's bunker on Park Avenue, you'd think the sky was falling, the barbarians were at the gate, and that western civilization itself was in jeopardy, with the apocalypse nigh.

Welcome, friend, to the Brave New World of Major League Baseball! With just a little time and effort, you'll discover how to reconcile the "best of times, worst of times" messages than are beamed into your home every day.

To test your mettle, we're offering a quiz on contraction. Let's see how closely you've been paying attention and how well you understand the new math that Major League Baseball has unveiled during its current round of labor negotiations.

Answer: a. The commissioner gave an exclusive interview to TSN's Dave Kindred. It was published on TSN.com on June 19. Read it and weep. 

  1. What was the reported vote tally when the MLB owners originally decided to contract two teams on November 6, 2001?
    1. 30-0
    2. 28-2
    3. The sound of one hand clapping
    4. All of the above

    Answer: b. Despite the repeated assertions of the commissioner in the past few months that the owners have always voted unanimously for contraction, every media source that reported the original vote had it as 28-2. The owners of the Twins and Expos were reported to be the only dissenters. To be sure, their negative votes were a cynical sham, but what else about this contraction scheme isn't?

  2. Which club—currently included in many lists as a candidate for contraction—was regarded during last labor showdown as one of the large-market clubs that were dominating the game?
    1. Anaheim Angels
    2. Montreal Expos
    3. Toronto Blue Jays
    4. None of the above

    Answer: c. The Blue Jays drew 4,000,000-plus fans in 1991, 1992, and 1993 and were on a similar pace in 1994. They were widely mentioned in the same breath as the Yankees, Mets, Braves, and Dodgers as a "large-market" club.

  3. How many times did current MLB CEO Bob DuPuy make false statements in this excerpt from an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 9, 2002?
    DuPuy said there is "zero" chance that Selig will resign as commissioner. "Bud was not in favor of contraction," DuPuy said. "Number one, he was talked into it. Number two, the clubs voted 28 to 2 [for contraction]. Number three, the teams haven't been selected [for contraction]. There has been no vote on the teams." 
    1. One
    2. Two
    3. An infinite number
    4. Who really knows?

    Answer: d. If one believes the commissioner, the vote on contraction has always been 30-0. Testimony later revealed that—surprise!—the Twins and Expos were the only teams scheduled for contraction in 2002. Who knows if and when the owners actually voted on the teams that everyone knew were slated for extinction, but DuPuy acknowledged in testimony before the Senate on February 13, 2002, that it was the Twins and the Expos. 

  4. What is the largest market in the United Stated and Canada currently without a Major League Baseball team? 
    1. Milwaukee, Wis.
    2. Portland, Ore.
    3. San Juan, P.R.
    4. Washington, D.C.

    Answer: c. If you consider Washington to be represented by the Orioles, then the answer is San Juan with 2.5 million souls in search of big-league baseball. If you consider just the continental U.S., then the answer is Portland, with 2.3 million. 

  5. Who is the owner of the baseball club in the smallest market in Major League Baseball—a club that would reasonably be considered as a prime candidate for contraction save for its political clout? 
    1. Bush family
    2. Veeck family
    3. Selig family
    4. O'Malley family

    Answer: c. 

  6. What were the only two "major" professional sports leagues that voted to contract in the past year? 
    1. Major League Baseball and the National Football League
    2. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association
    3. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League
    4. Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer

    Answer: d. At least MLS actually managed to do it. 

  7. When does a "remarkable renaissance" equal financial ruin? Who has uttered both of the following statements with a straight face in an interview published this week by The Sporting News? I do believe the game has had this remarkable renaissance. and I've had people in baseball say they think I've been too conservative. They think there are more than that [six to eight teams that might fail financially]. I hope they're wrong.
    1. Bud Selig
    2. Jon Lovitz
    3. Pinocchio
    4. Bozo the Clown 
  8. Which of the following recent relocation candidates for a Major League Baseball franchise are smaller than the smallest current big-league market?
    1. Charlotte, N.C.
    2. Orlando, Fla.
    3. Greensboro, N.C.
    4. All of the above

    Answer: d. Milwaukee's metropolitan population in 2000 was 1.7 million. Orlando's was 1.6 million; Charlotte, 1.5MM; Greensboro, 1.3MM.

    If you're scratching your hair plugs out trying to remember when Greensboro was considered a viable candidate for relocating an MLB club, you've forgotten the 1998 threat to move the Twins to North Carolina if the voters in the Piedmont Triad (Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, N.C.) approved a referendum to build a new ballpark in Kernersville.

  9. Which major-league team was reported to be on the brink of bankruptcy in the past decade?
    1. Detroit Tigers
    2. Florida Marlins
    3. Milwaukee Brewers
    4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    Answer: c. Milwaukee magazine ran two articles in 1996 about the Brewers and the Byzantine negotiations to finance what would become Miller Park. Bruce Murphy reported extensively in "The Commissioner Has No Clothes" and a follow-up piece on the team's problems and the desperate financial condition of the Brewers in the mid-1990s. Not coincidentally, this is when Twins' owner Carl Pohlad made a short-term loan to the Brewers in violation of MLB policy.

  10. Which major professional sports league just saw its highest-payroll team win its championship?
    1. NHL
    2. NFL
    3. NBA
    4. XFL

    Answer: a. The handsomely remunerated Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last week. Here's what the Wings' owner had to say about that in an article in The New York TimesMike Ilitch, the Red Wings' owner, said winning this Cup was the biggest thrill of the three because some N.H.L. owners resented the Red Wings' payroll of about $65 million, the most in the league. "There was so much momentum against us," Ilitch said. "People not wanting us to win. It's a funny feeling."

  11. Which major professional sports league just witnessed another "three-peat" while crowning a three-time postseason MVP?
    1. NBA
    2. NFL
    3. WFL
    4. WNBA

    Answer: a. Isn't it ironic that the media and baseball executives give the NBA a free pass on the competitive-balance issues? Let's see, teams from the two biggest markets in the country were battling for the 2001-2002 crown, but that's OK because a small-market club gave one of them a scare along the way.

    Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal play in Los Angeles. Shaq used to play in small-market Orlando, but they couldn't afford him so he migrated as a free agent to a glamorous team in the league's second-largest market. Superstar Allen Iverson is playing in the sixth-largest market, and his team went to the NBA finals last year against a team from the second-largest market.

    Michael Jordan played in the third-largest market for his whole career (well, until last October); Magic Johnson played in the second-largest market. Larry Bird played in the seventh-largest market, but the Celtics have a bigger revenue base because Fox Sports New England covers all of New England—just like the Red Sox. Hey, but let's not forget about Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone—they make up for all of that.

    Here's the NBA championship tally for the past 23 seasons (1979-80 thru 2001-2002): Los Angeles, 8; Chicago, 6; Boston, 3; Detroit, 2; Houston, 2; Philadelphia, 1; San Antonio, 1. The Lakers and Bulls have won six of the last seven NBA titles.

    If the Dodgers, the Cubs, and the Red Sox had won 16 of the last 22 World Series, or if the Dodgers and Cubs had won six of the last seven World Championships, MLB would have a competitive-balance problem like the NBA does.

  12. Which team has seen the biggest second-year decline in attendance of any team that has opened a new ballpark since 1991?
    1. Pittsburgh Pirates
    2. Milwaukee Brewers
    3. Detroit Tigers
    4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    Answer: d. The Devil Rays' attendance at Tropicana Field dropped 31 percent from 1998 to 1999. However, as of June 10, the Brewers are down 29 percent compared to their inaugural season in Miller Park in 2001, and they have the worst record in the NL by a comfortable margin, so there's still a chance they'll beat out the D-Rays.

  13. How many "prime rivals" can a Major League Baseball team have?
    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 29

    Answer: b. At least two; both the Pirates and the Reds are officially considered to be "prime rivals" of the Cleveland Indians by MLB.

  14. How many times are prime rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati playing each other this year?
    1. 6
    2. 9
    3. 12
    4. 0

    Answer: d. Under the new super-duper interleague schedule that made its debut this year, the Reds and the Indians aren't going to see each other. Nor will the Indians play their other "prime rival," the Pirates, this year. Go figure.

  15. Who is alleged to be the first replacement player secretly signed by the Brewers to play at Miller Park if the MLBPA boycotts the 2002 All-Star Game?
    1. Moonlight Graham
    2. Roy Hobbs
    3. The Whammer
    4. Shoeless Joe

    Answer: a. A message to this effect was allegedly flashed on the scoreboard during a game at Fenway Park, but only a couple of crackpot fans claim to have seen it.

  16. Which prominent contraction candidate saw attendance that was at least 27 percent and as much as 53 percent above the major-league average for five consecutive seasons when it last had a contending team for three consecutive years?
    1. Florida Marlins
    2. Montreal Expos
    3. Minnesota Twins
    4. Oakland Athletics

    Answer: b. Despite the terrible—and largely undeserved—reputation of Expos' fans, they turned out in large numbers to support their team during the only stretch in franchise history when Montreal had a good team for a sustained period of time.

    The Expos finished second in the NL East in 1979 and 1980, the first time that they had finished higher than fourth. From 1979 through 1983, attendance at the Big Owe was pretty damn good. (Don't make the mistake of comparing the raw numbers back then to raw attendance numbers now. MLB attendance overall is so much higher than such a comparison is misleading. By 2001 standards, 27 percent above average would be 3.1 million fans; 53 percent above would be 3.7 million fans.)

  17. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Committee, the Minnesota Twins, and Major League Baseball recently settled their lawsuit when MLB agreed not to contract the Twins in 2003. What precipitated this settlement?
    1. Physical threats by Gov. Jesse Ventura
    2. The new ballpark plan passed by the Minnesota legislature
    3. Fear of public disclosure of confidential MLB documents detailing baseball's financial dealings and contraction planning
    4. All of the above

    Answer: c. If you think that is not the real reason, then ponder this: MLB and the Twins agreed to settle even though the MSFC specifically reserved its right to sue them again if the Twins are threatened with contraction after 2003.

  18. John Henry owned pieces of how many Major League Baseball clubs while he was part of the group bidding on the Boston Red Sox?
    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 29

    Answer: b. Despite the obvious conflict of interest, and despite the MLB rule against it, John Henry owned a small piece (reportedly one percent) of the Yankees for the whole time he was owner of the Florida Marlins.

    (To be fair, Henry's dual ownership was approved by the commissioner, ostensibly so that Henry wasn't forced to sell his Yankees' stake immediately. But why should he have been given such a dispensation from the pope? Does anyone think for a second that Henry's Yankees' stock wasn't saleable?)

    Henry was listed among the club's limited partners in the Yankees' media guide through 1998, then his name curiously disappeared.

  19. What former MLB executive once said: "Anyone who quotes profits of a baseball club is missing the point. 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."?
    1. Paul Beeston
    2. Bill Veeck
    3. Arthur Andersen
    4. Simon Legree

    Answer: a. Beeston was a vice president with the Blue Jays when he uttered those memorable words in the 1990s. He later became MLB Chief Operating Officer under Bud Selig. By all accounts from both sides of the labor/management divide, Beeston was a straight shooter.

  20. According to the testimony of current MLB CEO Bob DuPuy before the Senate Judiciary Committee last February, "as many as 18 teams were at first on the list considered for folding" (quoting from an AP story). It seems safe to say that the none of the following 12 teams were ever candidates for contraction: Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Indians, Orioles, Rockies, Giants, Mariners, and Cardinals. So, exactly which of the teams below were, at some insane nanosecond, considered as contraction candidates?
    1. Rangers
    2. Astros
    3. Phillies
    4. Tigers
    5. Reds
    6. White Sox
    7. Brewers
    8. Diamondbacks
    9. All of the above

    Answer: i. Take a look at that list of 12 non-candidates again, then do the math. If you don't think that Texas or Arizona or Detroit or Cincy was ever considered for contraction, you can swap them for the Cardinals or the Rockies or anyone else on the list. No matter how you slice or dice it, you've gone through the looking glass.

Bonus Question: It is widely known that Bud Selig has threatened to fine owners up to $1,000,000 for discussing anything relating to the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. What other potential punishment are club owners facing?

  1. Dunking stool
  2. Excommunication
  3. Double-secret probation
  4. Watching every pitch as the Brewers play 162 extra-inning games

Answer: If you think that there is an answer to this question, please give Dean Wormer at Faber College a call.

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