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September 24, 2006

The Ledger Domain

Perpetual Motion

by Maury Brown

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First off, let me make a disclaimer: I'm not trying to sell you any spiritual mumbo jumbo. We're talking baseball here, so let's not get confused. With that said, life is a perpetual state of phases. It is also in perpetual motion. Baseball is much the same, when you think about it.

While the 2006 season is nearly at end, other aspects of MLB and its supporting systems are gearing up into a more active phase. I call it baseball's "Silly Season"--the time where clubs assess their upcoming budget and figure out whether a GM or manager might be moving along in favor of another. Many will have to deal with how their affiliated farm clubs are managed as contracts expire in cities from coast to coast--the part of the industry that is already in the offseason. This season of change can impact those that cover the business aspects of baseball, including me…

A New Business of Baseball Resource

Starting last week, I shifted my coverage on all manner of the business of baseball from SABR's Business Of Baseball.com website, to a new site called The Biz of Baseball. As editor of the resource, I will get to call all the shots and have content that may not have fit within SABR's framework. There is an emphasis on MLB, minor league and independent league news, and regular contributing writers as well as those that will submit guest articles. The likes of John Thorn, Andrew Zimbalist and Rod Fort will grace the site. There's much more to The Biz of Baseball than that, including interviews (Monday will see Dean Bonham of The Bonham Group as an addition), as well as a documents, renderings and animations of stadiums, and a player salary database for those that register on the site. As I said, life is a series of phases, and this is a new one for me.

As for the phases and changes coming up in the offseason...

Fans Protest, Angelos Touts Defeatism

Since their last winning season in 1997, the Baltimore Orioles have had exactly one season where attendance actually went up. That was in 2004; other than that, it's been a steady decline, with this season seeing a drop from 2,624,740 in 2005 to 2,130,245 this season, a decline of 23%.

Here's the Orioles attendance from 1997 to the end of this season at Camden Yards:

While many fans were already upset with current owner Peter Angelos for the streak of losing seasons before this year, fan unrest became strikingly visible last Thursday when nearly a thousand fans left Oriole Park at Camden Yards en masse in the middle of the fourth inning at precisely 5:08 p.m during the game against the Tigers. The time, 5:08 p.m., was selected in honor of two prominent former Oriole stars Brooks Robinson (No. 5) and Cal Ripken Jr. (No. 8). The protest was organized by Nestor Aparicio, owner of radio station WNST-AM, and a distant cousin of Luis Aparicio. Fans wore shirts reading, "FREE THE BIRDS" with many carrying signs that read, "For Pete's Sake."

"We are here to show our dissatisfaction with his role, and some of the stupid decisions he has made," said 43-year-old fan Eric Hunter in the Associated Press report. "We want someone in there who will spend the money to do the things that will bring the fans back."

"Whoever joins that protest has no comprehension of what it costs to run a baseball team," Angelos said in a telephone interview from his law office in Baltimore. "When you get down to facts, putting together a team that can compete in the AL East means having a payroll between $100-$110 million. That money comes from the consumer, and I have chosen to keep ticket prices to a minimum.

"Our payroll is $75 million, and our ticket prices average $22. Some of the teams we compete against charge an average of $45," Angelos said. "We're going to have to match the competition. How to do that is a decision I will make in the future."

Here's the problem with what Angelos is saying: Is it good public relations to promote a defeatist attitude to your fan base? After all, what Angelos is saying is that the Orioles can't possibly compete in AL East given the payroll structure he has defined, and therefore you can come see a losing team at prices which are reasonable. This philosophy isn't exactly Sports Business 101. Throwing your hands up in the air will not endear you to your fan base as you're ostensibly saying, "Get ready for more losing seasons while I'm the owner."

As for saying that "prices are at a minimum," Team Marketing Report shows that the average price for an adult at Oriole Park Camden Yards at $22.53, ranking them 12th out of the 30 clubs, and above the league average of $22.21. The Orioles kept the average price the same this year from the year prior.

On player payroll, it is difficult to compete in the AL East, but maybe the Orioles should take baby steps and consider something like at least trying to get close to the wild card. Using Opening Day payroll reported by USA Today (deferred payments, incentive and award clauses, and depreciation are not included, and payments teams receive as compensation in some player trades are not reflected in the team salaries), the Orioles' Opening Day payroll of $72,585,582 places them 15th out of the 30 clubs. Minnesota, who leads the AL Wild Card, had an Opening Day payroll of $63,396,006, which ranks them 19th out of the 30 clubs.

Lastly, Angelos is a hands-on owner. At one point, there were eight pitching coaches in eight years. Managers? Seven in 12 years. General managers? Six in 12 years. Many a deal has been quashed due to his attempts to lowball agents. Many players refuse to play for the club now due to this reputation. My two cents? If the man wants an explanation for why his club isn't winning, Angelos needs to look in the mirror.

Affiliates on the Move

Speaking of perpetual motion, there was a flurry of movement with minor league affiliations this past week. So many moves occurred that it's possible that while I was taking note of one, others happened. (Takes deep breath) Follow the bouncing ball…

The Yankees ended their 28-year affiliation in Columbus, Ohio with the Clippers, and reached an agreement to make the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons their Triple-A affiliate. The Red Barons had been the Phillies affiliate for 18 years, but the Phillies are planning an eventual move to Allentown, PA where a new 7,000 seat stadium is being built, and are settling on an affiliation with Ottawa until construction is complete.

With the Yankees out of Columbus, the Washington Nationals slipped into their place, signing a two-year player development deal with the Clippers. The Nationals also signed a four-year extension with to their player development contract with the Potomac Nationals of the High-A Carolina League. Not ending there, the Nats signed a two-year contract with the Hagerstown Suns of the Low-A South Atlantic League, ending a four-year affiliation with the Savannah Sand Gnats, while the Suns completed a two-year working agreement with the New York Mets.

Speaking of the Mets, they announced a two-year partnership with the New Orleans Zephyrs, moving their Triple-A allegiance to the Pacific Coast League while ending their 38-year affiliation with the Norfolk Tides. With the Mets affiliation gone, the Orioles ended their affiliation with Ottawa, and moved in to replace the Mets as the newest affiliate in Norfolk.

Closing thoughts on the "Silly Season"

With clubs gearing up for next season and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement right around the corner, it should come as no surprise that I'll be pumping out articles with as much vigor as I can during the off-season. Getting back to that quasi-spiritual thing, it is a time of renewal and endless possibility. After all, the offseason is when hope springs eternal and fans can start to think about how a World Series parade will look in their city, regardless of how bad they may have stunk it up the year before. Lest I get ahead of myself, though, in the meantime there are still teams planning out the 2006 postseason. The perpetual motion continues.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

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