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November 13, 2006

The Ledger Domain

Myths

by Maury Brown

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Throughout history, there have been myths in baseball. Whether it is the claim that Lou Boudreau introduced the defensive "shift," that Bill Buckner's error blew the lead in Game Six of the '86 World Series, that the "Black Sox" were named right after throwing the 1919 World Series, that Curt Flood broke the reserve clause or, the mother of all myths, that Abner Doubleday created baseball in 1838, baseball has its fair share of them.

Beyond those, there have been other myths as well. The media has reported that more than 75 million fans attended games this past season in MLB, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim name case is all but over, Bud Selig was a used-car salesman, and that Marvin Miller was the first choice to become the first executive director of the Players Association. These statements are no more true than the Doubleday fairy tale.

As with most myths, the farther we move through time from the actual events that happened, the more the myth becomes "reality."

Let's try this: Bud Selig was a used car salesman - He's often been called "Cadillac" Bud Selig, but did the current commissioner ever close a deal himself? There has been a mythical impression of Selig standing on a car lot, clad in a tweed suit with a toothpick in his teeth, or sitting behind a desk with his hand outstretched to customers while getting ready to take them to the cleaners when the time came to work on financing. The fact is, Bud Selig never did one deal in his life--used or otherwise. Selig owned and operated a Milwaukee area car dealership that sold and leased cars. The dealership took in used cars on trade-ins, but Selig never closed a single deal. During high school and college he drove a parts truck for the family dealership, and on occasion, conducted leasing. Selig's main responsibility was in the accounting and management of the dealership. To debunk matters further, the Selig dealership was a Ford dealership, not Cadillac.

The Angels' "Name Case" is over. It's been a tongue-twister and continues to be, but is "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" truly the final name for the club? Maybe, but it's not over yet. On June 13th of this year, the City of Anaheim quietly filed an appeal looking to overturn a jury's ruling that changing the name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim did not break with their lease agreement. While no new evidence can be brought in on the appeal, the city will try to make the claim that 21 alleged errors were made by Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Polos during the trial.

Marvin Miller jumped at the chance to be Executive Director of the Players Association. In the business of baseball, Marvin Miller is arguably one of--if not the most--influential individuals in the modern era. The former chief economist and assistant to the president of the Steelworkers Union empowered the players, and helped them build one of the strongest unions in the country. But first, he very nearly turned the deal down. Why?

When Miller met with Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning and Harvey Kuenn about the position, Roberts mentioned that the word "union" was still a dirty word amongst many of the players. To get around that, Roberts suggested that Miller would be a good selection for Executive Director, but along with his selection, a more conservative voice needed to be at his side as general council. Who was the name being considered to work with Miller? Former U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

Miller told the trio of players that the arrangement wouldn't work--Miller refers to Nixon in his autobiography as "Tricky Dick." In Miller's opinion, Nixon was more of an owners man than someone that could help give independent voice to a players union. He left the meeting and reported to his family, "I blew it."

To add to the myth, Miller wasn't even the first to be elected as head of the Players Association. Judge Robert Cannon was the first selection, but he infuriated a number of players after his selection by subsequently asking for additional conditions to his contract. Roberts then called Miller and asked if he'd reconsider the position, as the players wanted to start the selection process over. Initially, Miller coldly said, "No." It wasn't until after several days of non-stop calls by player reps such as Roberts and Bob Allison that Miller finally accepted the position. History would certainly have been different if Miller had stuck to his guns and refused the position.

Seventy-five million fans attended games this past season. The 2006 season was another glorious year for Major League Baseball. As the days grew closer and closer to the end of the season, press releases touted the news: Baseball was on pace to break the all-time attendance record, surpassing the 75 million mark. By October 1, MLB reported attendance as 75,470,941. Commissioner Selig was quoted as saying, "Setting a new attendance record for a third consecutive year is a remarkable accomplishment. The record signifies the great passion that fans all over the country have for our great game."

There's one slight problem: 75,470,941 fans did not go through the turnstiles at MLB games this past season.

While the total figure of those that actually attended games was assuredly high, like the NFL, NBA, and NHL, Major League Baseball uses what is called "paid attendance" as the figures announced at the end of each game. Paid attendance counts ticket sales, not the number of actual fannies in the seats. That's because owners are more concerned about ticket revenues than the total number of people actually attending games. Yes, they are concerned about the revenue collected for things like concessions, parking and merchandise, but that's a smaller piece of a team's total revenue pie in relationship to ticket sales. The next time you're at a game and the announcer comes over the PA saying it's a sellout, only to look around and see empty seats dotted all around you, remember that the empty seat is paid for.

Collusion occurred during the 2002-2003 free agency period. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News first reported that as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, management paid the players $12 million in damages for colluding to keep player salaries down during the 2002-2003 free agency period. Well, sort of.

What occurred was more of a matter of clearing the decks than anything that specific. First of all, the $12 million was actually already the players' own money. Excess money collected through the Luxury Tax and earmarked for the players was used. Secondly, as part of the new Basic Agreement, no admission of guilt was made on management's part.

In this case, what appears to have been negotiated was a resolution of a number of outstanding grievances filed by agents during the 2002-2003 free agency period. They had been sitting in limbo, waiting to be addressed. Substantively, what's happened here is a case where management has said it didn't want to have these issues hanging over the new agreement. In agreeing to settle these outstanding grievances involving claims of collusion, they placed wording in the new agreement that says this matter from 2002 can no longer be grieved, eliminating any chance that they might sour this new deal. As Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said, "It put us in position to go forward without a lot of old disputes hanging around."

So, it's a case where collusion isn't collusion--we'll leave it to you to decide what part was myth.

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

Related Content:  Bud Selig,  Marvin Miller,  Bill Miller

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