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October 5, 2007
Weighin' in at 19 Stone, Part Two
I recently sat down to talk with executives from an AL Club and an NL Club. They agreed to the interview only if their identities were protected. In the interest of full disclosure, the executives had final edits of their statements in this two-part interview. To answer the inevitable questions, yes, this is an easy way for me to generate content, but readers seem to like it, and no, I won't tell you who these guys are, nor are you the only person to email in, either asking for their names, or letting me know how certain you are about who they are.-Gary
GH: I'd like to talk a little bit about the overarching trends in baseball.
AL Exec: Like what?
GH: Let's talk about baseball's standing in the public relative to other sports. I first kind of revived my interest in this during a phone call with Gary Gillette about five years ago. Before that, I didn't worry about it. Since then, it's been clawing at me some. So I'd like your opinions on the subject. Does baseball have a problem of eroding support, with the rise of the NFL, NASCAR, and all the other sporting enterprises that have been filling the ever-increasing media? If so, what would you suggest be done about it?
AL Exec: That's not something that I should be focusing on in my job.
NL Exec: I don't think there's a problem. I know that's a minority opinion, but I don't think there's anything to worry about. Like you said, there's more and more new outlets for media all the time. Before the internet, there was cable TV, which started sucking viewers away from the big networks. Now, there's literally hundreds of channels, more coming, an infinite number of channels on the web, XM Radio, and even more live events and competing baseball leagues. I think Major League Baseball is still a very big dog, and will continue to be so. Maybe there's a problem coming, but if that's true, it's not unique to baseball. Everyone's seeing the effects of it.
AL Exec: It could be a lot worse-we could be the record companies.
NL Exec: Sons of Napster have killed them.
AL Exec: As I've heard someone say, it used to be the job of the record companies to completely screw over artists. Now the general public has taken over that job, and the record companies are pissed.
GH: Is there a similar threat to baseball?
AL Exec: I really don't think so. No matter what else is true, people's eyes light up when they learn they're going to a ballgame. They can be any age, root for any team, and they still want to go to the game, get a hot dog and a beer. And if you think about, baseball is the original and best reality show. It's unscripted, the outcome is truly in doubt, there's a kind of long drama to it that you can't get from a movie, play, or TV, and there's a natural pull on people's emotions. I still go to as many games as I can, and I still bitch and moan about trades my team should make, even when I know why they don't happen.
GH: That's cool. It leads me to another question: Are either of you working for your boyhood favorite team?
NL Exec: No.
AL Exec: No.
GH: So how long did the transition take to start rooting, in your heart of hearts, for the teams you work for now, even when playing your favorite team?
AL Exec: I still haven't.
NL Exec: No way!
AL Exec: No, I'm serious. I don't wear the colors anymore, since I don't want to lose my job or any teeth, but deep down, I still root for my boyhood team, even against us.
NL Exec: Dude, that's not normal! For me, it took about a week, until I started to meet everyone at my office. Normal friendships develop, and my hometown team is just as much a target as everyone else. It kind of feels like they're a girlfriend that dumped me. In a lot of ways, I like beating them more than anybody else.
AL Exec: You might want to edit that, right? It's going to read like you enjoy beating your girlfriend.
GH: Um, I'll just leave in that sentence, that way we're covered. And besides, what woman in their right mind would date him?
NL Exec: I never had much luck with women in their right mind anyway.
GH: Moving on, one common thing I hear is a kind of disparagement of agents. Is that just a kind of "Us versus Them" foxhole mentality, or is there a basis for those sentiments? Or am I just misreading it, and that attitude isn't pervasive?
NL Exec: I think it's a little of both. I don't usually deal directly with an agent, but they definitely have an agenda. That's their job-they may be friendly, but if they're friendly, they're friendly with a purpose, you know what I mean? I think they're all pretty ethical, really, but there are some exceptions. Based on their behavior, there are some agencies that I personally wouldn't deal with. Even if I could get Alex Rodriguez for the league minimum.
AL Exec: I think there's absolutely a basis for those sentiments, and at least with me, those feelings are very real. There are some good eggs, but I've been lied to on multiple occasions. And when you call them on it, they treat it like it's all just part of the game. It's not We are playing a kid's game here, but outright lying to make a few extra bucks is fraud. And maybe there are some clubs that do that, but I've never seen it from a club, and I have seen it from agencies, both from the agents and the assistants. I can say that my boss incurs a real cost from that kind of shitty behavior.
GH: Can you explain the cost?
AL Exec: Can't take what they say at face value, so everything has to be verified. Which means that unless there's some extreme reason we have to deal with that group, we don't.
NL Exec: Which only really screws that agent's clients. Because there's always more than one option.
GH: Are there a lot of agents you won't deal with? And who are the bad apples?
AL Exec: Just one group for me, but no way in Hell you get their name.
NL Exec: More than that for me, but I won't name names. Everyone knows the bad ones.
GH: So why not share the name with our readers?
AL Exec: If your readers can figure out who I am, find my home, clean my gutters, paint my house, wax my car, wash the dog, unclutter my garage, and stock my fridge with Dr. Brown's, I'll tell them.
GH: So let's go the other way: If you had a son who was coming out of college, who would you want him to sign with?
NL Exec: Scott Boras.
AL Exec: Scott Boras.
GH: OK, I'll admit to being surprised by that, since I assumed he was someone on your 'bad guy' list.
NL Exec: I think there are some clubs that it'd hurt you with, and he certainly makes some strategy blunders, but I've never run into a client of his that's been unhappy.
GH: A lot of people have left him, though, right?
AL Exec: I think Barry Bonds did, but I'm not sure. I do know that those guys are on top of everything. Great chess players want to play Kasparov or young Bobby Fischer, right?
GH: I suppose. Is Boras that much better than everyone else?
NL Exec: I don't know everybody else for sure, but... well, yes.
AL Exec: I think so. Part of it is that whoever you deal with from that office, they're always prepared. Always. Always.
GH: OK, running out of time a little bit-can I get some thoughts on one thing in the game you absolutely think is working well, and one thing that you'd like to change?
NL Exec: Slotting guidelines for the draft completely and totally suck the big one. Completely and totally stupid, unnecessary, counterproductive, and ultimately expensive.
GH: Why, and why can't you just ignore the guidelines?
NL Exec: Because they operate under the assumption that all draft classes are created equal. In years where there's just no talent, why should I pay the same for the #18 pick who's never going to be a starter as in a year where I can grab some fireballer that late? It's also insulting. It implies that we're too dumb to do the homework on our own. We have great scouts. Great. We can tell when a guy is worth the money or when he's not.
GH: So can't you just ignore them?
NL Exec: You're talking to the wrong guy. I think we absolutely should ignore them, completely.
AL Exec: There's an awful lot of pressure to adhere to the guidelines.
GH: In what form?
AL Exec: I'm saving my time to talk about my pet peeve.
GH: OK, fire away.
AL Exec: Umpiring.
AL Exec: Absolutely. Ball and strike calling sucks, and umpires are way too in-your-face. They also hold grudges like you wouldn't believe. It's OK for them to always have the last word, or change the strike zone depending on whether or not they have dinner reservations, but if one of the players goes the same place, that guy's going to pay, with all the umpires, for a long time.
GH: You don't think it's better than it used to be?
AL Exec: I don't know about longer than I've been in the game, but I think it's getting worse, not better. The exceptions among the umpires are the good ones, not the bad ones, at least in terms of calling balls and strikes. There's also some that are real professionals whom you can have respect for. Kerwin Danley. Gary Cederstrom.
NL Exec: I think you're overstating it. Most of them are outstanding and professional in how they go about their work.
AL Exec: No way. They've been more and more mouthy, which is exactly the opposite of their jobs.
NL Exec: No. Their job, first, is to make sure no one gets hurt because of unsafe conditions, then to be consistent in dealing with both clubs.
AL Exec: No! That's not their job, and that's part of the problem-we accept bad performance as a good job! Being consistent, if you suck, isn't a good thing!
NL Exec: That's completely unreasonable! When some tool ballplayer starts insulting you personally, and you take it for 30 weeks a year, day in and day out, you can't expect guys not to push back! And they should push back! Throw more guys out, and there'll be less of that crap! Ask the pitchers and hitters! All they want from the umps is a consistent strike zone and that they be in position!
AL Exec: Umps don't get their own personal strike zone! We've got a dominant number-one starter, and depending entirely on whether a particular ump is pitching, I can absolutely tell you whether or not he's going to get shelled or kick ass! That's wrong! The rulebook has a defined strike zone-it should be called!
NL Exec: It is called! They can't be 100 percent perfect!
AL Exec: Then get Questec rolled out as fast as possible, so we can move a couple generations down the road and get the zone actually called, rather than just be a f---ing suggestion!
NL Exec: You must be kidding! Questec sucks! The way it's set up, it'll never work, because it can't! The hitter and catcher will always be in the way, or will manage to beat the system.
AL Exec: As opposed to the home plate ump, whose view is blocked, and whose eyes are off anyway? Can you tell how fast a car is going by standing directly in front of it? So what makes you think you can track a pitch that way?
GH: This is great, but I'd like to hear what's working.
AL Exec: Interleague play. More lame-ass NL teams on our schedule, please. Can't get enough of those easy wins.
GH: Um, OK. That's what we're going with?
AL Exec: I'll stand by it. The NL was dominant in the Sixties and Seventies. Big Red Machine and all that. Right now, the yawner AL teams would be in contention in the NL, and teams like the Red Sox and Yankees might win 110 games.
NL Exec: First, I want to thank you publicly, as I promised I would, for exposing me to King's X. I now own all their CDs, and will be attending my first live show when they come around next year.
GH: You are welcome, and a gentleman of your word. What's working, and what's your favorite King's X album?
NL Exec: Dogman, and what's working is Advanced Media. MLB.com is doing great stuff, and it's promising enough that there's peace among the clubs and among the players. I like not having to worry about fallout from that stuff.
GH: Guys, thanks very much for the time, the insight, and the excellent musical taste. From one of you anyway. Creed, really? That just ain't right.
AL Exec: Hey, I'm man enough to stand up for good music.
GH: I'll print that without comment, as none would be sufficient. You're the type of person who adds an umlaut to Hanson to look cool.
AL Exec: Hope you're enjoying that job at, what is it, a bank?