Now that the Twins and Marlins both finally have new ballparks, take a look back at what it took to get them.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Stumping for a new stadium in Minneapolis and Miami used to be an annual rite of spring, but this year both the Twins and Marlins will be playing in flashy new facilities. That outcome wasn't so certain when Neil wrote the following article, which originally ran on May 4, 2005.
Is Mets owner Fred Wilpon really prepared to cut off his nose to spite the Madoff trustee's face?
Was it really only six months ago that Mets fans were hailing the arrival of Sandy Alderson as putting an end to one of the grimmest eras in a team history full of grimmage? Finally, the Omar Minaya epoch was at an end, and with it the days of throwing money at Oliver Perezes and Luis Castillos; from now on, the Mets could spend their cash reserves wisely, and leverage their big media market and their core of young(ish) talent to bring October baseball back to Flushing.
That plan essentially went out the window on the February day when Irving Picard, the trustee for the former clients of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, announced that he was suing Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz for $1 billion, on the grounds that they knew—or should have known—that his investment empire was built on fraud. As I wrote at the time, this shouldn't have had much impact on the Mets' finances—the team was still in decent financial shape, after all (even after a big dip in value, still the fifth-most valuable franchise in baseball, according to Forbes, with net profits over the last five years of more than $100 million)—and however the suit is resolved, it shouldn't hamstring the team's finances: Either the Wilpons would successfully fight off Picard's suit, in which case the threat was moot, or they'd lose, in which case they'd inevitably have to sell the team to pay the fine, and the question of whether or not to re-sign Jose Reyes would be a question for Mark Cuban, or a Dolan to be named later.
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Does inviting more also-ran teams to playoff ball REALLY provoke higher player spending?
Economic cause-and-effect is a funny thing. Last week, Matt Swartz laid out the reasons why the proposed addition of an extra wild-card team in each league could end up enriching the players at the expense of the owners. It's a long argument and worth reading, but the nut of it comes down to: More wild cards equal more teams in the playoff hunt, teams in the playoff hunt are more likely to bid up player salaries, and so shoehorning two more teams into October, even for a single game, is likely to drive salaries skyward. As he wrote: "In the late 1980s and early 1990s, players earned only about 30 percent of league revenues, but from the mid-1990s through the present day they have taken in roughly 50 percent, and sometimes more." The apparent tipping point: 1995, the first year of the expanded playoffs.
Matt's article caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First off, as should be clear by now, I find it endlessly fascinating how tweaks to playoff systems can result in unexpected consequences. Second, I'm a bit of an apostate from the church of rational economic actors. I, too, once argued that teams only spend what players are likely to be worth in terms of new revenues—if A-Rod is getting $30 million a year, it's because somebody thinks he's likely to generate more than $30 million in fannies in seats, jerseys on torsos, and beers in guts. Since then, though, I've since seen too many GMs spending up to arbitrary "budgets" and then stopping—as if the goal is to come home from the Winter Meetings having spent all the money their moms gave them without going over—to really feel confident that there's anything rational about it.
Are April's record-low attendance marks a sign that the ticket bubble has burst?
The young baseball season is already shaping up to be lots of things—the Year of the Great Red Sox Collapse, maybe, or the Year of the Exploding Appendices—but one theme that might actually survive small-sample goofiness to have some legs is the Year the Fans Went Away. MLB attendance has been gradually sliding ever since its peak in 2007, but the early signs this year have been pretty alarming:
For years, sports economists treated the Forbes numbers as kind of a business-side equivalent to fielding stats: probably not all that accurate, but worth looking at because, hey, they're all we've got. All of that changed, though, after last summer's Leakgate, in which internal MLB documents leaked to Deadspin revealed the financial details for several MLB teams—and the income numbers matched the Forbes figures almost exactly. All those team execs who'd been complaining that the Forbes figures didn't reflect their actual losses—like the Florida Marlins' David Samson, who griped in 2007 that, "They look at revenue sharing numbers and the team's payroll and take the difference and see profit without looking at our expenses"—were, it turned out, blowing smoke.
Will MLB.tv ever make your home team's games available for web viewing?
Living in the future has its advantages. Back when I was a kid, in the late Pleistocene, catching a ballgame remotely meant either watching your local teams on TV or, if you were away from your living room, listening on the radio; maybe if you were very lucky and it was late at night and the ionosphere was aligned just right, you might be able to just barely tune in something that might possibly be Ernie Harwell on an out-of-town broadcast. Today, anyone with $99.99 burning a hole in their credit card ($119.99 if you want DVR-style gewgaws like fast-forward and rewind) can sign up for MLB.tv and watch any game, whether spring training, regular season, or postseason, on their computer, iPad, smartphone, or PlayStation 3—I'm sure that right this moment someone somewhere at MLB Advanced Media is working on an app that will stream hi-def baseball video live to the dashboard display of your flying car, just as soon as those are invented.
Any game, that is, unless it's one involving your local team. In that case, you're still stuck with 20th-century technology, and either tethered to your TV or forced to stick with audio. Any attempt to do otherwise will result in that dreaded message familiar to MLB.tv users: "We're sorry. Due to your current location you are blacked out of watching the game you have selected...."
The Sendai quake has repercussions in the baseball world.
Amid the horrifying images coming out of northeast Japan today, the repercussions of the Sendai quake are starting to be felt in the baseball world. Some of the reports so far that have been compiled by BP's writers:
Mix one Hank Steinbrenner comment, the Mets' money woes, and the A's and Rays' stadium situations, and suddenly it's 2001 all over again.
This time, it seems, it started with Ken Rosenthal. Two days after Hank Steinbrenner let fly with an attack on baseball's revenue-sharing plan that concluded, "if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor," Rosenthal penned a Fox Sports Exclusive that significantly upped the ante: "Don't be surprised if the “C” word—contraction—returns to the baseball lexicon soon," he wrote, noting that he'd been "hearing rumblings" that "certain big-market teams" wanted to whack the Rays and A's. In one scenario, wrote Rosenthal, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg would end up buying the Mets from the troubled Wilpons, while A's owner Lew Wolff did the same with the McCourt-wracked Dodgers, before watching their old teams go poof.
From there, it was off to the races, as every sportswriter with a slow news day grabbed Rosenthal's unsourced speculation and ran with it. In the St. Petersburg Times, John Romano wrote a column headlined "Threat to contract Tampa Bay Rays may be gaining credibility," in which he concluded that while the Rays probably wouldn't disappear overnight, "whether you want to acknowledge it or not, Tampa Bay is now on the clock"—one that he insisted could strike midnight in 2017, when Tropicana Field is paid off. CBS Sports' Ray Ratto fired back that contraction was not just a terrible idea, but a sign of America's cultural decline. (So far as I can understand it, this has something to do with bar fights and the CalTech basketball team.) The New York Daily News' Bill Madden, citing "one high-level baseball source," wrote that both A's owner Lew Wolff and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg "told Selig they are not prepared to continue operating under the present circumstances. Translation: 'If we can't get new stadiums, buy us out.'"
Could Bud Selig's plan to cram in more playoff teams have a silver lining?
Somewhere among the piles of spiral-bound notebooks stacked in my closet lies a short-lived diary titled "The Last Pennant Race." It recounts the day-by-day events of the last two months of the 1993 Yankees season, of which pretty much all I can remember is, first, that the Yankees managed to tie the eventual champion Blue Jays for first place roughly three dozen times, but never managed to take the lead on their own, and second, that in one late-season game, Don Mattingly, presaging the Jeffrey Maier incident by three years, got credit for a key home run despite it being caught by a fan leaning so far into the field of play that he could have shaken hands with the second baseman.
I chose the diary's title not because I was pessimistic about the Yankees' future—after ten years of Andy Hawkins and Torey Lovullo, I could see as well as anyone that players like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill were headed for bigger things—but because I knew that the term "pennant race" would never again have the same meaning. That's because it had already been announced that 1993 was the final season under the old four-division system; henceforth, the leagues were to be split in six, and wild cards would be born. (Thanks to the player strike that would wipe out the 1994 postseason, they were not actually baptized until the following season.)