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Chat: Neil deMause

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday March 17, 2006 1:00 PM ET chat session with Neil deMause.

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Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus and co-author of BP's new book Baseball Between the Numbers.

Neil deMause: Hi, and welcome. If I'm a bit slow typing today, it comes thanks to the nasty head cold that seems to have afflicted the entire eastern seaboard. I've managed to stay unmedicated, though, so all bizarre opinions expressed here are my own responsibility... I'm surprised to see that the question queue isn't full with questions from Marlins fans about where their team is likely to end up, but I guess that expectation presupposed the existence of actual Marlins fans...

LQ (Spring Training, USA): I heard on one of the tv broadcasts that 50% of the WBC profits are going towards grass roots programs to promote baseball in the partipating countries. Do you have any info confirming this and if so, could you elaborate in more detail the entire revenue picture of the WBC?

Neil deMause: It's been in press reports as well, but MLB is being traditionally closed-mouthed about exactly how it plans to disburse this "baseball development" money. If nothing else, it's another sign that Bud Selig has learned the lesson of Robert Moses: If you want to consolidate power, it's important to have your own private pot of money to throw around. (Come to think of it, that was the lesson of Boss Tweed, too.)

As for the other 50% of profits, the WBC winner gets 10%, and the other 15 teams get 1% each, leaving roughly 25% for the big end-of-WBC pizza party.

BT (MD): So after a WBC in which they almost beat the team (Canada) who beat the best baseball team ever assembled (the US), any word whether the media in South Africa is abuzz over the sport? More generally, how is the noble crusade of spreading the baseball gospel panning out so far? (Maybe it's too early to ask that.)

Neil deMause: My contacts in South Africa aren't what they used to be - Cyril Ramaphosa never writes, he never calls - but a troll through Google News indicates the reaction is about what you'd expect if, say, the U.S. found itself getting flattened by the All-Blacks in the Rugby World Cup: "Hey, that's a sport? Are we any good? Oh, too bad."

As far as building international interest in baseball goes, baseball doesn't really need the help in the Dominican, Japan, etc., and somehow I don't see any of the filler nations (Netherlands, I'm talking to you) ever getting too excited about it. I'm more interested in the reaction in Korea, where apparently the fan frenzy is so great that they've begun the traditional rite of mass cellphone purchases.

Padfan (Newark, DE): Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Edwin Encarnacion or Andy Marte - who do you see as having a better career in the next 5 years? Also, is there any hope for Sean Burroughs or is his steadfast refusal to swing hard the result of a father/son "You do it your way, I'll do it mine" type squabble?

Neil deMause: This is probably a good time for me to mention that, while I'm indeed one of the authors of the excellent new book Baseball Between the Numbers, I wrote the chapters on baseball business and economics, so all I know about player projections is what I read on their PECOTA cards. (Which are extremely bullish on both Encarnacion and Marte, for the record - Encarnacion's "Stars and Scrubs" chart helped convince me to spend a first-round pick on him in my Diamond Mind league.) For these sorts of questions, Nate Silver will be chatting here in April if you can wait that long, or you can try them next week on Jay Jaffe, who does a respectable Nate impression if you take your glasses off and squint.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): EVeryone complains about new stadium designs drifting to some common point and thus furthering the decline of Western civilization. It may be true that HOK is doing too many of them, but really, what sort of looks are people wishing for? Miller was different looking and drew fire, yet PacBell and PNC were similar and drew praise. I guess my question is more a request to explain modern architecture.

Neil deMause: Actually, I'd say PNC and MaBell are both outliers in terms of new-stadium design, in that neither is as massive or has the cavernous concessions concourses as the average HOK park, for differing reasons (budgetary concerns and earthquake regs for SF, and just small capacity for Pitts - you can have really nice upper deck seats if you only hold 38,000 fans or so). As for the larger question of why all modern parks look the same, I think it's because their clients all want the same things: segregated luxury suite levels, lots of concessions space, plus just enough "quirk" to give tourists a reason to travel there for a game rather than the next one down the road. It's like asking why all sitcoms are the same: It's easier to copy success than to try something risky, especially when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.



thePTBNL (minnesota): Looking at Minnesota, why is there such a huge difference between the estimated costs of the proposed U of M football stadium ($220 million) and the Twins proposal ($450+ million)? Are the Twins looking for frills and whistles that puch their costs so high, or is there some fundamental difference between the two that I'm missing? It seems to me if the Twins could scale back a little they'd have an easier time striking a deal.

Neil deMause: I haven't looked in detail at the U of M stadium design, but in general baseball stadiums are more expensive to design and build than football stadiums, just because they have more complicated geometries. (Most football stadiums look like they were assembled with off-the-shelf components from Home Depot.) I also imagine the U of M isn't quite as concerned as the Twins with things like corporate seating, which add both cost and bulk.

I've actually long been interested in the idea of "no-frills" ballparks. The Montreal Expos for a while were talking about building something in the sub-$200-million range - and that's Canadian dollars, mind you - which would have been interesting. As you may have heard, though, that didn't work out too well, and I don't expect any other teams to follow suit so long as they still think they have a shot at a publicly subsidized HOK Special.

a's fan (oakland): after your pieces on the new york situation, might you want to take a look at the A's unique situation...ie do you move 5 minutes out of giants territory in fremont, does fremont have the tax base to build the infrastructure around the stadium? How do you deal with a city that has been burned by the Warriors and the Raiders..where are we moving?

Neil deMause: I looked a little bit at the Fremont situation on fieldofschemes.com. In short, for those who have missed this rumor, the idea is to move the A's as close as possible to the Giants' South Bay territory without actually crossing the line - then renaming the team the "San Jose A's" in an attempt to siphon off the fan base.

It's certainly an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it makes sense: BART goes to Fremont, but not to the proposed stadium site, and traffic in that area is notoriously hideous. I'm not sure they're not better off just staying in the East Bay proper, where at least people can get to the games.

dprat (san diego): Love your work... it's important in considering how baseball meshes in to the rest of our lives. I read somewhere (perhaps an article of yours?) that San Diego might be an exception... that the downtown redevelopment tied to Petco might actually result in a net benefit to the city. Was this more self-serving developer PR? Or, in the alternative, what makes the San Diego situation different?

Neil deMause: It wasn't me who said that, certainly. San Diego was one of the first stadium campaigns to sell the "ballpark village" angle, where the alleged economic benefits come from the surrounding development, not from the stadium itself. But it's the old "but-for" problem: How do you know the development wouldn't have happened but for the stadium? The area where Petco was built was gentrifying rapidly even before it was picked as a stadium site, so it's a bit unlikely that people suddenly thought of it as a nice place to work and live just because they can now hear "Blitzkrieg Bop" played at 500 dB 81 days a year.

There are similar problems with the projected development for the new Nationals park, as I wrote on fieldofschemes.com this morning.

caernavon (Belmont, MA): I love your web site, and I get more and more interested in sports economics all the time. So just a simple question here: why do so many people still think it's a good idea to use public funds (in whatever form) to pay for sports stadiums?

Neil deMause: I blame steroid abuse.

Seriously, there are a lot of answers here: The trend for local elected officials to see their role as one of greasing the gears for private development via public subsidies; the fear of alienating potential big-bucks campaign donors; the "edifice complex" (it's hard to put a plaque with your name on it on reduced grade-school class sizes); and media outlets that encourage reporters to be stenographers for official statements from business and political leaders, rather than actually trying to find out who's right and who's wrong. If anything, the surprise is that so many individuals continue to balk at spending public money on sports stadiums - it's really rare to find a poll that advocates this practice, certainly.

Will (Watertown, MA): With the Marlins seeking possible relocation is there a chance of New York ever returning to a three team town? The Brooklyn (Fill in the Blanks) would almost definitely draw more fans than a team in San Antonio, Portland, Virginia or any of the other sad re-tread locales.

Neil deMause: Sure, but mostly at the expense of the Yanks and Mets, which 1) doesn't benefit MLB as a whole and 2) will send Steinbrenner and Wilpon reaching for their lawyers' speed-dial. There's a slim chance that Selig & Co. might be able to arm-twist the existing NY teams into accepting a NJ team at some point, someday - finding land for a stadium in Brookly would be prohibitively expensive, anyway - but given item #1 above, it's hard to see what would be in it for MLB.

SK (Baltimore): I'd love to get your opinion on the Nationals stadium deal and lease. Did the D.C. council accomplish anything with its annoying politics in terms of getting MLB to share the burden, or was it just a complete waste of time?

Neil deMause: I wouldn't say it was a complete waste of time. But capping costs at $611 million for a stadium that was originally supposed to cost $440 million, and without any real commitment from anyone involved to pay for cost overruns if it gets to that point... it's a pretty hollow victory, let's put it that way.

The only way D.C. was going to get a better deal was to blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, and clearly the council wasn't willing to do that - even the three "anti-stadium" members who joined the council in 2005 ended up voting for the $611 million. Gotta hand it to Selig and DuPuy, they're damn good at playing chicken.

giANT gNAT (Wash DC): Having gone to a few games at RFK last year and really liking the sight lines and accessibility there, I thought that sinking $61 million into RFK would produce nearly as good a ballpark as the $610 million DC has been cajoled into spending. Am I comp[etely off base?

Neil deMause: Depends what you mean by "good." As I wrote for BP following my trip to see the Nats last spring, RFK is lousy to look at, but a great place to see a ballgame. I don't know about $61 million, but doing something along the lines of what the Angels did to Los Angeles of Anaheim Stadium a few years back - rip off the outfield second deck, refurbish the rest - could have made for something both modern and fan-friendly.

But of course, that's not what MLB means by "good" - they want revenue streams, baybee. So instead D.C. will get a stadium that not only contains a shopping mall, but actually looks like a shopping mall. I guess the upside is that it'll make Alfonso Soriano's glove look pretty by comparison.

rgndvo (Phoenix, AZ): I've enjoyed the articles about stadium funding and impact in the past. Have you written anything concerning the economic impact of spring training? There is currently a lot of jockeying between cities in Arizona to build the next spring training venue but it seems to me that the vaunted economic impact could be funny numbers, especially given the number of tourists Arizona already gets around this time of year for winter weather relief. Does the possibility of two new teams really add up to the funding for an RV show venue 10 months of the year?

Neil deMause: I haven't looked into it, but your reasoning makes sense. The name of the game in economic development is new visitors, and if your hotels are already at full capacity, there's not much that a spring-training facility can do for you. And it's not like someone's going to build more hotels just so that they can fill them one month out of the year, either.

Phil Porter, an economist at the University of South Florida, has looked at this some with regard to Super Bowls, and concluded that any warm-weather city trying to boost tourism by bringing in short-term events in the winter is just nuts.

thePTBNL (mn): Neil, when a park is being designed/built, are you aware how much (if any) consideration is paid to how it will play (beyond maybe the dimensions)? Do you know of any teams that have, even inadvertantly, taken Bill James's old advice that pitchers' parks tend to be more conducive to long term on-field success, or is that a distant second to other condierations (luxery seating, swimming pools, etc.)

Neil deMause: Teams definitely spend a lot of time worrying over the field dimensions, though I doubt many of them have Bill James on their minds. More pressing concerns are likely things like "Chicks dig the longball" and "I don't want to meet an angry David Wells in a dark alley after he's given up a 340-foot homer to left-center." Witness all the fence-tweaking that's gone on in Philly and San Diego this winter (and Baltimore a couple of years ago), mostly in response to player complaints.

This actually leads into another question that's a bit off my usual beaten path...

james (indiana): Neil, is there any reason to construct your team to your ballpark in terms of playing up your weaknesses due to the park? For example, would the Mets be any better off building a team more around offense than pitching since their park will favor the pitchers, meaning then the park will help the pitchers for half their games while the hitters will have a harder time scoring in that environment?

Neil deMause: The short answer is that good players are good players - good hitters will still outhit bad ones in a pitchers' park, just as good pitchers will still outpitch bad ones there. The longer answer is that obviously there are some stadium quirks that lend themselves to creative roster management: left-handed pull hitters at Yankee Stadium, say, or speedy outfielders in Petco or Coors.

Both of these answers are cribbed from my reading of this year's BP annual - take a look at the Colorado chapter for a long elaboration on the short answer, and Nate Silver's essay on refining PECOTA for a short treatise on the long one.

dianagramr (Brooklyn): Hi Neil .... love your work on FOS (I even made a donation) :-) Everyone points to the supposed parity brought about by the luxury tax and revenue sharing (by way of showing all the different teams that have made the playoffs over the last few years). Why isn't anyone pointing out that even WITH the tax and revenue sharing, the "poorer" teams still cannot keep a winning team together for more than one year at a time. The young stars hit arbitration and then free agency, and boom ... they're gone.

Neil deMause: Thanks for the praise (and the cash money). There isn't room here for me to go into all the reasons why increased revenue-sharing hasn't led to more parity, but suffice to say that it tends to depress spending by all teams, both rich and poor, which isn't likely to do much for Bud's vaunted "hope and faith" in places like Kansas City. One of my chapters in Baseball Between the Numbers is all about this, though, and tries to assess some of the better alternatives that have been suggested for revenue-sharing that would actually level the playing field for small-market teams.

I also just picked up a new book that makes a convincing argument that the most parity baseball has ever experienced was in the late '80s/early '90s period when the national TV contracts were proportionately a bigger share of league income. It's an interesting read so far, and I would happily plug it if I could remember the title or where I put it...

P Bu (St. Louis, MO): Are there any new developments in your feud, er disagreement, with Andrew Zimbalist?

Neil deMause: The restraining order prohibits me from commenting on this subject.

Who am I? (Parts Unknown, Weight Unknown): I am going to be named as owner of the Washington Nationals some time this century. What is my name? Also, do you like the renderings of the new ballpark?

Neil deMause: What is your name? But What never got past second base!

Neil deMause: Okay, time for me to go drink a lot of hot beverages. Thanks for all the questions, and apologies for the ones I didn't get to. And I hope to see some of you at the Yogi Berra Museum a week from Sunday, or maybe at a pizza feed or something this summer. Do we still have pizza feeds? Mmm, pizza...


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