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Chat: Neil deMause

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday July 14, 2006 1:00 PM ET chat session with Neil deMause.

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Neil deMause is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Neil deMause: Good afternoon from sauna-like Brooklyn, N.Y.! We've got plenty of exciting stuff to talk about today, from tax-exempt bond squabbles to off-site parking controversies to corporate media contracts ... okay, we've got plenty of stuff, anyway. Let's get to it.

Dave (Frisco, CA): Will Zack Duke ever return to his late 2005 form or is he an "excel at first but never again" type prospect?

Neil deMause: If you look at Duke's PECOTA card, you'll note that while the system is modestly bullish on him, it certainly doesn't consider him a sure thing, with such names among his comps as -

Sorry, hang on - I confused myself with Nate Silver there for a second. A reminder: My expertise is in stadiums and other off-field stuff, so let's try to stick to those areas. Though it is mighty tempting to spend the entire afternoon laughing and pointing at Wayne Krivsky.

jgalt73 (Portland, Oregon): Neil, How long can the Cubs continue to ride the "Wrigley as Mecca" bandwagon without putting a winning team on the field? Does the White Sox success affect this continued honeymoon, or is the Tribune brass immune to the financial implications of losing?

Neil deMause: I'm not sure there are financial implications of losing when you're the Cubs. If you take a look at Wrigley's attendance figures, you'll see that they're insanely consistent year to year, regardless of whether the team finishes in first or last place.

In short, that's not a honeymoon, that's a fan base. I'm not sure anything short of the return of the Wisconsin ice sheet would drive Cub fans to venture south of the Loop - even with the Sox world champions, the Cubs' attendance is actually up this year, and still ahead of that at Cellphone Park. If people will turn up at Wrigley to watch Neifi Perez and Tony Womack share an infield, clearly we need to find bigger sticks to drive them away with.

There's actually some evidence that older ballparks in general have more stable attendance figures, while newer ones tend to be volatile, waxing and waning with the teams' fortunes - the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees are examples on the one hand, and clubs like the Indians and Orioles on the other. (Remember when Indians fans had to go on road trips to Detroit to find available tickets to see their team?) Now, you can say that those three also have the most rabid fan bases in baseball, but is that in part because their fans have been genetically imprinted to go to the same ballpark that their parents and grandparents went to? It's an interesting question, and one that I hope to take up for BP at some point.

W. Krivsky (Cincy): Me??? Ha - everyone knows Jim Bowdens an idiot. I won that trade.

Neil deMause: Christina just passed along that her epic treatise on Kearns v. Clayton will be up on the BP site shortly. I'm as eager to read it as you guys.

Matt (Virginia): What do you think of the Comcast vs. MASN battle? Could it possibly be headed to a resolution sooner rather than later?

Neil deMause: Anything's possible, but history certainly isn't on the side of a quick resolution - how long did the YES Network-Cablevision dispute drag on in New York? Comcast has nothing to lose except some irate customers who might go buy dishes instead, and everything to gain if they can get a piece of the Nats deal. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the dispute last into next season.

Alex (OC, CA): Your point on reasonably new stadiums such as Jacobs Field and Oriole Park is well taken. However, why don't brand new parks (for example, PETCO in San Diego) have a greater attendance-boosting effect? I went to the game in which the Padres clinched the division last year, and much of the upper deck was empty.

Neil deMause: The Padres clinched the division last year?

I kid, but only slightly. In 1984 I was in Oakland when the Royals clinched the A.L. West, and it was exciting, even though I wasn't a fan of either team. And I remember how crushed I was in 1996 when the Yanks' likely division clincher was rained out, since I had tickets. (They clinched the next afternoon instead, when I was at work.)

But today, does anybody really notice things like division winners? As Joe Sheehan rightly ranted yesterday, MLB as an industry has decided to trade off selling pennant races in exchange for selling three tiers of postseason. I think it's a huge loss for baseball fans, but most industry types think you make more money selling to non-baseball fans than to baseball fans, so that's that.

MA (GA): Will the new Nats stadium be on the Metro (as RFK is [I understand])?

Neil deMause: Hey, a gimme: Yes, it will. Though it'll be at the Navy Yard station, which has a significantly smaller capacity than RFK - the plan is to add more entrances and exits, but, typically for this project, no one has quite figured out who'll pay for it yet. At one point a D.C. official actually suggested that an overcrowded station would be good for the city, since it would force fans to stick around after games and visit all those sports bars that are supposed to spring up, while waiting for the train to clear out.

The Nats new owners, though, are more focused on parking, fearing that if people can't drive to the games, they'll just stay home. This sets up a potential showdown between the team's marketers and good urban planning - it's pretty well established by now that the only way to get most people to take mass transit is to make it too inconvenient to drive. It's something that really should have been resolved before now, but that was impossible given MLB's insistence on holding back sale of the team as a hammer in stadium talks.

dprat (friarland): Is the notion of strengthening the next CBA to coerce owners to spend revenue-sharing dollars on building a better baseball team a fantasy? Aren't there too many accounting tricks to make the idea unenforceable?

Neil deMause: Well, revenue-sharing dollars are one item that's known to the league, since they're the ones collecting them and doling them out. So you could, say, make a rule that every team's payroll has to exceed the amount of revenue-sharing cash that it gets that year.

Do you really want to do that, though? The only times it would come into play would be for a team like the Marlins that has pared payroll to the bone as part of a rebuilding project. Would baseball really be any more interesting if the Fish had been forced to drop some money on a Jeromy Burnitz or something just to fill out their roster with expensive man-flesh?

As I wrote in Baseball Between the Numbers, I'd be much more interested in something like what Keith Woolner and others have proposed, where teams give and get money based on market size rather than revenues - i.e., the playing field is leveled by opportunity to make money, not by how well a team actually does it. It won't stop some teams from just showing up and cashing checks, any more than it would stop teams from taking revenue-sharing money and spending it something stupid like Doug Mientkiewicz, but it'd be better than the system we have now.

gecko1 (Cupertino, CA): Not so much a question as a comment. Regarding why Petco hasn't produced a bigger fan boost - I think a big part of the answer is that from the perspective of a typical fan it isn't actually an improvement over Qualcomm. I grew up in SD and attended hundreds of games at the old stadium. Sure you were a bit far from the action but the sight lines weren't bad, the weather was better than in downtown, there was always lots of parking and much better access. The new stadium deal had a lot more to do with luxury boxes and the redevelopment giveaway in the surrounding area than any attempt to bring more fans to the park.

Neil deMause: No new stadiums are built to bring more fans to the park, in the grand scheme of things. Rather, they're built to get the fans who do come to spend more money. Petco Park may have only boosted attendance by about 50% its first year (and that bump is almost gone already), but according to Forbes, it generated a $50 million income increase for the team, so I'm sure John Moores is happy.

James Thurber (NY): Do you think Selig really intended to enforce the DSR but hasn't done so because of mitigating factors, or was it always just eyewash to allow owners like John Moores an easy out?

Neil deMause: I never knew what Selig was up to with the debt-service rule. (This was the one where teams were restricted, allegedly, from carrying debt equal to more than 40% of their value, where "value" was determined by sucking on a crack pipe.) My best guess is it was always just a ploy to make teams seem tighter for cash than they were, in the runup to the last labor talks. Now that those are resolved, and owners seem to be spending somewhat less lavishly on free agents to boot, there's no need for Bud to bother his old pals with any silly old "rules."

ithistle (Boston): How many games / year will be rained out in the new Minnesota stadium? How miserable will the April and (maybe) October games be? With the possible condensation of the schedule due to beginning the WS on a Tuesday rather than a Saturday, how will they fit 162 games, plus any rescheduled games, into the schedule?

Neil deMause: Back when dinosaurs walked the earth, the Twins actually played outdoors in Bloomington Stadium. And according to the results of the half-assed Googling I just conducted, the average rainouts per year at the time was about four, which seems manageable - it just means young Minnesota fans might get to experience the glory that are double-headers, or the slightly less glorious glory that is the day-night two-admission double-header.

I haven't actually heard how MLB expects to tweak the schedule to get the World Series to start on a Tuesday, though I'm certainly interested to hear. Given their track record, I expect it to be something involving an eighth day of the week, or maybe a 40-day-long September (33% more pennant-race baseball!).

MA (GA): What is going to happen to old Tiger Stadium? Is Detroit a large enough market for another team (say, the Marlins) to move there?

Neil deMause: Second answer first: No, but it could certainly support a Northern League team, much as the Twin Cities do the Twins and the St. Paul Saints.

Unfortunately, the city of Detroit has shot down every attempt at preserving Tiger Stadium as a working ballfield, and instead is moving ahead with a plan to knock 99% of it down and build condos. So eager is the mayor (and, say cynics, Tigers owner Mike llitch) to see the old place demolished, in fact, that the city has announced plans to start dismantling the stadium before it even has a condo developer lined up.

Tiger Stadium has lasted a good decade or two longer than the team wanted, in large part thanks to local fans and preservationists who fough tooth and nail to save it. But this, sadly, looks like the end - if you haven't made it there yet for a ballgame, you might want to head over now with a ball, a bat, and a bolt-cutter.

JT (Milwaukee): I disagree with MLB selling out division races in favor of three levels of playoffs...I think Players just aren't that excited about just getting into the playoffs...they want to win the World Series. This is the same reason the All Star Game has turned into an exhibition, players don't care about anything but the World Series, and are dismissive about minor points along the way.

Neil deMause: The All-Star Game has "turned into" an exhibition? Unlike in 1933, when it was a solemn duty to your country?

I don't know how old you are (I was born during the Crimean War), but back in the day, winning a division (or before that, a league) title was a huge deal - champagne, banner headlines, the works. But that's when even the best teams couldn't do it every year, Casey's Yankees excepted. I think divisional play watered down the value of a "pennant" some, and the wild card eliminated it entirely - you don't even get a flag or a title of any kind for winning the LDS, for chrissakes.

If I were a player, I wouldn't care about getting into the playoffs these days, either, because everybody who's anybody gets into the playoffs. Today, Bobby Thomson would just be some guy who helped his team earn a first-round elimination.

nicopad (brooklyn): currently, i'm working in a well ac'd manhattan office, but i do live in bk. question: there was some mention of a bp feed in june in manhattan but i never saw anything. did it happen? when are we doing one in brooklyn?

Neil deMause: Damn good questions, and I'll try to find out. Or, if necessary, just book some tables at John's (or L&B) and then invite the masses.

Neil deMause: Speaking of a/c, I really need to go sit in some. Thanks for all the as-usual-thought-provoking questions, and perhaps I'll see some of you in not too long at a pizzeria to be named later.


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