The whining and threatening have already begun. Florida's legislature made a
small gesture to try to restore the state's credibility this week by telling
Marlins owner John Henry to stuff his $140 million funding request up
his... well, up his John Henry. Now even the Wall Street Journal, a
newspaper generally known for sensible business writing, has fallen prey to
MLB's rantings about competitive imbalance and how baseball simply can't
survive in Miami without a stadium with a retractable roof, valet parking,
and a new pair of diamond earrings.
Recently, I had the chance to speak extensively with Brad Humphreys,
Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
County. Humphreys has spent several years researching the true economic
impact of sports teams, particularly on the debate over the merits of
publicly funding new facilities for privately-owned sports franchises. His
most recent work, The Stadium Gambit and Local Economic Development,
debunked many of the common myths about the economic impact of new sports
Two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Reds undid perhaps the best part of last
July's trade in which they sent a broken-down Denny Neagle to the
Yankees for four prospects, one of which was erstwhile college football
star Drew Henson. Henson's situation illustrates a problem far more
important for competitive balance than disparities in the free-agent
market: the vast differences in amateur and international signing budgets.
Czar Bud has issued a gag order on his fellow owners, and despite Selig's
relative lack of power, the owners have so far decided to abide by the
edict and clam up. The taboo subject? The impending labor talks and
possible work stoppage that currently loom over the 2002 season.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have done a lot of things right this winter, from
not spending millions on additional veteran mediocrities to turning nominal
closer Roberto Hernandez into a great young hitter who has already
been locked up into his arbitration years (Ben Grieve). But they
could be on the verge of making a decision that looks to be the wrong one
from both the baseball and business perspectives: giving Josh
Hamilton the starting right-field job.
The Pirates continue to astound us with their incompetence. This week, they
signed Scott Sauerbeck, the very definition of free talent (he was
taken from the Mets via the Rule 5 draft in December of 1998), to a
three-year, $2.4-million deal. Although that's not a lot of money, and we
generally advocate locking good young players up through their arbitration
years and beyond, the problem here is that Sauerbeck is not young and not
good--and the Pirates don't realize that.
So you may have heard that the NBA is having its own small-market problem.
Yes, salary cap and all, the vaunted NBA is suffering from a post-Jordan
malaise that is about to take one of the league's two newest franchises,
the Vancouver Grizzlies, on the road to a new home. And the league's
commissioner, David Stern, expects us to buy it when he blames the whole
thing on the city of Vancouver and its unloving fans.
Curt Schilling is never at a loss for words, and unlike a lot of
athletes (and actors and other Famous People™) who like to
sound off to the media, he often has something of substance to say. Last week was no
different, when ESPN.com posted a 2,400-word essay by the Diamondbacks'
hurler, focusing on the impending labor war and the economic structure of
the game. As you might expect, Schilling raised some valid points and some
not-so-valid ones, and probably gave the players their first bit of good PR
for the upcoming skirmish.
Baseball Weekly recently
ran a Bob Nightengale column
that focused on some of Scott Boras's ideas for improving competitive balance. Buried at
the end of the article was an interesting quote from a major-league general
manager that cited the most oft-repeated mantra of the small-marketeers.
When Baltimore Ravens owner Heartless Art Modell stood at the podium in
Tampa Bay Sunday night and said that the Vince Lombardi Trophy belonged to
the people of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, he wasn't kidding: they
paid for his stadium, his team, and arguably his salary and the increase in
his net worth, all with tax proceeds from one of the greatest sweetheart
deals any sports team in the world has ever landed.
Alex Rodriguez's signing isn't all that interesting, even though it
has generated all the headlines. He's an exceptional package: a power
hitter who hasn't reached his power peak; a seven-skill talent with great
plate discipline and an improving defensive profile; a generally classy guy
with no interest in recording rap albums; and he plays one of the two most
difficult positions to fill in baseball. Add to that baseball's shrewdest
agent and a couple of frustrated, rich owners who want to make a big
splash, and you get an enormous contract.