Let’s pick apart some news items so I can clear my notes file…

  • George Steinbrenner is unhappy with the effect the World Baseball Classic has on his team’s preparations for the season. The Yankees have about a quarter of their 2006 payroll participating in the Classic, and that’s with heavyweights like Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui begging off.

    Steinbrenner’s objections aren’t entirely misplaced, and in fact, he’s publically addressing a line of thinking that many in the game subscribe to. Teams are very concerned about the effects of the WBC, not just the potential for injury, but the impact of shifted schedules for pitchers, or the adjustments that will be necessary during spring training to work around the absence of key stars. The Orioles have asked, essentially, to have some of their WBC participants returned to them, while each day brings another announcement of a player who will be sitting out the event, usually for health reasons.

    One of the things that hasn’t been talked about here is that a disproportionate amount of the risk is being borne by better teams, often ones with higher payrolls and ones planning to contend in 2006. The Royals and Pirates and Rockies aren’t sending a bunch of players to national teams next week. It’s the Yankees and Red Sox and Mets who will be playing without their stars for a while. These teams also have the least to gain from the Classic. If the nominal benefit is global baseball development, the revenue generated from that development–and let’s be clear, “development” is a nice word for “making money”–is going to be central-fund revenue, money that, like Internet revenue, will be distributed evenly amongst the teams.

    Steinbrenner’s investments are being used to grow the game in a manner that will being him less benefit, proportionately, than it will his competitors. He’s assuming more risk than the owners of many other teams, with no chance to gain a comparable share of the benefits.

    No one wants to hear George Steinbrenner complain, but the success of his team and its relative wealth doesn’t invalidate the argument. You can be both rich and right.

    I’ve been beating up on the Classic almost since the day it was announced. I got a great e-mail recently, keying off a comment in a chat session, calling me out on that stance. It made me think about why I’m so set against it, and I’ll be writing that up before the week is out. It’s an interesting topic.

  • Steinbrenner’s complaints about the WBC came out on the same day as John Henry’s criticism of the revenue-sharing rules. The two situations are similar, with owners of successful teams not happy with the extent to which they’re being asked to subsidize or make investments that show up in the pockets of other teams.

    I have to say I think this is hilarious. That four years into the new agreement we’re seeing owners publicly say the things that people like myself, Woolner, Gary Huckabay and the late Doug Pappas were saying years ago is gratifying, but at the same time, dangerous for the game. Back in 2002–and for that matter, for a decade prior–we here at BP have been pointing out that confiscatory revenue-sharing would be unfair to teams that successfully exploit the potential of their market. This idea was a cornerstone of the arguments against the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as Keith Woolner’s alternate plan for the game.

    Some of the massive revenues the Yankees and Red Sox generate are due to natural advantages, but much more of them are due to putting products on the market that people want to buy, while aggressively moving to develop new revenue sources. A revenue-sharing system that acknowledges these advantages as well as the importance of all teams to a league structure, like the one linked above, is sensible. A system that ignores potential revenues and merely taxes success breeds resentment and subsidizes incompetence.

    What was sold as a panacea for nominal small-market teams has, predictably, deteriorated into welfare for the incompetent. This matters because the real conflict in baseball hasn’t been “owners vs. players” but “big-team owners vs. small-team owners.” The inability of the latter two groups to solve their differences without involving the players is why labor relations in baseball are such a nightmare. If owners like Steinbenner and Henry are growing disenchanted with their roles as feeding troughs for the game’s underclass, it bodes poorly for the upcoming renegotiations of the CBA.

  • A couple of weeks ago, Sophia and I were flipping channels late at night and came across “A Few Good Men.” That’s always a good place to stop–I’m a big Aaron Sorkin fan–so we settled in to watch the last half of it. Somewhere in there is a scene where Tom Cruise’s character is watching a ballgame (there are two, this was the second of them), and for whatever reason, I got it in my head to try and figure out which one it was. I identified Rick Aguilera pretty readily, and the opposition was the Orioles. You can hear, in the background after the shot changes, the call of an Orioles’ game-winning hit.

    Enter Retrosheet. With about a half-dozen mouse clicks, I was able to find the game.

    I have no point, except to warn people that if you don’t watch yourself, the baseball in you can mix with the crazy and occasionally pop out some weird results. I recommend not having those moments in front of a significant other unless you’ve already secured a marriage license.

    Oh, and God bless Retrosheet!

    Now, to find that game in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”…

  • I put the finishing touches on my spring training itinerary. I’ll be in Phoenix from March 3 through March 7, catching six games in five days, including a WBC doubleheader on the last of those. I’d go to more, but there are no night exhibition games scheduled while I’m in town.

    I felt like a little kid making the plans. It’s silly, but the idea of six games in five days, most of them in the sunshine, has me very psyched.

    The highlight of the trip should be a Padres/Mariners game in Peoria on Sunday the 5th. Before the game, BP is hosting an event at which the two teams’ GMs, Kevin Towers and Bill Bavasi, will speak to and take questions from fans. Jonah Keri and I will also be there, Jonah with copies of BP 2006 and Baseball Between the Numbers, me in all likelilhood with a nasty sunburn. If you’re in town, you should come out for the event, as it should be a good time.

  • One of the popular questions this time of year is about breakout candidates, usually phrased in any number of ways. I’ve answered this in a number of places, so just to get the names down here, my guys to watch in 2006 include the Angels’ Casey Kotchman, the Orioles’ Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera, the Royals’ David DeJesus, the Tigers’ Curtis Granderson and the Braves’ Brian McCann. Clip and save.

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