Monday, November 26, 2012

The News You Pay For

Courtesy of ubercommenter Old Gator over at Hardball Times, here's a look at the way in which local media was in bed with Loria over the Marlins' stadium situation.

But remember, ownership took all the risk.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Things I'm Thankful For (2012 Sports Edition)

  • For Vin Scully continuing to call Dodgers games
  • For Mike Trout going over the wall to make a catch
  • For Tony LaRussa finally getting the hell out of the dugout
  • For Grinnell - even if it's for just one night, under highly artificial circumstances - being the lead story on SportsCenter
  • For the return of the great baseball beards. Prince, Sergio, guys - the Al Hrabosky fans of the world remember and love you for it.
  • For Duke losing to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament
  • For post-race NASCAR pit row fights, which top even baseball brawls in their ridiculousness
  • For the chance to see the AAA championship game, even if it was a beatdown of epic proportions
  • For major leaguers coming through minor league towns on rehab assignments
  • For the way the Oakland A's won the AL West, and the guys they won it with
  • For the work of writers like Craig Calcaterra, Joe Posnanski, Keith Law, and many others
  • For the fact that Don Fehr has work that isn't in baseball
  • For those random moments when people occasionally shut up about steroids and just watched the damn games
  • For MLB picking a good song as their postseason anthem
  • For the slow, slow steps towards trying to do something about concussions in sports, which are a damn sight better than the fast, fast coverups that used to be out there
  • For Toronto Blue Jays fans having hope for a change
  • For Tim Tebow sitting on the bench
  • For the guys getting off it
  • And for having the chance to yammer about this stuff occasionally to  you guys.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Second in Line for the Beatdown

The funny thing about picking on the fat kid (or the smart kid, or the small kid) in school is that there's always the chance the fat kid's going to move away. And when he does, the bullies and the opportunists and the sadists never seem to pack up and say "Oh, well, now that he's gone we might as well behave." No, they look around for the second-fattest kid, or the second-smartest, or the second-smallest, and they make that kid the new target.
Congratulations, ACC. You're the second-fattest kid.
For years, you've been trying desperately to hang with the cool kids in major conference college sports by pillaging the nerd conference to your north, the Big East. BC, Miami and Virginia Tech. Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Notre Dame. And all the while crowing about how you were proactive, how you'd strengthened yourself, how you were immune to the cherry-picking that was going on across the country because you were ahead of the curve.
And then today, the Big 10(ish) made it rain all over College Park, and Maryland left. Left despite there being a $50M penalty for walking out of the ACC - that's how much extra money is on the table for someone who joins the Leaders & Legends of the Rust Belt, that even with the $50M cover charge, it's still worth it. Worth it to the Big 10, which gets a foothold in a major eastern television market (and another one with Rutgers) and a corresponding boost in revenues to the Big 10 Network. Worth it to Maryland, which had to kill seven sports this year because of athletic department budget shortfalls. In other words, this was a no-brainer for the Terps, and the alumni and the talk radio hosts howling today about the loss of tradition had better understand that. (They'd also better understand that the glorious ACC tradition they loved so much had already been thoroughly trampled by importing football programs wholesale into their basketball conference, bloating their conference tourney, and exploding their schools' travel budgets for varsity sports by including trips to Miami and Boston.)
But if you ask me, this is only the beginning. Maybe they raid the Big East one more time to replace the Terps, filling the hole with Connecticut. But UConn football's not worth the add, and UConn basketball's no sure thing in the post-Jim Calhoun era, either. And in the meantime, the sharks are circling. There's rumors of Florida State being on the Big 12's radar. Of Clemson going to the SEC. Of North Carolina - venerable Chapel Hill, as ACC as ACC gets - going to the Big 10 when that behemoth rouses itself to fill out a roster of 16.
Maybe Louisville's left as a viable acquisition target in the Big East. Maybe UConn. But that's it. And when the biggest nerd is down for the count, it's the next in line that becomes the target.
Congratulations, ACC. It's your turn.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

All of Jeffrey Loria's Risks

So the Marlins have traded their two best starters, their All-Star shortstop, their super-utility guy, and their catcher (who, to be fair, offers slightly less value than a used La-Z-Boy recliner but makes a lot of money) to Toronto for some prospects, some kids, and a no-hit shortstop who's yakked his way out of two of the most laid-back situations in the majors (with a side of homophobic eyeblack). With this move, the Marlins have dropped their payroll to about $16M, or as we like to call it, "Ruben Amaro Jr's Idea of a Bargain Starting Pitcher" a year after opening a publicly funded ballpark that cost taxpayers such an obscene amount of money that I can't even type it. (Yes, I know it's supposed to be paid for by taxes on tourists. Except, of course, it never quite works like that - check out the Florida General Fund shenanigans and you'll get the idea).
Now, it is vaguely - vaguely defensible to say that the Marlins realized they weren't going to win anything with their current core, and shipped it off for good pieces. Which would be reasonable if A)they had given said core more than about half a season together B)they hadn't spent like drunken sailors at last year's winter meetings, swearing up and down that this time they really were going to put a competitive team on the field and they weren't backloading the contracts they were handing out so they could ditch the Heath Bells of the world before they got expensive C)they got back anything like a reasonable approximation of talent for all the talent they were shipping away and D)they hadn't pulled this crap multiple times before. No, to even the least cynical eyes out there (which excludes Jon Heyman), this is an obvious cash grab, a cynical rollback of the people Gollum-like team owner Jeffrey Loria used to soak his business partners and his municipality for giant gobs of filthy lucre the second it was possible for him to do so. (This article at Fangraphs lays out nicely how Loria got caught with his hand in the revenue-sharing cookie jar, how he was under the gun for three years, and how he went berserk with the sell-off as soon as the heat was off)
Smarter people than me have been all over the business aspects of this (starting with the estimable Maury Brown, here) and precisely how this whole scenario (back-loaded contracts, anyone? No no-trade clauses?) was always designed to funnel cash away from the product on the field. And that's really what this comes down to, right? Pulling money away from the product on the field - the team, the thing people are theoretically coming to see, the business that this turkey is supposedly engaged in - and into personal revenue. And you can spare me the arguments of "well, they weren't winning with those guys, might as well try to win without them" - when you've got most of the pieces in place, you add the missing one or two, you don't tear the whole thing down instantly. Last year's Marlins were basically a couple of bullpen arms and a few health breaks away from being beasts; they were not the hapless train wreck (except in the dugout) that Loria apologists are describing. No, the team was always an excuse, and that's all.
I'm sure there are folks out there applauding the move from a strictly business sense. I mean, hey, you have to respect the business acumen that turns so little personal investment into so much personal profit, right? Cheers to Loria for using baseball to make money, and why should we hate the guy for being successful.
Except, of course, it's not that clean. Yes, he grabbed an immense profit. Good for him. But to do so, he damaged the business models of his industry and his partners. He damaged the brand of baseball - the notion that the hometown nine is actually trying to win, which is at the core of the game's appeal. He salted the earth of what should be one of the most baseball-friendly markets in America by putting it on the hook for $2.4B in stadium costs while failing to deliver on any of the promises that came with the project, and he alienated the fan base - the customers - with his blatant disregard for the on-the-field product. He took $300M of his partners' money and redirected it to himself. He altered the competitive balance of the game - NL owners are by all accounts pissed that the other NL East teams get extra games against a AAA squad next year. All of this speaks to immense damage to the long-term prospects of the business, weighed against a short-term cash grab. So no, it's not good business, it's just a case of gimme now and damn the torpedoes, and screw the rest of you in the process.
And I read this, and I think of, of all things, hockey, and the NHL lockout. I think about the owners there demanding a unilateral rollback of all the stuff they agreed to last go round. I think about all the apologists who claim that the owners should be getting All The Monies because they take All The Risks. And I think about an owner in Miami, who got the city to pay for his stadium, who got his business partners to pay him $300M to stay in business, who deliberately ran his franchise into the ground for a cynical bout of profit-taking, and who will make another enormous profit once the league finally gins up the courage to make him sell. And I wonder, what risk, exactly, did he take?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear #18

Hey Peyton!

I was just wondering something.

You own 21 Papa John's franchises now. That's cool. It's a smart way to help make sure that, unlike many of your peers, you continue to earn money after you retire.  And I am guessing that the recent legalization of pot in Colorado will do wonders for your sales volume.

But your partner, "Papa" John Schnatter, recently announced that he'll be docking his employees' hours in order to keep them ineligible for newly federally-mandated healthcare coverage.

I know that franchisees have a lot of control over the stores that they operate, in any industry.  So I was just curious whether you were planning to dock your employees' hours to keep them ineligible for federally-mandated healthcare coverage.

I know that you donated money to Fred Thompson's exploratory committee back in '07, but, I don't know, Fred was always kind of a goofy guy, I don't think anyone would hold that against you.  And your recent donations have all been to Republicans, but that's fine. You're allowed to hold political views, after all. I'm sorry your support for Dick Lugar didn't work out.

I know you have a personal brand as kind of a good-natured, friendly guy.  I wonder what kind of impact it would have to the Peyton Manning Brand for you to dock minimum-wage employees' hours to keep them from having affordable healthcare. Probably not so good.

Honestly it would be kind of dickish. I hope you don't do it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Having Had Our Phil

Dear Phil Jackson:

Look, I know you only like coaching teams with transcendent talent already lined up and waiting for you, but wearing the Phantom half-mask and lurking in the Staples Center steam tunnels while singing "Help me fire Mike Brown Thursday Night" is a bit much. The sad truth of the matter is, Mike D'Antoni is probably a better fit for this Lakers team than you are. Yes, there's Kobe, and there's Dwight, and there's Nash and Gasol, and yes, they are remarkable players. What they are not, however, are any combination of young, healthy, or suited to run the triangle offense. D'Antoni's offense, as frenetic as it is, matches Steve Nash's skill set and tendencies a lot better than trying to force him into the triangle. For God's sake, D'Antoni made Jeremy Lin look like a world-beater. You nailed Steve Kerr's feet to the three point line.
And there's one other thing: this team, even when it gets all its weapons back, is not going to win another championship. It's too old and too fragile, there's too much competition, and Miami's still better. So really, Phil, it's for the best. You don't reduce your legacy by going out with a team that won't bring home the basketball-onna-stick that is the O'Brien Trophy. (Bring that thing to Carolina, and we'll batter dip it and deep fry it before anyone notices). The memory of you that remains is undiminished, and when D'Antoni inevitably fails with this bunch (though he will make it exciting, and come close, and fill seats), you can nod your bearded head sagely, and let reporters tell you they should have hired you instead, and gently disengage the metaphorical parking brake on the bus(s) as it rolls downhill toward D'Antoni.