Monday, May 24, 2004
And now some business news ...
By Rob Neyer
A quick tour around some recent happenings in the business of baseball ...
According to a New York Times article, roughly half the teams in the four major professional sports leagues "are now tied contractually to a medical institution." Worse, "Industry analysts expect that number to grow significantly."
That is, instead of teams going out and hiring the best doctors they can find, various institutions are paying the teams for the privilege -- and of course the publicity, which is really what they're after -- of tending to the most valuable groups of athletes in the world. For example, in 2001 the New York Mets fired their longtime team doctor ... because New York University-Hospital for Joint Disease offered to pay more than $1 million per year in exchange for 1) the prestige of taking care of Ty Wigginton, 2) advertising at Shea Stadium, 3) tickets to Mets games, and 4) periodic hospital visits from Ty Wigginton.
I'm kidding about Ty Wigginton, of course (Esix Snead is going to be promising home runs to sick kids, too). What's not so funny is the notion that your surgeon might be not the best man for the job, but instead the man whose boss paid the highest price.
When the Twins traded Eric Milton and A.J. Pierzynski, Minneaplis Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman blamed the Minnesota legislature for the loss of those players. After all, if only those damn politicians had been willing to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars on a new ballpark for a team owned by one of America's richest men.
Of course, Milton was (and is) vastly overpaid, and Pierzynski was blocking the No. 1 prospect (Joe Mauer) in the game. When you've got talent that's surplus and/or overpaid, you'd be foolish not to turn that talent into something you can use. Sure, the Twins could use a new ballpark. But they seem to be doing pretty well in the "old" one.
Commissioner Bud Selig recently said, flat-out, "I'm telling you right now, we aren't going to have advertising on uniforms." (Which is great news, of course, though if true I have to figure out just what that was I saw the Yankees and Devil Rays wearing during their season-opening series in Japan.)
Also, it looks like ... (I hope you're sitting down, because you're about to be shocked out of your skin) ... it looks like Selig's not going to retire at the end of 2006 after all. Yes, he sort of promised to retire then, but that was a few months ago and who knew that 2007 could approach so quickly? Now Selig says, "I'm open to staying but we'll see what happens. So I have two and a half years -- longer than that, maybe."
There's been a lot of talk about bringing Major League Baseball to Las Vegas, but so far there's been very little progress made toward finding the $500 million it would take to build a new ballpark. Stadium supporters have suggested using something called "tax increment financing" (TIF), but there's at least one little problem with that strategy.
The problem? According to state law, TIFs are intended for the economic development of "blighted areas" ... but they're talking about building the new ballpark adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip, which of course is about as far from "blighted" as you can get.
Even if the MLB-to-Las Vegas people can figure out the financing, there's simply no way it can happen before MLB decides the fate of the Expos. However, Las Vegas and Portland both "are casting covetous eyes at the Oakland Athletics."
Here's my "favorite" recent story about MLB's business dealings ... Sportservice, which has concession rights at a number of ballparks, "is increasingly replacing ballpark vendor employees with volunteers recruited from local charities."
It's a good deal for the charities, because they can make some money (though the hours are long). It's a bad deal for the fans, though, because the volunteers aren't particularly efficient, which leads to longer lines. And of course it's a "mockery of the job-creation promises so often used to justify public funding of stadiums."
Doug Pappas might be the best thing that ever happened to the Internet. If you're not familiar with Pappas' work, you probably think I'm exaggerating. I'm not.
Without Doug Pappas, neither I nor many thousands of other interested parties would know anything about those stories listed above, because it was Doug who brought them to us in his blog, where he posted new entries almost every day. For the last couple of years, he's also been writing regularly about the business of baseball for Baseball Prospectus, and for much longer than that he's been the chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research's Business of Baseball committee.
Doug died last week. He was only 43. I considered writing a sort of obituary, but I never actually met Doug (we did exchange the occasional e-mail), so I decided that instead I would present a tiny part of his work. I haven't done him anything like justice, though, so I urge you to spend a few hours with Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog and also his brilliant work for Baseball Prospectus. With his intelligence, his energy, his talent, and especially his b.s. detector (always set on HIGH), Doug established a standard that few among us can hope to even approach.
I already miss him. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.