Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's Happened to Baseball

Last night, I was watching Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN between the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves. The Detroit Tigers had pitching for them one Andrew Miller 6-6 210 pound left hander with mid to upper nineties fastball and wicked hook (that's curveball for all you non fans). http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/profile?statsId=7847In a word, his stuff was sick.
Miller was drafted sixth last year's in the amateur draft. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/draft/y2006/index.jspThe first five were neither incompetent or asleep at the wheel. In fact, there was pretty much universal consensus that Miller was the best player available. Why then did the first five teams not draft Miller? The answer, as explained by the announcers at ESPN, was "signability". In the crudest, most appropriately demeaning terms, "signability" means that the first five teams were too damn poor to afford Miller.

Miller was signed with an upfront three and a half million dollar signing bonus and a contract behind it. Can you really blame the Devil Rays for passing on him? Their entire payroll was 30 million. By contrast, Alex Rodriguez made just over $25 million in 2006. In fact, the New York Yankees payroll ran just below $200 million in 2006.

The reason that the New York Yankees have a 200 million dollar payroll while the Devil Rays have a 30 million dollar payroll has to do with several factors. The first is obvious. New York City is metropolis with over 8 million residents, while the Tampa Bay area has about 2.4 million residents. With the introduction of cable and satellite, big market teams like the Yankees are able to take even more advantage to create more revenue streams. The YES network is a station Steinbrenner created to carry Yankees games exclusively. What are the chances that the Devil Rays would ever create their own network to host their games? The other factor is that baseball has no salary cap unlike all of the other major sports leagues. The long and short of it is that the Yankees spend 200 million per year because they can, and the Devil Rays spend 30 million per year because that is all they can.

How about this? Can anyone reading this name what round any of these players were drafted: David Ortiz, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Zambrano, Sammy Sosa, and Pedro Martinez? If you answered they weren't you would be right, and that's because the amateur draft is only for American amateurs, on other words that are playing for an American high school or college. For foreigners, it becomes a free for all. Of course any prized foreigner like Daisuke Matsuzaka invariably gets bid on by only a handful of teams. It isn't that Tampa couldn't use him, but they simply can't afford to pay him. Even in the market of foreign born players, the deck is stacked against the small market teams and in favor of the big markets.

Baseball has created a system that is rigged where only a handful of teams have any legitimate shot to win it all in any given year. Now, some may point to the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins as "small market" teams that are able to thrive regardless of whatever inefficiencies I have mentioned. It is true that Billy Beane, general manager of the Athletics, has done a tremendous job, but how good would the team be without their inherent handicap?
In 2002, the Athletics had a formidable rotation anchored by studs, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson. One by one, through trade or free agency, the A's lost each and everyone of them. It wasn't that Beane didn't want to keep them. It would have been too much to sign one individual guy and still fill other needs. The A's have a very strong farm system that produces young talent like Rich Harden consistently. Thus, they could afford to lose the nucleus. The simple fact of the matter is that if the A's weren't hamstrung their rotation would just be lethal, and these three guys would be followed by Harden. The A's would be winning World Series not just making the playoffs.

Then there is the issue of steroids. Barry Bonds is now only six home runs away from tying the most hollowed record in sports. The evidence against him is so plentiful and overwhelming that it is now to the point of overkill. Only die hard Giant fans continue to believe that he didn't take steroids. Soon we will all hold our collective noses while the universally loathed Bonds becomes the new home run champ.

How did we get here? It all started in 1994. You all remember that baseball year. What a great World Series that was? It was full of drama and excitement. If by drama and excitement you mean a blank screen because they didn't have a World Series that year because there was a strike. As one of my friends said back then, "a bunch of millionaires and billionaires can't seem to figure out how to divvy up the money". In the aftermath of the strike, the fans revolted. What brought them back? It was the home run chase of 1998. Today, most of us are convinced that the Home Run chase was a fraud and the participants cheaters.

Baseball either knew and did nothing or simply looked the other way, and either way, it isn't good for baseball. Steroids run so deep that no one knows just how many players were involved, but we all know that it was lots. A couple years ago I was watching another Tigers game when Ivan Rodriguez came up to bat. The announcers began a long analysis of why his home runs were down in the last couple years: he moved to Comerica Park which is spacious, he moved into the second spot in the office, he was getting older. It was like the announcers were dancing around the issue. All of those were probably contributing factors, however Rodriguez showed up to spring training in 2005, the first year they tested, with about thirty pounds less of muscle. Now, I am not saying he used steroids, but I am saying that all that muscle he lost had something to do with all the less home runs he hit.

The union of course has their dirty hands in both of these matters. For years, the union was able to fight of drug testing on right to privacy issues. They were also able to fight off the salary cap that has contributed to the mess that is the current salary structure. Other forces have also played a role like free agency, and agents who have set a market that only some of the teams can reach. Everyone already knows about Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez' contract http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/oconnor/2003-12-27-oconnor-losers_x.htm
http://espn.go.com/mlb/news/2000/1210/937273.html
That said, the role of the ridiculously strong union cannot be downplayed in this whole mess.

The national pastime allowed a strike to nearly bring it down, and then most likely allowed cheaters to bring it back into the spotlight. Now, it has a policy that provides an unfair advantage to big market teams while turning most small market teams into sacrificial lambs.

Finally, during the game I took a poll of what everyone thought of the designated hitter. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Designated_hitterWe were unanimous on two aspects: one we didn't like it and two, we didn't dislike it enough to get upset. Well, maybe if we weren't dealing with cheaters and an unfair playing field then maybe we would care some more that baseball allows people to play only parts of the game.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

It isn't that I don't think Bonds used steroids, I just don't care. How much does it really matter? Is it cheating? If it runs as deep as you say and just about everybody is doing it, is it really cheating......? No one seemed to care when all of the homerun records were being broken and so many guys were jacking homeruns but then all of a sudden someone got some publicity from making steroids the center of attention and a cheating scandal? All of a sudden Congress is involved and all of these investigations. Wake up and smell the roses it is all just a BS diversion tactic. I say let the players juice and when they are 50+ their wavos can shrivel up.

mike volpe said...

So, in other words, it is all right that he cheated because everyone was doing it. That is unacceptable. Cheaters shouldn't profit from their cheating. The home run record is the most hallowed in sports. Babe Ruth once held it and it took an unbelievable and consistent career from Hank Aaron to break it. Now, a cheater is going to hold the record.

I agree that this goes beyond Bonds, and I agree that the fans didn't mind when the cheating brought excitement back to the game. We are all culpable. Still, that doesn't excuse his behavior or make it all right that he hold the most hallowed record in sports, and do it by cheating.

Anonymous said...

How do we all know the babe and hank were not doing anything to enhance themselves. They could have been taking something too , u never know

mike volpe said...

We don't know anything for sure, but excusing Bonds, by trying to indict other greats who have absolutely no credible evidence against them as far as cheating, is really inappropriate, and it takes away from the matter at hand. Deflecting attention from a cheater holding the most hollowed record in sports, by pointing "guilt" at others is something I loathe frankly.

kristy said...

"Now, a cheater is going to hold the record. "

It's SO FUNNY how this topic NEVER came up THIS often when MARK McGwire broke the BETTER record (most HRs in a season).

Hmmm. maybe coz he is white.

Bonds would most likely amassed the totla number of HR without juicing anyways. It would have taken probably another two years.

Anonymous said...

"Now, a cheater is going to hold the record. "

It's SO FUNNY how this topic NEVER came up THIS often when MARK McGwire broke the BETTER record (most HRs in a season).

Hmmm. maybe coz he is white.

Bonds would most likely amassed the totla number of HR without juicing anyways. It would have taken probably another two years.

Anonymous said...

You lose a lot of credibility by implying that the A's would be better off with Mulder, Zito, and Hudson in the rotation. You're about four years too late on that one. Also, I don't think Billy Beane did want to keep those guys. That's his whole philosophy: get the best years out of a player in their pre-free agency days, then let some other team sign them and enjoy the compensatory draft picks. It works really, really well.

mike volpe said...

It is a red herring to blame this issue on racism, in my opinion. I think it has more to do with McGwire and Sosa being likeable and Bonds not being likeable, but that is really besides the point. Are we all supposed to sit there and do nothing while Bonds, the cheater, breaks the record because we may be accused of racism or hypocrisy. What's done is done, and McGwire and Sosa, for that matter, have both been discredited. The issue facing us now is the home run record. Crying racism takes away from the point at hand, will we allow him to hold the record?

mike volpe said...

With all due respect, saying that losing three number one starters to free agency is a good thing because you get some draft picks makes you lose credibility. Do you really think that if Beane's budget was unlimited like say Cashman's he would have this so called philosophy. Something tells me that if money wasn't an option that those three would still be in Oakland, and also they are now in the prime of their careers unless you think 27-30 is past the prime.

Eagli1 said...

When MLB and the Union allows blood test for HGH. Then I'll say MLB is getting a handle on the drug issue.

If, this was allowed to happen ,however, 50% of Major Leqague players would be gone for 50 games. Does anyone ever think this would happen? Durrr, I think not.

mike volpe said...

Is there a test for HGH? I didn't know, however I agree with you.