The House That George Built

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The Frieze

I saw three games at “New” Yankee Stadium, the so-called “House That George Built,” as my 19th ballpark of the summer. It wasn’t my first visit, Mrs. Nomad and I had been there once before, so I knew what the Stadium was like.

New and Old Stadiums – New on the Left

I believe baseball stadiums are shrines to a team’s baseball legacy. Each game played in the park honors that legacy. The stadium itself is perhaps the most visible statement about a team’s respect for the past. Additionally, teams honor their greatest players with retired numbers and statues. SunTrust in Atlanta and Yankee Stadium have monument gardens, to name just two examples. Many teams have Hall of Fame areas in their stadiums that provide an important historical connection to the past for the fans of the future.

Amateur Fields Occupy the Original SIte

The original Yankee Stadium was the “Cathedral of Baseball.” So many vital events occurred at the original site, it’s sad that it was torn down. Amateur baseball fields across the street now occupy that site.

Building the replacement across the street was in my opinion, a tragic blunder. It’s inconceivable that the Yankees, an organization that says it values its legacy and traditions more than almost anything else, demolished the old stadium. Baseball deserved better.

The Yankees have broken a few of their other traditions as well.

The Yankees Legacy

From 1913 to 1922 the Yankees shared Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. Giants owner, Charles Stoneham and manager John McGraw found it frustrating that the upstart Yankees were a bigger draw than the World Champion Giants. 1 The Yankees had this kid named Babe Ruth who was in the process of revolutionizing baseball and sports celebrity. Stoneham and McGraw’s reaction to Ruth and the Yankees’ increasing popularity was to evict them after the 1922 season. The Yankees ownership always wanted a permanent home in the area and built their new stadium right across the Harlem River in the Bronx.

Legends Hall at the New Stadium

The mammoth Yankee Stadium which people referred to as “The House That Ruth Built” opened at the start of the1923 season. For the next 85 years, Yankee Stadium was the center of the baseball universe. In that span, the Yankees won 39 pennants and 26 world championships. Great Yankee players like Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter thrilled the home town fans. Most of all, some very significant moments in baseball history happened there:

  • Ruth’s 60th home run
  • Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell
  • Roger Maris’ 61st home run
  • Don Larson’s World Series perfect game
  • Jackie Robinson stealing home in the World Series

Yankee Traditions

As The Yankees won championships, they codified a series of traditions. The Yankees have:2

  • worn their iconic white pinstripe uniforms since 1912, continuously since 1915 3
  • worn plain gray uniforms with block lettered “New York” since 1916, continuously since 1931
  • never worn names on the backs of their jerseys 4
  • worn the insignia with interlocked “NY” on their navy blue caps since 1923 and their chests since 1936
  • used the “bat in hat” logo since 1947
  • maintained some sort of Monument Park since 1932, when they built their first on-field one dedicated to Miller Huggins

Little Change Since1936
pictures via

Although the Yankees declare their pride for these traditions, over the years, they compromised some of them when they deemed it necessary. In my mind, it all comes back to George Steinbrenner and money.

If you sacrifice what you say is most important so that you can make more money than I would suggest it wasn’t that important in the first place. It’s easy to say tradition is vital if you don’t have to choose it over more money.

Sacrificing tradition for the sake of higher profits cheapens the Yankees brand.

George Steinbrenner

In 1973, George Steinbrenner led a group of investors in purchasing the then struggling Yankees and started a sometimes controversial resurgence. Steinbrenner was a bombastic owner, and the story of his turbulent tenure is well known. His philosophy was that winning the World Series was the only acceptable option for his Yankees. To do so, he spent millions on free agents, hired and fired managers, and won a few championships. However, his teams finished out of the running quite often. The myth of tradition and success continued.

The Myth of Steinbrenner Success

“I’m not a win-at-all-costs guy. Winning isn’t everything. It’s second to breathing.5

“I hate to lose. Hate, hate, hate to lose.” 6

– George Steinbrenner

The Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, their first World Series in 1923. Since then, they have won 40 pennants and 27 world championships. 7 It’s a stupendous achievement and one that the Yankee organization is entirely justified in being proud of. However, the pace of the championships slowed in the mid-1960s. It remained relatively slow throughout the Steinbrenner era.

Celebrating the Championships

Although Steinbrenner’s Yankees won seven world championships, most occurred in a short five-year span. The Yankees won four championships in the extraordinary period from 1996 to 2000. However, in the previous seventeen years, the Yankees did not win any championships. Similarly, in the following 18 years since 2000, the team has won only one championship.

Consider that in the ten years before I was born in 1957, the Yankees won nine pennants and seven world championships. They barely equaled this performance in the 45 years since Steinbrenner bought the team.

An 18-year-old Yankee fan who brags about the team’s legacy of twenty-seven championships has only experienced one of them. However, kids the same age in:

  • Boston experienced four championships
  • San Francisco saw three championships
  • St. Louis celebrated two championships
  • Eight other cities experienced one championship

Financial Success

Steinbrenner parlayed this exaggerated view of the Yankees on-field success into a fortune. The team is currently worth $4.6 Billion. “The value of the Yankees has compounded annually at 15% since a group led by George Steinbrenner paid $8.8 million for the team in 1973” 8

The Steinbrenner family also reaped a lot of money:

“Steinbrenner’s initial investment in the purchase of the team was just $168,000 (about $890,000 in today’s dollars) according to the L.A. Times, or about 1.9% of the total sale price. By the time Steinbrenner passed away in 2010, his stake in the team had grown to 57%. That share was passed on to his family, led by his sons Hank and Hal.”

“If the Steinbrenner family still owns 57% of the team, it is now worth more than $1.8 billion, or about 200,000% more than the elder Steinbrenner’s initial investment (considering inflation).”

Cork Gaines – Business Insider 9

The New Stadium

Why would a historically successful team that insists its traditions are sacrosanct decide to remove the centerpiece of that tradition? I’m going to suggest that those traditions aren’t as sacrosanct as the Yankees claim. It was easier to build across the street and demolish the existing structure. Moreover, doing so, generated the most significant financial return.

Were Physical Improvements Needed?

Yankee Stadium was falling apart, pieces of concrete were falling from its facade. A solution was necessary.

However, almost from the beginning of his tenure, Steinbrenner lobbied for public support to replace the Stadium. As a first step, the Yankees shared Shea Stadium with the Mets in 1973 and 1974 while they remodeled Yankee Stadium. 10

However, after the remodel, Steinbrenner kept pressuring New York for a new stadium. So much so, in the mid-1990s he threatened to move to New Jersey if the city didn’t support a new ballpark. 11 His initial stated concern was that the surrounding neighborhood was dangerous and depressed attendance.12 However, since the Yankees annual attendance has been between 3 and 4 million fans, since 1998, he needed another reason. 13

Greater Revenue

Luxury Legends Seats

The other stated needs were “greater revenue, additional parking and better access from highways.” The additional revenue would come from “entertainment attractions, retail shops, and restaurants.”14 Luxury boxes would add even more revenue. 15

My opinion is that 1974’s remodel wasn’t appropriate. Removing the famous frieze that hung from the rooftop and other design changes did not maintain the Stadium’s historical grandeur. Building the new Stadium that was more respectful of the original design was preferable.

However, the best option was to rebuild on the same site, to maintain (and re-establish) the historical connection.

Was Renovation or Replacement Possible?

The question is, was it possible to rebuild at the existing location or renovate the existing structure? Did they have to build a new stadium across the street?

To Steinbrenner, brand new was better than any reclamation project. The city presented plans to renovate the existing stadium. However, the sense from team officials was that the concept would likely not satisfy Steinbrenner.

“Can any structure or renovation ever satisfy the demands of the mid-’90s, consistent with other state-of-the-art facilities around the country?”

David Sussman, Yankees Executive Vice President and General Counsel 16

It was also easier and cheaper to build across the street.

To rebuild, they likely would have had to play at a different site for a year or two. That would inconvenience fans – especially season ticket holders – and risk revenue. They would also incur higher costs to lease a new park etc.

Renovation might allow games during construction but would inconvenience many and likely reduce revenue due to lower attendance. Moreover, the project would take longer to complete if they tried to use the Stadium as they renovated.

However, the Yankees couldn’t have it both ways. It’s contradictory to portray their organization as protectors of tradition yet tear down the real Yankee Stadium. Similarly, they can’t explain away the contradiction by complaining about costs. They are the wealthiest team in sports charged with protecting the sport’s grandest traditions. Costly renovations to preserve the sport’s legacy are part of the deal.

The House That George Built

The real debasement of the Yankee tradition is referring to the new Stadium as “The House That George Built.”17

Note that Steinbrenner’s picture looks out over the playing field at the new Stadium. In contrast, there are no similar pictures of any of the great Yankees players. The fans came to see Babe Ruth in 1923 and other great players after that. The fans never paid to see Steinbrenner or any other owner do anything. You can’t exchange Ruth for Steinbrenner and pretend you protect the Yankee tradition.

Steinbrenner Overlooks the Playing Field

One wonders if Steinbrenner also “considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth?”

Do The Yankees Honor Their Traditions?

The new Stadium is the most egregious example of the Yankees not protecting their traditions. However, while we’re on the subject, let’s discuss other ways where the Yankee commitment to tradition is wanting.

Retired Numbers

The Yankees reinforce the idea that they are more successful than other teams by having more retired numbers than any other team. There are currently 21 retired numbers for 22 players – they’ve retired the number 8 twice. 18 The bloated list of retired numbers cheapens the tradition by falsely elevating players into the pantheon of great Yankees.

Through the 1960s only four players: Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle had their numbers retired. The team added three more numbers in the 1970s, representing Dickey, Berra, Whitey Ford, and Casey Stengel. After that, the Steinbrenner marketing approach went into action, and the team retired another 13 numbers.

Enhancing the Image With Retired Numbers

Many of the numbers retired in the Steinbrenner era honor some pretty good ballplayers; however, they were not all significant. Guys like former centerfielder Bernie Williams, pitchers Andy Pettitte and Ron Guidry, and catcher Jorge Posada don’t qualify. There are others as well – this article provides a good list.

In my mind, you need an exceptional reason to retire a player’s number if he is not already in Cooperstown. As such, Thurman Munson, the great catcher who died tragically in a mid-career plane accident, is undoubtedly deserving. Arguably, there are other ways to honor great players. For example, the Blue Jays list the names of their great players, but only retired the numbers of those elected to the Hall of Fame. Statues are another idea. For example, the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds have a series of these outside Busch Stadium. Frankly, most teams do.

Where’s Jackie Robinson’s Number?

The only number missing from the Yankees display of retired numbers is Jackie Robinson’s number 42. I have not visited any other ballpark that doesn’t include Jackie’s number displayed prominently.

Jackie’s Number Is Missing

I invite my readers to hypothesize about the missing number 42 as I would prefer not to speculate. However, please don’t suggest that not including his number has something to do with a conflict with Mariano Rivera’s retired number 42. Remember that they display two number 8’s.

Of course, there is a plaque honoring Jackie in Monument Garden. It’s the same size as most of the other players, which are roughly half the size of Steinbrenner’s.

Uniform Traditions

“but wearing a Yankee uniform represents tradition”

George Steinbrenner 19

“The Yankees love traditions; for example, with very few exceptions, the team’s uniforms—pinstripes, no names on the back of each players’ jersey—haven’t changed since the early 20th century”

Amy Pitt 20

The Yankees have been wearing the same – white, pinstripe home uniforms consistently since 1915. They first wore them in 1912. 21 Similarly, the Yankees started wearing plain gray road uniforms with the block “New York” letters on the front in 1916. Except for a short period between 1927 and 1930, they have done so ever since. 22

Jersey’s With Names On The Back

Most of all, they have never worn names on the back of their jerseys in their entire 116-year history. 23 The concept is that only the name on the front of the jersey is important. 24

On Sale at Yankee Stadium

While the no-name policy is the Yankee tradition, they still license Yankee merchandise with names on the back and sell these in Yankee Stadium. Why do so? I can only assume that it’s because the fans want them, and it thus increases sales.

The better approach is to sell only the unnamed version of the jerseys and if some fans want to debase this significant tradition of the team they love, let them. It’s a free world. There is no need to support or profit from the practice.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

In spite of my aversion and complaints about replacing Yankee Stadium in a new location, I did see three games there. Those that don’t know or care about the move across the street, might enjoy watching games there. So, what’s a visit like from my point of view? See my next post.

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Farewell to Citi Field

I ended my previous post about Citi Field saying that I couldn’t go back. As I was, sitting in this ballpark I love and watching the team that I have been a fan of for over 50 years, I realized, that it’s all a bit of a facade. Citi Field is a mere replica of Ebbets Field, located in Queens, not Brooklyn, and the home team is the Mets, not the Brooklyn Dodgers. The organization mimics a modern MLB club, the way its stadium mimics the great ballpark of Fred Wilpon (The Mets owner) dreams. So, I’m saying “Farewell to Citi Field” until things change.

NOTE: I’m quite aware that as I started writing this piece, and decided to publish it, the Mets started winning. As of Monday morning August 5th, the team is 15 and 6 since the All-Star break. They are firmly back in contention for a wild card spot in the playoffs. I still stand by my statements herein that the Mets organization and ownership is weak and needs to change.

Citi Field at Night

I love the team, bleed orange and blue, etc, but I can’t handle the owners’ mismanagement and poor decision making any longer. The problem is not that the Mets have finished under .500 eight out of the last ten years. 1 The sad fact is that Fred and Jeff Wilpon are horrible owners. They don’t seem to want to build a competitive organization focused on putting a great product on the field. The last two years have been especially troubling.

Credit Where Credit is Due

That’s not to say that the Mets front office has not had some successes. Quite the contrary, they drafted and developed last year’s Cy Young Award winner – and possible baseball’s best pitcher Jacob DeGrom. Additionally, the starting staff is also one of the best. The organization drafted or acquired in the minor leagues a good core of young players. These include Pete Alonso, this year’s Home Run Derby winner and possible Rookie of the Year and Jeff McNeil who is in contention to lead the majors in hitting.

The Mets will always be my team. I’ll read about them and watch them at home, but I can’t go to Citi Field until I see something positive from the organization.

The Problem Is… Leadership

Theo Epstein

Consider two baseball executives, Jeff Wilpon, and Theo Epstein. Both Wilpon and Epstein became head of baseball operations for their respective teams in approximately 2002. Epstein was hired based on his talent and experience. Wilpon took over when his father bought the team with little ability and no experience.

In the approximately twenty years since they assumed their roles, Epstein broke the Boston Red Sox’s 96-year and the Chicago Cubs 110-year eras of futility. Meanwhile, Jeff may be considered one of the worst leaders in the game.

Jeff Wilpon

Jeff Wilpon

Wilpon’s defenders could point out that the Mets have come close to winning a championship during Wilpon’s tenure. The Mets came especially close in 2015 when they went to the World Series. They also had winning teams from 2005 through 2008. However, his focus on short term success rather than consistent competitiveness is a strategy that often leads to failure and rarely to victory.

When Jeff was taking control of the Met’s operations, former owner Nelson Doubleday said:

”Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year… Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail… Jeff sits there by himself like he’s King Tut waiting for his camel.”

Nelson Doubleday 2

Joel Sherman quoted a baseball executive in 2010 as saying:

“Jeff is the problem with the organization, and he is never going to realize that. He cannot help himself. He has to be involved. He will never hire anyone who will not let him have major input. He will not hire anyone who does not run every personnel decision through him.”

Joel Sherman 3

The sense is that the Mets can’t attract good people to the organization because of Jeff Wilpon. The result is a series of bad decisions and an organization that is increasingly out of step with modern baseball.

The Problem is…Money

If baseball teams want to win, they either need to be very smart, spend money or both. Fred and Jeff Wilpon do not seem to be either. They make poor baseball decisions and do not invest in the team as they should. I’ll discuss the Mets bad decisions later. Let’s start with the fact that the Mets don’t spend enough money.


Although the Mets 2019 payroll is approximately $160 million, it is currently ninth highest in the majors.4 Their payroll is approximately $70 million less than the World Champion Red Sox, $60 million less than the Yankees (in the same media market) and $50 million less than Epstein’s more successful Cubs.

Moreover, only about $96 million is devoted to the 25-man payroll – 15th highest in the major leagues. The spend the rest of the salaries on:

Injured players: The Mets spend roughly $39 million on injured players. They also adhere to the standard practice of insuring their players’ salaries. Thus 75% of the $39 million is reimbursed to the team. However, Instead of reinvesting the reimbursements in replacement players, the Wilpons keep the money. 5 “They saved money in player payroll and just pocketed it, continuing to let the fan base down.” 6

Retained Contracts: Salaries for players still on the Mets major league payroll who were released, traded or had their contracts bought out. The Mets rank fifth in the major leagues ($24.5 million), indicating that they make lousy player decisions.

Buried Contracts: Payments for players with major league contracts that play in the minor leagues. The Mets rank eighth highest in the majors ($8.5 million).

Team Value

The obvious question is, do the Wilpon’s have the resources to invest more in the team? The answer is a) yes they do and b) if they don’t why do they own the team? The Mets don’t report a complete picture of the team’s finances; however, the sense is that they are profitable. For example, they earned $54 million in income from Citi Field Operations in 2018. This amount was down from 2017 when they made $96 million.

Relative Team Values – In The National Baseball Hall of Fame

Moreover, the team’s growth in overall value is staggering. The Wilpon’s purchased the team in 2002 for $391 million and the Mets are now worth $2.3 billion.7

Interestingly, when the Wilpons bought the team, the Mets were second only to the Yankees as the most valuable team in baseball they now rank sixth. Other organizations, especially the Yankees, have appreciated faster than the Mets. For example, Epstein’s Cubs (in a market half the size of New York) is now worth more than the Mets. 8

There are many factors as to why the Yankees and Mets have not appreciated the way other organizations have, 9 However, it’s clear the Mets, although valuable, are falling behind more aggressive organizations.

The problem is that the Mets don’t invest the way they should and more importantly, they don’t maximize their investments. In today’s game, the best way to evaluate, select, and develop players is through analytics.

The Problem is…Missing the Analytics Revolution

The Tampa Bay Rays an unpopular team that plays in an even more unpopular stadium, exist in a much smaller market and spend much less than the Mets do. However, the Rays are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. They are currently in second place in their division and in contention for a playoff spot.

The Mets missed what I call the Analytics Revolution. As discussed in “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the Oakland A’s in the early part of the century used data analysis to inform their decision making. Other teams soon followed. Now everyone (including the Mets) have an analytics component in their organization. However, some are stronger than the others.

The Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Indians, and Yankees are some of the teams I hear mentioned when analytics are discussed. I never hear the Mets mentioned. Their analytics staff is likely not as robust as others. Moreover, is their input respected?

Does it matter? Some will still argue that teams can do just as good with the old statistics and intuition, but those opinions are fading. When the best organizations in MLB and college are also the ones known for their analytic chops, it’s hard to argue that analytics don’t have an impact.

The Travis d’Arnaud Saga

Travis d’Arnaud
Anthony J. Causi – NY Post

As an example, Travis d’Arnaud was an oft-injured, catcher who never realized his potential with the Mets. They released him this year during spring training as he was rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. Although not thoroughly explained, the sense was that Mets management was concerned about d’Arnaud’s poor performance and uncertain future. However, he is now doing well with the Rays.

Joel Sherman made these points:

“If we were making a list of organizations that have their act together, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay would be in the top five. If I ran the Mets — decidedly not in the top five — I would be asking my baseball operations what did well-run franchises see in d’Arnaud that we didn’t, particularly now that he has become a valuable piece for the Rays?”

Joel Sherman 10

“It is the largest Mets problem — the need to recognize their near-term success and failure is not about one or two moves, but the process to create thoroughness and consistency — plus the highest level of information from scouts, analytics, sports scientists, medical, psychological, etc. They should be digging down on the d’Arnaud progression and really coming to peace with how they made their determination every step of the way, and what the Dodgers and Rays saw that they did not.”

Joel Sherman 11

If you want to argue the point, read these books, and then we’ll talk:

Two Years of Bad Decisions

”The Mets are playing darts blindfolded.”

“The Mets are behaving like the Yankees used to; conversely the Yankees are behaving like the Mets should.”

Paul Hembekides 12

In the early 80s, the Yankees used to have the same “win now” mentality that the Mets do. The practice resulted in annual failures. They recovered through patient management, and later by becoming a leader in the analytics revolution. 13

Here are a series of poor decisions that stem from the issues outlined above.

Jeury’s Familia Trade

Familia in Oakland

The Mets traded Jeury’s Familia to Oakland before the July 2018 trade deadline. The transaction was expected since Familia was to become a free agent at the end of the season. Teams normally trade players in their so-called “walk year” so that they can get some compensation before the player leaves. However, the Mets handled the trade poorly and didn’t receive the compensation they should have. Keith Law remarked:

If the New York Mets are just going to trade their most valuable major league assets for salary relief, rather than to try to improve the club, then it’s time for MLB to step in and force the Wilpons to sell the team, just as the league did with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers.

Keith Law 14

For a franchise that operates in the largest market in the league to do this — and do so 10 days before the trade deadline rather than waiting for someone to offer a legitimate return — is embarrassing for the Mets and for Major League Baseball as a whole.

Keith Law 15

Hiring Mickey Callaway and Brodie Van Wagenen

Mickey Callaway

Before the 2017 season, Wilpon hired Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to manage the team. Callaway was hired even though he had no experience in management, the National League and with the New York media. Mickey deserves better, but he is out of place and has failed in New York

Chaim Bloom Tampa Bay Rays Web Site

Last December, Wilpon hired player agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the new General Manager. In so doing he bypassed Chaim Bloom, the young but very experienced Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations with the Rays. The Rays are one of the best, analytic organizations in baseball. Hiring Bloom would start the transformation of the Mets into an organization that used data and analytics to inform its decisions.

Instead Van Wagenen was hired because he promised Wilpon that he could make the Mets win immediately. Van Wagenen has to date been a failure.

Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon
New York Daily News

The current practice in the major leagues is to focus on valuable young players and not use the more expensive, older players. In previous years, teams were willing to trade prospects for veterans. That trend is changing, teams value their prospects more so than ever and hold onto them. Bloom would have followed this strategy, Van Wagenen did the exact opposite. He made a series of deals that may have damaged the Mets for years.

Prospects For Cano

Robinson Cano
La Vida Baseball

He traded two young prospects and two existing players to Seattle for 36-year-old Robinson Cano and young Edwin Diaz. In so doing, acquiring Cano’s $25 million annual salary. Although the players traded offset some of the salary, the Mets are committed to paying Cano for five years. Moreover, Cano plays second base, and the Mets had Jeff McNeil, a promising younger player at second base. McNeil is now one of the leading hitters in the majors, while forced to play the outfield. Unfortunately, Cano has not hit well and has a limited range at second.

Other Older Players

In addition to adding the 36-year-old Cano, Van Wagenen signed:

  • 35-year-old infielder, but oft-injured Jed Lowrie to a two-year $20 million deal. Lowrie has not played the entire year due to injuries.
  • 31-year-old Wilson Ramos to a two- year $19 million deal. Ramos can hit, but his best days as a catcher are behind him.
  • The previously mentioned Jeury’s Familia is 29 and will end his three-year $30 million contract at the age of 32.
  • 33-year-old Todd Frazier was not acquired, by Van Wagenen, but is in the last year of his current contract.

In total Van Wagenen committed the penny pitching Wilpons to paying $69 million over the next few years to players that most organizations wouldn’t consider because of their age. More importantly, Jeff Wilpon approved the deals.

Stop the Madness

There are many more examples, but why go on? Blog posts should be relatively short. I’m not the first to refer to the Mets organization as a “Dumpster Fire,” or a “shit show.” But that is what they are. Even if, as I write this post, The team has an outside shot at a wild card playoff appearance.

If I’ve learned anything in my travels this season, I can enjoy baseball anywhere and also follow the Mets. A trip to Citi Field requires flights and hotels as well as the ticket and food costs. For the same investment, I can go to Wrigley. It’s even less expensive to drive to Toronto, Cleveland or Pittsburgh. I can also take a vacation in say San Diego, which is a beautiful city and visit one of the best ballparks in the country. Not that I’m a fan of the Padres, but they are young, talented and exciting. I can enjoy a few days at Petco Park.

What I Want

I’m not going back to Citi Field until:

  • The Wilpons either sell or at least remove themselves from active management of the team.
  • The team increases their payroll so that they rank in the top five highest-spending teams in MLB. Can they win for less? Probably, but they have a lot of bad contracts to deal with, and it’s going to be expensive for the near future.
  • Build one of the most modern, analytic organizations in baseball. Let me hear just one time, “they should run their organization the way the Mets do,” and I’ll be back.

By doing so, the Mets will build around a core of talented young players that fans can enjoy, somewhat consistently over a series of years. They will also have a strong farm system that will consistently replenish the major league club.

I long for the day that the Mets organization transforms into a unit that I can support. When they do, I’ll be happy to visit Citi Field again. Until then, I’ll root for the team from afar. Lets Go Mets!!

One More Thing

If the Twins have a statue of Kent Hrbeck at Target Field, can’t we have a few with our great players? How about statues of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Piazza, and David Wright along with the requisite Tom Seaver one that is in progress. They should retire their numbers as well.

Moreover, why is there is a statue of Hank Aaron in front of Milwaukee’s Miller Park and no mention of Willie Mays at Citi Field? After all, Aaron ended his brilliant career with the Brewers after spending the 1950s and early 1960s with the Milwaukee Braves. Mays did roughly the same thing with the Mets after playing for the New York and San Francisco Giants.

Just an idea, but why not create a monument garden between the Home Plate Gate and the train station across the way. Most fans would walk by it on the way to the Robinson Rotunda. Include statues of the players I mentioned, add Jackie Robinson and another with “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.” A real organization with owners that loved the team would do something like that.

My next stop was the All-Star Game…More fun, less angst.

Continue ReadingFarewell to Citi Field

The Business of Baseball – Part One

Read more about the article The Business of Baseball – Part One
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“Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business and too much business to be called a sport.”

Philip Wrigley1

Bryce Harper is now happily ensconced in Philadelphia – Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado have signed big deals. In reaction, the Angels are considering a $350 million contract that will make Mike Trout an Angel for life.2 Pardon the pun.

Thus ends a contentious offseason where some players signed epic deals. However, I’m leaving on my spring training trip, and there are still critical free agents without a home. Moreover, some players are so disgruntled that they are discussing striking when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ends. I’m sure fans everywhere are wondering how millionaires could be so disgruntled.

So what gives?

I am a reasonably knowledgeable fan but have only a cursory understanding of the business issues at hand. So, I’ve decided to focus some of my attention and this summer’s blog posts on the current labor situation. In so doing, I hope to become better versed in the subject and so can you, if you want to.

To start, let me outline what I understand to be the issues that affect the current labor market situation. I’ll explore many of these in detail in later posts.

The Players Share of Baseball Revenues

Always remember that the players are the product. Fans don’t buy tickets to watch owners own or general managers manage. Fans want to see great players play. As such, the players should naturally expect to receive the lion’s share of MLB’s revenues.

These revenues continue to increase year over year. Total baseball related revenue in 2018 was a record $10.3 Billion. The sport has experienced dramatic revenue increases since 1992 when Bud Selig became commissioner. Revenue is up an inflation-adjusted 377%.3

However, the players’ share of these record revenues has decreased from 57.3% in 2015 to 54.2% in 2018. This rate may have accelerated since signing the latest CBA before the start of the 2017 season.4

Percentage of MLB + MiLB Player Compensation to Revenues

Why would payrolls decrease in a time of prosperity?

The disparity of Team Revenues

One argument is that some teams can pay higher salaries than others. Each team generates its income from ticket, concessions and merchandise sales. Significantly, each team receives different sums from their local TV and radio agreements. Thus, revenue per team is uneven, and only the higher earning teams can afford costly player salaries.

For example, in 2017, the top-earning team, the Yankees, generated $619 million in revenue. In contrast, the Athletics made the lowest revenue, $210 million. Median revenue was $281 million.5 Naturally, the A’s shouldn’t be expected to match the Yankees payroll.

2017 MLB Team Revenue

The disparity is likely a factor, but only to a certain degree. If it was the only cause, then we would see a correlation between revenue and payroll. However, it’s hard to see this pattern. Note what happens when rank the teams by their 2018 opening day payrolls, leaving the 2017 revenue in the chart.6

2018 Revenue and Payroll Comparison

While I expect some of these results, there is seemingly no correlation between revenue and payroll. As expected, the Red Sox earn a lot and pay a lot and the Athletics don’t. However, there are many teams that don’t spend what they could.

For instance, the Yankees earn the most but rank seventh in payroll, not first. Moreover, they don’t exceed the Red Sox by 50% as their revenue does. Also, their crosstown rival, the Mets rank seventh in revenue but twelfth in payroll. While the Braves and Phillies revenue is only slightly lower than the Mets, both rank in the bottom third of the payroll list.

Payrolls and Investment Strategies

Apparently, the teams’ investment strategies and philosophies are also a factor. Discussing this issue is one of the reasons I will consider this issue over a series of posts. There is a difference of opinion as to how one builds a competitive team.

In my mind, part of the question relates to the expected return on investment (ROI) from each payroll decision. Moreover, why does one own a baseball team anyway? Is team ownership that lucrative? Could they make more money faster if they invested in another industry or the stock market? From a purely financial perspective, the owners should be generating an ROI at a higher rate than other possible investments. If not, they have other reasons to be involved. Maybe they enjoy the sport, the challenge, and the competition.

However, those in the front office are instrumental in these decisions and are trying to build a career. To do so, they likely need to prove that they can be both successful and profitable.

The great Connie Mack owned and managed the Philadelphia Athletics for about fifty years. In that time, he built many winning teams and then promptly sold his players to generate profits. An example of his philosophy was this famous comment:

“It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth. A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year, and you don’t have to give the players raises when they don’t win.” [7]

Connie Mack7

I’ll discuss these motivational issues in a later post.

Noncompetitive Behavior

It follows that a good reason to consider management’s motivation is the wonderful phenomena of “noncompetitive behavior.”

There is a saying, “If you can’t win ninety games, you should lose ninety.”8 Teams don’t face penalties for losing too many games, and thus, there can be value in fielding an inferior team.

This “noncompetitive behavior” comes in at least two forms. The first is “tanking,” when an organization deliberately fields an inferior product to save money and garner higher draft choices. The second is when the organization “manipulates service time” to delay a player’s free agency. In so doing, they force the player to earn less than they should. I discuss this behavior in a subsequent section.

Each strategy is unethical. Anyone admitting to doing either would face a fine from the league or a grievance from the players union. However, organizations tend to use these tactics, and each can depress the players’ earning potential.


In the case of “tanking,” the team takes the position that there is no reason to invest in a losing proposition. For one reason or another, the team is not good enough to vie for a championship. In these cases, MLB’s rules enable management to avoid signing higher priced players. Teams are also allowed to trade high priced veterans for prospects. In so doing, the team amasses a large number of good, young prospects that will drive future success. It also saves its funds so it can invest in the later years when the team is ready to compete.

But is the strategy always unreasonable and unethical? For example, the Astros are infamous for tanking after Jim Crane purchased the team in 20119 and hired GM Jeff Luhnow. However, the Astros already stunk. They finished the season before the purchase with 56 wins and 106 losses. At that point, why not build a successful franchise from the ground up so they could become a consistent winner? Would signing a group of older, higher price veterans have led them to the Promised Land? 10

In my mind, there are a series of different types of organizations. There is the premium group that invests wisely in both their farm system and major league club. Others follow the same path but don’t spend as wisely. Still more are unwilling to invest as they could. Then there are those that take a step back to rebuild. Finally, there are likely teams that unethically take a step really far back and “tank.”

I’ll delve into the subject in future posts. However, it’s clear that there are teams that underinvest possibly to the point of being non-competitive. The result is that players have fewer opportunities to sign high-value contracts.

Baseball has Become a Very Efficient Marketplace

Thus, some of the reduction in salaries is due to the organizations’ practices and philosophies. However, the players need to realize that they are negotiating in a very efficient marketplace. Moreover, they benefitted from an inefficient market for a very long time.

The Business Dictionary defines an “efficient market” as:

“A market where all pertinent information is available to all participants at the same time, and where prices respond immediately to available information. Stock markets are considered the best examples of efficient markets.”11

Business Dictionary

“Moneyball” describes how Billy Beane built an outstanding Oakland A’s team by taking advantage of an inefficient market. Beane and his staff used statistical methods to successfully value and select players in ways that other teams did not. The A’s derived better information and thus won many games with a payroll lower than the competition.

It follows that before the “Moneyball Era,” the players benefitted from this inefficient market. At that time, baseball management used the wrong metrics to value players. These metrics included a pitcher’s total wins and earned run average (ERA). Similarly, they evaluate position players using batting average runs batted in (RBI) and errors made in the field. The disappointing result was that weaker than expected players signed contracts for more than they could justify by their performance.

In contrast, although teams use different ways to value players, the resulting estimates are very consistent. The teams no longer overpay for players. The market is efficient and somewhat rational.

Manipulating Service Time Under the CBA

However, from the players’ perspective, the current collective bargaining agreement exacerbates the market’s effects.

The agreement requires players to be under team control for six years and thus can’t take advantage of free agency. However, the team can manipulate the players so-called “service time” to eke out an additional year of control.

An organization manipulates service time by assigning a player to the minor leagues at the start of their rookie season. When it promotes the player a few weeks later, his rookie season doesn’t qualify as service time. This behavior forces the player to play another season under team control.

It follows that younger players can offset service time issues if they get to the “bigs” early. If they are major leaguers when they are 19 or 20, they can be free agents at 26 or so. In so doing, they are much more appropriate for the long term deals that Harper, Arenado, and Machado signed.

However, some teams like to evaluate and draft college players. Additionally, some players want to go to college. These college graduates may need a year or so in the minor leagues. Thus, they may not get to the majors until they are 23 or so. Add six or seven years of service time, and they will not be free agents until they are 30. At that age, they may not be considered worthy of a long-term deal.

The Dilemma

As I will discuss in future posts, the current system is rife with problems and inequities. On the management side, some individuals want to be successful but are committed to investing wisely. On the players’ side, it’s difficult to maneuver to that big payday which is more than frustrating. Thus their total share of revenue is decreasing, and they are not happy.

Watch this space.

Continue ReadingThe Business of Baseball – Part One

Hitchcock, Suspense and the Designated Hitter

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” -Alfred Hitchcock- 1

I’m likely not the first person to suggest that a baseball game is like a nine-act play. Usually, it’s a bit of a melodrama. Hopefully, it’s never a comedic farce. Each inning is an act. The game flows from act to act and builds suspense through a series of finite events. The finite nature of the game’s elements separate it from other sports and makes its form of suspense so unique.

For example, the only finite element in football is that the game is over after 60 minutes of play, unless it goes into overtime. However, participants can stretch the time using timeouts. Similarly, one could argue, that the number of downs is finite, however, the downs repeat. There are only eleven players per side, but they are interchangeable, and players can reenter the game. Basketball and hockey are similar.

In contrast, baseball is vastly different. Consider these finite elements:

  • Players can’t reenter the game, once removed
  • Hitters only hit four or five times a game
  • The best hitter can’t hit in critical situations if its not his turn
  • Pitchers can only throw 100 pitches or so before he risks injury
  • The most valuable commodity is outs, each team gets only 27 – three per inning

It’s the way teams use these finite elements throughout the game that creates the building suspense. The suspense occurs when the participants are forced to face the consequences of the plays and decisions already made. These are the times when baseball is at its best – the times when spectators are compelled to sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next pitch. We should avoid anything that takes away from the chances to make the game suspenseful.

Hitchcock’s Definition of Suspense

Alfred Hitchcock was a wonderful storyteller the master of suspense. He always kept his viewers on the edges of their seats.

This is how Hitchcock defined suspense:

“We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!” 2

The baseball game with the DH tells the story where the “bomb” just goes off. My theory about the DH may be counter-intuitive. However, it seems to me that the DH reduces the chances of suspense moments in the game. There are fewer consequences that are a result of the plays and decisions made in the game. There are many consequences when the most important defensive player but weakest offensive one has to hit. 

Suspense, anticipation, and fun ensue.

The suspense in the Non- DH Game

Consider these possible decision points in a game where there have been some missed opportunities. Assume it’s now the bottom of the fifth inning of a tied 1 -1 game. Both pitchers are doing fine, pitch counts are low, and each can go a few more innings.

In all these scenarios, it’s suspenseful because the decisions put the game at a crossroads between winning and losing. The fans don’t know what will happen next but realize that there are consequences to be faced.

  • Let’s say the pitcher is the leadoff hitter. Does the manager pinch hit with a good hitter who can get on base and start a rally? In so doing, he risks using the bullpen too soon and wasting a hitter that may be needed later.
  • Assume that there are two outs and the eighth batter gets on base. The opposing team has now “cleared the pitcher” and won’t have the advantage of starting the next inning facing the opponent’s weakest hitter. There is suspense in knowing that one team has given the other an opportunity to get ahead. Will they?
  • Let’s say the eighth man leads off the inning by reaching base, bringing the pitcher to the plate with a significant opportunity. Will he be allowed to hit away or, will he bunt to move the runner into scoring position? If he bunts, will the bunt be successful? If he swings away, will he get a hit, one out or hit into a double play to ruin the inning.

None of these scenarios are possible with the DH in play. The DH compromises the game’s aesthetic because it helps to avoid the chances for suspenseful predicaments.

The Designated Hitter

Everyone is saying it’s a fait accompli. Soon the “universal” DH will not just be relegated to the American League anymore. The National League will also allow teams to use strong hitters to replace weak-hitting pitchers in their lineups. Why? The issue – as most do – comes down to money. The players extend their careers, the owners protect their valuable assets, and greater offense leads to larger attendance — more money.

I understand the statistics – scoring increases with the DH. Additionally, the DH makes batting averages for the final third of the lineup (where pitchers hit) soar.

I also realize that the DH protects American League pitchers from getting injured playing offense. Pitchers are very valuable, and it makes sense to protect these assets. It’s better for fans to have the chance to see them pitch rather than sit on the Disabled List.

Finally, I understand that some young players (e.g., Vlad Guerro Jr. and Peter Alonso) are great hitters but marginal defensive players. 3 They are better suited to be Designated Hitters. However, I’d rather see teams have to deal with the consequences of sacrificing defense to realize players’ offensive prowess.

My point is that there are tradeoffs in using the Designated Hitter. With the DH, the game loses some of its appeal and its excitement. I’ll miss the non-DH version of the game when it is gone.

Continue ReadingHitchcock, Suspense and the Designated Hitter