The recent New York Times editorial/open letter from a former Goldman Sachs employee appears to have opened the floodgates to those seeking to leave behind a no longer fulfilling employment. However, RSBS was still shocked when the following letter arrived in our inbox the other day signed simply, Bud S.
TODAY is my last day at MLB. After more than 40 years at the organization — first as a minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves, then in bringing the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee and renaming them the Brewers, and now as commissioner — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
But this was not always the case. For instance, over more than a decade I made sure that steroids not only entered the game but also redefined it. By looking the other way while Sammy, Mark and Barry launched bomb after artificially powered bomb, I ensured that baseball once again excited the ordinary American that had been lured away by the corn syrup sweetness of NASCAR and the NFL.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look players in the eye and tell them they could continue to juice.
How did we get here? The organization changed the way it thought about owners. Ownership used to be about overcharging fans, merchandising everything from jock straps to girly colored hats and looking the other way while players shot ‘roids in the locker room. Today, if you treat the team as your personal piggy bank (and use its assets to pay off the divorce settlement with your crazy ex-wife) you will lose the team and the money from its lucrative TV rights.
There used to be three quick ways to become a leader among owners: a) Execute on the organization’s “axes,” which is MLB-speak for persuading your fans to buy tickets or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your fans — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to buy whatever will bring the biggest profit to MLB. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. I prefer to sell them at least three. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any washed-up, aging slugger for much more than he’s worth. Adam Dunn, anyone?
Today, though, many owners display an MLB culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend postseason merchandising and ticket sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help owners or hose fans. It’s purely about how we can make this a “September to Remember.” If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that an owners’ success or pocketbook was not part of the thought process at all.
When I was a minority owner I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out how to charge more for cheaper hotdogs, understanding the process of selling the same volume of beer at three different (and increasingly more expensive) prices, getting to know our players and what motivated them while making sure they had a safe place and a helping hand when injecting steroids in their asses.
My proudest moments in life — owning a Brewers team that posted one of the worst winning percentages over a ten-year period in the history of baseball, joining other owners in colluding and then helping pay the $280 million settlement, overseeing the worst All-Star game in the history of baseball — have all come through focusing on profits and passing the prices on to the fans. MLB today has become too much “the fan experience” and not enough about soaking the suckers. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
I hope this can be a wake-up call to the owners. Make your fellow owners the focal point of your business again. Without fans you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. But fans are simple-minded sheep who will do whatever you want so don’t worry about them. Get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons: steroids and making money for the owners. People who care only about making fans happy will not sustain this organization — or the trust of the owners — for very much longer.
I think I had a pretty typical reaction to the news of Any Winehouse’s death: “I wish I could say I’m surprised. Seriously, what a waste of talent.” What’s even more sad is that Winehouse wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last person of whom we can say that. Even in baseball, we run into similar stories. They may not have wound up in a City of London body bag but they flamed out just as badly.
The first two guys that inevitably come up are Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Watching those two pitch in 2003, the entire NL and a good portion of the AL had to have been crapping themselves. Sure, that was still the era of the long ball but you could see the future of baseball in the Cubs’ duo. And then they disappeared. Maybe Baker overused them. Maybe they were always destined for injury because of how hard they threw. Maybe it was just the baseball gods doing what they do with the Cubs once again. Whatever it was, Prior and Wood wound up being legendary more for what they could have done than for what they did.
But if you really want to talk about baseball’s Winehouse, how about Daryl Strawberry? Yes, I know he played almost two decades but he lost so much to health and drug problems considering the tools he had. It’s especially sad because we can imagine what he could have done. It’s the same thing as Winehouse. It’s not that she wasn’t impressive and it’s not that she didn’t do anything. It’s that she, like Strawberry, could have done so much more.