Tagged: MLB

Ambassador Bryce Harper

When most people hear the word “diplomat,” they experience a faint sensation of cocktail parties and a life on the international jet-setting circuit.  But if you ever wondered exactly what a diplomat does, this recent account of the negotiations surrounding a Chinese dissidents departure for the U.S. is nothing short of fascinating.  However, I still think the best work done by America’s Foreign Service is its sports diplomacy programs.  In China this meant building on the opportunity offered by Yao Ming and bringing over other NBA stars.

In Latin America these programs go under the name “baseball diplomacy.”  It makes sense.  Most MLB teams have at least a scout and sometimes an entire infrastructure in Latin American countries in order to seek out and recruit promising young talent.  Why not build on those ties by using the baseball players as ambassadors of American good-will?  I’m pretty sure there’s no better way to illustrate the American Dream than by sending guys who are actually living it.

The only problem is, the guy who is truly living the dream right at this very moment hails from the U.S. of A., not Latin America.  Seriously, does it get any better than being Bryce Harper?  The guy is nineteen years old, talented beyond belief and finds himself playing on a team that seems to have finally put the pieces together.  Not bad for a guy who still can’t legally drink and who only recently became eligible to vote.  Oh, and I forgot to mention this:

Yep, I’m pretty sure I’d take “being a ballplayer” over “being a diplomat” any day of the week.

-A

The Filibuster

Looks like MLB is going to televise the first part of the draft again.  Will Bud ever learn?

Jack
Bridgeview, IL
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When people want to explain how boring something is, they often resort to the idiom “Like watching paint dry.”  Well, compared to the MLB draft, watching paint dry is edge-of-your-seat, action packed drama.  The sad thing is, that doesn’t mean Bud won’t keep on trying.

We all know the problem.  Succeeding in baseball requires development and in all but the rarest of cases, it’s pretty much impossible for a player to jump directly to the big leagues and make an immediate impact.  There are a lot of adjustments that even the best ballplayers have to make before they’re ready to succeed in the majors.  Bud has been in the game a long time and he obviously knows this but something keeps him from accepting it.

I’m not sure what it is.  Maybe it’s an inferiority complex because of the craziness and drama inherent to the NFL and NBA drafts.  Maybe it’s an inability to accept that baseball is different.  Maybe it’s just that Bud is completely out of touch and has made a lot of bad decisions that should have long ago cost him his job.  Whatever it is, it means that once again the MLB draft will be televised and once again no one but the absolute junkies will tune in.  Don’t tell him I said this but I bet you that not even Jeff will watch.  Yeah, it’s that boring.

Don’t get me wrong here.  The draft is important and when you look at the recent success of this year’s National’s ballclub, it’s obvious how important a good draft strategy can be.  But just because the future success of a team depends on the players a team chooses, that doesn’t mean the process is all that exciting to watch.  We know the basketball players from following them through the NCAAs.  We know the football players from the bowl games and college football saturdays.  Baseball players?  These are guys coming out of random colleges, even more random Latin American development leagues and god knows where else.  There’s no story attached to them until they make it to the big leagues.

Let me put it another way.  We all know about Len Bias and his cocaine overdose death.  Bias never played a day in the NBA but is still spoken of with reverence.  Meanwhile, until he made it to the major leagues, Josh Hamilton was just another talented athlete with substance abuse problems.  If Hamilton hadn’t have made the bigs, he’d simply be in rehab somewhere or out on the streets.

I know what Bud’s doing here.  He thinks that he can drive revenue growth by trying to create drama around the sorting process.  But you have to be invested in a person’s story in order for there to be drama.  We don’t know anything about these young baseball players so there’s no drama in watching them get drafted.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say there’s about as much drama as watching paint dry.

-A

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The Filibuster

If you were in the A’s bleacher section, and you could only choose one, would it be bacon or beer?

Mark
New Albany, IN

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Jeff continuously tells me how engaging the NBA has become.  According to him, it’s not just the quality of the professional game, it’s also the personalities and all the drama surrounding them.  To use a direct quote, “It’s a goddamn soap opera.”

Baseball, on the other hand, is rather tame.  Sure, there are historic villains like Ty Cobb and uplifting stories like Jackie Robinson and Josh Hamilton.  But it’s all kind of “Touched by an Angel” while the NBA is more “The Wire.”

The perfect example of this is Jeff Francoeur and his love affair with the Oakland fans.  Sure, it’s great that Francoeur has made a personal connection with the fans of another team.  But is that really good for baseball?  Wouldn’t it be better if Francoeur had left Oakland after coming up with the team and was greeted by a beer shower while trotting along the warning track?

That kind of rancor just doesn’t exist in baseball today.  Albert Pujols left behind a city that adored him and although St. Louis fans are heart-broken, most of them still respect Albert and remember him fondly.  Johnny Damon not only left the Red Sox, he went to play for their arch-enemy and shaved his beard.  Boston fans were upset but they didn’t hate him with the cold intense hatred that Cleveland has for LeBron James.

Maybe it’s because baseball is played in summer and draws families out to watch games together.  Maybe it’s the stir-craziness of winter and the 60 minute intensity of a basketball game that creates an aura around the game as a whole.  Or maybe baseball just doesn’t have the same type of personalities you find in basketball.  Let’s be honest, how often do you hear about a baseball player choking his coach or punching out a fan?

I don’t see that changing.  Sure, I’d love to say that if I was one of those fans in Oakland, I’d keep the money and throw the baseball back.  The fact is, though, I’d be thrilled to death.  And that’s not just because being an A’s fan is even worse than being a Royals fan.

Somebody needs to spice things up a bit, give people a reason to hate.  And no, I’m not talking about Milton Bradley, preschool-esque drama.  I’m talking pure, LeBron James type anger.  I think Francoeur has a golden opportunity to start it off, too, by taking that relationship he has built with the Oakland fans and totally misusing it.  In fact, I even have the perfect recipe:

I bet no one would choose a caramel onion.

-A

Have a topic you want to see us Filibuster? Send us your Filibuster questions by emailing RSBSblog@gmail.com or by commenting below.

Dirty Dancing at the World Bank

In response to the twin shocks of the Great Depression and World War II, the allied powers decided to cooperate on a system that would hopefully prevent another catastrophic financial collapse.  The plan they came up with, the Bretton Woods system, created two of the most powerful financial institutions in the world today, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

By convention, the IMF is headed by a European and the World Bank by an American.  And since voting is by quota, not by a one vote per person system, it’s relatively easy for this practice to continue.  That doesn’t mean the unwritten policy is always appreciated, though.  For instance, the World Bank is in the process of electing a new president who is not the top choice of the African continent and most of the developing world, the constituencies most served by the Bank.  If you’re curious as to who this person might be, wait until about the two minute point in this video and you’ll see him:

[youtube http://youtu.be/4lHKJEp5e-8]

Yes, he’s the former President of Dartmouth.  Yes, he’s a founder of Partner’s in Health which has ostensibly helped many poor people in Haiti access health care.  However, Mr. Jim Yong Kim is not a good dancer.  He also has no background in economics despite that being somewhat germane to the subject matter.  Actually, let’s really simplify this.  Bud Selig is more qualified to be MLB Commissioner than Kim is to be World Bank president.  Man, that statement even scares me.

-A

You, Robot

Robots do pretty much everything these days.  They build cars, they do the vacuuming.  Some of the more nefarious ones get sent back from the future to kill unsuspecting young men while others freakishly decapitate fiancees leading to epic quotes like, “That’s not your arm.  That’s my bitch’s arm.”

Ok, so maybe the last two aren’t real but robots have advanced by leaps and bounds.  In fact, there’s a good chance that someday soon one of those leaps or bounds could be by a robot chasing you down in the streets.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.  If that doesn’t scare you, how about this little factoid?  Your grandkids are going to have sex with robots.

One thing you don’t have to worry about, though, is robots taking over baseball.

Yep, we’re safe for now.

-A

Great Scott! -or- Why I Support the Individual Mandate

The idea behind insurance is that you pay a premium and if things go pear-shaped, there’s a safety net there to catch you.  It may not pay everything but it will pay enough that you won’t be ruined.  This is true for vehicles, this is true for health care and this is true for the guy who got his crotch insured.

The thing about insurance is that it works best with larger economies of scale.  Sure, there are the one-off specialty policies for Bruce Springsteen’s voice or Tina Turner’s legs but the vast majority of insurance policies cover things like health care or vehicle damage.  The larger the pot, the lower your premium because the risk gets spread out.  That’s why Obama made the “individual mandate” the centerpiece of his health care legislation.

For me, this is the most frustrating aspect of the legal challenge to the legislation.  The main challenge lies in the interpretation of the Commerce clause of the Constitution but, like many clauses in the Constitution, this can and has been interpreted many different ways.  Pretty much it just depends on how the Court feels the day it votes. And if the court is feeling especially conservative the day it decides this portion of the case, the “individual mandate” disappears.

The problem with the mandate disappearing is that the young and the stupid who think that they are invincible no longer have any pressure to purchase insurance, shrinking the pot.  This has two effects.  Number one, the pot now contains a greater percentage of people with existing or possible health problems meaning the risk has gone up and the premiums along with it.  The second problem is that when one of these young and stupid people ends up in the hospital, the system is forced to eat the costs because they didn’t have insurance.  What that really means is that your premiums go up again because the cost of that hospital stay has to be payed by someone.

Like it or not, the law evolves.  Prohibition came and went.  The Dred Scott decision embarrassed the nation and then was rectified by the 14th Amendment.  The point is, it’s a living thing and has to be to cope with the realities of a new era.  Baseball did away with the dead ball era, expanded multiple times and even now finds ways to adapt to new conditions.  The law does the same as social mores change and our needs evolve.  Right now, we need a health insurance system that works and until you can show me a viable option, the individual mandate is the only realistic path.

The Court’s decision is still weeks away and the debate is not going to die out anytime soon.  I don’t expect the mandate to survive but as health care costs continue to spin out of control, that decision may end up coming back to haunt the Roberts’ Court like Dred Scott did Justice Taney.  Meanwhile, the rest of us might just have to check in with The Boss and see how we can go about insuring at least a body part or two.

-A

Why I am Leaving MLB

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.

-A
________________

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.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the owners continue to be sidelined in the way the organization operates and thinks about making money. MLB is one of the world’s largest and most important sports leagues and it is too integral to global baseball to continue to act this way. The organization has veered so far from the place I created that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

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.

Bud S.