Team sports pride themselves on their uniformity. It’s how you tell one team from the other and it allows the players to bond within a certain sameness. Which, when you think about it, isn’t so different from what the Soviets attempted to do. Treat everyone the same, make them wear the same clothes and assume that this will create a sense of community out of thin air. How’d that work out?
Is it any surprise, then, that those who play organized team sports back here in the US chafe against these strictures? We grow up hearing about how unique we are and how we can do anything. Then we go out to play a game and we’re put in matching uniforms and tied into a system.
The worst offender by far is NFL football. Just try wearing an unauthorized pair of shoes or the wrong color socks and see what happens. It doesn’t matter for the superstars because their wallets can absorb it but imagine being one of these guys making the league minimum yet wanting to show his individuality. That’s going to cost you.
I guess that’s another reason why I like baseball. Sure, you still have to wear a uniform and you still have to play by the rules but there’s some leeway. You can wear stirrups or the long baseball pants. You can wear a different colored shoe. You can cover your batting helmet in pine tar to the point that the team logo is barely discernible.
It’s one more reason why baseball is America’s pastime and why it’s stuck around through three different centuries. It evolves and it allows the players to show their individuality within the confines of the game in a way that no other sport can. MLB is Kennedy to the NFL’s Kruschev. We all know who came out on top in that one. Well, except that whole assassination thing.
The decision is yours.
While some major sports leagues have actively sought parity, others have decided to content themselves with a talent and success gap that keeps getting greater all the time. At the American club level (i.e. MLB), baseball has seen fit to follow this approach. Sure, teams like the Pirates may threaten for a short period but ultimately these kind of calls go against them and the season quickly follows.
This disparity also exists on the global level but it tends to work in our favor a lot of the time. Sure, we don’t have a monopoly on the baseball talent and we’re sorely lacking when it comes to soccer. But if you want to see true inequality, consider basketball.
Let me lay it out in more concrete terms. Here are the national teams from Bahrain and Kuwait playing a recent match:
Aside from an almost supernatural ability to instantly turn into an unwieldy mob, there’s not a whole lot of talent there.
Now, take Derrick Rose:
I’m pretty sure D-Rose could take on either of those teams by himself and come away with a W. I also think there’s only one thing left to say here. USA! USA! USA!
As the possibility of an US default on its sovereign debt draws agonizingly close, I’d like to try and put this in terms that baseball fans can understand. The USA, the greatest country in the history of the world, is about to become to world finance what the Dodgers are to MLB. Yeah, this is bad.
Basically the US is like a rich guy who can keep borrowing money as long as the bank keeps upping his credit limit. He has enough money to pay the interest on the debt and as long as that continues, the bank will keep lending. But when he misses a payment, the bank has to do something about it.
Think Frank McCourt. Dude had money, that’s for sure. But he mismanaged his cash flow and when he and Jamie went bust, the bank took notice when he couldn’t quite make the payments anymore. Pretty soon after that, although maybe not soon enough, MLB took notice, too. Now McCourt has no Jamie and no Dodgers.
The much publicized divorce between the tea fueled Republicans and the spineless Democrats has led the country to the brink of a similar epic failure. There are still a few days left but at this point they’re looking more Frank and Jamie than Nestor and Kristina.
So, for anyone out there who still isn’t convinced that a sovereign default is a bad idea, let me ask you this. Was allowing Frank McCourt to run the Dodgers into the ground a bad idea? If your answer is yes, than it’s time for you to call your congressional representatives. If no, well, you’re either a Giants fan or Michele Bachmann.
How come you get to vote up to 25 times for All Star selections? Is one vote per person less democratic?
MLB made $6.1 billion in revenue in 2010. 28% of that revenue ($1.7 billion), came from the New York Yankees. The Phillies and Red Sox place in the top six most valuable franchises. Until the Wilpons’ recent financial issues, the Mets also figured into this top tier of baseball royalty.
When you look at these clubs, you notice they have two things in common. Number one, they generate large amounts of revenue for MLB and number two, they all belong to large east coast cities. These two facts are closely related and this fact has not slipped MLB’s notice.
How do you keep a bunch of super-rich clubs happy? Simple. You make sure that their players get elected to the All-Star game.
With fan voting and internet voting, of course the large metropolitan areas and the teams with large fan bases are going to ensure that their players get voted on to the All-Star roster. Whether or not they belong there is an entirely different story.
As of 29 June, the leading vote getter among AL catchers was Russell Martin of the Yankees. Martin’s batting average at this same point was .230, 10 points below the league average and 73 points lower than the second place catcher, Alex Avila of the Tigers. Similarly, Derek Jeter sat half a million votes in front of Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera while Cabrera sat about 40 points ahead of Jeter in terms of average among AL shortstops.
The list goes on and on but the fact of the matter is, the story would be the same whether fans had only 1 opportunity to vote or 50. MLB consciously made the choice to allow this because MLB is a business and businesses have to grow or die.
We could go back to the old way of choosing the All-Star team, the method they used before 1970. Back then the players, coaches and managers voted on the All-Stars and this more or less insured that the best players, as opposed to the most popular, made the team. But the fans weren’t all that interested. They wanted to see “their” guys playing in the mid-summer classic, whether or not they were the best. And because baseball is a business, baseball gave the vote back to the fans.
Should Russell Martin and Derek Jeter start for the AL this year? Statistically, absolutely not. But baseball is business and that means the answer has to be reformatted. Should Russell Martin and Derek Jeter start for the AL this year? Monetarily, without a doubt.
So, Nathan, the answer to your question is that giving fans 1 vote or 25 votes is actually equally democratic. But if you go further and ask the question, “Does democracy work in the context of MLB All-Star voting,” you already have your answer. The answer is Russell Martin.
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Selig and the owners finally had enough of McCourt and took action, but
what about the franchises that are still technically solvent but just
suck? Why hasn’t the commish done something about the Pirates?
why shouldn’t they? In all of professional sports, one would have quite a
difficult time finding a more moribund team than the lowly Buccos.
While all of the big four US American sports thrive by having a healthy,
parity-laden cycle of teams going from the top of the ranks to the
bottom and everywhere in between, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been stuck
at bad. For 18, long, terrible, horrible, awful, green-pea-spew inducing years.
In a row.
So, indeed, Mr. Dan, you bring up an excellent question: How is it that MLB sees no issue intervening with financially strapped clubs like the current Dodgers or the late Expos de Montréal (pouring out some liquor for my boy, Youppi yo!) but meanwhile sits back and says nothing as the Pirates organization embarrasses itself year after year after year, alienating the five or so fans left in western Pennsylvania in doing so?
That’s easy, Dan. One word:
The Pirates may have more issues than Lindsay Lohan on $5 Jaegerbomb night, but, when all is done, the Pirates still MAKE MONEY.
Haven’t you noticed? To the suits picking each other’s noses up in the luxury boxes, it’s not about winning. It’s not about getting better. It’s not about keeping score or the waft of freshly roasted peanuts or the soothing effects of finely cut green grass on the old eyeballs.
It’s about making bank.
And as long as they line their pockets with plenty of paper, MLB ain’t gonna say jack.
Like my loquacious and oft contorted colleague, Mr. Krause recently pointed out, sometimes MLB gets it right. King Bud could not sit back and let one of the league’s most storied franchises fail because of atrocious financial mismanagement. And other times, MLB gets it way wrong… like they did in intervening with the Florida Marlins (a very successful organization in regards to winning) and the way they chose to spend profit sharing funds trickling down from the top*.
But one thing is certain: MLB is a business. MLB is about being a profitable business. As much as romanticized baseball super-nerd-dorks like Mr. Krause and I would like to believe that a certain utopian joy for the game and its purity is at the core of Major League Baseball’s business philosophy, the truth is: it ain’t.
If it were, the Expos would still be alive. The Dodgers would have never left Brooklyn. And someone would have intervened in the gargantuan atrocity also known as the Pirates’ front office.
Hate me. Fine. Just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
*For an excellent read on just how wrong MLB was in their handling of the Marlins, check out this article from the Prince of New York.
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While writing the filibuster the other day, I got to thinking. What’s so bad about MLB taking over the Dodgers? It’s not something they want to do and ideally they’d like to get rid of the franchise as quickly as possible. Both MLB and the Dodgers hope to emerge from this more healthy. The weird thing is that as I considered all the aspects of this move, it began to feel a little like deja vu. I had the distinct feeling that I had read this story before. Then it hit me. This same story happened just recently with a little company called General Motors, and the US Government played the role in which MLB now finds itself.
Just like today’s Dodgers, GM found itself in trouble because of profligate spending, terrible management and an inability to provide the consumer what they demanded. As it became clear that GM could no longer support its obligations and refused to make the changes needed to resolve its issues, the government stepped in.
Just like with MLB’s decision to take over the Dodgers, the government’s decision with GM had its share of detractors. Although I don’t think anyone outside of San Francisco truly wants to see the Dodgers fail as a franchise, a fair amount of the fringe right and left wing in the US were more than happy to watch GM collapse. While refusing to see what impact GM’s dissolution would have on an already fragile economy, these people decided that the moral obligation was to let GM collapse as an example to other firms. Obviously this was not an option for the government, just like McCourt’s continued ineptitude with one of baseball’s storied franchises was not an option for MLB and the commissioner.
The real moral of this story comes in the aftermath. GM quickly emerged from its bankruptcy and government receivership. More importantly, not only did it emerge more streamlined and healthy after government managers got rid of deadweight makes and models, it also set a record with its IPO. MLB is hoping for a similar outcome and looks to be using an important tool that the government also utilized with GM: get rid of the management who got you into this problem in the first place.
Since GM rose phoenix-like from its own ashes, those who criticized the initial move have become much more subdued in their comments. Although the level of criticism hasn’t been quite as great with MLB and the Dodgers, I have a feeling that even those who have decried Selig’s actions will end up eating their words once the Dodgers are resold. Takeovers are always painful but they aren’t always bad.