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So Bartolo Colon has been traded. Finally. The long-anticipated, long-rumored trade has happened, proving once again how senseless trade rumors are, especially the ones generated by professional journalists who know better but who operate under the umbrella of titillation, where hard facts come second. None of these experts had mentioned the White Sox as a possible destination, but voila! El Gordo lands in the windy city, and stocks in companies that make Polish sausages go up five bucks a share. What interests me most about the deal are not the players involved—obviously the White Sox gain the most—but the continued and bewildering tendency of major league teams to help, via trades, the New York Yankees, who, at last, present, and future check, don’t need anyone’s help, even if it is only in the form of an aging, injury-prone RH relief pitcher, the kind available in the minor leagues, the independent leagues, and your local Wal-Mart. Trading the Yankees anything, be it a back-up catcher or an extra baseball, is the equivalent of a country giving the United States a nuclear weapon. Speaking of empires, the recent branding of the Yankees as an “Evil Empire” elicits some questions: Are they really an empire? And, if so, are they an evil one? Or are they simply products of an economic model that increasingly makes less-and-less sense, that being free-market capitalism, alive and well in the baseball world? It is worth a closer look.

From a PR perspective, there is no smarter organization in Major League Baseball than the Boston Red Sox. This is a team which, year after year, has a payroll not much lower than the Yankees (until this year’s international and domestic spending orgy), throws millions of dollars at its home-grown and trade-acquired talent (Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Alan Embree), signs expensive players via free agency (Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman, Manny Ramirez, Tony Clark, Ramiro Mendoza), bids huge amounts on others (Bernie Williams, Tom Glavine), acquires expensive talent for the stretch run (Mike Lansing, Ed Sprague, Cliff Floyd, Ugueth Urbina), and has a clubhouse that is, um, “entertaining.” Doesn’t sound all that different than the Yanks, does it? Yet it is always the boys in pinstripes who take the heat for their imperialist ways, when the Red Sox are in nearly every way just as culpable.

A useful comparison can be made between the United States and its western allies. The U.S. is a giant octopus, stretching its sticky tentacles from here to Manchuria, hurling its poisonous green ink—the dollar—at anything and everything, shoving its nauseating moral and economic agendas at everyone, consuming half the world’s resources, and threatening, in the name of security and freedom, the fragile world “peace” that exists today. And that is a partial list. But France, Britain, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, et al, are not innocent; they are all, to a lesser degree than the U.S., dependant on foreign oil and they all, again to a lesser extent, exploit third-world countries for labor and raw materials; their economies, while not as free-market oriented as the United States, are not truly Socialist, either; as recently as 2000, France was testing nukes in a distant ocean. And so on and so forth. However, these countries usually escape blame, because the Untied States, as the most ardent defender of the free-market system and “democracy,” absorbs most of the criticism—just as the Yankees absorb nearly all the criticism for a system severely flawed to begin with.

But while the United States, in fact, does deserve most of the blame directed at it for the state of the world—in much the same way the Yankees are said to be largely responsible for the present condition of baseball—we should point out the overall western philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism is the real aggressor here. This is in no way a defense of the United States or the Yankees; many of their actions are indeed indefensible. However, both entities are merely playing within the “rules,” to use a crude word—rules that have existed for a long, long, long time, and that never will change until some courageous people step forward, with the acuity to recognize and convince people that simply because a new world order hasn’t occurred yet, doesn’t mean it is not possible. Perhaps it will be someone like Canadian PM Jean Chretien, for example, or Gerhardt Schroeder of Germany refusing to send troops against Iraq. Now, admittedly, I don’t know much about the tenure of Chretien, or how much Schroeder was playing politics to get elected, but I admired their courage, particularly Chretien’s for acknowledging that the West must assume some of the blame for the condition of the world. At some point, it is going to take someone with conviction to stand up to the United States, to not support their tyrannical policies, to not be bullied or intimidated, and to do so at the relative short-term peril—i.e. economic hardship and possible alienation—of their own country. Until then, the United States will cling to its empire with more and more vigor, and the rest of the world will continue to suffer as a result.

Though the situation is, obviously, much less critical, it is easy to see how it relates to baseball. The Red Sox and Dodgers and Braves and the other big spenders are the Canadas, the Frances, the Japans of the major leagues; they exploit the system as much as anyone, despite their protests and rhetoric against the United States and the Yankees, no matter how accurate it may be. I should say, those teams and countries listed above exploit the system almost as much as anyone. They are content with the present economic structure, because they enjoy nearly unlimited freedom within it, and because they are certain, no matter much how much they spend, the United States and Yankees will always spend more, and be more arrogant doing so. In terms of baseball, the other teams may not be more arrogant, but they are more disingenuous; the Red Sox, like the Yankees, want to win a World Series and control the baseball world—only they are more reticent while the Bronx Bombers, as we know, aren’t shy about it. (Although the “We need to cut expenses” garbage before they signed Matsui and Contreras and Clemens and Mays and Ted Williams and whoever reeked of hypocrisy.)

It is almost as bad as the Red Sox calling the Yankees an Evil Empire when small-market teams pump their fists in rage and wail about the economics of baseball—then turn around and trade with the Bronx Bombers. This brings me to back to the point I had made earlier about the importance of countries and individuals legitimately and peacefully, and with conviction, standing up to the United States. Applied to baseball, teams need to stop being bullied by and afraid of the Yankees. While many small-market clubs can somewhat rightly moan about not being able to sign Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, and others, these same teams can offer no excuses for trading with the Yankees. Ever. Two examples of this came last summer, when the Blue Jays dumped Raul Mondesi to New York for two inconsequential minor leaguers, and when the A’s and Tigers teamed up to supply the Yankees with a three-million-dollar-mop-up man. Even though the other three teams benefited, in theory, from the trades, the Yankees got help they simply didn’t need. I realize Mondesi had become something of a cancerous tumor imbedded in a wall of tumors, but the Jays couldn’t find someone to give up even a Grade B prospect? Or at least find someone who would pay more than half of Mondesi’s salary? And if the Tigers were serious about trading Weaver for prospects—and they obviously were—there were 29 other teams in the majors with prospects. Even the Braves or Red Sox, as irritating as those two clubs are, would have been a better alternative than the Yankees.

It is particularly asinine the A’s would deal with the Yankees, considering the Yankees had eliminated them in the playoffs two consecutive years and had signed Jason Giambi, the franchise’s soul, to an exorbitant contract following the 200l season. Yes, the A’s got Ted Lilly and a bushel of prospects, who they have since turned into Erubiel Durazo, and Lilly and Durazo are two useful players, in theory. But the A’s also willingly strengthened their chief rival (the Mariners and Angels notwithstanding). To their credit, however, the A’s seldom complain about market trends, partly because they have developed a nucleus of players who will keep them in contention through the decade, but also partly because their system would succeed even if they had a budget the size of the Yankees, or even of the Giants; the A’s simply don’t throw money at players who can be picked up for nothing, as Gary Huckaby points out in the A’s Hot Stove Report on Other small market teams—and even teams as financially-blessed as the Red Sox and the Braves—sign to bloated contracts Chuck Knoblauch, Marquis Grissom, Jeffrey Hammonds, Offerman, Mike Timlin, Javy Lopez, Chan Ho Park, et al, then direct their wrath (read: stupidity) at the Yankees and try to turn them into the Evil Empire. The end result, mainly from the small-market team’s perspective but increasingly from teams like the Red Sox and Braves, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: “We gave it our best shot, but we just can’t compete with the Yankees financially, and if we didn’t trade Weaver or Kevin Millwood, they would have left as free agents, so we may as well get something for him, even if that something is below market value.”

To wrap things up, I will turn to the Baseball Prospectus. Last year’s BP had an excellent piece on the Yankees, the conclusion of which reads as follows: “The Yankees are going forward, and they can realistically be called favorites for the World Series again in 2002. Other clubs can choose to whine if they want, or they can begin the hard work of competing.” I will argue that point in terms of the world stage—I think, like George Orwell and so many others, that laissez-faire, competition-driven capitalism is a total failure when measured against the aggregate of the global scene, and that true Socialism is the only solution to this mess—but I will not argue it in terms of the present economic structure of major league baseball. (Despite all claims to the contrary, baseball is a game; the decisions made within it may be business-oriented, but they have no relationship with reality.) In addition to the advice given to other major league teams by BP, I would add the following: until an NFL-like Socialist system is in place, where teams like the Tigers and Royals and even the A’s have more financial leverage, those same teams should, at the very least, stop feeding the monster.
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Coach - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 09:16 AM EST (#99035) #
Please join me in welcoming "JMG" -- my friend John Gizzi -- to Batter's Box. Giz, the Oakland A's fantasy correspondent for ESPN, is batting seventh in the lineup, chronologically, but will be in the heart of the order on political issues. Whether you agree with -- or vehemently oppose -- his Orwellian philosophy, this is a great read, and a unique take on the imperialist Yankees, relative to lesser baseball powers.

[nitpicking:] I realize Mondesi had become something of a cancerous tumor imbedded in a wall of tumors, but the Jays couldn’t find someone to give up even a Grade B prospect? Or at least find someone who would pay more than half of Mondesi’s salary?

No. And they are very thorough -- this was the only available deal, and in these parts, is considered a coup. The Jays were light years ahead of the curve; they anticipated the rush to fiscal restraint and dumping of bad contracts that recently became the common approach of almost every team not owned by George Steinbrenner. Had they waited any longer, they would have been stuck with Mondesi's poor production and (literally) dreaded intangibles, not to mention being on the hook for twice as much of his salary. The team's second-half turnaround was not coincidental; the Mondi dump is one of J.P.'s finest moves. The idea of a trade blockade against the Yankees is certainly original, but in this case, I'm glad the Jays maintained diplomatic relations.

Also, the Jays received just one "inconsequential minor leaguer" -- Scott Wiggins -- not two, and the lefty, although too old (nearly 27) to be considered a prospect, is sure to be in the Syracuse bullpen, with a chance to make the big club in Dunedin or be promoted sometime in 2003 if he continues to pitch as well as he has at AA, AAA and in the AFL since joining the Toronto organization.

[/nitpicking] Thanks for the fascinating eye-opener, Mr. Gizzi.
_Mick - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 09:43 AM EST (#99036) #
Um, OK ... let's see.

Metaphorically speaking, then, Theo Epstein IS Jean Chretien. (No, no Boss, nobody called you a "cretin.") The Yankees, as "America's Team" (in this metaphor) represent the Evil Empire (an ironic twist on the Reaganesque rhetoric of the early 1980s) -- which is to be expected, I guess, since they do reside in "The Empire State."

So Epstein's (Chretien's) squad, that is, the Red Sox (Canada) are publicly perceived as the proverbial lovable loser, never quite able to win the big one, as it were, while nearly as dependent as Steinbrenner's (Dick Cheney's) Yanks (uh, Yanks) on the free agents (oil) that keep the country (sport) running, but unfortunately, the price for that oil is increasingly more oppressive thanks to the actions of Saddam Hussein (Scott Boras), but George (W.) Steinbrenner will keep paying it because his long-standing history in politics (baseball) and his family's various "victories" in the Senate, state houses and presidential elections (26 World Series) helps him to ignore the fact, bringing us back to baseball and politics in one sentence, and as Ann Richards famously once said of a certain sitting president, that "he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

Have I got that right?

P.S. Hi John.
Pistol - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 10:20 AM EST (#99037) #
I think saying the Jays were light years ahead of the curve is an overstatement. JP had to lower payroll last year, and going forward, so that’s what he did. Once the season started the Yankees were the only candidate to move a bad contract to (and luckily they took half of one). The only other bad contract the Jays moved last year was Gonzalez. The biggest reason why payroll is lower now is that the contracts of a lot of players ran out (Loaiza, Parris, Fletcher, Bush, etc..).

Now if Cruz was flipped for a good prospect, or the Jays were able to dump 75% or more of Delgado’s remaining contract on someone, then I would be more inclined to agree.

Regarding the Yankees, I’ve thought the same thing before. Why deal with them? The problem is the goal of the teams that they are dealing with. That goal isn’t necessarily to win a championship. It might just be to be competitive and dealing with the Yanks may give them the best shot. Relating it to fantasy baseball, if you’re in 5th place in August, and there’s prize money for the top 3 finishers, and the best way for you to crack the top 3 is to make a trade with the team in 1st you would likely do it, even if it means the 1st place team gets stronger.
_Matthew Elmslie - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 10:45 AM EST (#99038) #
I saw the Mondesi trade as (overall) hurting the Yankees more than helping them, myself. It's not 'feeding the monster' so much as it's like the end of 'Jaws' where they pitch the oxygen tank into the shark's mouth. Plus, hey, Scott Wiggins.
Dave Till - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 11:28 AM EST (#99039) #
The problem of the Yankees, and what to do about them, is an old one. Historically, whenever the Yankees have had management that have a clue, they've won the American League: they've won in the Ruth era, the DiMaggio era, the Mantle/Berra/Stengel era, the Bronx Zoo era, and the modern era. The only times they haven't won are (a) when George was meddling too much and (b) the CBS era, when the Yankees' owners were clueless.

To a certain extent, the Yankees have gotten where they are because George is willing to spend, and because Brian Cashman is smart. But because they play in the New York market, the Yanks have the luxury of being able to afford to make mistakes, or spend lots of money for marginal improvements to the team. The Mondesi trade is a classic example: no other team could afford to pay $7 million for a marginal upgrade at best in right field. If Contreras and Matsui don't work out, the Yankees can go sign two more just like them.

One other factor is that a winning team benefits from a virtuous cycle: when they win, other good players want to play there and nowhere else, therefore they keep winning, and so on. Matsui and Contreras received offers from other teams that were financially comparable to the Yankees', but chose to sign with New York because the Yankees are the Yankees.

This sort of thing happens in soccer leagues all over the world - in virtually every country, there are two or three teams that serve as magnets for world-class players, and the other teams have virtually no chance of winning.

On various baseball forums, I have (facetiously) suggested two solutions to The Problem Of The Yankees:

- Break the Yankees into smaller teams, much as Standard Oil was forced to break up. Instead of the New York Yankees, you would have the Manhattan Yankees, the Bronx Yankees, the New Jersey Commuters, and the Brooklyn Dodgers :-). Presumably, each New York team would attract a share of the Yankees' fan support, and everybody would be playing on a level field. (This is better than putting an expansion team into New York, as who would root for expansion losers when they could root for winners? Yes, I know about the '62 Mets, but they had an existing Giant/Dodger fan base to draw on.)

- Divide the AL into four divisions: the AL East, the AL Central, the AL West, and the Yankees. The winners of each division and the Yankees would meet in the playoffs.
_Mick - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 12:06 PM EST (#99040) #
If you're going to have a "Yankees Division" as you suggest, you really can't have one of the teams -- much less two -- actually named "Yankees." So how about a six-team division:

Brooklyn Dodgers (two "Dodgers" like the CFL's "Rough/Riders")
Manhattan Transfers (think of the great stadium music!)
Bronx Zoo (like the Miami Heat, no plural necessary)
Kings of Queens (sponsored by CBS)
Staten Islanders (might be some hockey issues there)
New Jersey Commuters (like that one, hey!)

Imagine the bidding war over current high school ballplayers Danny Almonte and Jeffrey Maier!
_Jordan - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 02:30 PM EST (#99041) #
John, I'll say this -- you sure know how to make an entrance! Welcome aboard!

You raise many interesting points, as did the discussion that followed. Here's a lengthy, rambling series of responses.

You should rest assured that few Canadians associate the terms "courage" and "acuity" with Jean Chretien. Our long-loitering Prime Minister is a canny political survivor and street fighter with an instinct for when to move and when to stay still. Like his long-time opposite number in Washington, Bill Clinton, Chretien had the good fortune to preside over an era when the electorate simply wished to be left alone and was trying to ignore a spreading bureaucracy, declining public standards, crumbling institutions, a widening gap between rich and poor, and a steady corruption of both government and enterprise. The '90s, the decade our children will still be paying for in 30 years, was his element.

Chretien understands that the current mood of many Canadians is to be polite to our American neighbours without actually being friends, to smilingly wave and close the door at the end of the dinner party and immediately start complaining about the departed guests. If Chretien opposes unilateral US action in Iraq, it's not out of principle so much as the knowledge that many voters (and much of a fractious caucus) opposes it too. The only real difference between him and Gerhard Schroeder is that he's not dumb or desperate enough to make his ambivalence towards US foreign policy an election plank.

I would also draw a distinction between the US as a going concern and the US seen though the lens of its foreign (or indeed, its domestic) policies. It's quite possible, as many Americans do, to love their country but hate what its government and citizens do to themselves and to others. It's equally possible, as many other world citizens do, to cheer on what the Americans do for these nations' benefit or to further their interests, and yet dislike or even hate the Americans for who they are. Scratch a typical Canadian, for example, and you may well find the simultaneously held beliefs that (a) the Americans are over-militarized, self-righteous twits, and (b) Canada doesn't need a strong military because the Americans would respond if anyone attacked us. America, like most countries, is a mixed bag, and though you'd prefer to choose the elements you'd like and discard the others, it's a package deal.

Myself, I wouldn't saddle America with too much of the blame for the increasingly stinking state of the world -- just its fair share. For every American who over-consumes, pollutes, buys sweatshop clothing, ignores how AIDS is devouring Africa, and worries more about Britney and Justin than about India and Pakistan, there's a citizen of Canada, Western Europe and a few other prosperous regions doing the same thing and complaining about how the Americans are worse. And there is a degree, not necessarily a great one, to which many suffering nations contribute to their own troubles. Responsibility is an individual thing before it's a collective thing, and no doubt we all have a lot to answer for.

I think this is where Pistol's point about the Yankees is well-extrapolated. Teams trade with the Yanks because each team has complementary goals: the Yankees want to win and can spend money, and the other teams want to save money and can pass on the winning stuff. Sometimes, as in the case of Raul Mondesi, the other team comes out on top because George is desperate and makes mistakes; but most times, both parties end up happy, even if much of the paying public isn't. This is where I agree with you, John: the responsibility for the state of the game isn't the Yankees', or even the Dodgers, Red Sox, et al -- it's with everyone. David Glass, Jeff Loria and Carl Pohlad need people like Steinbrenner just as much as he needs them, and the other teams fall into place somewhere in between. Every nation that deals with the US does so in what it perceives to be its own self-interest; whether the perception is an accurate one, or whether that interest is righteous, is a separate question. The day the US serves no one else's interests is the day Americans should really get worried.

Baseball will not truly turn around until every team's priority is to be competitive and win as often as possible, while making as much money as can be expected. Today, too many teams' priority is to make as much money as possible while being as competitive as profit dictates. Whatever else can be said about George Steinbrenner, his priorities are in the first camp, and I applaud him for that. In its own way, I think the United States is very similar, and while I might not applaud as long or as loud, I think they're closer to the target than most.

In closing, I think that capitalism is an excellent economic system and a pretty lousy humanitarian one, and that socialism is pretty much the opposite. I prefer my capitalism seasoned with socialism, while some folks prefer it the other way around, and others take their choice unalloyed. Baseball, however, is neither: it's a closed system of mutual competition where the survival of each member depends to a substantial extent on the survival of others. The Yankees can't put the American League Central out of business without endangering their own profits and ultimately their existence. Pure capitalism won't produce competitive balance -- but then, neither will pure socialism. Salary caps make sense if the motives of all the teams are identical and positive, but bitter experience has proven that some will use a cap to improve their team while others will use it to line their pockets. That rings a bell, historically and sociologically. So you struggle to find a middle ground that rewards the talented and intelligent and yet helps the unlucky or ill-educated to better themselves (the greedy and manipulative can starve). That's the just society, whether in baseball or the world. Good luck to all who seek it.
Coach - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 02:46 PM EST (#99042) #
NFL-like Socialist system... where teams like the Tigers and Royals and even the A’s have more financial leverage

The Yankees can afford to play by their own rules because of their TV money. This has been proposed elsewhere, but it makes sense, and fits the idea of a trade embargo John suggests -- even in a division by themselves, as Dave proposes facetiously, the Yankees require opponents. If the other teams refuse to play them, unless they get a 50% share of the broadcast revenue, those YES ratings will take a dramatic drop. Let George get the best local cable deal he can, and keep half of it. Let all 29 other teams do the same. Put the rest in a pot, and share it equally.

So instead of $500 million, the Yanks get $250 MM plus 1/30th of the kitty. Instead of just $10 million, or whatever a small-market team is getting for its rights these days, they would end up with $5 MM plus their cut of the collective pool. The gap between top and bottom narrows from a 5,000 percent difference to more like 500 percent. Not pure socialism (sorry, Giz) but a lot more level playing field.

Now, if someone could invent a way to ensure that David Glass and Jeffrey Loria and the Bud & Wendy Show would spend that extra money wisely, we'd have real progress.
_jason - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 02:58 PM EST (#99043) #
Well I'll be darned. After yesterdays deal, this is one good piece of news for Expos fans.
_Sean - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 03:05 PM EST (#99044) #
Just like Jordan, I'll congratulate John on his introductory post: welcome aboard!

I'll offer but one riff on one of Jordan's analogies about trading with the Yankees. Myself, I have an abiding passion for sophisticated board games--which negatively impacted my performance at law school. -(

During the course of such a game, it usually becomes obvious that one player is in the lead--by virtue of skill, luck, or circumstance. Yet the other players will for the most part engage in transactions with the leader if they themselves can benefit.

The lesson seems to be that short-sighted self-interest takes precedence over a more global understanding that dealing with a juggernaut usually leads to the juggernaut's continuing dominance.

In baseball, where competition is not the universal motive and goal of all the owners, this insight is complicated by the fact that profit w/o a serious effort to compete is the mantra of a sizeable share of the owners.
Dave Till - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 04:09 PM EST (#99045) #
Welcome aboard, John!

The most extreme case of short-sighted interest I've heard about: according to George Orwell, British firms were selling goods to the Nazis right up to the very moment that the Second World War started. (Oops, I've invoked Godwin's Law. :-))

I agree that the major problem with competitive balance is that many teams aren't trying to compete - they're taking revenue sharing money and putting in their pockets. And, since the Commissioner is hired by the owners (or is an owner himself), I can't see this changing.

Unless, of course, the lack of competition becomes so apparent that fans become disillusioned and stop going to ball games. At that point, owners will try to compete more.
Craig B - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 04:42 PM EST (#99046) #
British firms were selling goods to the Nazis right up to the very moment that the Second World War started

You're confusing the self-interest of the firms (corporate entities don't have killable bodies, and war doesn't hurt them, in fact manufacturing companies in particular usually do VERY well out of war) with the self-interest of (1) the nation and/or (2) the people who run them.

Persons of responsibility within a corporation are NOT ALLOWED, by law, to consider anything in doing business except the protection of the financial investment of the shaerholders. This is a good thing; if you're going to have business corporations it's a good idea to ensure that the ability of management to waste its assets is limited. If you are allowed to make money by trading with Germany, and you can make money by trading in Germany, company presidents don't get to make moral choices not to trade.

It might not have been in the interest of the British government to disallow British firms from trading with Germany; but then again for at least five years, and until eight months *into the war* the British government was convinced that the only way to survive Hitler was to dig a large hole in sandy soil, place your head within it, and fill the hole again.
robertdudek - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 05:54 PM EST (#99047) #
Institute a salary cap. Set it at 1.8 times the median payroll from the previous season. It will only affect the decisions of a very small number of clubs. Make the cap hard. Give the players earlier free agency and a higher minimum salary as compensation.

A simply way to contain the gorilla.
_Ian Gray - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 06:50 PM EST (#99049) #
To strike a dissenting note, salary caps are truly dreadful. They are dreadful because they louse up the leagues they operate it, the best example of which is the NFL. There is now a ridiculous system in place in that league where no team is any good for more that three years at most, teams turn over something like a third of their players every year and the number of all-stars released-not traded, cut outright-has risen every year from the time the cap was implemented. It makes the standings in any given year more or less random. I still watch NFL football, and I still have a favourite team (Tampa, who are three days from yet another season-ending loss to the Eagles) but you'd be hard pressed to make a case that it's led to better play. The results have been equally, though differently, poor in basketball.

As to wider questions of politics...I can't say I agree with John about Socialism as the answer to the world's problems. I'm not saying I like the way the world works now, but I don't believe that 'true' socialism, which I interpret as full state control of industry, works. You wind up needing omniscient angels to run everything, and that's something I don't think there are enough of. An end to cruel, rebarbative World Bank and IMF restrictions on social spending in developing countries? Of course. An end to ridiculously lopsided trade agreements that forcibly open weaker countries markets without reciprocation? In a heartbeat. But a full-blown socialist revolution? I just don't think it would work.

On Canadian politics, all I want to see is someone, anyone, committed to an honest, independent foreign policy that is not shamelessly hypocritical. Unfortunately, the choice is currently between three parties that believe in following the Americans wherever they'll take us (it's my opinion that McCallum's sin in Chretien's eyes was telling the truth at an inconvenient time) and a fourth party that apparently believes that the way to affect positive change in the world is to piously steer for the moral high ground without doing anything to back it up. If we want to be able to set our own course, the first thing we have to do is do anything we can to lessen our dependence on the Americans. And that, like it or not, means investing in the military. The Alliance and the Tories, of course, would do this while making scrupulously sure to clear all statements with the boys in Washington. The NDP, to my despair, is apparently committed to weakening our presence on the international scene and increasing our de facto military reliance on the Yanks, all the while spouting enough good intentions to send everyone to Hell. The Liberals, on the other hand, are methodically setting about subordinating us to Washington in every conceivable way. It's sickening. But, as Jordan says, it's what you get when nobody cares what goes on for a decade.
_Ian Gray - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 06:54 PM EST (#99050) #
Oh, Dave...

for a truly spectacular example of WWII short-sightedness in trading with the prospective enemy, it's hard to top the shipment of Soviet grain that crossed the Soviet-German border some four hours before the start of Operation Barbarossa. And the Russians didn't exactly have the 'fiduciary duty' excuse either.
robertdudek - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 07:01 PM EST (#99051) #

The caps in basketball and football may be badly implemented (I don't know enough about the details to comment). Please tell me why the proposal I stated above (I'll add a payroll floor of 60% of previous year's median payroll) would be dreadful.
Mike D - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 09:05 PM EST (#99052) #
Although I agree that there are problems inherent with a salary cap, I don't agree with Ian's assessment of the NFL at all.

1) "No team is good for three years at most": I think that by any reasonable definition of the word, Ian's own Bucs have been "good" since the Sapp-Brooks-Lynch core of the defense was drafted and developed. Teams like the Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Raiders, Broncos and Packers haven't been average or worse in several years now. In contrast, truly bad teams like the Bengals can't blame their failures on Expos-like purges and pillages.

2) "The number of all-stars cut has increased": This would be happening, cap or no cap, because of the non-guaranteed nature of contracts in the NFL -- an absolutely horrible bargain struck by the NFLPA. As soon as a player's value dips below his salary, poof! So long, ex-Pro Bowler. Just think of how much buying power the Yankees would have if they could just make their more embarrassing contracts evaporate.

3) "The standings are random": This effect might also be felt, cap or no cap, because of the 16-game nature of the NFL schedule. If the Texans came to Pittsburgh and played a baseball-style three-game series, does anyone doubt that the Steelers would have come back to take the next two? The 162-game schedule really separates the wheat from the chaff in baseball, eliminating the mathematical "randomness" of teams' records.

4) "You'd be hard-pressed to make the case it's led to better play": Gosh, I'm not so sure about this. The cap era has brought NFL fans the greatest offense of all time (Rams), the greatest defense of all time (Ravens), and the 2002-03 season, which was a season of phenomenal games and probably the most jaw-dropping highlight reels in NFL history.

It's true that there have been negative effects to the cap. Teams like Baltimore knowingly and intentionally cheated on the cap for a second shot at glory, and had to scatter their awesome defense through the league. But consider the state of the NFL: 90% of the franchises are undisputedly healthy, with palpably optimistic football fans in about three times as many cities as there are with optimistic baseball fans.

On a basic level, do we want great games and widespread enthusiasm for the game -- or a select few historically great dynasties? There are advantages to both approaches. It could be argued, for example, that it was worth it for baseball in the mid-50s to have annually meaningless series involving the Philadelphia A's and Washington Senators (attendance: 2,000 per game) when the by-product was a nation of kids idolizing Mantle and Campanella, and anticipating the World Series match-up of great champions. The trouble is, modern sports franchises have more significant operating expenses, and this is what leads to vulgar words such as "contraction" and "relocation" being bandied about. I'm not saying modern owners aren't duplicitous and obnoxious, but I think it must be conceded that there isn't a world of profit to be had in a perennial doormat franchise -- revenue sharing or not.

This may seem to be a blatant suck-up to the Batter's Box proprietor, but I like Coach's TV revenue plans. Even if there wasn't a cap in the NFL, there would still be greater parity -- both for the mathematical reasons I explained earlier and because of the lack of local TV disparities.

I agree that George should be able to invest in his team, but any other MLB franchise -- save possibly the Mets -- could raise their ticket prices 20%, sell out every game, and still not come anywhere near touching the Yankees in terms of revenue. Build a stadium, build a great team, attract fans -- unless you meet the Yankees' fourth advantage, "become beloved in New York City" -- you can't attain their rarefied status.

The New Yorkness associated with Yankee dominance is what makes baseball economics flawed. Imagine if the Jays came up with a really creative way to generate revenue -- let's say, named every section in the SkyDome after a corporate sponsor. What would stop the Yankees from doing the same thing, and charging 25 times the price the Jays charge? There's more than a commitment to winning in the Bronx; there's also a commitment to exploiting the advantage of New Yorkness.

Jason Giambi was crafted in the A's master image... and was signed by the Yankees. Was this good for baseball? Would football be better off if the Giants had the Rams' offense, the Ravens' defense and the unparalleled ability to sign and resign stars in perpetuity?
Coach - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 10:03 PM EST (#99053) #
Except for the apology for blatant sucking-up, which is encouraged, that's a helluva post, Mike. "My" plan is hardly original, but I had a brain cramp (happens a lot at my age) and couldn't properly attribute its origin or locate accurate data. A few minutes ago, I Googled around a bit and still couldn't find the source, but did come up with this excellent article by Edward Lazarus, published before the almost-strike on a site called FindLaw. His take:

In all likelihood, increased revenue sharing (there is already some) is likely to hurt one group of players - the superstars who command astronomic salaries under the current system. If the players agree to let the league transfer more TV money from the richer teams to the poorer teams, then the payrolls of the richer teams will likely decrease, which means they will have less money available to pay superstars ever higher salaries.

Still, revenue sharing is probably in the best interest of the players group as a whole. First, revenue sharing, in and of itself, does not reduce the overall pool of money available for player salaries. As long as the small market teams agree to use their revenue sharing money for player salaries (as they should), then the redistribution of wealth among the owners ought to have relatively little if any impact on how much baseball players collectively earn.

I added the bold type; considering the greedy, short-sighted individuals who control the purse strings of many uncompetitive small-market teams, that's a colossal "if." The author deserves credit for another accurate assessment:

If the union and the owners reach the right formula for revenue sharing, the luxury tax becomes little more than a mechanism for holding down salaries by sharply inhibiting the spending of the richer teams. In other words, while revenue sharing redistributes the pool of money available for player salaries, the luxury tax also seeks to limit the growth of that pool of money.

Again, bold face mine. I didn't see that coming, and have often expressed surprise at the exact result Lazarus predicted in August. I don't think Donald Fehr expected it, either.
Coach - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 10:49 PM EST (#99054) #
Jayson Stark of weighs in on the madness of King George and life in the Evil Empire state, featuring a great quote from an astute divisional rival:

"I don't even worry about it," said another AL East general manager, Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi. "I knew coming into this job that they would be like this, so it's not surprising. You always know the Yankees are there. It's like playing football in the Big East. You know you have to play Miami sometime. So when you compete with them, you just work on trying to beat them. We don't get caught up in worrying about how they do it. We just worry about our own house."
_Mick - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 11:13 PM EST (#99055) #
Ow. Ow. Head ... hurts.

One thread ... socialism and salary caps ... Chretien and Mondesi ... the neohistoric analytical meaning of the Baltimore Ravens as sociopolitical metaphor ...

Ow ... ow ...

Coach, can you post some of that thar Richard Griffin stuff again? My brain needs a break and no, wait, that would be like moving from Dostoevsky to A.A. Milne on the literary scale.

You wait here, coach, I'm going to go read the latest from Jayson Stark, who is a lunatic, and Peter Gammons, who as a reporter is a terrific fiction writer, and take a few steps down ... gradually ... yeah. Maybe after Stark and Gammons I'll watch "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," and then come back here for some Griffin.

Tomorrow's Friday, though, so I'll be primed for another hit of Gizzi.
_Ian Gray - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 11:15 PM EST (#99056) #
Mike (and Robert);

Let me first say that I don't have any problem at all with revenue sharing. Heck, I'd go further than Coach and share all revenue equally, though I know that's not going to happen. That said, here's how I respond to your criticism of my initial criticism:

1: Smart teams in football have managed to keep their heads above water over the medium to long term-i.e., no disaster seasons like 6-10 or so. My Bucs are among them. Of the other teams you mention, only the Dolphins have been over .500 every year the last four years. A couple of others, the Packers and Jets, have finished exactly at 8-8 at some point over that period. I'm not suggesting that the Bucs, Dolphins, Packers and Jets haven't been good over that stretch, but if we can agree that 8-8 is pretty mediocre, I think the evidence is fairly clear that it's very hard to be good over the long term in the NFL. In contrast, everyone's favourite small-market wonder Oakland has been well over .500 each year of the period in question, despite a system that makes it 'impossible' for them to compete. Part of this is the nature of the sports-injuries in football are both more common and more deleterious to the team, not to mention the players. But part of it is a system that forces teams to either play it safe, keep putting good-but-not-great teams on the field and hoping they get hot at the right time, which is what the Patriots did, or going for broke and taking the consequences either the following year or the year after, which was the model the Ravens used. Look, I'm delighted that smarts, luck and great coaching, some of it grossly underappreciated, has kept the Buccaneers competitive for the past six years. I'm also well aware that, to use Bud's words against him, they are the aberration.

2. Sure, allowing non-guaranteed contracts was a boneheaded move of galactic proportions by the NFLPA. But I don't think we'd be seeing Pro Bowlers-and by that I mean guys who started in the Pro Bowl the year they were cut, not hasbeens three years removed from Hawaii-released, junk contracts or no junk contracts, without a hard cap. Again, I'd like to see full revenue sharing, then let everyone spend what they want. No one's going to intentionally lose money, at least not for very long. But a hard cap distorts decision making past the point I think is reasonable, and nothing bears that out better than the casual cutting of very good players in their prime, which is certainly not unusual in the NFL.

3. True, the schedule does randomize things-to a point. But the schedule alone is not going to explain away the Rams going from 4-12 to Super Bowl champs, the Ravens going from 8-8 to Disneyworld the next year, followed by the Patriots surging from 5-11 to Super Bowl champions. Look, I like Cinderellas as much as the next guy, but when there's one every year, it loses its appeal. And it's not just the champs either. The Rams beat the Titans, who'd been 8-8 the previous year, while the Ravens knocked off the Giants, who'd been 7-9 the year before. Of the last six Super Bowl contestants, only last year's Rams had a winning record the year before. That will change this year-though if the Titans win against Oakland and Hell freezes over and the Bucs beat Philly, we're looking at two teams that combined for a .500 record last year-but I think the general point stands. Teams change so quickly that there's no time to appreciate their being good. And this is entirely due to high roster turnover, which is partly endemic to the sport and partly a result of artificial salary constraints.

4. You really think the Rams and Ravens were the greatest of all time? They were extremely good, but-bias revelation alert-I'd have had liked it if either one had kept it going for a few years more. The Montana Niners or the Kelly Bills would be my pick for greatest 'O' of all time, and I don't think a comparison between the 2000 Ravens and the Steelers of the entire 1970s is all that close. Though I'll admit it's largely a matter of how you define the terms. I guess I'm just tired of 'any given Sunday' turning out to be 'every given Sunday.'

The wider question, of dynasties or parity, is one I would answer thusly: let's have both! Or rather, let's establish a system where every team can aspire to be a dynasty. That is to say, level the playing field in terms of revenue while not constraining spending artificially. Again, my solution will never fly in the real world, but why not Coach's scheme without a cap? It would probably operate more or less like Robert's 1.8 times the median cap, without screwing with how teams are constructed. I'd like to see a game when the Jays can win five or six championships in a row, rather than one, like the NFL, where teams essentially hope to catch lightning in a bottle every ten years or so. This isn't to say I'm greedy for championships-I just want to see what will happen if the current team is allowed to play together for as long as the game on the field, rather than the constraints of a cap, dictate.
Craig B - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 11:20 PM EST (#99057) #
for a truly spectacular example of WWII short-sightedness in trading with the prospective enemy, it's hard to top the shipment of Soviet grain that crossed the Soviet-German border some four hours before the start of Operation Barbarossa.

They were, of course, allies. The subject of Rommel came up with a friend over Christmas, and I've been re-reading Volumes 3 and 4 of Churchill's _The Second World War_ as a result. One thing that struck me very deeply was the series of incredible bumbles that afflicted the Soviets during the whole of 1941. But they weren't alone.

Soviet intelligence, as befits an ideologically-driven spy network grafted onto a totalitarian power, was just abominably bad, and really couldn't find its ass with both hands plus a newly-calibrated state-of-the-art precision Ass Location Device. But even Churchill was utterly convinced up to the end of March that Hitler wasn't going to attack. Once he realized they would - following the sudden movement of three armored divisions northward from Romania to Poland, then right back to Romania again once the short-lived Serb uprising in Belgrade happened - he started sending telegrams and diplomatic messages to Stalin, detailing German troop movements and basic intelligence. Stalin disbelieved it entirely, at least according to Cripps who was the British Ambassador.

As late as June 13 Stalin thought it was all made up, and as late as *six hours* before the invasion Molotov was querying Schulenburg (the German ambassador) why the Germans "seemed dissatisfied" with Russia.

The Russians managed to keep the fantasy going right up until it was time to cut their throat, and so their air force was largely destroyed on the ground. It cost millions of lives but ironically it might have won the war for the Allies.

Good heavens, I'm surrounded by intelligent people!

Well, we *are* mostly Canadians here. :-)
Dave Till - Thursday, January 16 2003 @ 11:32 PM EST (#99058) #
JMG: The Detroit Tigers are not going to lose 162 games. There will be at least one postponed game that doesn't get made up, so they can't be worse than 0-161.

How would you like to be the marketing director for the Detroit Tigers? What slogan could you use to market that team? "Watch Alan Trammell age before your eyes"?
_Ian Gray - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 12:23 AM EST (#99059) #

They weren't so much allies as countries pretending not to hate each other. I for one don't buy the current fad for viewing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a savvy play for time on Stalin's part, but I also don't believe that he thought of it as the foundation for a lasting relationship with his fellow paranoiac. There's an anecdote in Piers Brendon's book The Dark Valley where Stalin brusquely vetoes Ribbontrop's suggestion of a propaganda campaign celebrating a new age of Russo-German cooperation, on the grounds that noone would believe it 'after we've spent all these years dumping buckets of shit on each other's heads.' I think the timing surprised Stalin-after all, he tied his army's hands with orders not to provoke the Gremans as the Wehrmacht rampaged through what had been eastern Poland-but I don't think many people anticipated never-ending peace in Eastern Europe.
_Sean - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 01:04 AM EST (#99060) #
Uh, Coach, just to rain slightly on your parade...Ed Lazarus is not someone you want to quote with impunity. He's taken with a huge grain of salt by most legal scholars, as his FindLaw columns leave something to be desired in the objectivity department (and this is coming from a young lawyer who shares most of his politics).

That being said, I do concur (and predicted) wtih regard to the effects Lazarus writes about in the article you cited. In fact, I saved it when it first came out as one of the few even-handed columns I've ever read by the author.
Coach - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 11:10 AM EST (#99061) #
newly-calibrated state-of-the-art precision Ass Location Device

Can the Tigers and Royals borrow that?
_Mike H. - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 01:07 PM EST (#99062) #
After stumbling across the article last night while drunk, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. The rampant Socialism, anti-Americanism, etc. Nothing like WWII history and Yankee-bashing to chase away hangovers.

Anyway, back to the article and the myriad of responses it created. The premise that baseball teams need to stop feeding the monster that is Standard Oil... I mean the Yankees, is flawed. It assumes that if you trade with the Yankees, it puts you at more of a disadvantage. Trades, such as the Colon trade, can work out for the teams trading with the Yankees because it allows them to improve relative to the Yankees. In the Colon trade, yes the trade did allow the Yanks to get rid of one of a big salary and get yet another middle reliever, but the trade also allows the White Sox to get Colon. The trade itself improved the Yanks bullpen but weakened their starting pitching depth while the White Sox's rotation improves markedly.

But back to the general idea of trading with the Yankees. By not trading with them, options become much more restricted. Plus, it's not like the Yankees are infallible baseball gods. They too can be swindled and swindle others. The problem that I see with Yanks is the unnatural advantage they have in revenue, which allows them to spend ungodly amounts of money on the Sterling Hitchcocks of the world. That, in turn, distorts the market for smililar players. This distortion prices these players out of the reach of smaller teams and makes arbitration even more skewed away from what a player's true value is.

So to solve that, as much as I hate saying it, revenue needs to be redistributed. Coach, I'm not sure if this is where you got the idea, but Bob Costas in his book Fair Ball makes the same pitch, and includes ticket revenue as well. Teams keep half of local broadcast and ticket sales, and the other half goes into a pot to be distributed equally among all 30 teams. What this does is not completely level the field (nor should it happen), but does take away unnatural advantages that teams have. I can feel somewhat confortable saying this mainly because sport is entertainment. I normally would rather say Bill Clinton is the best president ever before I would advocate anything remotely income-redistributing, but I also feel that the goal of MLB should be to provide entertainment in every game that comes with the name "Major League" Sadly, Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay is not entertainment (neither is any Devil Ray game for that matter). So the head honchos who run baseball need to make sure that every team has the same opportunity to attract and sign quality players. The related problem is even if each team has enough money, not every organization (or city) is created equal. Players will still favor the Yanks because it's in NYC, still like Florida and Texas because those states don't have an income tax, and avoid signing with organizations like Baltimore which are poorly run and floundering. No amount of revenue sharing will change that.

Neither will a salary cap, next topic on the list. A salary cap will not redistribute players to make more teams competitive. Rather, it would serve to restrain player salaries while all the excess revenue would go to line the pockets of owners, especially the plan mentioned by Robert. A cap based on previous salary with no tie to revenue would benefit the owners in large markets by not allowing owners to put excess revenue into player salaries. It's not like Steinbrenner, Ted Turner, etc. are going to lower ticket prices or beer prices because of the cap. Just look at the NFL or NBA to see how the cap has sent revenue not to the players (or fans in terms of lower prices) but to themselves. Plus, a salary cap without an accompanying salary floor would do nothing to solve inequalties among teams. The high spenders will use up all of the cap that they can while the cheapskates like Carl Pohlad will still bottomfeed. (Note: the salary floor idea was also taken from Costas' book. I would strongly recommend buying it.) I also don't like the comparisons with the NFL, mainly because it's a completely different type of animal. It's like comparing man to chimp. They are similar on some levels, but you can't a chimp heart and put in a guy and expect it to work normally. Putting in a NFL-style hard cap could have different effects or it could be the same. There are fundamental differences between the NFL and MLB that could make the effects of the cap different. Team sizes, season length, contract sizes and lengths, and the way TV contracts are created (jointly rather than by each individual club) are some of them.

I think that's enough baseball economics for one day. But I would be remiss to not make some comment about America's role in the world. Rather I have a quote that summs up what I think nicely:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I'd prefer you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to.” – Jack Nicholson, “A Few Good Men”

Funny how nobody gave a damn about America's position in the world when the US was providing defense for Western Europe during WWII and the Cold War. I personally would just love it if the world left us alone, but unfortunately some people WANT the US to intervene in various spots (Somalia, the Balkans) and others want to fly airplanes into our buildings. So much to everyone's dismay, the US has an obligation to do what everyone despises America for, if only for its one safety.

Nonetheless, kudos to JMG and everyone else that posted such thought provoking comments. I also apologize for the length of the post; I hope everyone made it through without their eyes glazing over.
_Matthew Elmslie - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 01:35 PM EST (#99063) #
About TV revenue sharing: the flaw with this idea comes when you have a team owned by its primary broadcaster. Like, say, the Jays. In such a case, Rogers can say that they're only paying the Jays a buck eighty-five for the broadcast rights, and therefore that's all there is to be split with the other teams. Now, obviously, MLB would not be satisfied with such a statement from Rogers, but I'd say it'd be pretty difficult to get fair value from them. You'd probably have to put it up to an independent arbitrator.

Bob McCown of the FAN had one solution for this that... well, I see his point. His idea was this: no local TV rights. None. If someone wants to broadcast a ballgame, they don't go to the team; they go through MLB.

The problem with this is it takes away much (not all) of the incentive for media conglomerates to own ballclubs. If this happened, how long would Rogers hang on to the Jays? We could be back in another Interbrew situation.
Coach - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 01:59 PM EST (#99064) #
Mike H, glad you checked in. And of course, I've read the Costas book, which is where I first heard his sensible revenue-sharing plan. Thanks for clearing that up. I still have an extensive database in this old grey head, but it's an 8-bit operating system, the RAM is inadequate, and the index is corrupted.

By way of introduction to BB readers, Mike has been blogging about the Blue Jays a lot longer than I have, from quite an unlikely location. He's from the general vicinity of the New Haven AA farm club, and is a Virginia Tech student, close to the A-ball Pulaski Blue Jays. I stumbled across his website a while ago, enjoyed it, and sent him an introductory e-mail with my regards. He's mentioned BB a couple of times, and we appreciate that; his opinion of Richard Griffin fits right in here.

Mike, I still hope you get the time to file some first-person farm system reports this summer. Keep up the good work, and keep in touch.
robertdudek - Friday, January 17 2003 @ 08:11 PM EST (#99065) #
Mike H...

Notice that I proposed a salary floor as well. The one I proposed is about 60% of previous MEDIAN salary. The current lowest spending clubs would have to come up a bit to meet that, and it would mean that no one could pocket revenue sharing money without investing in players. The 1.8 X MEDIAN cap limit would leave a lot of room for all the clubs to add payroll expect the very big spenders (with all of Philly's spending this offseason, I very much doubt they will exceed this 1.8 limit this year).

A cap/floor that is too restrictive obviously places too many limits on teams trying to build consistent winners. There is absolutely no reason why a team can't build a dynasty within that cap limit - the A's have managed it spending about 60-70% of median!

Yes, a salary cap along the lines I've suggested would act as a drag on salaries (a drag only). But if the players are willing to take earlier free-agency, a higher minimum salary and other benefits (greater pension contributions and improved trade rights - e.g. instead of 5 and 10 perhaps 4 and 8 rights), perhaps a deal could be ironed out that would make the players, owners and fans (by way of promoting greater competitive balance) happy.

That would be a win/win/win scenario.
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