Archive for April, 2004

Thoughts on Baseball in DC

Doug Pappas points to an article in The Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA) by Warner Hessler. Hessler believes Washington, DC ought to be the next home for the Expos for some simple reasons.

Only in the world of Major League Baseball would Charlotte, Las Vegas and Portland be considered better places to move a franchise than the Washington D.C., area. Only the fools who can’t read or understand a chart that includes the size, wealth and makeup of a region would consider Monterrey, Mexico, a better place for that franchise than Washington.

He is right that Washington is a big city without a baseball team. It seems it would be a great fit. But then I got to thinking, why didn’t Bud move the team down several years ago? Hessler has the standard DC response all queued up.

If MLB leaders were more interested in doing the right thing for its sport rather than placating Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, one of the country’s leading trial lawyers, who is also well-connected in the Democratic party, it would end the suspense and put the Expos in 48,000-seat RFK Stadium for a couple of years while a new one was built.

Why would a group of greedy owners not put a team in DC if it would generate more money for baseball? I don’t think the owners enjoy losing money on the Montreal project. But then we get to the common conspiracy theory that Peter Angelos is blocking the move. There is no doubt that Angelos does not want to compete with a team in DC, but there is no way he could or would block a move that would increase revenue for all other owners by a sale of the Expos to the highest bidder if the high bidder were in DC. The losses to the Orioles could easily be offset by payments to Angelos equal to the harm done to Oriole profitability. So, I don’t buy this as an explanation for why Washington lacks a baseball team and missed out on the last several rounds of expansion.

So, I thought some more about it. I spent four years in the DC area, and I have to say it is not a normal city. My nation’s capital has lots of crime, lots of resident turnover, and a very widely dispersed population. I am not sure if this makes Washington a bad baseball city, but it might. So, I decided to look at some data on attendance of the Washington Senators I (Twins) and II (Rangers) relative to the rest of the league. The table below lists Washington attendance relative to the league for four time-periods: the entire history of baseball in Washington (1892-1971), the entire modern era (1920-1971), the “Twins” Senators modern era (1920-1960), and the “Rangers” era (1961). I use two types of measures of attendance: attendance relative to the league average (using the mean and median for the reported time-periods) and the ratio of Washington attendance to the league minimum attendance. I also report the ratio of the league average attendance to the league minimum for comparison.

Attendance 1892-1971 1920-1971 1920-1960 1961-1971
% of League Ave. (mean) 68.05% 71.25% 74.66% 58.54%
% of League Ave. (median) 65.63% 67.21% 68.97% 58.70%
Wash/League Min. 2.09 2.14 2.40 2.12
League Ave/League Min. 3.19 2.98 3.23 3.08

Data from Fort’s Sports Data Page

While I don’t want to call Washington a bad baseball city, it would be hard to call it a good one either. I know the Senators were historically bad, but maybe they were bad because no one would pay to go even if they were good. Also, I am not saying that the Expos would not work in Washington, but now I see why the owners may be a little hesitant to name a third team the Senators. I would be interested to see what other readers think of this, so please e-mail me if you have any thoughts on this.

Payback for Clemens

Update: Oh well, I should have predicted Clemens would throw a gem and win the battle with Bonds. I still find it interesting that the media did not cover this story the way it covered the similar Piazza/Clemens episode, in which the Mets attempted to retaliate against Clemens. We’ll see what Dusty does in May.

Tomorrow many people will focus on the Astros/Giants game to see Clemens face Bonds for the first time since June 2002. During that game Clemens followed through on a pre-game threat to hit Bonds. On Monday Clemens even joked about it and insinuated that he will not be afraid to go inside again.

“He’s a warrior,” Clemens said. “He knows when I get on the mound, if I’ve got to get up in there, I’m going there. Whatever I have to do, I’m going to try to get him out, and he’s going to try to hit the ball 500 feet. I think the fans, when he’s up, don’t make a trip to the rest room or the concession stands, because hopefully something’s going to happen.”

While I will certainly be interested in seeing Bonds and Clemens face off, I will be more intrigued by Clemens first trip to the plate against Jerome Williams. After the 2002 incident the Giants were livid with Clemens. Then Giants manager Dusty Baker nicknamed Clemens “Roger the Dodger” saying,

You can be bold in the American League and get away with that stuff,” he said of Clemens plunking Bonds. “It would be a little different in our league. You (pitchers) have to hit.”

Baker is gone and Williams was not even in the Majors when the incident occured, but I am not going to move out of my seat when Clemens comes to bat. Baseball players have a phrase that emphasizes their willingness to hold a grudge over a long time period. When a player makes a dirty play and league rules or the game situation makes immediate retaliation very costly, the victimized player will “put it in his pocket.” Barry Bonds has a big pocket. Clemens beaned him on purpose to send a message. I have little doubt that Mr. Bonds is going to have chat with Williams and manager Alou before the game. And should Clemens come to the plate in the right situation, Roger’s first National League plate appearance will be quite memorable. If you wonder why I feel this way see here. And knowing Dusty Baker’s temperament, I suspect the Cubs will also properly welcome “Roger the Dodger” to the NL in May.

If anyone knows of other grudges against Clemens that might now be settled during Clemens 2004 NL tour, please let me know. I would like to monitor these situations.

Opening Day and Competitive Balance

Well, opening day is here for the third time this season. Now I think is a good time to view the competitiveness of the league before all the winning and losing starts. The “Blue Ribbon” Panel of Bud Selig states the standard for competitiveness is “every well-run club has a regularly recurring reasonable hope of reaching postseason play.” While, this is only one season I think it is interesting how few teams currently do not have a hope of reaching the post-season this year. According to all the predictions I have seen, the following teams (by division) appear destined to miss the playoffs already.

AL East: Tampa, Baltimore
Al Central: Detroit
AL West: Texas
NL East: NY Mets, Montreal
NL Central: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee
NL West: Colorado

One-third of the league (10 teams) is likely to miss the post-season. I am not sure if this is high or low, but that seems pretty good to me. Someone has to lose, right?
And when I look at the long-run state of the game things look even better. Only Tampa, Detroit, and Texas are hopeless due to bad management. They are 100% rebuilding or simply not trying (I’m looking right at you Tampa Bay) this year. Montreal has no owner and will move, and no one should expect them to compete. The rest are trying, but will likely fall short. They are all waiting for next year. So, that is a total of five teams who will likely not make the past-season this year or next. Also, I think there is a very good chance that one of the “hopeless” teams will have a surprise year. So, at the start of it all the state of baseball seems pretty good to me. It seems to me that very few baseball fans have reason to start the season without a “reasonable hope of reaching post-season play.”

And how does market size play into this? Well, you certainly have the big-market winners (Yankees and Red Sox) and your small-market losers (Reds and Brewers). But don’t forget about the big-market flops (Mets, Tigers, and Orioles) and the small- market winners (Royals, Cardinals, and Twins).

Update: Rob Neyer has a interesting column that makes a related observation.

Thanks AJC!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has started requiring paid subscriptions to read the work of its sports columnists. I have to say I am actually happy that now I will no longer be tempted to read an article by their sportswrting team. I am not being sarcastic. Like a car accident on the highway, I don’t want to look yet I can’t turn away. Now I will no longer to be tempted to see how bad the articles are.

If you want to get a good perspective on the Braves check out Braves Journal, No Pepper, and Braves Buzz.

Selig’s Shill

I don’t have much of a problem with George Will, but I have never liked his baseball stuff. In one of his books he claims that opponents of the DH are simply enemies if specialization and markets. While this argument is silly, I just chalked it up to someone who has a forum as a writer and uses it to write about something fun. There is nothing wrong with this. But today’s George Will column is a new low in Will’s baseball analysis hall of shame. It was bad enough that he agreed to serve on Bud Selig’s “Blue Ribbon Panel” on baseball. — The blue ribbon on the label of Pabst Beer is a greater symbol of quality than the ribbon on this panel. Maybe this should have been a Red, White, and Blue or an Olympia panel. — Now Will is contradicting the findings of this panel just to smack his lips on Milwaukee’s finest cherry-red ass belonging to Bud Selig. I think most people are a little hard on Selig. He does a good job for the owners, and I don’t think that is a reason to fault him; though, he is certainly not faultless and I would not mind to see him leave the game. But, what Will did today is show that he has no stake in this argument other than currying favor with the commissioner’s office. Here is what he says.

Selig has been — baseball is a game of inches, but this is not a close call — the greatest commissioner. His achievements include a quickened pace of games (in three seasons, 12 minutes have been shaved from the average game length), interleague play, the unbalanced schedule, three divisions, partial realignment, wild card teams (the last two World Series winners were wild cards), increased revenue sharing ($250 million this year; $20 million in 1992) and the competitive balance tax on the highest payrolls. That tax and revenue sharing will cost the Yankees $81 million this year.

Let’s forget about all but the last statement. Specifically, Will has this to offer.

Competitive balance is improving: 22 different teams have made it to postseason play since 1995. In the last three years, 11 different teams (of a possible 12) have played in League Championship Series.

This is from the same man who sat on a “Blue Ribbon” panel that declared post-1994 competitive balance was getting worse! So, where was the criticism of Bud in 2000, George? In fact, Will’s recent assessment is correct. As I have discussed here and here, market size does not explain most of the difference between the best and the worst of the league since 1994. But according to Will, the man who still claims that market size is harming competitive balance now deserves credit for the parity the Blue Ribbon panel simply ignored and Bud claims does not exist. So let’s get Will’s logic correct. When Will looks at the numbers incorrectly to show a lack of parity, Selig is not to blame. But now when he looks at the numbers correctly, in the season after the one team paying the luxury tax played in the World Series, Selig deserves all of the credit. Will has now completed his move from an unobjective analyst to Selig’s personal court jester.

See more discussion on Primer.

Update: Doug Pappas has more on Will the Shill.

Braves Preview

James Fraser has an excellent preview of the 2004 Atlanta Braves on Primer. He is very optimistic. I am really excited about new season. Go Braves!