Archive for Media

Economic Benefits of Hosting NAIA Title Game

Berry College economist Frank Stephenson has a nice Op-Ed on Rome’s bid to keep the NAIA football championship in Rome, Georgia.

Although there are other tourism benefits beyond lodging revenues (e.g., dining revenues), it’s hard to imagine that these effects from hosting the NAIA Championship are large when the lodging benefits are apparently miniscule. Spending more than $3 million on Astroturf and other renovations in pursuit of economic benefits from hosting the football would be a dubious proposition in the best of times. Doing so now, with many families struggling and local unemployment exceeding 11 percent, is unconscionable.

Piling On Mark Whicker

Yesterday, I was appalled when Craig Calcaterra pointed out the worst sports column ever written. The column by Mark Whicker uses the Jaycee Dugard tragedy as his hook for a phone-it-in potpourri-of-sports column.

It doesn’t sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.

Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until Aug. 31 of this year.

She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn’t high-fived in a while.

She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey.

Now, that’s deprivation.

Can you imagine? Dugard was 11 when she was kidnapped and stashed in Phillip Garrido’s backyard. She was 29 when she escaped. Penitentiary inmates at least get an hour of TV a day. Dugard was cut off from everything but the elements.

How long before she fully digests the world she re-enters? How difficult to adjust to such cataclysmic change?

More than that, who’s going to explain the fact that there’s a President Obama?

Dugard’s stepfather says she’s going to need a lot of therapy — you think? — so perhaps she should take a respite before confronting the new realities.

So, Jaycee, whenever you’re ready, here’s what you’ve missed:

Whicker then inserts list of trivial sporting event that wouldn’t interest an avid sports fan, much less a girl who was imprisoned by a deranged rapist for 18 years. He then follows it up with this delightful closing pun:

And ballplayers, who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a home run that you might appreciate.

Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.

The article is so vile that the best Deadspin could do with it was post it verbatim. Imagine that, you say something so outlandish that Deadspin can’t make further fun of you. That’s bad.

As if the column wasn’t bad enough, Whicker’s unapologetic response to readers who complained compounded his gross error in judgment to write and publish this column. Here is a sample of personal e-mail responses he sent to readers.

“Name one thing in that column that was insulting. It was a column celebrating the girl’s release and using an athletic context to show just how long an 18-year period is, illustrating just what she had been through.”

“The column celebrated the girl’s release and tried to use sports as a context to explain just how long 18 years is. I’m sorry you misinterpreted it.”

“I can’t comprehend the motivation of anybody who would interpret “Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard” as anything other than sympathetic or congratulatory.”

He’s not embarrassed—hell, I’m embarrassed for him—he’s blaming his readers for “misinterpreting” his words.

Eventually, he was forced to apologize, but the damage was done. Keith Olbermann was already making him the worst person of the day, and news stories about the column were already widely circulating. If he had quickly posted an apology instead of reflexively defending his journalistic integrity and insulting his critics, a simple statement might have reduced his transgression to a minor embarrassment. But, these e-mailed responses indicate he’s just a jackass who thinks he’s above criticism.

I have seen some harsh criticism for his editors at the Orange County Register; though, they should have spiked the piece, every author knows that he is fully responsible for his published words. The Register might want to dole out some sanctions for their editors, but the public blame should be directed at Whicker.

Mark Whicker denies that there was anything inappropriate about his article.

“I vehemently believe I wasn’t insensitive about the fact that she was kidnapped,” he said Wednesday evening while at his son’s soccer practice. “I never made light about the fact that this woman was abducted. I don’t think anyone can cite anything in the column that says I did.”

Further Update: OC Register editor apologizes, and seems a bit more sincere and understanding of the inappropriateness of the column than Whicker.

Excuse Me?

I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to be taking a break, but I can’t let this pass.

Mark Bradley has finally realized that Jeff Francoeur isn’t going to be a star, and that he has some serious flaws in his game.

It’s time to trade Frenchy.

What could the Braves get for him? Probably not all that much, but that’s not really the point . They’d be better off without him, and he without them.

Way to get in on this early, Mark. What’s next? A scathing critique of foul language and sexism in rap music. If the Atlanta media, which includes Bradley, had had the balls to call out the Braves in 2006, maybe he could have been sent down to the minors to get some work. It’s only been a year since Bradley blasted fans for turning on Golden Boy with a stern lecture.

He’s struggling now, but the belief here, as it would be with any big-leaguer, is that he’ll eventually rise to his established level.

It’s understandable fans would be anxious, especially at a time when the entire team is listing. What’s curious is how quickly we Atlantans seem to turn on the guy from Gwinnett. Has almost a decade of his derring-do, first at Parkview and now as a Brave, bred such contempt? Have we tired of the famous Frenchy? Have we forgotten that, for all his notoriety, he’s only 24?

If that’s the case, then I don’t feel sorry for Jeff Francoeur. I feel sorry for us.

Pretty bold words. Apparently, 2 1/2 years of below-average corner outfield play wasn’t a large enough sample, but 3 1/2 years is. This was my response at the time.

The problem with Francoeur is that the media has been so accepting of the Braves talking points that he is a rising superstar that they haven’t even bothered to notice that Francoeur has always had glaring holes in his game. He was a good high school player? That is no more relevant than the fact that I once hit two home runs in one game for my Little League team. (I still like to bring this up when I can. Yes, they both went over the fence, and I can tell you the names of the pitchers who gave them up: Robbie and John.)

Bradley has the nerve, THE NERVE, to lecture fans on giving Francoeur criticism, which the media neglected to do for three years. In New York, they give grief to players who are far better than Francoeur. Jerry Manuel is making David Wright practice plate discipline, and he has a career OBP of .390. Wright’s slumps are equal to Frenchy’s peaks, but Terry Pendleton just keeps telling Frenchy to “stay aggressive.”

Why didn’t Mark Bradley ask about sending Francoeur to the minors in 2006, when it was clear that he had more to learn? Why didn’t Mark Bradley question Frenchy’s presence in the line-up every day for over two years? I don’t know whether demoting or resting him would have helped, but they were legitimate options that should have been put to the general manager and the manager.

I was thinking this morning as to how easily the Braves could have handled the demotion in 2006. It seemed difficult at the time, but it really wasn’t. David Price was a hero in Tampa Bay, a franchise without any history of stars. Yet, the Rays front office just said, “Hey folks, he’s young. We know he’s done some good stuff up here, but he needs more work.” Some fans were pissed, but the storm didn’t last long.

The problem was that the Braves front office allowed itself to think that his 2005 was exactly what Francoeur was. He was already the star they imagined when he was the Good Face prospect at Parkview: “The Natural.” Baseball professionals shouldn’t allow this to happen. Teenage girls in pink #7 jerseys, yes; but not a GM and his assistants—nor veteran sports columnists.

Maybe Francoeur would be the same player he is, but he should have been sent down in 2006. And if folks like Mark Bradley had been writing with critical pens instead of pompons, maybe this would have happened.

Vacation Update: Interview at Chop-n-Change

As I mentioned, my blogging vacation doesn’t preclude occasional updates.

Alex Remington interviews me over at Chop-n-Change. Thanks to Alex for asking such thoughtful questions.

Vacation Update: Aging, UFL, and Gwinnett Stadium

As I mentioned, my blogging vacation doesn’t preclude occasional updates.

— My article on aging in baseball is now available from Journal of Sports Sciences. Here is the abstract.

Peak athletic performance and ageing: Evidence from baseball

Baseball players exhibit a pattern of improvement and decline in performance; however, differing lengths of careers and changes in rules and characteristics of the game complicate assessments of age-related effects on performance. This study attempts to isolate the impact of age on several player skills while controlling for relevant outside factors using longitudinal data from 86 seasons of Major League Baseball. The results indicate that players age in different skills in accord with studies of ageing in other athletic contests. For overall performance, multiple-regression estimates indicate that hitters and pitchers peak around the age of 29 – later than previous estimates. Athletic skills such as hitting and running peak earlier than skills that rely heavily on experience and knowledge, such as issuing and drawing walks.

— You can read why I think the United Football League (UFL) is more likely to succeed than many people believe in the April 09, 2009 issue of ESPN Magazine.

— I am quoted as a Gwinnett Stadium critic in the April 2009 issue of Atlanta Magazine. Commissioner Bert Nasuti thinks what the Board of Commissioners did—revealing its secret deal to the public a few days before approving it without opening the floor for discussion—was consistent with good representative democracy. I disagree.

— I offer my sincere thanks to the US Military Academy at West Point for hosting my visit to the school last week. It is an impressive place to visit, and I very much enjoyed my time there.

The Economic Impact of Sports Facilities

On Thursday February 26 at 7-8pm Kennesaw State University will be hosting the 10th Annual Grady Palmer Distinguished Lecture. The lecture is open to the public, and I believe that many people in the Atlanta area may be interested in hearing this year’s speaker.

Dr. Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Alberta will be presenting “What Do Economists Know About the Economic Impact of Sports Facilities?” Brad is one of the discipline’s leading authorities on the topic, and my opinions on the Gwinnett Braves stadium issue have been heavily influenced by his research. I encourage anyone interested in the topic to attend. Also, if you want to learn more about the Sport Management program at KSU, this would be a good opportunity to meet some of our faculty and majors.

You can find more information here. If you have any questions about the event, please feel free to contact me.

Speaker: Dr. Brad R. Humphreys
Topic: “What Do Economists Know About the Economic Impact of Sports Facilities?”
Location: Kennesaw State University, Convocation Center, Room 2016
Time: 7-8pm (with reception to follow)
Anticipated Economic Impact to the Community: $0

I’m in the Hall of Fame

Er, well sort of…actually, not really at all.

The Hall of Fame’s Education Department conducted an interview with me that is now available online.

Here is an excerpt.

Of course people of a wide variety of backgrounds all over the world are baseball fans. How did you become a baseball fan?

My dad liked baseball. Though he didn’t watch it much, he used to tell me stories about playing Little League and going to Yankee Stadium. All the kids in my neighborhood played baseball, so I played too. It was one of the few sports where I was one of the better players, so that helped. Making my Little League All-Star team and having a multi-homer game are fond memories.

Your website studies baseball from an economist’s point of view. “Economy” and “baseball” don’t seem to collide in the same sentence. Does baseball tend to ignore the “common-sense” side of economics, or is baseball fairly level-headed?

The economic aspect that interests most observers is the size of the contracts that players earn. Players earn millions of dollars for the same reason that movie stars earn even more millions: many people are willing to devote a portion of their incomes to watch them perform. As the market for baseball has expanded, so have player salaries. Because few non-baseball players earn that type of money, it’s difficult to justify these high salaries. But, the salaries players earn are in line with the revenues they generate for their teams through ticket sales, concessions, advertising, etc.

C’mon Braves, At Least Be Honest

Before I get started, I am on the record defending the Braves’ decision to not match Boston’s offer for John Smoltz. I think it was the right move; and, even though many disagree, I think it should be understandable from a business perspective. So, why is the front office botching the PR of this difficult decision in a way that makes the organization look even worse?

Here is the response of CEO Terry McGuirk.

“John is a great guy,” McGuirk said. “He follows his own head, and I just don’t know what’s going on with him right now. We’ve offered less of a guarantee, but we’ve offered a substantial guarantee. Coming off an injury like this, we feel like it’s the right thing that we should be doing [in regards to the incentive-laden offer].

“We’ve offered him a package that would get him in the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season and pitch well. For him to walk away from that and to go to another place, I’m just shocked and surprised.

“I read today in something that his agent said the other set of incentives [from the Red Sox] were ‘more attainable.’ If John Smoltz pitches like John Smoltz pitches, I think [the Braves’ incentives package] is attainable. If he’s not healthy, it’s not going to happen.”

Supposedly, the Braves had a contract on the table for $2 million guaranteed, with a $1 million bonus for being on the active roster and an additional million for every month that he spends on the active roster. On it’s face, McGuirk’s statement is literally true. If Smoltz is on the roster opening day through the entire season, he would receive a total of $9 million ($2 million base, $1 million roster bonus, and $6 million for every month he is on the roster). I think it is fair to say that this is in “the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season.” However, this ignores the reality that Smoltz is not capable of pitching the entire season.

Rehab will most likely keep Smoltz off the active roster until late-May/early-June according to all the reports that I have seen. Thus, Smoltz’s contract would have maxed out at the $7 million which has been reported in the press. The Red Sox are guaranteeing around $5 million before another $5 million in incentives even kick in, and the incentives appear to activate with lower thresholds that are congruent with Smoltz’s recovery schedule. The difference between the Sox’s and Braves’ offers is $3 million, not $1 million, as McGuirk seems to insinuate—or maybe he thinks $7 million in the $10 million range.

We also have the following quote from GM Frank Wren.

“We were willing to pay John as much or more than the Red Sox to pitch,” Wren said early Thursday evening. “We just weren’t willing to pay him as much as the Red Sox were to not pitch.”

Again, this is misleading. I think it refers to the fact that the guaranteed bases represent the biggest difference between the two contracts. But, unless the Braves were offering greater marginal incentives than the Red Sox, the statement that the Braves are paying him “as much or more than the Red Sox” to pitch is incorrect. Let’s assume that the Red Sox and the Braves have the same incentive plan on the table ($1 million roster bonus plus $1 million per month); thus, here is what Smoltz will get in millions of dollars according to his time on the roster.

Months	Braves	Red Sox
0	$2	$5
1	$4	$7
2	$5	$8
3	$6	$9
4	$7	$10

Wren is apparently referring to the first derivative of the incentive schedule. For both teams, the change in the salaries with roster time is identical; however, Smoltz clearly gets more income from the Red Sox when he doesn’t pitch and when he pitches. Being healthy for the Braves wouldn’t get Smoltz up to the salary that he would earn with the Sox. Technically, what Wren said could be true—we don’t know the exact details of the Sox’s incentives—but from Smoltz’s perspective his he still gets more from the Red Sox even if he is healthy. Now, if the Braves had offered $2 million base with $2 million per month pitched, then being healthy for the Braves could get him a salary equivalent to what the Red Sox offered.

Why are the Braves doing this? I’m no PR expert, but I think it’s time for the Braves to scale back the whiny commentary. When the offseason started, I didn’t expect the Braves to have a healthy Smoltz on the roster in 2009 nor to acquire Rafael Furcal. Yet, fans are now up in arms complaining about the failure of the team to get these guys on the roster.

In Furcal’s case the team cried foul over alleged agent misbehavior. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. In both cases the team should have just said, “We tried to acquire a player that we thought would help the team; however, financially we were not willing to meet the salary demands without sacrificing the long-run competitiveness of the team. We wish him well, and we will continue to pursue other avenues to pursue the team.” This doesn’t eliminate fan disappointment, but I think the negative effects of the rejection wouldn’t linger in fans’ minds as long as they have because the team engaged in a meaningless blame game.

Wasting Money on K-Rod

I continue to be amazed by the over-valuing of closers in the baseball labor market. Yesterday, the New York Mets and Francisco Rodriguez agreed to a 3-year, $37 million contract. The deal also includes an option for a fourth year for $13-$14 million based on easily-attainable criteria. What an absolute waste of money. I have K-Rod valued at $6 million per season over the next three years.

I’ve been saying for a while that closers are overpaid. Rodriguez has been a very good closer, but the problem is that closers don’t pitch much. Over the past three seasons, K-Rod has faced 4.7% of the team’s opposing batters; a decent starter will face three times as many batters. While we see K-Rod pitch at the end of games, often when games are on the line, he’s not pitching much. The Met’s would have been better off spending that kind of money on a good starter who would prevent run scoring over many more batters. A few more million a year could have brought in A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe whose superior pitching would prevent situations that closers can rectify.

Addendum: I received a question about the role of leverage—the difference in the importance of when a pitcher typically appears within a game—in determining values. I’ve been asked it before, and my answers have been scattered over several different locations. So, here is my e-mail reply explaining why I value all innings pitched the same.

I have considered the impact of leverage, but I don’t think leverage can explain the vast differences in my estimates and what is happening in the market. Leverage is a product of outside factors when a pitcher faces the same rules during all times of the game. The quality of his pitching is the same in the 5th inning as it is in the 9th. (There is the argument about pressure, but I don’t buy this explanation at this level of competition.) Now, the fact that he is good enough to pitch in a high-leverage situation is worth something; however, I don’t believe the value is twice the average. And the fact that a pitcher has pitched in high or low leverage situations doesn’t mean he ought to get all the credit for it.

For example, take Scott Linebrink and Francisco Cordero. Last year, both pitchers signed four-year deals for $19 million and $46 million. I estimated that Cordero was worth about $2 million more than Linebrink, yet he was paid more than twice what Linebrink got. The only difference in their pitching histories is that one is considered to be a middle reliever and the other considered a closer. It’s the performance that matters and ought to determine their salaries, not when they pitch. If Cordero is worth $46 million because he pitches in high-leverage situations, then Linbrink should have received a similar salary to reflect his opportunity cost—he could have pitched in high-leverage situations, but he didn’t. I think the market is putting too much value on the “Closer” label.

Another factor is that better pitchers in earlier innings affect the leverage in later innings. So, a good starter preventing runs as an impact on reducing leverage later in the game by creating bigger leads. I’m not sure exactly how to value that. So, I believe that the proper method is to treat all pitcher innings the same, while acknowledging that some elite relievers have some extra value in that they could be used in more valuable spots. But this value doesn’t necessarily come from when they pitched in the past.

I’m also a believer in patchwork bullpens. Take a bunch of bad castoff starters, platoon them, and tell them to pitch as hard as they can.

Is Hank Aaron Leaving Atlanta for Chicago?

John Manasso writes on Hank Aaron’s role in Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp (SPAC), which is one of the final groups bidding to purchase the Chicago Cubs. The story was originally written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, but Sporting News Today also picked up the story, which you can read here for free as long as you register.

It’s hard to imagine the Braves without Hank Aaron, but it is a very real possibility. At the end of the story, I comment on Aaron’s potential role in the deal, as well as discuss why the Cubs and Wrigley Field are being sold separately.