Miami investigated by SEC/ MLB free agent predictions.

December 5, 2011

You think for a moment that the South East Conference must finally be investigating ‘the U,’ but wait a minute; the Hurricaines don’t play in the SEC!  No; it’s the Securities and Exchange Commission, and this MLB franchise investigation doesn’t involve Bernie Madoff.  It involves the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County issuing over $480 million in bonds to build a stadium for a team which would not show them its financial documents.  Oh yeah; they signed Jose Reyes and Heath Bell!  That’s actually the punchline, in that area taxpayers get the two players in a trade — for municipal service and job cuts.

That’s right, the city and county are broke.  The Marlins, however, are not broke and never have been.  They blew up their last World Series winning team immediately, citing the certainty that it would happen anyway, given their poverty.  That poverty, it turns out, was a savvy hoax.  The team playing in a football stadium with a consistent and predictably terrible win-loss record was making money, and hiding it in Fastowian ways.  It should be mentioned around this time that current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria once sold a Major League Baseball team to Major League Baseball, which is kind of like somehow convincing Ford Motor Company to buy your old lemon.  Between that and the sweetheart deal that Washington gave the ‘spos to become the Nat’s, people might start to realize that Bud not only knew, but has abetted the whole ‘tell ‘em your poor and you might have to skip town’ scheme from the get-go.

As always, the Devil is in the details.  What?  You though the almost half a billion was the devil?  Sadly, it is not.  Jeff Passan actually gives a very good treatment to this scandal, with good links (including to one of the sources above).  Anwyay, as you can see from his article, that 480 million is actually estimated to be close to two and a half billion dollars, once the interest is paid and the thing is finally amortized.  Of course, in the meantime, the city and county duke it out over which of them (obviously not Loria and the Marlins) will pay the property tax on the parking garages attached to the stadium.

The people’s view of this is pretty clear, with the mayor at the time of the deal being recalled and summarily booted.  The article linked to in the last sentence also refers to the Reagan era tax-code changes that in part enabled so many of these kinds of shenanigans, but the people, like Mike Stanton in the outfield, have yet to catch that one.

There is a final element to this joke, and that is in those financial records leaked to Deadspin.  While Paul Beeston once said ‘Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me’ (Passan), the Marlins actually showed their profit.  In other words, if they’d ever seen the books, the former mayor and all his peers in incompetence would have seen it, in black and white.  Not red.  Just black and white.  And anyway, what was Loria going to do?  Move the team?  To where?  Montreal?

***

With Berkman and three closers (Papelbon, Nathan, and Bell) getting things started, here are the sportsvssports 2011 MLB off-season predictions:

Albert Pujols – St. Louis (Lozano flops again)

Prince Fielder – Chicago Cubs

CJ Wilson – New York Mets

Roy Oswalt – Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish – Hokkaido

Jose Reyes – Florida  (Done pending physical)

Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia

Mark Buerhle – Washington

Aramis Ramirez – Los Angeles Angels

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Sports in Books: Moneyball

October 23, 2011

Bill James by Paul Hoppe

When a book changes its subject, that book becomes a messy subject for review, particularly as time and influence pile on.  With that, and sportsvssports substitution of tangent for style in mind, this post will attempt to disregard Moneyball as historical artifact.  It is the pivotal document in which a sabermetric approach to baseball management was introduced to the public.  This post is about whether or not you want to read it.

Moneyball is a drama in four parts.  The first is a compelling tragedy of failed promise.  Billy Beane is tragically too smart for his own good.  Later plot twists reveal that this was never actually the case, and the exposure of the real reason unfolds like a darkly comic mystery.  The characters tend to be fairly funny on their own, so author Michael Lewis lets them speak for themselves to positive effect.  The rest of the writing is good; even by the standards of non-sports books.

“James was forever moaning about the paucity of information kept by major league baseball teams.” (82)

When the topic turns to the development of new statistics by amateurs, Moneyball does not become either slower or dryer, again due to the deft technical construction of Lewis, and because he knows when to let Bill James, a sort of ‘enfant terrible’ of fantasy sports nerds, do the talking.  While the outcomes are known all along by the reader, Moneyball maintains its dramatic tension by making a character of the idea; Billy Beane and Bill James are presented as basically mentor and champion, the Merlin and Lancelot of the true King.  In this way the relation between the idea and the myriad baseball people influenced by it holds the reader to the travails of Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford.  When a memorable scene unfolds between Ron Washington, Ray Durham and Thad Bosley, the idea looms like another physical presence which ads irony to the scene.

“Ray’s now engaged.  He’s like an American tourist who has just discovered the German on the train next to him is a long-lost cousin.  ‘It’s different here, huh?’ he says.” (265)

It is the growth of the character which Lewis makes of the idea which gives Moneyball its appeal.  While Billy Beane sometimes has the appearance of an outsider taking on the world, he is the heir to a playoff team, while the idea is heir to nothing.  Moneyball is unusual for a non-fiction book, in that it takes place in a short space of time, involving people all in one country, while being about the survival of an idea.

People who can’t deal with baseball, and who know and care nothing for its mythology will not care.  People who can’t watch a baseball game will not have the patience for what is after all a baseball book.  People who play fantasy sports, or baseball, or ever wished they were a GM, and still haven’t read it, should.  Moneyball is still enlightening, still interesting, and most importantly, still fun to read.


Good News/ Bad news Pt. 2: How Caron Butler saved the big leagues. (assists: M. Recchi, T. Thomas) 6:14

June 23, 2011

Big league team owners are people too.  They are wealthy people, who have business empires to run and pensions to fund, but people none the less.  They are also competitive, although they are not necessarily sportsmen.  Therefore, they are prone to making the decision to take their ball and go home, if they feel slighted.  And that is how Caron Butler saved the big leagues.  Still not clear?

The good news is that the numbers are in, and people love their pro sports on tv!  Wait; is that good news?  The ratings for the NBA finals are up.  Way up.  The same for the NHL.  The numbers can be sliced and diced any which way, but it is good for both the NHL and NBA that two larger markets long absent from the finals had teams competing in the last game (though some more than others), and compelling storylines abound in both cases, keeping the teams on front pages, putting ‘Burrows’ and ‘Barea’ on lips that had never known them before.  At the expiration of the collective bargaining agreements of both leagues, the pie to be divvied up is growing, so perhaps both sides in both negotiations will be in a mood more conducive to deals than they would otherwise be.  Each sport also has had a potentially disturbing trend rising, both having ramifications on the relationship between salary-cap and financial regulations in general, and the ability of teams to compete.

In the NHL, contracts with bizarre lengths of duration have been proliferating, and Roberto Luongo’s is a prime example.  The slap on the wrists of the New Jersey Devils for this goes part of the way towards addressing this silly trend, but the total collapse under pressure of a trio of stars, one of whom possesses this team-finance-strangling deals, will do even more.  It will hold forth the Boston model of building patiently through the draft and US College signings and annually fleecing the Toronto Maple Leafs, rather than just throwing the most money at the biggest names.  In the NBA, a trio of players tried to decide the trophy by collaborating.  They failed, and now the clock is on Chris Bosh’s knees and ankles.  If they had won, it would not only have signaled the possible beginning of a dynasty, but also virtually guaranteed the construction of at least one or two more ‘superfriends’ teams, all in ‘major markets’ where the promise of the most sponsorship money is found.  Remembering that the Knicks and Lakers, the Mavs and Bulls were already not going to be the ‘hard line’ teams in the CBA negotiation, teams like Utah and Portland would be faced with an easier decision to cancel games if they felt their chances of winning the title had been foreclosed on already.  This may seem unrealistically petty, until you consider that the average playoff series nets each team several million in revenue, while most of their costs remain fixed.  NBA teams that don’t get out of the first round must have unusual circumstances to turn a profit each year.

Why does it matter that the Heat lost?  Because the NBA’s middle markets were on the brink of joining the smallest markets in an epic fit of whining, as they became all too painfully aware that their chances of winning it all had been reduced to nil for the foreseeable future.  But the Heat didn’t win, and as his team won Caron Butler in a suite was the most cut-too fan of all.  He’s also a two-time all star, younger than a couple of the lynchpins, and relatively capable of defending Dwayne Wade or LeBron James.  More so than say Jason Terry, or Dirk.

So there Caron Butler will be, next year, for 82 games, the third or fourth leader on the defending champions: preserver of labour peace.  Instead of heading into the offseason and labour negotiations filled with bitterness and acrimony, NBA and NHL ‘communities’ will move forward with more positive questions in mind:  Can Dallas repeat with a healthy Butler?  How many games does Rask start in net for Boston next year?  Is Mark Recchi a hall of famer?  We love the big leagues.


Migratory Patterns of the Short-Sighted Hockey Franchise

March 2, 2011

Jets ’95-’96 11,300 / 1.37 = 8,248 equivalent fans in us dollars

Coyotes ’96-’97 15,200 * 1.375 = 20,900

Coyotes ’09-’10 12,000 / 1.08 = 11,111

Nordiques early ‘90s 14,300 / 1.25 = 11,440

Avalanche ’99-’00 (new arena) 18,000 * 1.485 = 26,730

Avalanche late ‘aughts 15,900 / 1.05 = 15,142

*= max capacity

Look like a bell-curve; doesn’t it?  Yup.  It’s a couple’a good ol’ fashioned bell curves.  If you asked a person who was brilliant with math and economics but new nothing about hockey what would they tell you?  The future.

It is easy to sympathize with cities losing their hockey teams to cities which have tenuous histories with big league hockey.  Even before Atlanta was given its second kick at the National Hockey League can (tallboy, obviously), traditionally strong hockey areas felt ripped off, but a lot of blame was placed on the dollar, and I can’t find a quote but I’m sure that included by people within the organizations.  This must have seemed less plausible to people in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, where teams made money even in the worst of times.  As some of the variables have changed since the NHL relocations and expansions of the mid nineties, we can see that the dollar really was temporarily screwing some teams, and we can draw some pretty solid conclusions about what will happen over the near future to some of the league’s more troubled organizations.

All things are not equal, of course.  Addressing the NHL’s consistent inability to garner television network coverage like that of the NBA, NFL or MLB has long seemed a top priority of the commissioner’s office.  Perhaps it was thought that truly national coverage by the league, geographically, was the greatest, or even the only hurdle to achieving the desired television coverage.  We now know at least the latter to be untrue.  The league is all over the south now, but coverage continues to mostly consist of Sunday afternoons.  Is this a problem?  I certainly don’t care.  Some of the league’s southern teams, however, will depend on that revenue and publicity, even if they don’t already.  Of course, the ones which are making money are also losing money.

This issue appears to me to be related to the headshots issue, which is related to the brawl issue, but that is a matter for another day.  The current concern is how this seeming legacy-building project on the part of Bettman and Co. is effecting the ability of hockey crazed Winnipegers and Hartford . . . um . . .ers to enjoy top level hockey.  This is where the numbers up top come in.  It is certainly plausible that the NHL people who let ‘market forces’ move teams South never expected the Loonie to rise above the value of the American dollar, but if so that would simply indicate another way in which NHL brass have failed to plan effectively for the future.  The cold, hard numbers suggest that both the Jets and Nordiques would make enough from their home gate to be not just solvent, but economically competitive, now that the exchange rate has changed.  But is the home gate what matters?

Now we return, full circle, to the question of whether a lucrative American network television deal is a) realistic, and b) worth changing the criteria for what makes a city worthy of the honour of being an NHL franchises’ home.  If not for the striking clarity with which question a) has been answered negatively, question b) might be an interesting conundrum.  As it is it is irrelevant.  Nashville and Tampa and Dallas got teams, and the games showed up nationally in the USA on the Outdoor Life Network or not at all.

The sad fact of the matter is that when those articles appeared explaining the mechanics of the Fox puck, the success of the great NHL foray into Confederate territory peaked.  Now that it has waned, franchises like Florida and Atlanta are guaranteed money pits, the Coyotes are owned by the league (what does this even mean?  Post coming soon. . .), and the Avalanche may as well be in Quebec.  If you agree, I will signal you when to write the NHL asking that I be made commissioner, during the upcoming hockey ‘labour dispute.’

PS.   I personally consider every team below 80% capacity on this list in danger of moving or folding.  Long term.  You know.