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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re: Presentation

November 27, 2011

Ten Bonus Points to Dorrell Wright

The Birdman is served his thanksgiving turkey.

Apparently Dorrell Wright is a Christian.  A real, practicing Christian.  At least practicing in the sense that he mentions God when explaining his motivation for saving a Thanksgiving celebration for his community’s elderly and less fortunate.  Also practicing in the sense that he’s got to get ready for the season awwwwwwwwyyyyyeaaahhh!  Wright’s contract paid him 3.8 million last season, but it was his first year of a new, relatively lucrative contract.  While locked-out, fiscally imprudent players scrambled to cover their expenses without their expected paychecks, Wright not only stepped up, but showed up, stayed, and said all of the right things.  He diplomatically implied regrets from those on the other side of the lockout, suggesting that others wanted to step up.  But they didn’t.

'They question my birth certificate too, buddy.'

Perhaps Dorrell Wright should represent Albert Pujols.  Apparently, being a good Christian is part of the fraud that has made the career of Dan Lozano, Pujols current agent, whom he left top agent Scott Boras for.  In the deal made by Lozano when big Albert jumped to him, Pujols become the 30th highest paid player in the game, despite being an all-star in all 4 of his seasons and having been the 2nd runner-up for the NL MVP.  During the contract’s duration he would be MVP 3 times; as the 30th, 34th and 26th highest paid player for each of those years. Boras would have gotten more, and would probably get more this time around too. Dorrell Wright may not; but at least Albert would have a Christian in his corner.


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.


Where Nothing Happens

October 15, 2011

The above applies not to basketball as a whole, or even pro hoops, but rather the NBA.  That there is professional basketball that this does not apply to would have seemed, to many NBA fans not so long ago, a contradiction with the last statement.  Now we know better.  Sportsvssports will be proud to issue links to vendors who sell Besiktas jerseys if Kevin Durant joins DWill there.  Check out this list!  While things are happening in non-North American pro leagues, things are happening in the ‘labour dispute,’ or at least, the same thing is happening in it.

A lot of players have signed to play in Europe, China, or the Middle East.  There are pro leagues elsewhere, but NBA players, some of them significant, have been signed to teams in the traditional basketball countries of the Old World, plus apparently Denver Nuggets want to play in China.  I started making an ‘all-overseas’ team, but it really looks like two teams.  By my count there are currently 22 NBA players who have guaranteed rotation spots and name recognition who have bolted for ‘foreign’ squads, and almost as many who are close to inking deals.  Since there are only about 300 rotation players, who correspond almost exactly with the players who are known to fans*, this means there could easily be 13% or more of the league’s players who matter on overseas rosters by the time the first regular season game is actually missed.

This is very different from the last ‘labour stoppage,’ and sets up some interesting scenarios, including the only way sportsvssports sees the players getting anything out of the owners (here we go yo).  That best case scenario for the players involves a lot of them playing elsewhere, which the players union does not and cannot officially encourage.  If Durant signs with Besiktas, they will most certainly turn around and offer ESPN and/or competitors broadcast rights to the highest profile pro basketball games in the world. A network with the freedom to do so will jump all over it, and Euroleague basketball will ultimately end up on North American screens.  If this results in a big enough revenue jump to cause an ‘arms race’ in the European leagues, then the players may find themselves with the bargaining chip they needed all along: a paying alternative.

This is where I started ripping apart Chris Sheridan, before I realized that the first set of predictions on this blog was an unmitigated disaster, in which I pointed out even at the time that one of those predictions was completely obvious.  That’s the only one I got right.  The salient point is that no-one knows when it ends, right now.  Not Bill Walton (that grin is not because he knows something, it’s because he knows nothing), not Sheridan, and certainly not Hunter, Stern, or the rest of the nitwits at the bargaining table.  If they’re 3% off, which seems to be the case, then they are also $123 million apart for each year of the deal.  This is actually an overestimate, as basketball revenues will drop significantly as a result of this nonsense.  Also, there’s the minor detail of every other clause in the entire CBA, on which there is literally no indication that any binding agreements have been reached.  Gitmek Besiktas Gitmek!

*The exceptions are guys like Adam Morrison and Jimmer Freddette, who are not rotation players but live on in reputation as such because of ignorance.


What is the WNBA?

September 7, 2011

Part 3: I am a professional, but for my genitals!

Women are smaller than men.  I know; I always go for the throat right off the bat.  But stay with me now:  Dunks are exciting.  People who don’t like basketball might disagree, but an overwhelming majority of casual fans agree that, relative to, say, a well ordered pick and roll, a dunk is exciting.  For that reason, and possibly to draw more girls into sports participation, the WNBA should be folded.

There is no need to get bogged down in murky debates about ‘quality of play’ which will not help lead to fruitful conclusions.  The Spurs have been demonstrating the anesthetic quality of sound fundamentals for more than a decade now, so we don’t need to blame women for not dunking (Candice Parker excepted) or blame basketball fans for not ‘appreciating’ something something blahblahblah.  None of this is relevant.  What’s much more relevant is the lack of research to indicate what impact, if any, the league has had on participation.  Neither the WNBA or it’s big brother counterpart/financial backer is equipped to defend the WNBA on any grounds relating to social impact, or indeed anything at all other than hypothetical future profitability and current cash flow generation for stadium owners.  The former is fantasy, and as we saw when the Atlanta Thrashers moved, having an unviable team lease your arena isn’t necessarily any more profitable than monster trucks.

This moment sparked male conversation more than female participation.

The basic notion that women’s sport is enhanced by professional leagues is a claim which has been allowed as a sort of unspoken promise – the kind that never has to be delivered upon because it is never really made.  By supporting the WNBA, the NBA does not support women’s grassroots athletics.  It does not make girls healthier and better adjusted.  It does not balance societies’ inequities or create life opportunities.  Other sports have seen major increases in participation at different points in history, almost uniformly without any professional leagues being involved at all.  Women’s baseball, in gestation as it was in the AAGPBL, didn’t creep into the nation’s little leagues for more than a generation.  When my sister was an adolescent, she became able to choose between a softball league and a baseball league for girls.  I have literally never heard any argument that that choice came about because of the AAGPBL, nor (more importantly) that it could have happened sooner if helped by the presence of a women’s pro league.

The simple fact of the matter where youth rates of sports participation are concerned, is that sedentary childhood lifestyles have increased coincident with increases in television time and decreases in gym class time.  One may trump the other, or even be the only actual factor, but the information available is scant, is focused on fatness, and belies any claim to real serious-minded concern on the part of the sports industry or government.  The factors which influence the decision to participate in sports, both what they are and how they work, is a subject for research in the fields of sports psychology and sports sociology.  There may have been some research thus far, but it is apparently not enough to win the day, and actually get kids playing physical games outside in increasing amounts.

In the meanwhile, my suggestions can be found below, offered humbly, meaning without assurances that any would work.  Sure, if I was a 6’1 (6’3 in NBA press guide units) woman who could almost dunk and actually liked to play defense, I could make a career, and maybe get the league some thirsted-for ink, by throwing unconscionable elbows, dying my hair five colours, and pulling down some other woman’s shorts in the middle of a game.  It might sell tickets, but would it help women’s sport?  If we don’t want girls to play sports so that they look a certain way in a bikini, then we do not want the WNBA to succeed by the real and actual standard.  We want it to fail, and go away, and be replaced by something that actually engages women.

Suggestions for alternate ways to get encourage women’s sport:

  1. Increase P.E. hours.
  2. Increase extra-curricular sports availability (number of teams).
  3. Take the top half of the WNBA, and make it a touring, barnstorming series of weekend tournaments.   Coaching and actually meeting girls on Friday night and Saturday day, and then a few games Saturday evening and Sunday.
  4. Give Mom a role, and maybe some pointers, in a public campaign to get girls into games.
  5. Focus on different sports.  Baseball and rugby are two sports which became available to girls in my hometown within the last twenty years, having literally never before been offered.  That means the first generation of girls whose moms played these sports is just beginning life.
  6. Turn off the tv.

What is the WNBA?

August 29, 2011

Part 2: Baseball skirts and Centrefolds

Commercially speaking, women’s sports are largely about men’s sexual fantasies.  While men watch a lot more sports than women in general, there is data to suggest that women are more likely than men to attend a WNBA game, and also that television viewership for ‘the’ pro women’s league is close to 50/50.  For most sports the viewership ratio is more like 67/33.  The WNBA consistently loses money, and has to be supported by the male league, despite the fact that the highest salary in the WNBA is 1/255th that of the equivalent male hoops star salary (in other words ‘league costs’ are lower).

What does make money, and sometimes can relate to women in sports, is sex.  The names of the highest grossing female athletes can be rolled off the tongue of the average ESPN clicker, including Anna Kournikova, who’s 3.6 million in career winnings contribute to her 50 million net worth, but not Stefi Graf, who’s 21.9 million in WTA earnings represent most of her 30 million net worth.  In case the point is not clear: you can buy a swimsuit calendar of one but not the other.  The ranks of the richest include a lot of people like Kournikova, Katarinna Wit, and Danica Patrick.  To sum up; the best women athletes only make it into the ranks of the best paid if they have appeared in ‘suggestive’ ads or playboy.

Anna Kournikova is about to go swimming.

Mrs. Kournikova in her swimming shoes.

In hockey their are two examples of female professionals: Manon Rheume and Haley Wickenheiser.  The former went the route of sensation, but avoided overt sexualization, while the latter played in one of the most competitive leagues in the world and at least in some sense seemed to fit in.  Manon Rheume was generally acknowledged not to be a big league prospect in any sense while she was playing in a couple of exhibition games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team then as now in financial disarray.  Mrs. Rheume now runs a foundation named after herself supporting girl’s sporting ambitions.  There are a couple of relatively racy pictures of her on the internet, but relative to the big earners of women’s sport, the hockey pros come across as quite modest.

Baseball’s foray into female professionalism began during  WWII, and lasted a decade.  Women dressed in skirts played for money and played to an average of almost 1700 paying fans, just like the Marlins.  The AAGL played modified softball to begin with, and then shifted the ball and other rules towards baseball gradually.  It folded in 1954 after several years of declining revenues in a different social environment post-war.  The extent to which this league generated interest in ball amongst women and girls is difficult to assess, but as of 2004, fast-pitch softball was less popular by participation amongst high-school women than basketball, track and field, and volleyball.  We will return in the final installment to check in on the non-professional development of women’s soft and hardball.

For our present purposes the above survey is sufficient.  Women’s sport primarily makes money as a platform from which to use sex to advertise.  Would Kournikova have made 350 million in total if she had the same tournament earnings as Graf?  Of course not, the tennis has almost nothing to do with it.  None of this is should be shocking or even particularly new to sports fans, but the conclusions I would draw from it are probably new to many.

Because women’s team sports do not occasion sex symbols, they do not generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.  Therefore they should not exist as a commercial product.  Because the profit from women’s participation in individual sports is so heavily tied to sex, promoting those sports promotes sexual objectification and inequality.  Those who support women in sport, therefore, should discourage and ignore women’s pro sports, in general, if not altogether.

Recommended further reading:

Demographics of sports fans on social networks.

WNBA tv ratings and how much they kill NHL ratings by.

Book on women in baseball.


Dem Bums (2 of 2)

July 31, 2011

It’s around this time, when the Dodgers’ ownership is a matter to be decided by divorce court, that a noted investigative journalism brand publicizes rumours that Frank and Jamie have been siphoning money from the Dodgers.  Now desperate for money, Frank McCourt takes the legal firm that drew up the aforementioned marriage property agreement to court, and then uses the theoretical capital that will produce as collateral in securing an emergency loan from a hedge fund.  He also enters into a loan agreement with Fox which involves his personal finances, and signs a television rights extension with the same company which includes 385 million in upfront cash.  This and the loans (we imagine Mr. McCourt telling himself) will be enough to get the Dodgers by until Rafael Furcal miraculously heals and leads them to the World Series, and accompanying riches.

It is at this point that Bud Selig felt compelled to move in, claiming in essence that someone who might not own something (pending legal decision) cannot make major decisions about its future, and also that financing, even in an emergency, must be done and not done in certain ways.  Frank McCourt had reached a divorce settlement with a portion of the 385 million going to Jamie McCourt, and allowing Selig the easy claim that “Critically, the transaction is structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt.”  This decision effectively foreclosed the possibility of the Dodgers making their June payroll, so Frank put the team into chapter 11 bankruptcy as of June 27.  At the same time, they told the overseer appointed by MLB that he was not needed, or indeed welcome, at Dodger stadium, and the next day MLB was in the bankruptcy court with McCourt, where it was determined that the hedge fund loan could be used temporarily, at least until a July 20 hearing at which the league would attempt to take over financing the team.

At that hearing, it was ruled that the hedge fund money could no longer be used, but that McCourt must finance the team through MLB.  This hearing also leaked out the nugget that Frank may have issues with the IRS, who will have to get in line with Fox, who intends to sue everyone in town if the rights deal they negotiated with McCourt earlier doesn’t go through.  The court will attempt to decide the TV rights issue in August, which in turn will determine whether McCourt has the cash to pay back his loan, settle with his ex, and start regaining control of the Dodgers.  Even if he does manage to do these things, Frank McCourt still has to defeat Jamie in court for full ownership to avoid selling, which is what MLB wants to happen at this point anyway.

So the reason that this storied franchise has gone bankrupt is because their owner didn’t have adequate reserves to operate in the event of a cash flow crunch, even before what has become a protracted and messy divorce.  The cash flow crunch itself seems to be caused by a reduction in income from gate, combined with a staggering accumulation of payments to players who no longer contribute to the team.  In other words, those really paying attention saw the writing on the wall around the time Andruw Jones’ and Manny Ramirez’ contracts turned sour.

Use the handy scorecard below to follow along with the case as it winds its way through the (Mc)court system:

PARTY                        CONTRIBUTION                        LIKELY REWARD

Frank McCourt             Parking lot                                   Bud Selig

Jamie McCourt           Divorce papers                  Manny Ramirez money

Andruw Jones                Stinking                                  11.1 million

Manny Ramirez         Cheating, stinking                       20.9 million

Bud Selig                   Overseer, unwanted loan         Frank McCourt

Fox                        Broadcasting, original seller         Parking lot.

Probably everything else.

Matt Kemp                 .312, 24HR, 75RBI                         Rihanna