Ray Ratto

Miami is the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball

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AP

Miami is the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball

There is a place no commissioner dares go in the modern world, and that is to pick a fight with an owner’s financial prerogatives.

But Rob Manfred is faced with that very problem now – all because Bruce Sherman has been allowed to gut the Miami Marlins for what by one count is the fifth time in the franchise’s 25-year history.

Clearly the time has come for him to address with his 30 employers the conundrum of the age, namely this:

What is more important to the business, a large market systematically robbed and disregarded, or a billionaire?

Usually, this would be an easy choice – the billionaire. It is how Jeffrey Loria passed muster by waving money in the face of Montreal Expos owner Claude Brochu, then swapped the team out for the one in Florida so that John Henry could get out from under the Marlins and buy into the Boston Red Sox. The money always wins.

But Miami is now all but mined out as a baseball city – never strong in the best of times, which were few enough, but particularly degraded in the last decade and change, first by Loria and now by Sherman. The trades of Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton and, in all likelihood, Marcell Ozuna, all for payroll relief, is a story as familiar as it is craven – the baseball team as ATM.

The argument that the Marlins are just starting over to fix an untenable situation doesn’t fly, of course, because Sherman’s undercapitalized position as owner is something the other 29 owners knew when they raced his approval through the process to be rid of Loria. The idea of MLB taking over the team, as it essentially did when Loria sold them the Expos, was never considered, certainly not at the $1.2 billion price tag.

In other words, they got rid of a problem by assuming the same problem, and the cost is the viability of baseball in southern Florida. Given the minimal relocation options, and the clear bad-faith lawsuit that would await them if they left Miami with a stadium the city paid for, relocation is unlikely, thus leaving the Marlins crippled forever.

Surely the owners must know that this is a strategy that only benefits Sherman when he sells, probably sooner rather than later, and maybe that’s what the owners all want to see – a franchise that can’t fail no matter how comprehensively it fails.

Whatever Manfred may feel about it personally, his job description requires that he bite his tongue. It is not his job to undo what his employers have done -- that's how Fay Vincent got run off.

But, and the owners should have to recognize the danger of their short-term view, this is now the NFL has reached its current crisis – by telling the customers that the entire endeavor is only about the care and feeding of the owners. That doesn’t endure over the long haul.

Or maybe it does. Maybe capitalism has reached its logical extreme in sports, celebrating not the games and its players but saluting one more festival of arbitrage. Maybe all the games should be shown on CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV rather than the current networks.

In the meantime, Miami maintains its status as the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball, and given how close we are to Oakland, that’s saying something.

 

Sabean's return: Giants want team's dominant mind to be dominant again

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AP

Sabean's return: Giants want team's dominant mind to be dominant again

Brian Sabean’s return to the con in San Francisco, as first reported by noted troublemaker and barista A. Baggarly in The Athletic, is not a turn back to the past as much as it is a demand for a better future.

That is, unless the Giants sign Tim Lincecum, in which case you never read Paragraph One.

But Sabean’s return means that Giants ownership (presumably president Larry Baer and major stockholder Charlie Johnson) wants the team’s dominant baseball mind to be dominant again.

This of course generates rich speculation about current general manager Bobby Evans’ future, but that probably is beside the point . . . at least through the current calendar year. This isn’t really about Evans specifically anyway – it’s about ownewrship’s impatience, fear of a worrisome unknown and need for the comfort of the man who succeeded.

The Giants are at a similar fork in the highway as they were when Sabean first took the job in 1997. The 1996 Giants were 68-94, older chronologically against the league average, offensively substandard and horrific as a pitching staff. A year later, they won 90, got younger, improved in both areas, and then did it again in 1998. From that turnaround, they began what can fairly be described as the franchise’s renaissance, which finally ended last year with what in the eyes of most baseball experts and all meaningful metrics was the fourth worst year in the franchise’s 136-year history.

And because Sabean actually never left daily contact with the team and its decision-makers, this isn’t your standard chase for past glories fixation. It is, however, a measure of how little patience the Giants are willing to be with their present predicament.

But mostly, this is the team understanding that its ability to identify, develop and lure young talents is what saved it at the turn of the century and will have to do so again at the turn of the decade if they intend to make 2017 a blip rather than a harbinger.

The Giants could conceivably spend their way back into relevance, but their money wasn’t good enough for Giancarlo Stanton when every other suitor would be paying exactly the same number, and for that matter neither was their reliance on “We won three rings and we have a full stadium.” That they thought their past could work more than their present with a player who is looking for a future is a sign that they have over-relied on the lure of the good old days.

So they want that changed . . . with the guy who built those good old days. If that seems inconsistent, well, it is. But impatience and fear are going to do what they do, and Brian Sabean is as good an answer as they are likely to find. Which is why they found it.

Eight things that should happen during NBA All-Star Weekend

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AP

Eight things that should happen during NBA All-Star Weekend

The NBA All-Star Game under any format is as hot a mess as the sport can produce, but it is all NBA fans have this weekend. Sorry, no Nets-Suns for you.

But for those of you who need more than the Celebrity Game, the Dunk Contest, the Three-Point Competition and the Magic-Johnson-Gagged-And-Nailgunned-To-His-Chair-So-He-Doesn’t-Get-Caught-Tampering-With-Everyone-On-Both-Rosters Challenge, here are some things that either haven’t happened before or happened so long ago that they should happen again.

- One or both teams should score 200. The 196 scored by the West two years ago was educational enough, and the 192-182 West win last year set a new record for combined points, so this seems like the time for one team to go for two bills. I mean, if you’re going to make the game senseless, why not go all the way?

- Someone should challenge Nikola Jokic’s freshly-minted record for fastest triple double in league history. He did the deed Thursday night against Milwaukee in a stunning (even by Westbrookian standards) 14:33, beating the old record set in – oh for God’s sake – 1955 by Jim Tucker of the Syracuse Nationals. There have only been four triple doubles in All-Star Games, most recently by Kevin Durant last year, but he needed 27 minutes to do so. This is simply slothful indolence, especially in a game with 374 points.

- The two teams should combine for 300 shots. The current high is 286, set two years ago, in a game in which 16 of the 24 players jacked up at least 10. After all, there are standards we have grown accustomed to seeing.

- Someone should be forced to play all 48 minutes as a commemorative hat-tip to the new rest-conscious players and coaches, in honor of the glorious Miami-Philadelphia game at the end of the 2015 season in which the 76ers, who were trying to lose all their games, let Joel Embiid draw up plays during time outs and the Heat in response played six players, four of them (Michael Beasley, Henry Walker, James Ennis and Tyler Johnson) for all 48.

- Stephen Curry, who struggled to make the play he drew up work the other night, should designate Embiid to draw one up Sunday. He is, after all, the game's most experienced player-coach.

- Someone should get ejected as a cheery sendoff to the bad old days between officials and players that will have ended with their happy peace talks this weekend. No player has ever been tossed from an All-Star Game, and Red Auerbach is the only coach, having been tossed in the 1967 game (played at Our Beloved Cow Palace) by official Willie Smith. And if the players won’t go that extra mile for your entertainment (we’re looking at you, Draymond Green), the least one can do is to foul out as an homage to Hakeem Olajuwon, the last player to do so in 1987.

- Cleveland general manager Koby Altman should perform an in-game trade, just to show he isn’t a one-trick pony.

- And finally, Adam Silver should bet on the game as an olive branch to his friends in the gaming industry who think ill of him for that 1% integrity fee gouge. And a helpful hint, A.S. – bet the over; it’s 346. That should get done in three quarters.