Ray Ratto

The Oakland A's are a team that cries poverty but ingests wealth


The Oakland A's are a team that cries poverty but ingests wealth

It should come as much less than a surprise that when the Major League Baseball Players Association filed grievances over four teams who have pocketed rather than used their revenue sharing money for the product that one of those four would be the Oakland Athletics.

After all, the A’s have been taking in revenue sharing while tamping down its payroll for the entire century to date, never ranking in the top half in 40-man roster salaries and only above the 25th percentile four times, according to the kind people at Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and the 2018 payroll is about $15 million lower than 2017, according to Spotrac.

It is, however, unclear what the union can do about it given that Major League Baseball (a) is resisting to grievance and (b) has essentially acknowledged the A’s quasi-misfeasance by slowly choking off their revenue share.

While the handy dodge that teams like the A’s (and Pirates and Florida teams) like to use is that they are plowing the money into development, not much of use has been developed that sees the light of the major league club. But it has always been thus with the A’s under John Fisher, and Steve Schott before him – the A’s have been moderate to generous cash cows, and only intermittently have plowed the earnings back into the visible product.

While we have a side in baseball’s is-it-money-or-is-it-art debate, we won’t bore you with it here. The fact is, unless an arbitrator sees the wisdom of punishing Oakland’s post-Walter Haas history, they will remain as they have been – a team that cries poverty but ingests wealth. The club’s inability and/or unwillingness top find a stadium site only compounds the problem, because when the revenue sharing fairy stops visiting in 2020, they will become a big league team in that they are responsible for their own money.

Except for the lucrative local and national TV and radio splits. Except for the MLBAM split, which pays each team a minimum of $50 million per year. Except for all the other things that keep the A’s as green as their caps.

In short, the MLBPA grievance may be neck-deep in merit, but it doesn’t change the central truth that the A’s have been, are currently, and always going to be on scholarship because they have concluded that there is more financial merit to not spending to lose than spending to win. That is, until the new stadium is built in 2150. Once that happens – bow howdy, will they be rolling in it.

You know. Like they are now.

One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament


One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament

College basketball peaked last week, as it typically does. There were 52 games, many of them hilariously delightful, only a few of them viewing slogs, and the sturdiest pillars of the narrative temple as it relates to the remaining 16 teams are:

* A 98-year-old nun who also functions as an unpaid assistant coach.

* A head coach who curses on air, gets soaking wet after wins and confesses that he worries about peeing himself on the sideline.

* A new version of the old debate about whether your view of Syracuse’s zone defense defines you as a basketball fan.

* Your dead bracket.

The nun, the glorious Sister Jean of Loyola Chicago, is new, and so is Eric Musselman (except in northern California, where he’s had pretty much every available pro job). But Jim Boeheim’s murderous zone defense, which he has employed since the Hoover administration, remains the litmus test about how you like your college basketball served.

Think of it as your AARP ID, if you must. It’s old-fashioned, it isn’t easy to watch, but it works.

And all the fun of a bracket that has more teams below the 4-seed than at or above it . . . well, Week Two is when most of that traditionally self-corrects. Even this year, there is the very real possibility that the gutty little underdog in San Antonio could be . . .

. . . wait for it . . .


And no, this is not the proof that the selection committee got it wrong. Not that they got it right – they’re pretty much not qualified based on work experience to do the job anyway, and their ability to ignore logical criteria at will to get a desired team or result is a long-standing tradition of this three-week bacchanal.

But if there is a useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend, it is that it is not yet a sign that the revolution is underway or that the meek are inheriting the earth. If you ignore the seed math and look at the names next to the seeds, you still see the same basketball powers. In other words, the bracket will normalize as it always does, the power in the sport is never far away from the seat of that power, and those of you who root for the meek – well, your hope that charm can beat muscle rests on Eric Musselman and Sister Jean.

And the NCAA Tournament is not the vehicle to bet that prop.


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference

If you’re a progressive thinker, the only thing that can save the Pacific 12 Conference from the grossest form of humiliation is for one of the six schools it sent to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament – Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State – to make a deep run. In Stanford’s case, to become the first four-seed to win a title.

If you’re a more desperate type, it is to hope that Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington wins the NIT. Nobody will know it, but we did say “desperate.” And if you need to get to Utah in the Women’s NIT . . .

Well, you get the point. The Pac 12 is the first conference to bow out of the NCAA Tournament before the first weekend since the Big 12 was first formed in 1996-7. And because nobody remembers this sort of stuff year to year, it wipes out last year, when the conference went 9-4 and sent Oregon to the Final Four.

And when we say “sent,” we mean no such thing. In the NCAA Tournament, and in college sports in general, teams achieve. Conferences just get their cut.

Still, as the college sports industry is still covered based on the rules of tribalism, where the keeping of scores breaks down by laundry first and then by affiliation, the Pac-12 has been historically God-awful, which for things referencing the deity is a considerable stretch. Not only did they send only three teams to the NCAA Tournament and saw them evaporate before Friday dawned, they were 1-8 in bowl games, the worst record of any major conference since forever.

Plus, there’s the FBI, plus there’s the ongoing sense that the Pac-12 is the last of the Power 5 and getting worse, plus there’s the fact that it isn’t in the Southeast or Midwest, where this stuff really matters.

But we noticed it on Thursday because people kept bringing it up, especially after Arizona was owned by Buffalo despite having the putative top draft pick in DeAndre Ayton and specifically because a Sean Miller-coached team was so poor defensively.

And now comes the fun of watching the 12 conference university presidents panic as the other presidents make fun of them in the mahogany playground in which they all play. And don’t think that doesn’t happen. College sports is a big business played by kids for the financial benefit of older kids who keep score on things like this.

So the women start Saturday, and in a just and fair society that would get sufficient attention and play enough games to make the conference members feel better about themselves. We don’t have that society yet, so for the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference, and won’t get a chance to prove otherwise until December.

But hey, at least their task force on the structural future of college basketball was received . . . well, with a tepidness unknown to mankind. So yeah, they're on a hell of a roll.