Ray Ratto

The biggest problem with what Bill James said about baseball players

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AP

The biggest problem with what Bill James said about baseball players

Bill James, one of the founding fathers of baseball analytics, is not an idiot, despite what he said about Major League Baseball players being replaceable. Technically, after all, he is correct, because all baseball players except those current active have in fact been replaced.
 
But of course, that isn’t what he’s saying at all, and not what he said in a Twitter discussion. Here, indeed, is what he did say:
 
“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”
 
Now THIS is idiotic, and given that he is a consultant for the Boston Red Sox, who just won the World Series with 25 particularly gifted beer vendors, a source of great embarrassment to his employers (they pay for his consultation time, after all). It was at least embarrassing enough to him that he deleted it later, and has been doing the Twitter perp walk today to clarify, expand and, in some cases, limit his remarks.
 
In short, he replaced his remarks.
 
The Red Sox fled his first bit of typing immediately, of course, given that they have built a team they wish to maintain with people one of their contributing brains regarded, at least in one context, as “replaceable” by commingling them with anyone who can yell, “BEER!” repeatedly while walking up and down stairs.
 
And don’t get me wrong here. Beer vendors are fine and contributing members of society, and part of the entertainment that surrounds baseball. We hail them, their throats, and their arches.
 
But James dismissed them as replaceable, too, even though which is exactly the kind of logic one would expect to hear when collective bargaining negotiations begin, either with the Major League Baseball Players Association or with the concessions unions.
 
The problem, of course, is not that James said something silly/stupid, or that he retreated from it. That happens all the time.
 
It is that baseball is in a particularly fragile state culturally, and the idea that players are interchangeable is diametrically opposed to where the market of professional sports consumption is heading. 
 
In other words, baseball is not in a place to want to get smarmy about its product, even if the smarmer in question is “only a consultant” rather than an employee, a distinction the Red Sox took great care to make in its statement of repudiation of James’ analysis of players’ market value.
 
But even more than that, James’ gift to baseball is analytical, and measuring players and their deeds and making projections from those measurements is what made him worth hearing in a baseball context. All that work flies in the face of a statement that can and has been construed to lump them all into a congealed heap of disposableness.
 
Willie McCovey was by no means replaceable in any context, which is why the Giants held a memorial service for him before thousands at the ballpark Thursday. Mookie Betts is by no means replaceable because the city of Boston feted him and his teammates in a gigantic parade through its streets.
 
And baseball is popular entertainment, and entertainment is built on the basic notion that some people are exceptional at a thing other people wish to enjoy and perhaps even pay for the ability to see or hear. Those exceptional people may be replaceable in the biological sense, but not in any rational cultural sense.
 
Thus, James’ walk-back recognizes both the wasp hive he disturbed and the flaws in his expression. But the original words will linger far longer than his mea culpae, and will be referenced when the fun and games of collective bargaining negotiations begin. In short, he said something which ignored nuance and created an unintended and emotional backlash.
 
In short, not very analytical at all. 

Why 2019 will be the Year of Real Estate for Bay Area sports teams

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AP

Why 2019 will be the Year of Real Estate for Bay Area sports teams

There are lots of ways 2019 can go, sporty-wise, and this won’t be one of those insipid end-of-year columns predicting anyone’s future, or making resolutions for them, or even pretending its actually 2020 and looking back at 2019. The present is difficult enough for all of us, as you might have guessed by reading and listening to us all these years.
 
No, here you will get something you actually know will be true. Oh, it’ll still be insipid, but you can’t have everything, at least not at these prices. So here goes next to nothing.
 
In 2019, the major story in these parts will be real estate. Stadium real estate.
 
Oh, there will be games, to be sure – 700 pro events, give or take the odd postseason game, hundreds of college events not including the annual Alabama-Clemson game, and all the weird offseason dramas about who’s signing with whom and who isn’t going to like it and how many millions will be burned to make this whole pageant work.
 
But it’s still stadium stuff that will be of the most impact, and unless that sort of thing starts your engine, this could be a pretty dry year. Nothing sucks quite like stadium suck. The story seems to last forever, it often has no resolution, and when it does, it means prices are going up or availability is going down. But let’s do the walkthrough.
 
1.        The Oakland Raiders are playing somewhere in 2019, but nobody knows where yet, which is so very Raiders. Only they can institutionalize homelessness because only they work by the seat of their pants this often while pretending to a team whose “greatness is in its future.” 
2.        The Golden State Warriors are moving west and going to tell us all about it every day to the point that we may forget that there’s a basketball team attached to the new place. There’s no telling how much longer their dynasty will last, but it will happen against a backdrop of seat licenses and tickets for games that you can’t see.
3.        The San Francisco Giants are celebrating the 20th year at their park by seeing the Warriors move next door and start poaching event customers, while trying to decide if it needs the Raiders to chew up the field of their 75-win baseball team.
4.        The Oakland Athletics are going to keep futzing around the Howard Terminal site until they actually commit to ordering a shovel, which is when we can finally take them at face value on this matter.
5.        The San Francisco 49ers have to figure out how to hide all the empty seats that have framed their work product for the last five years because while their stadium may be a cash cow, cows are not particularly telegenic.
 
It’s not all stadiums everywhere, though. Our local colleges don’t have the building itch, the Sacramento Kings don’t factor into this because they’ve already done the arena thing and are finally crafting a team worthy of the building, and the San Jose Sharks, maybe uniquely, don’t want a new building even though theirs is more than 25 years old.
 
Yes, don’t want a new building. Owner Hasso Plattner, the German billionaire who bought the team because he likes hockey even though he still lives mostly in Germany, negotiated a new lease three years ago that runs through 2025 and pays $0 in rent in exchange for somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million in upgrades to keep SAP Center. That doesn’t mean they won’t want something new in the future on someone else’s dime, just that they have been silent on building matters since 2015 and remain so now.
 
But the Raiders in and of themselves are such a roaringly hot mess geographically that they may be the first team in the post-merger era (1970) to have nobody want them at all, and that’s a story in and of itself. The latest development is that two members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a Supervisor-elect came out last week opposing the Giants potentially undercutting Oakland by picking up their team for a quick four-month slap-and-tickle.
 
This might drag Levi’s Stadium back into the whither-the-Raiders debate, even though neither landlord (Jed York) nor tenant (Mark Davis) seem to want anything to do with each other. And it keeps Oakland as the favorite to house the team for its true farewell season . . . that is unless the stadium in Las Vegas gets stalled for some unforeseen (or very foreseen, as these things go) reason.
 
The A’s remain in the Coliseum for the next few years, but have to advance beyond the artist’s rendering stage for the Howard Terminal version of their new park, which as we know isn’t a stage at all but merely watercolor sketches. What they do from this point on is the hard part, and there are skeptics who believe they might chuck it all in anyway, beg to relocate out of the area and throw themselves on the sandpapery mercies of Commissioner Rob Manfred, who remembers that the A’s voted against him when he was running for commissioner after Bud Selig’s retirement. Either way, that’s a year-long talker, too.
 
As for the Warriors, they will now move to the waterfront palace Joe Lacob cares about more than basketball, and if you think that won’t bring added pressure to the already exhaustive matter of keeping the dynasty fueled and stocked, you haven’t seen the way Lacob can agonize over a second-quarter turnover against the Suns.
 
Most of this will not be true in 2020. The Warriors will be fully embedded in the city, the Raiders will be moving-vanned to Nevada and the A’s will either be staring at a hole in the ground or have to explain why they’re not. By 2020 the 49ers will have to show tangible signs that they can get this football thing right and maybe put more of their seats to use, and the Giants will be a year into their rebuild and the simultaneous fight with the Warriors for non-baseball events.
 
Some of those problems will be resolved in 202 for good or ill, and we can move on to the games and the players and the coaching and the drama and the rumors and the gambling and all the other things that make us care as much as we do about spectator sport. Hell, we might even get a firing or two just to break up the monotony.
 
But for the most part, 2019 is about where we watch just as much as what we watch. Were I you, I’d drink. This could get . . . well, insipid. 

What Raiders, 49ers had in common proves Bay Area can endure football

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USATSI

What Raiders, 49ers had in common proves Bay Area can endure football

Well, this much good happened on the last day of the 2018 football season, Bay Area Editions: The Oakland Raiders managed to finish their work in record time.
 
Their work, mind you, was to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, which they did by turning the ball over the first four times they got it en route to a 35-3 mauling. The record time was two hours and thirty-seven minutes, which is ungodly fast for a game so formatted to get in all the possible advertisements that anything under three hours is an oddity, and anything under 2:40 is a game from 1967.
 
And if you want to be a pedant about it, it was the fastest game in nine years, the last being a tedio-spectacular between Jacksonville and New England won by the Patriots, 35-7, in 2009.
 
Now given that the 49ers played nearly an hour longer to lose to the Los Angeles Rams, 48-32, AND scored the last two touchdowns to make a rout look like a wacky circus, I guess that means that San Francisco was the superior team this year. Well, that and the fact that their most convincing win in five years had come against had come against the Raiders.
 
But there was plenty of very little for each team in 2018 as they extended their streak of non-winning combined records to 16 years, and there was something to be said for the fact that they were also 28th and 32nd against the point spread in 2018. In short, two public teams offended the public both in real life and BettingWorld.
 
But now that we all are clear on what happened, what happens next? I mean, other than the 49ers either picking second or trading down, and the Raiders picking fourth or trading in either direction?
 
Well, the Raiders need a place to play that is more developed than Bushrod Park, and the 49ers need to make Levi’s Stadium seem less like a furniture store on a rainy Saturday. The 49ers need to break in their new-old quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Raiders need to decide if they can or want to move forward with the increasingly beleaguered Derek Carr.
 
After that, they both need to demonstrate that the Bay Area can still endure professional football. I mean, the Raiders are beating feet out of town soon enough, but the 49ers have spent their margin for error with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, and the 21st Century hasn’t been very useful for the Bay Area.
 
These were two once-mighty franchises rendered low, lower and below the horizon, and 2018 was the lowest in years. Both teams had injuries, personnel shortages and general malaise. They both won four games, and there is no way to make that seem like anything other than the eyesores they were.
 
And while we are no longer naïve enough to believe that the Raiders are going to be anything other than inertia embodied in 2019 as Gruden continues the teardown that preps the team for Las Vegas, the 49ers need to have the season in 2019 that 2018 was advertised to be rather than what 20-17 ended up being. Shanahan is 3-19 in months other than December (and the team 7-38 since Jim Harbaugh was shown the front gate), which is Hue Jacksonian no matter what excuse you apply, and those fans who still will have a team in two years are wearying of being spoilers before Halloween.
 
We’d like to tell you that things are going to get better for both teams in 2019, but we thought that in 2018, 2017 and 2016, too. Selling hope to dispirited customers is how big-box scores went bankrupt, so it’s probably psychologically safer to sit back and wait for this alleged improvement to happen. Hey, it worked for the Warriors.

[RELATED: What we learned in 49ers season-ending loss to Rams]
 
But credit where its due. The Raiders knew what the audience wanted Sunday, and gave it to them -- a quick hello-and-goodbye and an early flight home to fearfully contemplate Jon Gruden’s second offseason. Their offseason might not be fun, but at least it started sooner.