Ray Ratto

Miami is the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball

sherman-jeter.jpg
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.

 

It is better to be an Athletic at this All-Star break than a Giant

asgreenhappy.jpg
USATSI

It is better to be an Athletic at this All-Star break than a Giant

As we have reached the point in our sporting experience at which we often prefer the imaginary world to the real one (see gambling, futures odds, daily fantasy, draft and combine obsessions, just to name an obnoxious few), let’s check in on Major League Baseball at the All-Star Break.
 
But not as it is, but how it would be if wins and losses corresponded to what they should be based on our great, noble and very dead friend Pythagoras.
 
Now there are many forms of the expected wins theorem because the formulas used to calculate how to metricize run differential are different, but we’ll just pick a few to annoy and amaze you. First, your American League, ranked by how they would be seeded in the postseason:
 
BOSTON (actual 68-30, 65-33 by baseballreference.com and MLB.com, 106-56 projected by Fangraphs)
HOUSTON                          64-35/70-29/104-58 
CLEVELAND                    52-43/55-40/92-70
NEW YORK YANKEES     62-33/61-34/103-59
SEATTLE                            58-39/48-49/90-72
 
By this, Boston leads Houston and the Yankees by 4 ½ games, but trails in expected wins by 4 ½. Houston leads Seattle by five games but should lead by 21. The Yankees would have the third-best record and Cleveland would barely make it only because the Indians are in the worst division ever divided.
 
But Seattle is the funny team because of this:
 
OAKLAND                          55-42/51-46/87-75
 
TAMPA BAY                      49-47/50-45/80-82
 
L.A. ANGELS                    49-48/51-46/81-81
 
Based on run differential, the Mariners are three games worse than all three, and getting swept in Colorado was unhelpful. Thus, what we have here is four sure things and Seattle trying to hold off the A’s, Rays, and Angels. In short, here is the future of the American League:
 
July 27-29: Mariners at Angels
 
July 31-August 2: Rays at Angels
 
August 10-12: A’s at Angels
 
August 30-September 2: Mariners at A’s
 
September 13-16: Mariners at Angels
 
September 14-16; A’s at Rays
 
September 18-20: Angels at A’s
 
September 24-26: A’s at Mariners
 
September 28-30: A’s at Mariners.
 
The National League is a much bigger mess, and the Giants are looking up at most of it:
 
CHICAGO CUBS                   55-38/58-35/94-58
 
PHILADELPHIA                    53-42/49-46/85-77
 
L.A. DODGERS                      53-43/57-39/91-71
 
MILWAUKEE                          55-43/54-44/86-76
 
ATLANTA                                 52-42/54-40/84-78
 
ARIZONA                                  53-44/53-44/86-76
 
COLORADO                             51-45/48-48/83-79
 
SAINT LOUIS                           48-46/48-46/83-79
 
SAN FRANCISCO                 50-48/46-52/82-80
 
WASHINGTON                       48-48/51-45/86-76
 
PITTSBURGH                          48-49/46-51/80-82
 
By this analysis, the Cubs and Dodgers would win their divisions comfortably, and the Nationals, Phillies, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Braves, Rockies and Cardinals would play about 150 games against each other to fill the other three spots. Now that would be the kind of baffling months-long madness we find great fun.
 
But the two teams that aren’t in that group, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, won’t share said fun by these numbers. They are .500 teams who are overachieving to get there, and the Pirates already figure to be sellers at the deadline.
 
The Giants probably won’t be either buyers or sellers, and are in any event positioning themselves for 2019, hoping to figure out what to do about the 46 percent of the payroll taken up by Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon this year, next year and 2020 (hint: contracts will be eaten).
 
In short, based on enjoyment, value and general optimism, it is better to be an Athletic at this All-Star Break than a Giant. Plus, it is still easier to mind one team ahead of you and two potentially behind you than seven ahead of you.
 
But it’s good to have dreams. Beer, and dreams.

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

soccerteens.jpg
AP

Distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever

The World Cup was over for about eight seconds when the good people at Bovada.com whirled into action and made up a futures book for the 2022 World Cup – mostly because degeneracy never sleeps.
 
But also because the run-up to the World Cup In Hell, as the Qatar competition will come to be known, is a good way to establish just how hungry American soccer believers are in getting back into the anticipation game. The U.S. national team, as shambolic as it has been in nearly three decades, is listed as a cool 80-1, the 16th-highest rated team on the planet, generously tied with Denmark, mostly because there will be betting action on the USNMT just so people who want to bet the Yanks can manufacture excitement after a year of utterly mockable inertia.
 
And that’s the key here – this isn’t a measure of the nation’s place in the international game that just captivated us for a month, not at all. The U.S. couldn’t even be 32nd this year and suddenly, with nothing more to bank upon than four more birthdays for Christian Pulisic, they have improved 16 places merely because they are probably more bettable now than they will be for years.
 
We just established that as a nation we can be thrilled by the World Cup without even a hint of America, but that’s not the lesson that will be learned here. The lesson is that teeny little Croatia could get to the final game, and that this was the World Cup in which the chalk mostly failed. France was considered a lively underdog but hardly the equal of Brazil or Spain or Argentina or Germany, and the final four included an improbably happy and agenda-free England side and Belgium’s latest golden generation.
 
And individually, the tournament was not dominated by any single player, no matter how much Fox wanted to cram Ronaldo and Messi and Kane down our constricted yaps. The standouts were Mbappe and Modric and Pogba and Kante and Hazard and Griezmann and Perisic and Pickford – all well known to soccer aficionados, but very much against the run of narrative play.
 
In short, for casual fans it helped to know the players, but mostly the fans came anyway because Americans love to label-shop if their own team isn’t involved, and the World Cup has a great label even despite the continued involvement of FIFA.
 
But as for the Americans, being 80-1 with only 1,590 days left to get themselves together and put up not only a coherent side but a coherent plan installed by coherent men and women seems, well, low. The distance between the U.S. and SoccerWorld is more vast than ever, and now that casual fans have figured out that the flag is less important than the field, the U.S. will not just be able to toss out a few strips of bunting and call itself America’s team. It will have to earn it with actual play.
 
This flies in the face of what America does best – throwing the party. The 2026 World Cup will be America at its most competent and organized, and maybe with 3,000 days of prep time it can deliver even better goods than it did in 1994.
 
But the team itself . . . well, even if you accept the very generous 80-1 line as even minimally valid, it has light years to travel. The U.S. stepped back while the rest of the world stepped forward, and a World Cup as entertainingly unpredictable as this will make it harder, not easier, for the Americans to claim the place it insists for itself by virtue of . . . well, saying it should have a place.
 
If they’re to be one of the 32 again, they will have to re-learn what it is like to be and act like the outsider. Other than Pulisic, feeling ostracized as not good enough is probably the best tool in their shed.

In the meantime, "go you degenerates!" or as the French say, "allez vous dégénérés!" You can show the country the way by betting the Yanks down to, oh, say 75-1.