Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:59 a.m.
By Frankie O
Its everywhere, isnt it? The thought I mean, not the cash. Money is at the root of everything so why should sports be any different? For fans, even if it doesnt dominate our thoughts, its effects are never far away. I thought about that as I handed over the 23 for parking as I arrived at a Sox game last week. (Yes, I went to a Sox game in September! I didnt quit!) Going to a game is a non-stop cash-suck. Want to know why attendance is down? Do the math. Still, that doesnt diminish the way we follow our teams, it, for some of us, changes the way we have to do so. Thankfully between satellite TV and your computer, you can watch as much of whatever you want to watch.
Its because we drop the cash, that we expect our teams to spend like a Kardashian sister in a shoe store. How can they have cash problems when they have no problem taking all of ours? But, thats another problem with money, it is one thing to have it, its another to know what to do with it. Look around. Do you expect to see any NBA games this year? Did you miss the NHL during their hiatus? If youre not the NFL, youve got to seriously look at your business model. And the first thing I would do is to look at the NFL. Their recent labor negotiations were about how to divvy up the tons of cash they have. But 2 things stand out to me about the NFL:
1.) They have revenue sharing between the teams in the league. Now this doesnt guarantee a completely level playing field, since Dallas and Washington have figured out how to make tons of additional revenue- and what has that done for them lately?- but it means a properly run Green Bay franchise has the ability to have a seat at the big-boy table.
2.) Even though they pay bonus money, they dont have long-term guaranteed contracts, not to say that they dont have dead-money, because its there, but it doesnt seem as oppressive as it is in the NBA or MLB. Pay guys that perform for an appropriate amount of time. Front load the money, so that when a player has exceeded his usefulness: He gone!
Because of this structure, which has many more brilliant layers, the NFL was able to bully its players into a more owner-friendly agreement with their work force, because they still share some of their tons of cash, just not as much now. I think this is important. But not because the owners will make more money, but they kept their core sharing principles together and they tweaked a business model that they thought was unsustainable in the future. Since the math of this is very far over my head, Ill take them at their word. The players must have agreed since even with their high-priced lawyers and economists, they couldnt find a chink in the armor that would have enabled them to keep their old, more favorable, agreement.
All of which brings me back to the thing that dominates my waking hours now: The theories of Moneyball. At its core, it is a simple business reaction to the economic reality facing an under-funded baseball team. With the structure of baseball, it was bound to happen. MLB is a collection of haves and have-nots. Being without will bring about looking at things a different way. Just like in our everyday lives. Of course our baseball passions are not necessarily based on reality, so we dont understand when our teams dont spend when they have all of our cash. Or do they?
The Cubs and Sox right now are great examples of teams that tried to sit at the big-boy table and had their chairs pulled out from underneath them. The talk here is always about being a big-market team and having an appropriate payroll. Fans chafe when they see teams from other cities, that they dont think are as good as theirs, spend more cash on players. The actuality of this is that it only hurts when another team spends it BETTER than you.
MLB history is littered with the stories of under-performing high-payroll teams. Right now, the dominant story is about my Phillies and their trying to buy the NL pennant. I think they are a short-term story of cause and effect. Build a winner and Philly fans will come, lose and they wont, its that simple. But when they come, they bring their wallets! Knowing this, the ownership group has spared no expense to keep the good times rolling and strike while the passion in their fan base is burning white-hot. But their spending, and trading all of their home-grown talent, is going to catch up with them. As a fan, I say, if it brings more titles, why not? Only the Red Sox and Yankees are allowed to win that way? Winning is a cyclical thing and wont last forever. The key is, when given the opportunity: WIN!
Since the White Sox won in 2005 theyve been chasing their tales to do so again. I believed Kenny Williams after they won when he said that they needed to win another to validate them as a big-time organization. Hes pulled out all stops to do so, whether it be the Alex Rios waiver disaster, trading a young stud like Daniel Hudson-in a deal that I still dont understand- or the Jake Peavy trade and the mother of all decisions: the four year mega-millions contract given to Adam Dunn. ALL-IN! The team all but dared the fan base to come and support them. I for one appreciate the candor. If folks dont come out and support them, they are not going to spend for more players. Hows that working out? This is prime example of money not spent wisely, also one of not having enough young ones to come up and complement high-priced, under-performing veterans. This is going to be a crazy off-season for them, but because of some of their large obligations, decisions are going to have to be made on who they are going to have to let go as they try to reduce their debt and try to stay competitive. Goodbye Mark Buehrle?
And speaking of obligations that are dragging a franchise down, we have the Cubs. Im amused at the bar when Cubs fans say a big part of the solution is to eat the contracts of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano and move on. I like the thought, but there are about 72 million reasons why that wont happen. Zambrano, maybe, but Ill believe it when I dont see him. That is a LOT of money. Even with those two though, the Cubs do have a lot of contracts coming off the books after this year, about 55 million worth. But they are going to have to spend some of that arent they? Albert Pujols? Prince Fielder? Im not so sure. In fact Im just about certain neither is coming here. As I read about owner Tom Ricketts infatuation with the Boston method of building a winning, profitable franchise, Im not really buying it. Sure Theo Epstein has brought new-age thinking into baseball and has been successful. But hes also had a big bag of cash with him as hes done so. I dont see a Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez contract-huge by the way-happening here anytime soon. The model I see is the one in Tampa Bay, where an owner, G.M. and manager work together to compete with young home-grown talent, only not in a hideous indoor mausoleum that they try to pass off as a ballpark.
I think Mr. Ricketts has also read Moneyball and come up with his own conclusions. He understands that the way things have always been done is not working here, at least not for the last 103 years-and counting. He knows that a new baseball model must be developed to stay afloat if the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies, are going to flirt with the financial ruin of the game. For all of our sakes, it has to take something other than a bag of cash to win, doesnt it? (Not that Im going to argue with it this year!!) Its going to take a new business model and someone with the ability, and patience, to pull it off. Thats the real game of Moneyball. The competition has forced you to come up with a different way to succeed. It calls for change in thought. It calls for a change in vision. Moneyball is going to be more than a movie around here. Its going to be a call to arms. (Hopefully a lot of young ones that bring heat!)For now, the question is, since a lot of folks around here dont like Billy Beane, do you think either team can get Brad Pitt?