Friday, August 25, 2006

Ken Fidlin Doesn't Watch Baseball

I'm going to have to ask that you click the link and read this article in it's entirety. Go ahead, it won't hurt. It's actually not that long, probably because Ken Fidlin ran out of inane, unsubstantiated arguments. It's right here. I'll wait for you.

The Last Word
by Ken Fidlin, as printed in the Toronto Sun

You can pick at the scabs of this Blue Jays season all you want, but no amount of introspection will solve the real dilemma that keeps this team perennially out of the playoffs.

As I see it, J.P. Ricciardi is the problem and anyone who thinks he has done a good job is in denial. Or is still swooning over Moneyball. Just a thought.

[MORE]The true concern has nothing to do with the John Gibbons’ propensity to get in his players’ faces. It has nothing to do with the offence or the defence or the bullpen or anything else related to actual baseball issues.

As I've done more and more of this style of writing, the theme has moved from generally shitty sportswriting to sportswriters who suck because they obviously don't watch the games. Here we have Ken Fidlin, and he basically admits that he doesn't watch the games. Allow me to add the perspective of someone who watches almost 1,500 innings of baseball a year. The team doesn't make the playoffs because (when they play games) they score less runs than their pitchers allow, at a greater rate than two other teams in their division. I shouldn't have to explain this to a sports columnist.

To take it even further, what ails the Blue Jays is not just Toronto’s problem, but baseball’s problem.

Uh oh. I had a feeling this was coming. Better erect a dam, because here comes the river of tears.

The Jays jacked up their payroll by nearly 40% this year, from $50 million US to more than $71 million. It was a big step up for this team’s ownership, which has lost a ton of money over the years. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of competitive balance within the American League East, that increased spending by Toronto is only a drop in the bucket.

Kudos to the Blue Jays management for that payroll increase. They're receiving revenue sharing dollars, and it appears that money is being put back into the team, which is more than can be said for many small market teams. But 15 teams still spend more than them. So if you're going with the argument that a better record is attainable through more spending, you're shooting yourself in the foot. If dollars equaled wins, the Blue Jays would be even further out of contention.

This is a division in which the two biggest spenders in baseball — the Yankees and the Red Sox — reside and, until Major League Baseball is able to figure out a way to put a punitive muzzle on the free-spending ways of those two rich franchises, the other teams that exist in the AL East have no real possibility of rewarding or growing their fan base. And any team that has no way of rewarding its fans, even occasionally, is courting disaster.

How long have you been waiting to break out the phrase, “punitive muzzle?” Did it come to you in a glorious epiphany? But that's beyond the point.

I have a simple counter-argument to Fidlin's assertion that other teams in the AL East “have no real possibility of rewarding or growing their fan base.” If you spend that $70 million like a sane person, you might just be able to field a competitive team. Look at the Twins ($64 million) and the A's ($62 million). They both have better records than the Blue Jays, and face similar financial limitations. But your GM spends money like a psychopath determined to dive into every high-risk situation the market affords.

Since 1994, when baseball split up into three divisions (creating a playoff structure of three division champs and one wild-card), the Yankees have made the playoffs every year for the past 11. Nine times they have won the AL East and twice they have made it as the wild card.

In that same 11-year span, the Red Sox have made the playoffs six times — five as the wild card, once as division champ.

Thanks for the facts, Ken. Now what does it all mean?

During that period, no team has come even close to spending as much as the Yankees on an annual basis.

True, but should they be so harshly criticized for putting money into their team? I'll get into this later, because Fidlin comes back with a monster of an observation.

Teams in the AL Central and Western divisions at least have the opportunity to compete, more or less, against teams in their own economic strata for the division titles. That’s how teams such as the Angels, the A’s, the Twins and the White Sox have been able to create some excitement in their own markets by making the playoffs.

No snarkiness, just tables:
AL WestPayrollRecord
Oakland$62 million72-55
Anaheim$103.5 million67-60
Texas$68 million65-63
Seattle$88 million57-69

What it proves: Uh, payroll doesn't mean as much as you make it out. Not at all. The A's are pretty much at their spending cap (read: over $30 million less than the Angels), and are firmly ahead in the division. So they're competing with a financial juggernaut and winning.

AL CentralPayrollRecord
Detroit$82.6 million81-46
Chicago$102.7 million74-52
Minnesota$63.4 million73-52
Cleveland$56 million57-68
Kansas City$47 million46-82

Once again, there is much disparity in the AL Central payrolls. The Twins aren't even close to the White Sox in payroll, but trail them in the standings by a half game. Notice, too, that the two $100 million teams in these divisions aren't even leading. The two successful teams with the low payrolls, Minnesota and Oakland, prove that you don't need to spend a lot to win; you just need to spend wisely. The Blue Jays are not spending wisely. That's the problem. Is it clear yet?

In the cases of the White Sox and Angels, they’ve even been able to win a World Series.

Chicago's $75 million payroll in 2005 ranked 13th in baseball. The Angels $61 million payroll in 2002 ranked 15th.

Occasionally, as it looks like it might this year, one of the also-rans from those divisions even gets a shot at the wild-card.

You mean the also-ran White Sox, now with the fourth highest payroll in baseball?

In baseball’s 2002 labour agreement, a luxury tax was instituted to penalize teams whose player payrolls exceeded a defined threshold. For the 2006 season, the Yankees, with a payroll of about $200 million, will pay a tax calculated at 40% of their total player salaries that exceed $136.5 million.

That's roughly $30 million in the pockets of smaller market teams. You should be grateful, because that money is being distributed to the Blue Jays.

It didn’t even make the Yankees blink. They earn revenues in excess of $300 million a year and that doesn’t even include all the money they earn from their local TV package, reputed to be the best in baseball.

Well, when you earn revenues like that, it's smart to put that money back into the business. And the Yankees do earn more money from their local TV package than any team in baseball, mainly because George Steinbrenner is smart and decided to create the station himself. There aren't rules against that; the Blue Jays could up and do that tomorrow if they so desired.

NOTE: I've been informed by a beautiful lady that the Jays may not be able to create their own regional sports network. This is only because they play in Canada, and if Canadian law prevents such an endeavor (not familiar with Canadian law), I have little sympathy.

Yes, it’s complicated, but all you need to understand is that, whatever the penalty is, it’s not large enough to deter the Yankees from spending whatever it takes to not only put the best team on the field, but to fill in the mid-season gaps when players are injured or fail to produce.

Yes, it's complicated, but you need to understand plenty more than what Fidlin purports. This is a tool used by the newspaper columnist to make themselves feel important when, in fact, they have nothing interesting to say. I mean, there's obviously more to understand than Fidlin has presented, since he's presenting a ludicrous side of a multifaceted argument.

What it all boils down to is that baseball needs a hard salary cap and it needs to share more of its revenue if it wants to build and maintain a healthy competitive balance.

Every year, the same shit. Where were you in 1994, when Donald Fehr strong-armed the owners and made a salary cap an impossibility? Why make such a statement when it's never going to happen so long as the MLB Players Association stays in tact? It's a topic revisited year after year by columnists who are frustrated that their team sucks.

I'm kind of torn on the revenue sharing issue, though. While I think it would help baseball for the Yankees to include their revenues from YES in their shared dollars, I don't feel Steinbrenner should be obligated to just hand over money from the behemoth that he created. I guess that while I don't have a clue as to how revenue should be shared, I do agree that the current system needs an overhaul. However, no matter what argument you present, I will never agree that merchandise sales should be shared. If you spend money on good players and field a good team, people will buy your merchandise, and that's money you shouldn't have to hand back to the fledgling Royals.

The Jays have a decent team and a lot of folks wonder why more fans don’t show up. Well, it’s simple. Fans aren’t stupid. How can you make an investment, both emotional and financial, in a team that begins every season with only a vague chance?

Keyword: decent team. The hype was all about the Blue Jays having a team good enough to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox, but anyone with a modicum of baseball knowledge knew that hype wouldn't hold up.

I have an answer for Fidlin's ostensibly rhetorical query. You invest emotionally and financially in a baseball team because you have a passion for baseball, not because they're winning. They have a term for people who only stand behind their team when they're winning: front runners. We don't want no stinkin' front runners, Ken, so please don't encourage them. If you love baseball, you'll stick by your team in the best of times and blurst of times.

Last year’s NHL labour impasse was a wrenching ordeal for everybody involved. But, in the long run, there are indications that the entire game will be healthier and more stable as a result.

Or it will be stuck with record low attendances for the next decade, as precedented by the baseball strike. And what are these “indications” you speak of, Ken? Are they indications, or is that just you making stuff up to fill space in your column? The NHL stuck on OLN, a channel most people can't find on their dial. Healthy is not exactly the way I'd describe the league now, or how it projects 10 years down the road. I'll even go out on a limb and predict that the NHL will fold before it reaches the level of prosperity it was at before the strike.

In the NFL, where many revenues are shared equally, the small centres such as Green Bay and Minneapolis, can compete on a level playing field.

NFL teams play once a week and their games are televised on a national basis. Thus, it is much more conceivable to share that revenue rather than appropriate it to larger market teams. Baseball plays 162 games a year, only a handful of which are nationally televised. This just isn't a fair comparison.

When their teams fail, fans in every NFL city and every NHL city can legitimately criticize their team’s management, coaching and talent evaluation and hope that things get better next year.

You can do that in baseball, too. In fact, I just did when I said that J.P. Ricciardi is a nutjob who duped people into thinking he can run a successful baseball team. The Blue Jays have one of the worst minor league systems in the game and have a disproportionate amount of their payroll committed to guys like A.J. Burnett (4.46 ERA).

In baseball, and especially in places like Toronto, the playing field is so badly tilted that it’s not even a real issue.

Wait, what? Not even a real issue? Then why the fuck did you just write that article? Man, I love the pages of my local paper filled with stories about issues that aren't really issues. It is an issue, and it's going to take a more creative solution than, “hard cap, more revenue sharing,” to get it done.

It’s baseball’s obligation to make it an issue.

Too bad that train left the station 12 years ago.

When watching sports with a big group of guys, there's always one guy there who doesn't have a clue, but wants to fit in and seem smart about sports. So he goes and makes some wacky statement, hoping to spark debate. And when he's lambasted by his more sports-privy compadres, he spouts off nothings in a vain attempt to defend himself. I've seen this, you've seen this, and hopefully you've never been that guy. Fidlin is that guy. Fidlin is like the guy I trouned in Madden two years ago, who was “so psyched to used the Chargers because they signed Drew Brees to a long-term contract.”

Or, more accurately, he was the guy in April who was singing doomsday songs for the Yankees while thinking that his Blue Jays were the next big thing. Not that he actually did that in his columns (having a hard time finding his archives), but he's the kind of guy that would have. And then complained endlessly in August when the Blue Jays performed like, well, most reasonable people expected.

Now how about watching some of those games, Ken? I hear there's some interesting stuff to see.