Taking Attendance

I hate to interrupt the “All Jeter All The Time” coverage here on IIATMS. (Just kidding – I liked Brien’s last piece.) But I thought we could momentarily shift attention away from the shortstop position, and towards the turnstiles at the new Yankee Stadium. You see, those turnstiles are not spinning the way they usually do.

Through the end of April, attendance at the Stadium was down 7.2% compared to last year. Before this year, attendance at the new Stadium had never dropped below 41,000 in any single game. This year, attendance dropped below 41,000 for 11 of the Yankees’ 16 April home games.

A 7.2% decrease might not seem like much, particularly for the Yankees, so let’s consider the drop in overall dollar terms. The average Yankee Stadium ticket price is $63. If the current Stadium attendance drop continues through the remainder of 2011, then this year the Yankees will play in front of about 260,000 fewer home fans than last year, and the team will earn about $16.5 million less in ticket revenues. $16.5 million is … just about what the Yankees are paying Derek Jeter! (It is “All Jeter All The Time”, no matter what I try to do.) $16.5 million is also 50% or more of what the Padres, Marlins, Indians, Royals, Jays, A’s and Pirates will probably earn in gate receipts all year. A $16.5 million drop in gate receipts would be a disaster for those teams. But for the Yankees, a loss of $16.5 million would be more like a troubling trend.

Will the trend continue?

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Unwritten Rules

We’ve written here before about baseball’s so-called “unwritten rules”, a hodge-podge oral code addressing baseball strategy, superstition and common courtesy. Many of these unwritten rules address what might loosely be called “good sportsmanship”: don’t “show up” a pitcher by posing (too long) at home plate after hitting a home run. Don’t stand too close to home plate while the pitcher is warming up.

These rules get discussed so often that there’s a book and web site devoted to them. But as much as we may write about these rules, they’re still “unwritten”. Baseball players learn these rules “through osmosis”: they’re handed down from older player to younger player, like a rite of passage, and these rules are taken very, VERY seriously by veterans of the game.

Near the top of the list of baseball’s unwritten rules is this one: don’t steal a base when your team is way ahead late in a game. Or, the rule might be, don’t steal a base at any point in a game when your team is way ahead. Or: don’t steal a base if your team is way ahead or way behind. (This is a problem with an unwritten rule: you can never be sure exactly how the rule is supposed to work because, you know, it’s not written down anywhere.)

The latest violation of the unwritten rules took place during yesterday’s game between the Cubs and Dodgers. In the top of the fifth inning, with the Dodgers leading 8-1, Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis was thrown out trying to steal second.

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Baseball Deep In Debt (Part 1: The Scope of the Problem)

Forbes Magazine has called it a “Debt Disaster”: certain baseball teams are drowning in debt and (in the words of sports economist Andrew Zimbalist) are “teetering on the brink.” Debt forced the Texas Rangers into bankruptcy last year. This year, we learned that Mets owner Fred Wilpon had borrowed all he could and would have to sell a piece of the team in order to raise cash needed for operations. Yesterday, Bud Selig announced that his office would seize control of the Los Angeles Dodgers, yet another team that has exhausted conventional sources of business credit and is scrounging for the cash required for day-to-day operations.

What has gone wrong? In most respects, baseball’s financial picture has never been better. Nearly every team is turning a profit. Baseball’s revenues have grown despite the recent recession. Since the turn of the century 18 of baseball’s 30 teams have opened new stadiums. Baseball enjoys a relationship with the player’s union that should be the envy of other U.S. professional sports.

But as I’ll show below, during the last five years the aggregate debt load carried by baseball’s 30 teams has grown by nearly a billion dollars. By my estimates, five teams (including the Mets, Dodgers and Rangers) are carrying more debt than is permitted under baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and another five teams have borrowed money at levels close to the CBA limit.

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Selig Takes Control of L.A. Dodgers

Major League Baseball has taken over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced this afternoon that he would “appoint a representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the Club.”

Don’t be misled by Selig’s use of the word “oversee” – Selig does not want to merely keep an eye on current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. According to the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin, Selig has stripped McCourt of financial control of the Dodgers.

The Dodgers have been in financial difficulty at least since late last year, when Selig refused to allow McCourt to borrow $200 million from Fox, the Dodgers’ cable TV partner. McCourt recently borrowed $30 million from Fox to meet the team’s current expenses. While this loan was structured as a personal loan to McCourt and not as a loan to the Dodgers, the loan evidently prompted Selig to take over the team.

Selig’ move is similar to the NBA takeover of the New Orleans Hornets, and MLB’s own ownership of the Montreal Expos before the Expos (now the Nationals) were relocated to Washington, D.C. But most observers believe that Selig’s move here is unprecedented, and that Frank McCourt is likely to challenge Selig’s move in court.

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Continue reading Selig Takes Control of L.A. Dodgers

Great Moments In Fandom (Part 2, Philly Fan Redemption)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The Phillies are playing a home day game this afternoon against the Brewers, and the first pitch of the game was thrown out by a robot. According to Craig Calcaterra, the robot bounced the pitch into home plate, and the Phillies fans booed the robot.

Yes, I know: Philly fans have a reputation for occasional vocal outbursts of negativity. But how could anyone boo this robot? Just look at the picture above. This robot is kind of cute.

I’ve given this considerable thought, maybe five minutes, maybe not so much. I’ve decided that booing the robot is the coolest thing ever. To reiterate: the robot bounced the pitch to the plate. Either the robot choked, or it didn’t care. Boo! Boo!

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Brien Is Right, Murray Chass IS a Hack

Yesterday my colleague Brien wrote a piece about how Murray Chass is a hack. Brien writes lots of these pieces. There’s something about Murray Chass – the ex-NY Times sportswriter and current internet blogger pundit – that really bugs Brien. Privately, we make fun of Brien about this. When Chass writes a blog column, 50 of Brien’s closest friends tweet Brien about it. Brien usually responds by cursing those of us who conspired to ruin his day by bringing the Chass piece to his attention. He then vows not to write about the Chass piece. Then he does. Then he swears never to do it again.

The thing is, Brien is right. Chass really IS a hack.

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Tax Avoidance

You’ve probably heard that the Red Sox have signed three-time all-star Adrian Gonzalez to a 7-year $154 million mega-contract extension. Last December, the Red Sox traded three top prospects to San Diego to land Gonzalez. The Red Sox went ahead with this trade even though they had reportedly failed last December to get Gonzalez to agree to a contract extension.

Or did they fail? Shortly after the trade (December 6, 2010, to be exact), Bob Nightengale at USA Today reported that Gonzalez and the Red Sox had already agreed to a 7 year $154 million contract extension. According to Nightengale, the agreement was “preliminary” and “not yet official”. Nightengale also reported that the deal would not be reported until April.

So, either Nightengale owns one good crystal ball, or else the Red Sox had something close to a final deal in place with Gonzalez at the time of the trade. Most observers suspect the latter. In fact, as our Chip Buck reported over at that other web site he writes for, the “preliminary” agreement between Gonzalez and the Red Sox was about the worst-kept secret in baseball.

Why all the subterfuge? Because by delaying the signing of Gonzalez until after Opening Day, the Gonzalez contract extension will not count against the Red Sox for purposes of computing the team’s 2011 “luxury tax” liability. By signing Gonzalez to an extension in April, the Red Sox may have saved themselves as much at $4 million in luxury tax.

Is this cheating? Cross the jump to find out.

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Hughes Put On DL With “Dead Arm”


ESPN is reporting that the Yankees have placed struggling pitcher Phil Hughes on the disabled list. According to ESPN, the Yankees believe that Hughes is “going through a dead arm period”, but that his arm is not injured.

So far in 2011, Hughes has pitched 10.1 innings in three starts, allowing 16 runs, 19 hits, walking 4 and striking out 3. His 2011 ERA of 13.94 is the worst in baseball for any pitcher with at least 10 innings thrown. It has been widely reported that the velocity on Hughes’ fastball is down from prior seasons.

Bartolo Colon will take Hughes’ place in the Yankees’ starting rotation. Colon pitched well last night in relief of Hughes, holding the Orioles scoreless over three innings.

Hughes’ place on the roster will be filled by Lance Pendleton, a 27-year old right-handed pitcher, whose contract was purchased today by the Yankees from their AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pendleton had a 12-5 W-L record in 27 starts for Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, with a 3.61 ERA. Pendleton was claimed this winter by the Houston Astros in the Rule 5 Draft, and returned to the Yankees’ organization at the end of spring training.

More on all this later. For the reasons behind the Yankees’ decision, please read Brien’s excellent piece here. Continue reading Hughes Put On DL With “Dead Arm”

Divisional Imbalance (Baseball’s 2011 Payrolls, Part 3)

Last week we took a long look at baseball’s Opening Day player payrolls. In Part One of this series, I examined the growth of player payrolls, and noted with surprise that the fastest growing payrolls belong to teams in the Midwest, like the Brewers, Tigers and Twins. In Part Two I commented on the shrinking gap between the Yankees’ payroll and that of other well-heeled baseball teams, like the Red Sox and Phillies.

Here in Part Three, I’ll begin to ask the critical question: why do we care about the size of baseball payrolls? The obvious answer is set forth in the title of our blog site. Most baseball fans believe that money buys the best baseball players, so teams with big payrolls will dominate teams forced to operate (relatively speaking) on a shoestring. I’ve had occasion to visit this topic many times: see for example here and here. I’ll need to revisit this question one more time before this series is through.

But before I get to the question of whether money matters, I’ll look here at how payroll money is distributed. We know (because it gets a lot of attention) that there’s a payroll imbalance in the American League East — the Yankees and Red Sox spend a lot more on payroll than the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays. The imbalance in the American League East is so severe that some pundits (like Ken Rosenthal) propose that the leagues be realigned so that no team has to compete every year against the two bullies on the eastern seaboard.

But is it just the American League East that suffers from payroll imbalance? Let’s find out.

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