Baseball Business…

As baseball fans prepare to feast on the World Series that begins tonight, there is another baseball story ongoing in the background.  The MLB owners are looking to reduce the number of minor league baseball teams from 160 to 120 by the end of next season.  The move is purely economic; so, it pays to check out some of the costs involved here.

Other than a few independent minor leagues, all the teams in minor-league baseball are funded by MLB.  Every player who signs a “minor league contract” gets paid by the major league team that negotiated that contract with that player.  When you go to see a minor league game in Altoona, PA, the players there are part of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system and their salaries and expenses are paid for by the Pirates.  The same goes for the managers and coaches for minor league teams; they are paid by the MLB club that is affiliated with the minor league team in question.

Even acknowledging that minor league salaries – for players, coaches and managers – are very low, eliminating an affiliated minor league team from a major league club will result in a cost savings.  Obviously, reducing costs puts more money in the major league club’s owner’s pocket; so, why hasn’t this contraction happened sooner?

I think there is a tripwire in here that the MLB owners need to avoid.  Right now, there are 160 cities and towns with minor league baseball clubs that are affiliated with major league teams.  If that number is contracted as suggested to 120 cities and towns, that means 40 areas will lose their teams – – and every one of those “losing areas” has a Congressthing.  MLB enjoys an anti-trust exemption based on a Supreme Court decision from almost 100 years ago.  When Curt Flood sued MLB in the 70s, the Supreme Court upheld the previous ruling but said explicitly that Congress could act to change the status quo.

Over the last 50 years or so, the Congress has chosen not to act.  MLB would like to retain that exemption; and so, it pays for them not to have 40 Congressthings get irate calls from constituents about losing the local minor league team.  This is a time for diplomacy and negotiation to be the order of the day; this is not the time for MLB owners to try to “Bigfoot the situation”.

From a fan’s standpoint, I do not see how contraction of minor league affiliations turns out to be a good thing.  Absent a few players who are ready and able to handle the rigors of being a major-league player at age 20 or 21, “prospects” need to be taught how to play the game.  That learning process includes on-field instruction and off-field instruction; the vast majority of players has a significant need for those lessons.  How, reducing the number of “minor league classrooms” will produce more “polished players” is certainly not obvious.

Stay tuned; this story will develop over the next year or so…

Errol Spence is the World Boxing Council and the International Boxing Federation welterweight champion.  He was also a member of the US Olympic boxing team in 2012 and is undefeated in 26 pro fights.  After winning a title unification bout, Spencer was involved in a spectacular auto accident from which he escaped essentially unhurt.  In fact, probably the worst part of the accident for him is that he was charged with DWI as a result of that accident.  Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this description of the situation that tells you what you need to know about it and puts it in perspective regarding boxing history:

“Welterweight boxing champ Errol Spence spectacularly flipped his Ferrari, but he apparently got off easy with fairly minor injuries. Spence, unbelted, was ejected from his chariot. Flash back decades. A flight attendant asks then-heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali to fasten his seatbelt. Ali: ‘Superman don’t need no seat belt.’ Flight attendant: ‘Superman don’t need no airplane.’”

I read a report of a press event where Roger Goodell was asked about the new NFL pass interference rule that allows coaches to challenge calls and non-calls for both offensive and defensive pass interference.  Supposedly, Goodell said that the rule was working “as expected”.

The efficiency and the effectiveness of the new rule is almost non-existent.  Perhaps in this year’s playoffs, the rule will allow a challenge that would negate the totally blown call from last year’s Saints/Rams playoff game.  Perhaps, if the rule is invoked to assure that the “right team” makes it from the Conference Championship Game to the Super Bowl, you could say that the rule is working “as expected”.  However, the rule’s effect to date has been as follows:

  • It slows the game down by allowing coaches to challenge more things within a game.  Every challenge produces a game delay.
  • It demonstrates that there is contact more than 5 yards down the field initiated by both the offensive and the defensive player on every play that is reviewed.

Pass interference is a judgment call in all but the most egregious circumstances.  Allowing judgment calls to be challenged is not a good idea.  Imagine a basketball game where blocking/charging calls could be challenged…

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this observation regarding an occurrence in the NLCS:

“Ronald Acuna Jr. drew the ire of his Braves teammates when he lost a surefire double off the wall because he slowed to admire his “home run” in a 7-6 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLDS.

“On the plus side, though, Acuna’s got a Kraft Singles endorsement in the bag.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………