Monday, August 31, 2009


Sorry, I've been doing this a lot lately. I've had more mini-posts I want to write, and more things I need to vent (I'm turning crotchety, I guess), and so you've been getting meanderings instead of substantive posts. It's either this or start Twittering, and I'd like to avoid that at all costs.

* Why do people wring their hands about an athlete's "legacy"? We are told that Brett Favre is ruining his legacy by un-retiring. But how many retired athletes can you name whose legacy was truly ruined (whatever a legacy actually is--it's a pretty nebulous term)? Steve Carlton bounced around pitching ineffectively, but he's still seen as Steve Carlton, Phillies Ace. Willie Mays is celebrated as one of the greatest players of all-time despite bumbling around with the Mets.

I also don't understand why people are so emotionally invested in athletes retiring. If they still want to play, and a team still wants to employ them, I have no problem with it. I understand frustration at media coverage ("Oh look, there's Favre getting off the plane!"), but try to separate general ESPN disgust from the athletes themselves. I can also see why Packers fans would be annoyed that their icon is going to play for a division rival. But outside of that, the reaction to Favre puzzles me.

* It never ceases to amaze me how the billionaires who own pro sports franchises have managed to convince the public that the (relatively) uneducated millionaires that they employ (and their agents, of course) are screwing them over. It is a remarkable phenomenon.

I need to issue the disclaimer that I'm not saying that the owners are wrong simply because they are billionaires, and that the lesser income group must be getting the shaft. That's not what I'm saying at all. I think that both the owners and the players are right about some things and wrong about others (and of course neither group is homogeneous in their motivation and desires). It's just that the public as a whole seems to always side with the owners. Here are just a handful of situations in which this manifests itself:

1. The owners have apparently managed to convince the public that increased salaries drive ticket price increases, rather than the opposite--more revenue to teams means more potential value added by players (of course, labor costs could change the profit-maximizing ticket price, but it's folly to think that ticket prices would be dramatically lower if salaries were lower).

2. Players are derided by many fans for trying to exert some control over which organization they begin their careers with (even if they can only do it by making vague pre-draft bonus demands). But the system that assigns players to organizations with no choice, and rewards failure (at least in theory) is an accepted part of every sport.

3. You have the strange concept of "loyalty", which is a one-way street meaning that players are loyal to their teams, whatever that even means. Trades are accepted as part of the game, but if a player dares to leave via free agency, he is a scoundrel. Players who display what seems to qualify as loyalty (and thus worthy of admiration) are sometimes derided as losers (as seen when Jake Peavy initially rejected his trade to the White Sox). Players who are jerked around by their teams in service time maneuvers are expected to show loyalty. Players are expected to show loyalty to whichever team they happen to play for currently, even if they have a different hometown team they'd ideally like to play for.

4. Players are often criticized for chasing an extra million dollars or two--"Why isn't $12 million enough? Why do you need $15 million?" Of course, this same question is never asked of the owner--"Why do you need to make $20 million in profit? Isn't $17 million enough?"

5. Owners' claims of poverty are generally accepted. We are supposed to believe that these billionaires have absolutely no business sense when it comes to sports and are losing money left and right, necessitating public stadium financing, contraction, or some other scheme that is against the best interest of fans as a whole--despite the fact that different billionaires keep shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to buy into the industry.

Incidentally, my position on all of this is that both sides should be expected to seek what is in their economic self-interest, and that neither side is wrong for doing so. It's just that the public sides with sports management to a much greater extent (as far as I can tell) then they do in other industries.

* We're getting to that time of year when everyone is all atwitter about the BBWAA awards. As I've said before, I try not to pay too much attention to those--just enough to get a good laugh but not pop a blood vessel when Ryan Howard finishes second in the NL MVP vote or what have you. The Internet Baseball Awards and certain individual's own hypothetical ballots are worthy of more attention in my eyes.

However, my efforts sometimes fail, and I find it irresistible to comment in one way or another. I had a discussion with Sky of Beyond the Box Score recently, and in the course of it I noticed that Roy Halladay has never received a single MVP vote in his career. Not even one measly tenth-place vote. Halladay won the AL Cy Young in 2003 but did not receive a vote for MVP, while Carlos Lee (830 OPS) did and Shannon Stewart (823 OPS) finished fourth.

Halladay is an unusual case--it seems from a perfunctory look at recent voting that the top Cy Young contenders usually manager to get a nod somewhere on a few ballots. But certainly not the extent that I think they deserve to (or advanced metrics think they deserve to).

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