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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, May 14, 2001
If I Ran the Zoo…You’d All Be Applying for Transfers
Don weighs in with his opinion of Bud Selig’s contraction ideas.
You?d All Be Applying for Transfers
The Expos are here in town (San Francisco) this week, and the media is once again circling the team like a pack of leering vultures. Bud Selig?s suicide ploy for the game? ?contraction??is all over the news, and the local columnists, needing to fill space in the papers, are having at it.
What?s interesting?no, typical?in John Shea?s article in the San Francisco Chronicle is its utter lack of historical perspective. Baseball has always had its share of ?have not? teams, but no team has disbanded in one hundred and one years?in 1900, to be exact, when the National League ?contracted? from twelve teams to eight.
Of course, that ?contraction? was swiftly followed by the evolution of the American League, which brought eight new teams into the major league fold and cemented the structure of the game that we all know so well (and cling to as part of the game?s often arch sense of ?tradition?).
What Shea and other media types don?t bother to examine is that fact that revenue sharing is the real villain in the internicine war amongst the Baseball Lords. What rankles the owners is that certain teams (the Expos being one) have used the revenue sharing rules put into place in the most recent collective bargaining agreement to ?sandbag? with respect to the current salary structure and actually use the luxury tax money as a way to turn a profit.
We shouldn?t expect Shea, or any columnist writing for a major metropolitan newspaper, to unburden us with the real story. That?s not how the corporate game is played, and even the guys in the toy department are not exempt from those rules.
What I can tell you is that Bud Selig?s ideas continue to be as addled as ever, and are probably a much greater threat to the well-being of the game/business than the purported problems of three or four franchises.
What the Expos probably need to do is fire Felipe Alou, who has clearly lost his effectiveness as a nurturer of young talent, and spend some money trying to reawaken their dormant?not dead?fan base.
Selig seems to forget (along with so many other things?) that his own city of Milwaukee went through an interesting roller-coaster ride, wooing, winning and being abandoned by the Braves in the space of thirteen short years, and being returned to a few years later.
In short, the Lords are playing a new version of their Chicken Little game, trying to make people think that there are no alternatives for so-called ?failing? franchises but to disappear from the face of the earth.
Let?s suspend disbelief for the moment and stipulate that the Expos and any ?failing? franchise from the AL of your choice need to have something done about them. Why on earth has the option of relocation been dismissed out of hand?
Because of revenue sharing and its internicine dilemmas for the politics raging between so-called small and large-market teams. Baseball?s ?brain trust? is comprised mostly of men who?ve been lifted out of ?small market? areas and who are used to appeasement within their own ranks.
They have always been vulnerable to ?large market? bullying of one sort or another, a fact that goes all the way back to the days of Walter O?Malley, who was the architect of baseball?s transformation when he moved the Dodgers to the west coast.
What Bud Selig?s bobble-headed brain trust is unwilling to grasp is that by contracting, they set in motion forces that signify a complete breach of trust with the fan base. It is far better to relocate these ?failing franchises? and hold out the carrot of a new franchise (as occurred in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Seattle). The balance between fans and team is disrupted, but not destroyed.
What they are also unwilling to face up to is the fact that there are places for ?failing franchises? to relocate.
Where are those places?
In the big-market areas—in New Jersey, and in the eastern quadrant of Los Angeles (Riverside and San Bernardino counties).
If the Expos and the AL ?loser of your choice? need to be moved, then move those guys right into those areas with new ownership and give them the incentive of a larger fan base. If the abandoned fans in Montreal and pick-your-poisoned-AL-metropolis get mad enough, they?ll get their acts together and petition for a new franchise.
Of course, there is no way that the Chicken Little outfit running baseball will do this. (I was going to use another word that began with ?chicken?, but Furtado/Forman are family men and while they might swear like sailors in private, they don?t want it done on their site.)
Budzilla and company simply don?t have the guts to do so, much less the vision.
What they don?t understand is that crying wolf is one thing, but acting on it is quite another. The idea of replacement players was intensely repugnant to baseball?s fan base, and hastened the demise of the owners? most recent attempt to destroy the Players? Association. The idea of ?contraction? is taking the threat of hara-kiri and making it actual: once you do it, you will eventually bleed to death.
Once you contract, how do you convince anyone that your next expansion will be viable?
There are so many other possible remedies to the rather limited set of problems facing baseball that one can only assume that the owners have some kind of collective death wish when they fixate on the one action that is certain to put dark clouds over their future.
Ultimately, to iron out its schedule/logistical difficulties, baseball needs 32 franchises. There?s no earthly reason why they can?t still get there, and create either a four-league structure with a reasonable amount of interleague play (a gimmick that most fans seem to enjoy) or a symmetrical two-league structure with eight-team divisions.
The current schedule (unbalanced division play and interleague play) is comically unwieldy and adds even more random luck to the outcome than the previous three-division schedule structures. Baseball in the next millennium might be wisest to simply discard divisions altogether, while permitting a little variety by retaining interleague play. (Especially if you wind up with three teams in New York and Los Angeles, all of which will presumably be in different leagues.)
Baseball fans will doubtless loudly object to the idea of four leagues on the basis that it destroys ?tradition.? We need to get past such arguments if the game is to progress beyond its recent internicine stage. A fresh start, a fresh structure that at the same time celebrates the pre-expansion roots of the game would be a giant breath of fresh air in a sport that is stale with its ingrown cynicism. Break up the media center revenue imbalance, and we can get back to the game, with new traditions and new rivalries, and all of the old ones, too.
That?s what I?d do, if I ran the zoo.
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