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Sunday, December 23, 2001

Spin City

Grantland Rice once said, “A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.” I hope fans are wiser than Bud Selig thinks they are.

The Frenzied War of Words As Baseball Enters Its Winter of Discontent?

As another Christmas looms over us (Santa will get a special   escort this year?), we are getting a glimpse of just how important the wranglings   of this baseball off-season are to the men who run it.

That glimpse tells us that   there are no visions of sugarplums dancing in the heads of Budzilla and   his flock of elves in the Commissioner?s office. Even as free agent signings   continue, pushing the matter of contraction from sports page headlines, Bud   Selig and company are mounting an arm-twisting campaign that has literally   no precedent in the history of baseball public relations.

Exhibit A?Rob Neyer.   Rob was the first to clue us in on the ?hard sell? approach being undertaken   by Budzilla and his bobos. Rob told his readers that none other than Selig himself   grilled him over one of his more scorching columns about baseball?s economics.  

Of course, Rob didn?t go   into exact detail about what portions of his column Budzilla was questioning.   Nor did he reveal anything else that might have been said about the slant that   he had been taking on the matter, either over the years or of late. (The truth   is, of course, that many writers have been raking Budzilla over the coals since   the announcement of MLB?s silly, self-serving, and suspicious contraction ?plan.?)

Is it merely a coincidence   that a few days later, Neyer suddenly found a new target in MLBPA chief Don   Fehr?

Exhibit B?Paul White.   Those of you who think my ?days of rage? began over a certain matter related   to pitch counts probably don?t remember that the editor of Baseball Weekly   took a shot in the pages of the Big Bad Baseball Annual (in the 1996   edition). In a section called ?Talking Paul White Blues,? yours always-irascible   truly pointed out that White was making light of the labor situation (at that   time, MLB and the players were dragging their feet about fixing the CBA, and   no one in the media was willing to talk about it).

Now here we are five years   later, and Paul White has been magnificent on the labor and economics issues   this time around. Apparently Paul has had a bellyful of this stuff, because   he?s been about as righteously indignant as a guy with an engagingly silly smirk   can be.

What may be more significant   is that Paul broke the story about a more widespread campaign of arm-twisting   from the Commissioner?s office.

While Paul worked hard to   cast such actions in a positive light, the revelation that far more effort is   being put into ?spinning the facts? in this edition of baseball?s St. Vitus   Dance shows that Selig and company are willing to move toward Draconian measures   inside baseball?s community in order to turn around the essentially disastrous   press they?ve been getting for the past six weeks.

And finally, there?s Exhibit   C?MLB?s attempt to ?spin? the issue of competitive balance via public opinion   surveys that?ever so conveniently?show ostensible public support for the owners?   position.

The consulting firm of Penn,   Schoen, and Berland conducted a poll for MLB, and a leaked copy of their   report shows that Budzilla and his boys are mounting a carefully-crafted campaign   to narrow public perception to their talking points. (As you?ll see, this is   far from the ?open, intelligent debate of baseball?s economic and political   issues? that Paul White hopes to see emerge from such efforts.)

The first bogey in the MLB   opinion poll spin is in the claim that three out of four fans believe that there   is lack of competitive balance in baseball. The actual figures show that only   36% of the poll respondents ?strongly agree? with this assertion. Another 39%   ?somewhat agree? with this statement.

So, in fact, only slightly   more than a third of baseball fans are seriously concerned about this issue.  

That?s not how Budzilla   and his boys will spin the data, of course. ?Three out of four fans!? they?ll   be screaming from the rooftops.

A bit further down in the   report, the marketing wonks get their licks in. ?If competitive balance is not   improved,? they conclude, ?42% of fans will lose interest in the game.?

Interestingly, they break   this down into ?avid? fans and ?moderate? fans. (Let?s skip over the fact that   they don?t bother to define these categories for us, or apparently don?t feel   the need to generate any kind of product linkage profile for these groups?i.e.   how many games are attended on average by these groups, how much money is spent   on average, etc.).

Strangely, the ?avid? fans   are far less worried about competitive balance issues. Only 35% of them will   lose interest, as opposed to 47% of the ?moderate? fans.

It?s kind of interesting   that this figure?35%?is almost identical to the earlier percentage of fans agreeing   that there is a lack of competitive balance. It really seems that slightly more   than a third of the most important baseball fans (that is, the ones that probably   spend close to 75% of the income MLB derives from ticket sales, parking, and   concessions) are worried about this issue.

And yet you?ll be hearing   that ?3 out of 4 fans? think competitive balance is out of whack.

Probably the funniest slide   in the presentation comes when MLB tries to prop up Budzilla. 77% of the fans   responding to this poll apparently said that they see Selig in a more positive   light as a result of his efforts to get out the message that MLB has a competitive   balance problem.

As Charlie Saeger   pointed out, the wording of this question must have been exceptionally precise   to produce such a result, given that about 77% of the media has been hammering   on Budzilla with anything not nailed down to the floor over the past six weeks.

A more blunt question, such   as ?Do you think Bud Selig has done a good job as Commissioner of Baseball??   is not going to produce a 77% approval rating. The spin cycle here is about   six times the average speed of an industrial-strength dryer at your corner Laundromat.

Some economic issues do   get addressed. The poll claims that 62% of fans believe that baseball is having   financial problems?but, as we?ve seen before, this figure is likely a combination   of ?serious financial problems? and ?some financial problems,? with about half   in each category. The consulting firm wasn?t willing to break down the specific   responses for this question, which often means that they?re trying to hide a   soft spot in the data.

Any way you slice this data,   it appears that maybe a third of baseball fans are buying all or part of the   owners? message. Their efforts here are to make it appear to the media and the   public that the support for the owners? position is twice as strong as what   it actually is.

And, of course, that?s why   they call it ?spin.?

In the final slide, the   consulting firm lets us know that it interviewed 1000 baseball fans, 310 of   which were ?avid? fans. I realize that there are valid claims for scientific   polling, but I am just not convinced that we know enough about the constitution   of this group to feel confident that they represent the full contingent of hard-core   fans. Penn, Schoen and Berland aren?t telling us, and MLB isn?t going to, either.   The job of the pollster in this case isn?t to tell us what really is, it?s to   give the client something they can use to sell their message.

Frankly, we?d be better   off running our own poll, and my hope is that the editors here at Baseball Primer   and the guys who?ve taken their lumps from me in the past will seize this opportunity   to create polls of their own, ones that ask blunt, direct questions about baseball?s   economic situation, the issue of competitive balance, and the performance of   Bud Selig and his MLB elves.

They might also ask people?s   opinions about contraction?a question that was curiously absent from the Penn,   Schoen and Berland data set.

Or perhaps there was no way to spin that question to a figure   above 50%.


Don Malcolm Posted: December 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: December 23, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604610)
I've said this before, I'll say it again: I don't believe Rob Neyer suddenly attacked Don Fehr because of Bud Selig's arm-twisting. I realize that Neyer hadn't said anything about Fehr in his recent columns, but there's a simple explanation for that: Fehr hadn't been doing anything this offseason. 97% of the contraction/labor news this offseason had come from the owners; the union was wisely keeping their mouth shut. And, Neyer's reaction to Selig's call was to write a column attacking Selig by posing all the questions Selig should have to answer. It's not unreasonable to suppose that after writing several anti-Selig columns, Neyer got a strong pro-union response, which may have prompted him to clarify his position. I don't see any logical inconsistency in someone disliking both sides in baseball's labor troubles.

Oh, and given that Don Fehr isn't stupid, why isn't he out spinning the union's side of the argument the same way that Selig is spining the owners? A little proactivity never hurt.
   2. Don Malcolm Posted: December 23, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604614)
I made a joke elsewhere on this site about Rob ?going off his medication.? That might be closer to the truth than we think. Rob is now asking that the Royals be one of the teams to be contracted?it can?t get much blacker than that.

It must be strange to be a columnist who becomes, as the old Dylan song goes, ?only a pawn in their game.? But Devin overlooks the fact that the praise Rob got for his column about the hearings was actually well-deserved?it was probably the best column Rob has written in a couple of years.

I don?t see his flip-flop as ?clarification?, I see it as distancing himself from being a pawn. It?s not as if he said anything pro-union or anti-union in a long, long time?but for some reason Rob felt he had to take a slap at the union, even though his critique of Selig?s testimony didn?t draw a single comparison of the MLB owners vs. the MLBPA.

That said, Rob?s critiques of Don Fehr don?t amount to a hill of beans. He?s greedy? He hasn?t gotten a bigger minimum salary? Gee, aren?t those just a little bit ?logically inconsistent?? And that line about knowing lots of people making more than C. C. Sabathia was just plain ludicrous. I mean, how many 20-year-olds do youknow (aside from a few teen popstars) who are making more than $200K?

We often compare ballplayers to actors when we argue that they should have the right to make as much as they can in the time they have to earn it. The fact is that ballplayers are more like established actors, not the vast majority of SAG members who work other jobs while trying to catch a break. Minor leaguers actually get paid for doing what they want to do?play ball. No, they don?t make much, but they?re in a system where if they do well, they will get a 10-fold salary jump when they reach the big leagues. Either way you try to ?solve? this ?problem,? you create a bigger one, and one with ugly ramifications in economics and labor issues. Owners aren?t interested in pumping further subsidies into the minors, and they?re not about to raise the minimum salary without demanding items that the players aren?t prepared to give away?for example, a salary cap.

I agree with ?Poll-Man? that people who make up their minds as a result of public opinion polls have problems, but that?s not the point here. The point is that the owners are going to try as hard as they can to force their agenda down everyone?s throats, and that includes concocting ?polls? that can be fed into the media to further those efforts. Yes, that?s the way things tend to work these days. Yes, many of us know better. But if we don?t point out the fallacies and make them clear, we run the risk that blatantly bad, unworkable, and unfair decisions will be made, which will only further the agony of fans?many of whom have moods as black as Rob Neyer?s.
   3. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604616)
. I'm curious, for example, why they didn't bother to ask fans their feelings about contraction (or why they didn't bother to publish these results).

Need you ask? How come Dr. Pepper doesn't publish all the surveys which show the consumers saying that their product tastes like dishwasher detergent?
   4. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604617)
Devin writes:
...the union was wisely keeping their mouth shut.
and then
Oh, and given that Don Fehr isn't stupid, why isn't he out spinning the union's side of the argument the same way that Selig is spining the owners? A little proactivity never hurt.

Uh, a little cognitive dissonance there, Devin?

In any case, IMO, the public doesn't like Fehr. He's an excellent labor leader and strategist, but he's a lousy spokesperson. He should stay off camera as much as possible. And people tend to hear what they expect to hear; if Fehr said that it was cold in December, he'd be accused of demanding more money from the owners. So safer for him to keep quiet -- the only way to be reasonably sure he won't be misquoted.
   5. Jim Furtado Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604618)
Dr. Pepper is the elixir of the Gods.
   6. Carl Goetz Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604620)
We can Rip on Neyer all we want, but the Royals make a lot more sense for contraction than the Twins do(assuming you believe the owners that this is about getting rid of teams who can't compete). How much did they just give Knoblauch? They'll probably be in the red this year just from that signing.
   7. Ephus Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604621)
The most important thing that we have learned during this off-season is that Bud Selig is absolutely tone deaf to the state of the American psyche. He followed a tremendous World Series, one which actually had the press calling highly paid players (Schilling and Johnson) courageous, by dumping cold water on the fans. He has held the threat of contraction over the fans, claiming the right of anyone to go out of business, while offering the Twins three times the open market value of the team to contract. He appeared before Congress and appeared only slightly less truthful than the tobacco executives when they claimed that they did not believe that nicotine was addictive. Adding insult to injury, he trumpeted the findings of the Blue Ribbon panel when one of the members of the Blue Ribbon panel was part of a group paying a record amount for a franchise that Selig claimed lost money. A poll will do MLB as much good as a screendoor in a submarine. MLB's position is indefensible (and entirely self-inflicted).

With regard to Neyer's column, let's not lose sight of the fact that he directly compared Selig to Yasser Arafat. Where I come from, it would be difficult to imagine a more damning comparison. Moreover, Neyer followed up with a series of questions for Selig that demonstrate exactly how vacuous MLB's position is. If MLB's PR offensive makes every writer as "neutral" as Neyer, they might as well close up shop now.

The one question that I would love to see put to Selig is whether there is any franchise owner who would be willing to hand over the keys to the store to a financially responsible party for no additional consideration. Until the answer to that question is yes, there really is no threat of contraction. Rather, there is a threat that MLB will use its anti-trust exemption to blackmail the public into building additional stadia.

   8. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604622)
Okay, my fault for desperately trying to find something to write so I didn't look just like a Rob Neyer shill. However, I think what's happening now is that the labor-relations front is moving into more of a PR campaign phase, as Don is arguing. For example, in today's NY Daily News, there's a "Special Report" which is a two-page interview with Sandy Alderson and Larry Lucchino spreading the owners' load of tripe all over the page. While back in November and early December Selig was getting himself in trouble with every other word out of his mouth, right now the owners' mouthpieces seem to be more "on message". What I was crediting Fehr for was not making any proposals or belligerent statements and giving people who dislike the union ammunition. I think at this point, though, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea for the union to do some spinning of their own. There's some truth to the saying that if you repeat something often enough, people will start to believe it. I don't think that the union, in general, tries to influence public opinion nearly as much as the owners do (ex. Has the union ever comissioned any public opinion surveys to back their aruments?) They probably don't feel that public opinion is an arena they need to be fighting in, and their record of success is hard to argue with. It just seems wrong to me to give your opponent an unimpeded opportunity to argue his case. If you still think I'm being inconsistent, well, you could be right, but it's not a big deal.

Merry Christmas to all who're celebrating it.
   9. phredbird Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604624)
one stadium, two stadiums.
stadia is acceptable, but only when referring to those of ancient rome and greece
   10. Rich Rifkin I Posted: December 24, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604625)
Don: "Frankly, we?d be better off running our own poll, and my hope is that the editors here at Baseball Primer and the guys who?ve taken their lumps from me in the past will seize this opportunity to create polls of their own, ones that ask blunt, direct questions about...

"... baseball?s economic situation..."

There are at least four different components of "baseball's economic situation" to cast an opinion on. First off, it appears to me that revenue generation, in total, is excellent, in that total revenues flowing into baseball since the Strike of 1994 have grown at a very healthy rate. Second, player salaries seem also to be very healthy to me, though they have grown less vigorously in the last 7 years than total revenues have grown. Third, prices paid by fans seem too high to me. But that's really a free market function. While it's true that most owners have somewhat of a monopoly on selling major league baseball in a given market, and thus they can charge monopolistic prices to a certain extent, no one is holding a gun to fans to buy tickets and other merchandise. The only aspect that is really bothersome in this regard is the fact that business buyers, who inflate demand for baseball tickets, are able to write off the purchase of their tickets, while most fans must pay full fare. That's not fair, but it's not new. The most unhealthy aspect of "baseball's economic situation" is number four: revenue disparity. Until George Steinbrenner is forced to concede that he is selling major league baseball on his "local" radio and TV and cable and satellite broadcasts, and not just Yankee baseball, and as such is forced to divide the revenues from selling major league baseball appropriately, a certain percentage going to the Yankees, a certain percentage going to the opposing team playing in the same broadcast, and another large percentage going to the cartel, revenue disparity will continue to plague baseball and may bring about fan disinterest.

"... the issue of competitive balance..."

This is hard to define. Robert Dudek has done excellent and compelling work showing that competitive balance is out of whack, and that the problem is getting worse. But it's still the case that despite terrible revenue disparity and inequity, it's more important to have Billy Beane's brains that Peter Angelos's benjamins. What I find ironic is that many of the fans (on this site) who clamor against the wild card and the expanded playoffs (from two rounds to three) also point to the fact that some low-revenue clubs have made the playoffs in recent years. But what they ignore is that the effects of competitive imbalance shown by Dudek would become markedly worse if only two teams in each league were invited to the post-season. And even though it is the case that such a system would have knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, I think it's obvious that George "I'm spending local TV money that isn't mine" Steinbrenner would have, after his team declined in 2000, gone out and bought free agents to replace his holes at 1B, 3B, LF, and RF, just as he did this year when another club had the audacity to take George's prize in the November Classic.

"... and the performance of Bud Selig..."


"and his MLB elves."

Sandy Alderson is an excellent elf. I like the changes to the schedule, the playoffs, the strike zone, etc. I don't know enough about most of the others to have an opinion. But I think Frank Robinson is on the whole good. My only strong objection to him is that his punishments (e.g., Robby Alomar) have not been tough enough. When NFL players are out of line, they lose all of their pay and playing time for 1/4th of their season or more. Baseball should emulate that sort of structure.
   11. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 25, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604626)
I understand your frustration, but your later analysis is right -- look at the history. In every baseball labor dispute, management fumbles around for a while, but eventually gets "on message," and fans blame players for most of baseball's problems. Players do try some p.r., but if anything, it tends to backfire, and the players are perceived as greedy, selfish, and the cause of the dispute. Owners pat themselves on the back for winning the p.r. war....
....and then players win the labor dispute, because what fans think really doesn't make a damn bit of difference in the long run. This is a dispute between players and owners, not between players and fans. The only way fan opinion would matter would be if the owners throw ReplacementBall at us. If fans are willing to support that, then the players are dead. As long as fans aren't, their dislike for the players doesn't matter.
   12. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: December 25, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604627)
Rich Rifkin writes:

Robert Dudek has done excellent and compelling work showing that competitive balance is out of whack, and that the problem is getting worse.

Robert Dudek has done some excellent work. It certainly does not show that competitive balance is out of whack. It shows -- assuming for the sake of argument that his metric is the right one to use -- that competitive balance is less than in the early 1990s, when it was at the highest level ever. That's not even in the same universe as "out of whack" or a "problem" which is "getting worse."

The rest of your paragraph is laughable. The Yankees not only don't win in 2000-2001; they don't make the postseason in 1995-1997 either. The Yankees have been *the* biggest beneficiaries of the expanded playoffs. Sure, if you just assume away them losing, then it's "obvious" that they'd win. Why not just declare the season over before it begins, give the Yankees their World Series rings, and then whine that the Yankees have World Series rings? It would save an awful lot of trouble. You wouldn't have to actually watch any games before complaining.
   13. Charles Saeger Posted: December 25, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604628)
>My only strong objection to him is that his punishments (e.g., Robby Alomar) have not been tough enough.

Actually, Alomar's punishment was about right, compared to other punishments in history (Marichal got 9 days for whacking Roseboro with the bat, or about 2 starts). The problem punishment was the one that did not occur, the one of Hirschbeck, who should have been suspended for about 2 weeks.

Of all the changes this decade, the following ones make sense to me:

* Combining the umpire crews and league offices. These cut costs, and the league presidents have been redundant for years.

* Challenging Richie Phillips. I usually take the opposite side in management-labor, but when part of the demand is to force a butt-kissing comment ("The major league umpires are the best umpires in the world!"), there's just no negotiating.

* Expanded playoffs. I don't particularily like these, but they do make a certain amount of sense. There are better ways these could have been done, but September attendance has long been a problem, and this is an attempt, however misguided, to rectify that.

* The return of the unbalanced schedule. I must add a qualifier to that, from the previous comment. Yes, it makes sense, with a Wild Card, to have a balanced schedule. Such is the problem with the Wild Card.

* Expansion. We need another one soon. Thirty-two teams is a nice, even number, and it will not only help the league to be in Washington and New Jersey, but it will help scheduling.

The problems have been:

* Labor issues.
* Large/small market issues.
* Interleague play. As best I can tell from a cursory glance (I shall be taking a more detailed look over the next year or so), the boost in attendance is not. The boosts are Yankees-Mets and similar matchups, which disproportionately benefit large market clubs. Also, playing those games in midsummer makes them look even better, because intraleague games occur not only then but also in April and September, when attendance is down. It doesn't help much when negotiating the national television contract. Interleague play has been a failure for MLB, IMSNHO, and needs to end soon.
   14. Dan McLaughlin Posted: December 26, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604632)
This whole contraction debate would be so much simpler if we all remember the following: (1) You don't have to side with, respect, or even believe, Don Fehr to be skeptical of the owners. Neyer's not being inconsistent in slamming both, even if his critique of Fehr was a bit weak and off the cuff. (2) You can think contraction might, under some circumstances, be justified as an option, and still think that the current proposal is just an unserious threat made as a bargaining tactic and one supported by bogus financial claims.

I wouldn't really be crushed if the Rays and the Expos were contracted out of business, but it insults my intelligence to suggest that MLB as a whole needs this to happen or that -- even if two teams were contracted -- MLB won't follow contraction within a few years with another round of expansion.
   15. Bud Selig Posted: December 26, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604634)
Give this contraction issue a few years and you'll all just forget about it, just like you did the strike.

You'll still follow baseball, buy the merchandise and buy tickets to games. You'll support us, no matter what we do. We can expand to Tampa Bay one year and contract Tampa Bay the next year and you'll still support us.

So we can, and will, do whatever we want. Your canine loyalty and short-term-only memories will keep us in power.

   16. Charles Saeger Posted: December 26, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604635)
Don mentioned a comment of mine, and relates directly to the poll.

The exact assertion the summary paper made was, "More than three-quarters (77%) of fans look more favorably on Commissioner Selig in light of his mission to enhance competitive balance."

Having participated in a few phone polls, the question indicated would have an odd construction. In a world were Heinleinian Fair Witnesses (read "Stranger in a Strange Land") write these releases, the question would read something like:

"In light of Commissioner Bud Selig's mission to enhance competitive balance, do you look on him much more favorably, somewhat more favorably, about the same, somewhat less favorably, or much less favorably?"

Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue like the Gettysburg Address does. It's also leading, so much that any ten-year-old can spot it.

I suspect the real question was something like:

"Were Commissioner Selig to enhance competitive balance, would you look on him much more favorably, somewhat more favorably, about the same, somewhat less favorably, or much less favorably?"

That, of course, would lead to a 77% agreement rate.

I should note that the avid fans had a small but distinct tendency to agree with Smokin' Some Bud more than the moderate fans did, so one must wonder who provided the list of the "avid fans." It doesn't appear to include the Baseball Primer folks, the Baseball Prospectus folks, Rob Neyer, Bill James, and most SABR members I know.
   17. Robert Dudek Posted: December 29, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604645)
I want to thank Rich Rifkin and David Nieporent for their kind words about my work.

David is right, if he means to imply that whether or not the change in competitive balance is a problem depends on one's point-of-view. I'm sure that competitive imbalance has been increasing over the last 10 years, but no one can say if this will continue, stabilize or reverse course in the near future.

My measure of competitive balance (a 4-year standard deviation of wPCT) shows that the current level is roughly equivalent to the 1975-79 level (the start of the free agency era). The high point of imbalance was 77-81 (in the free-agency era), but this was likely due to weak expansion clubs being included in the calculations for the first time.

My preference is for more competitive balance than we have now - along the lines of what we had in the 80s and 90s up to the strike. Rich seems to side with me on this point; David doesn't - and that's fine.

Concerning the Yankees and playoff formats: it is very likely that the Yankees would not have won 5 out of the last 6 American League titles if the old format had continued. But we can't say how many playoff spots they would have had under that system because the stategies employed by teams in a 2 out of 14 make the playoffs versus a 4 out of 14 make the playoffs system are different (off-season and in-season roster composition and player usage can be altered depending on how many games you have to win to make the playoffs).

   18. David Geiser Posted: December 29, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604646)

It's worthwhile to criticize Rob Neyer for two reasons: 1. He is the highest profile stat-enlightened mainstream columnist, and the cost of that privilege is criticism, and 2. He doesn't have a huge ego, and actually admits that he is wrong on occasion. If you express your disagreement with him, you might actually engage him in a worthwhile discussion about it.

As for the tone of the criticism that is often represented on this site, I find it tiresome (Eugene Freedman's recent outstanding piece being a refreshing exception). In fact, it's embarassing to read considering that Neyer doesn't engage in this sort of ad hominem stuff and that he tends to accept criticism with humility. When people are missing the obvious sarcasm of the "Contract the Royals" column, or suggesting that Neyer has been duped into being a mouthpiece for Bud Selig, things have gotten way, way out of hand. Please, for your readers' sake, keep it above the belt and grounded in reality.
   19. Don Malcolm Posted: December 30, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604647)
A few more thoughts, directed at various participants?

Devin?MLBPA wouldn?t want to go toe-to-toe on the PR issue unless they were in the midst of an actual meltdown. They don?t have the same resources that MLB has to access/concoct data from the fans.

Dan?The simple thing to remember about contraction is that it solves nothing. It has no effect on ?competitive balance.? It?s simply extortion and backroom dealing at its worst since the point in time when owners could hold more than one franchise. Technically, that?s not the case here, but given the machinations that are going on, it amounts to something mighty similar.

Charlie?The unbalanced schedule, at least as deployed currently, is an absolute farce, and probably is one of the major reasons why Rob Dudek?s competitive balance index shows a spike for the last four years. I mean, it?s bad enough when interleague play ensures that teams don?t play the same schedule, but it?s another to add in home/away imbalances and intraleague imbalances on top of that.

About the only actual benefit of contraction would be that it?d mitigate some of the stench surrounding the schedule structure. But going to 32 teams gives you many options for eliminating (or at least minimizing) the distortion inherent in the schedule we now have.

Rob D.?While I too applaud you for making the effort to measure ?competitive balance,? we really need to see the full story (the pre-free agent years) before we draw any conclusions about what the data mean. There are also other ways of quantifying this issue that should probably be placed side-by-side with your work for purposes of comparison.

A key point, however, is that the 80s may simply be a unique phenomenon in that so many teams made it to the World Series. We should be careful about ?engineering? proposals designed to recreate those circumstances, because the results simply may not be (completely) reproducible.

Rob F.?I think most of us have been aware that Rob Neyer?s column isn?t hard-core sabermetrics for some time now. And, if you read this column again, you?ll actually find that he wasn?t being criticized for that.

If you want to criticize me for that, you might want to look for a column in which I criticize him in that way. Otherwise your remarks, which have some merit, are simply out of place.

David Geiser?The man who wrote the following lines?

Near as I can tell, Fehr's big accomplishment has been to make hundreds of young men fabulously wealthy ... but of course, those same young men would be fabulously wealthy if a half-witted chimpanzee had been running the union, so I'm not exactly sure how brilliantly he's performed.

?may not be as "humble" as you apparently are representing him as being.

This sentence is a good bit worse than anything I or anyone else at this site has ever said about Rob Neyer. That?s my opinion. If you don?t agree, then I suggest you may simply be tone-deaf?or you have a very unusual sense of anatomy (cf. your reference to ?above the belt?).

As for Rob being a ?dupe,? I never said that. I said that he was unhappy at becoming a pawn in the baseball?s latest round of PR, which is probably why he over-reacted and wrote the line that you see above.

As for his piece on the Royals, whether it was black humor or simply another (tiresome) rant about bad GMs, it grades out at about a 9.5 on the self-indulgence scale. I?m virtually certain that if I?d submitted that piece to the editors here, they would have told me to run it on my blog?if at all.

I?m happy to discuss this matter with you further, but for the sake of others here, please use my email address (provided).

Speaking of being ?grounded in reality??by the way, Dave, how?d you like the other 95% percent of the article? :-)
   20. David Geiser Posted: December 30, 2001 at 12:20 AM (#604648)

FWIW, Don, I completely agree with your position regarding Fehr and "the other 95% of your article," and that Neyer is dead wrong on the subject. His response to some of the same issues raised in Eugene Freedman's column did not satisfy me at all.

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