BOB: Moneyball revisited and the Cubs vs. the IRSby Brian Borawski
September 23, 2009
Moneyball doesn’t pay?I swear, Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball has to be the most misunderstood book ever. While the statistical analysis piece of the book is a big chunk of it, there’s a lot more to it than that. I liken it to a value-investing book for baseball executives. The disdain for scouts was present, but so were strategies like picking up players in their walk years to get extra draft picks, trading away closers with high save totals because saves mean very little, and the use of on-base percentage (OBP) to value players, which until recently was an underutilized statistic. Now, with the Oakland Athletics coming up on one of their worst seasons in a while, I guess we should all expect the “moneyball doesn’t work” stories to start coming out.
Fortunately, Michael Hiltzik in his Los Angeles Times article gets it mostly right because he brings in both sides. The A’s can’t compete monetarily with the big boys so they’re automatically at a disadvantage. In the same vein, there have been many posers as far as statistical analysis goes, so it’s much more difficult for the A’s to stay ahead of the pack. It makes you wonder if the book, by highlighting the A’s strategies, may have ultimately been the team's undoing.
IRS could question Cubs saleWhile it’s a bit slanted, Allan Sloan at the Washington Post has done about as good of a job of breaking down the tax implications of the Chicago Cubs sale as anyone I’ve seen. The deal on the table involves a leveraged partnership, where the Tribune Company puts in the team and the Ricketts family put in cash as well as a hefty loan into a partnership. Tribune emerges with most of the cash and a small five percent share of the team while the Ricketts get the bulk (95 percent in this case) of the Cubs. They’re doing it this way to avoid approximately $300 million in taxes that would be incurred on the sale of the team.
One tax expert quoted in the article thinks the IRS will ultimately take a look at the transaction. Sam Zell, the owner of Tribune, used a similar structure when he sold Newsday to Cablevision back in 2008.
Minor League Baseball falls short of attendance recordAttendance for Minor League Baseball took a slight downturn in 2009 after five straight record-breaking seasons. Considering the economy though, the 2.9 percent decrease per game has to look like a victory as it’s looking like MLB is geared to have a steeper decline. In all, the average attendance in 2009 was 4,055 compared to 4,274 in 2008. The Florida State League showed some spark, leading all minor leagues with a 12.2 percent increase from the prior year. The Midwest League set an attendance record for the third straight year while 16 teams set new attendance records. The final number for the season is 41,644,518, although the average number is usually used for comparison purposes because games are more likely to get canceled than in the majors.
One of the cornerstones of the record-breaking Midwest League are the Dayton Dragons, who have now sold out all of their games over their 10-year history. Their streak sits at 704 straight sellouts and still counting. The only professional sports team to have a longer sellout record is the Portland Trail Blazers, who sold out 814 games. If Dayton keeps it going, the team should top that record in 2011.
Tiger Stadium demolition completedOn Monday at 9:24 a.m., the demolition of Tiger Stadium was completed. The end has been in sight for some time after a failed attempt by the Old Tiger Stadium Concervancy (OTSC) to salvage a part of the ballpark for recreational use, but a zoning problem delayed the final teardown. With the end in sight, many fans went to the old ballpark over the weekend to pick up keepsake pieces. One thing I don’t like about this Detroit News story though is how it blames the Conservancy for costing the city money. In the end, the plan by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy was viable; it was the short-sighted bureaucracy in Detroit that cost fans a potential venue for high school and recreational baseball.
Marlins stadium deal still makes people’s head shakeAfter years of complaining and an aborted relocation to San Antonio, the Florida Marlins finally got a stadium deal earlier this year. While the fact that they got the money isn’t too strange, the fact that they got it in one of the steepest economic downturns is. In all, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County are set to fund close to 75 percent of the projected $645 million ballpark. To make it an even better deal for the Marlins, the team gets to keep all of the revenue. The process which the Marlins went through to get their stadium deal was analyzed quite nicely in Ken Belson’s New York Times report over the weekend.
In the meantime, work on the ballpark continues. The first vertical concrete pour for the super columns happened over a week ago and these pours will continue until each vertical structure is completed.
Brian Borawski is a member of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee and writes about the Detroit Tigers at his own website, TigerBlog. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail.