The 2005 Business of Baseball Awardsby Maury Brown
December 26, 2005
Ah, let’s get nostalgic. Believe it—we’re getting ready to come into the backside of first decade of the 21st century. So, let’s pop open the bubbly. Let those who deserve it drink this nectar of “the winner.” But, let’s remember, “contents are under pressure.” Someone’s going to open the bottle and shoot themselves in the eye.
How did 2005 fare outside the lines? You know, the business of baseball? Here’s the good, and the not so good awards for 2005.
The “Getting off on the right foot” award
Besides the fact that we can all now remove the “conflict of interest” moniker from Bud Selig now that he can no longer accused of running the Brewers from the Commissioner’s Office, Mark Attanasio officially came on board as principal owner of the Brewers at the end of 2004 and immediately became a breath of fresh air in Milwaukee. How did he celebrate his first year as owner? He did what had never been done before: let the fans in for free for the last game of the season. "Our goal was to offer something unprecedented to the greatest baseball fans in America," Attanasio said at the press conference announcing the gift to fans. "The people of the state of Wisconsin continue to show tremendous passion for the Brewers, and this is our gesture to thank them for their incredible support in my first year as owner." The easy bet is revenues will be up next season for the Brew Crew.
The “Foot in mouth” award
Give it to David Samson, he had the jewels to get up in front of 600 or so season ticket holders after the Marlins slashed payroll in a, *ahem*, "market correction" due to a lack of movement on a new stadium for the Marlins. Of course, he could have told the angry mob, "Thanks for being faithful," but nooooo. His response? "In 2002, none of you were wearing Marlins stuff." Way to win enemies and influence people, David.
The “Let’s do heel-clicks” award
Better than the Lords of the Dance. The 29 owners all jump for joy as they’ve seen revenues shoot through the roof from $3 billion in 2000 to $4.8 billion last season.
The “Fallen from Grace” award
My how one year changes things. In 2004 they were erecting statues of Henry, Werner and Lucchino. A Shaughnessy column later, Theo the Wunderkind bounded out the door in Boston, sending the baseball media into a frenzy over whether Lucchino planted the story. Henry, near tears at Epstein’s press conference announcing Theo’s departure reflects, ''I have to ask myself, maybe I'm not fit to be the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox".
The “Putting money where your mouth is” award
With revenue sharing working its magic, Rogers Communications taking over SkyDome, and the fact that the Canadian dollar is up 4% against the U.S. dollar since the middle of November and about 40% since January of 2002, Ted Rogers opened up the wallet and raised the Blue Jays player payroll budget to $75 million, up nearly two-thirds since the off-season of 2004. J.P. Ricciardi then goes out and surprises everyone by going hard after B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett and landing them in a shallow free agency pool. Oh, Canada!
The “Let’s say a mouthful” award
The Royals held back at the Winter Meetings, and then in one day, picked up Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz and Scott Elarton. In other news, Royals announcers Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre went into therapy over the shock of the signings.
The “Go sit in the corner” award
Don Fehr and the players union got shoved into a corner by the likes of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former pitcher and Hall of Famer, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) over what these politicians saw as the union's audacious unwillingness to reopen the basic agreement for a second time. The union bent, but the leadership of the union played it up as good news. "We've successfully dealt with a very difficult issue and resolved it well in advance of the termination of the basic agreement," Bob Manfred says. "Hopefully, we'll be able to build on the momentum from the steroid deal and reach an overall agreement." How did Marvin Miller, the union's first Executive Director react to the forced agreement? “[Reopening the contract] is foolishness in the extreme,” he said. “None of this of this had to happen. A contract ought to be a sacrosanct agreement that cannot be abrogated. And, the very act of one party asking another to abrogate what was derived in good faith, is something to be condemned in very certain terms. It is unprincipled on the part of Selig and the people he represents.” When asked if he felt the threats by members of Congress to pass law imposing testing penalties had teeth, Miller’s reply was, “In my opinion [Congress’ threat] had no teeth.” Asked if he felt the Players’ Association been weakened by this decision, Miller replied, “No question about it.” Well, what did you expect from the man that built the Players' Association up from the ground level into one of the most powerful and strongest unions in the world?
The “Free Parking” award
The sign says, “Under Construction”, now that Vince Naimoli has left the building, new principle owner Stuart Sternberg went to work trying to patch up relations with the Tampa Bay business community and fans. First order of business? Free parking next season at the Trop. Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
The “Let’s kick our self in the teeth, again” award
Reggie Jackson may have been Mr. October on the field, but he’s got a ways to go when it comes to learning how to become an ownership candidate. Last time it was bothering Bud Selig at his hospital bedside just after Selig had surgery when word got out that Lew Wolff landed the A’s. This time, Reggie blows it by calling up the Twins offering to purchase the team, with the transparent intent of moving the team to Las Vegas. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the Twins, who are closer than they’ve ever been to getting public funding for a new ballpark. Twins President, Jerry Bell’s response? "It's unfortunate because people are going to connect the dots and say, `Here the Twins go again, threatening.'" Way to almost put Selig back into the hospital, Reggie.
The “Exercise in futility” award
Or, this could be the “Bataan Death March” award, if you like. MLB still hasn’t awarded an owner for the Washington Nationals. DC still hasn’t passed the lease agreement. Nothing like two entities known for red tape to drag things out ad infinitum. To end the year, the DC Council couldn’t get consensus on the outcome of the vote as there’s the small matter of the cost spiraling ever further skyward. Now coming close to boondoggle status, by not making the Dec. 31 deadline for the lease agreement, the District will break the Baseball Stadium Agreement brokered by Mayor Williams and DC Sports and Entertainment Commission Chair, Mark Tuohey. Bob DuPuy’s response when the news broke that a vote was being delayed was hardly a veiled threat, “We used our best efforts to reach closure with the Council to ensure the future of the Washington Nationals in the District of Columbia. If the Council fails to approve the lease, we would be at a crossroads.” It’s awfully early to be going to a marriage councilor, isn’t it?
The “I couldn’t lose” award
Think Bud Selig is feeling good these days? Well, why not? He had Congress standing behind him with a big stick when the topic of opening up the basic agreement came up … again. Yes, we have more testing and tougher penalties for those caught using steroids. Yes, they added amphetamines to the list of drugs tested. A good thing as the two or three people that decided that they wouldn’t watch or go to games until this was resolved, can now do so. In the meantime, watch the next hilarious episode of “Asleep in the Dugout.”
The “Just like starting over” award
How ‘bout a do-over? The Dirty Dozen that were busted over the course of last year for testing positive for steroids—from Alex Sanchez to Matt Lawton—all get a free pass with the ratification of a new Joint Drug Agreement (yes, that’s what it’s called, a Joint Drug Agreement). If any of these 12 test positive again for steroids, it will be chalked up as Positive Test #1, not #2. See Palmeiro, it’s like it all never happened.
The “BoB award from Anaheim of Los Angeles California, of the United States of America” award
Angels owner Arte Moreno is smart. He decided that he wanted more market penetration into Los Angeles for the Anaheim Angels. It’s how he did that that has created responses from the comical, to the perturbed, to the confused. Yes, they are now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that doesn’t mean the City of Anaheim has to like it. As the court battle over the name drags out, tensions have become frayed as the costs continue to mount. Moreno made the threat, "If this gets put into appeals court, somewhere along the line you have to think about whether you're gone," he said. Well, I guess we’re talking about somewhere in the greater LA area, as the rustling you hear is all the teams scrambling to fill the void if Arte goes to Vegas or Portland.
The “Quiet Company” award
Shhhh … What club pulled in the most revenues last season? The Yankees? Red Sox? Angels? Nope, the Seattle Mariners. Yes, that team, in that little corner of the U.S. pulled in $163 million in revenues last season, and was ranked by Forbes magazine to be worth $414 million, the fifth highest in MLB. How big of a turnaround has it been for the Mariners? They’re now worth 63 times their 1977 initial price tag of $6.5 million.
The “We’re so bloody rich” award
You didn’t hear much about it because it didn’t happen. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, First Boston and J.P. Morgan tried in vain to get the owners to go forward with the an IPO of the MLBAM, MLB’s Advanced Media wing. The Wall Street analysts predicted the IPO to be worth anywhere from $2-$2.5 billion. Why was it scrapped? The offering would require full public disclosure. MLB opening the books? You’re joking, right? That, and there’s small issue of the current basic agreement coming to an end in mid-December of next year. Yes, I’m sure that Don Fehr would buy into continuing the luxury tax if the owners all cashed in on this deal.
The “Let’s expand our horizons” award
The Red Sox ownership decided to stay in Fenway, as opposed to trying to build a new ballpark. And the purists went, “Ya!” How do the Red Sox and Janet Marie-Smith plan to remain competitive from a revenue collection standpoint without new digs? Develop the area around Fenway Park. ''The general thinking is to plan in a way to create a neighborhood and mixed-use living," said Smith. On how the deal is progressing, Smith said, “'We were all pleasantly surprised. It was one of the few times I didn't know what to say."
The “We’re going to relocate! No, really!” award
Maybe you’ve heard: The Twins need a new ballpark. Maybe you’ve heard: They’ve been saying this since 1997. Maybe you’ve heard nearly the same of the Marlins. Seems getting a publicly funded ballpark doesn’t come easy these days. The Twins are watching their $508 million ballpark proposal for the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis expire on Dec. 31. Mike Opat, the Hennepin County Board’s lead booster for the new Twins ballpark was heard to remark, “How many times can you push a rock up a hill?” “It's a treacherous political environment,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. In Florida, things have moved into the “serious hammer time” realm. The Marlins asked for, and got permission to, seek relocation. The lease arrangement with Dolphin Stadium owner Wayne Huizenga runs through 2010. If no deal is in place by then, the Marlins could relocate. To make good on the leveraging, Marlins’ reps already visited San Antonio, and plan to travel to Portland sometime shortly after the end of the year. But what’s this? Barry Jackson of Miami Herald reports that, “Top MLB officials appear determined to get a Marlins stadium deal done on Wayne Huizenga-owned land next to Dolphins Stadium. Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB president Bob DuPuy already have spoken with Huizenga, DuPuy tells [the Miami Herald].” Well, I guess we’ll be talking about these issues in the 2006 BoB Awards … or was that 2007? ... 2008?
The “We’re all doing much better, thanks. Now, we need to shut down some teams via contraction” award
Never mind that the owners—all of them—are doing better than the last time this topic came up. This award goes out to the media. Or, depending on the level of frustration, the award goes to the suits in MLB or the front-office brass of any of the potential relocation candidates. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement says that contraction can be explored by the Lords of Baseball for 2006. That’s already caused conversation about the straw man called “contraction” to be used transparently by the likes of Bob DuPuy in reference to the struggles in DC, to the media bringing it up with clubs ranging from the Royals, and Marlins and Twins. Chicken Littles unite!
The “Fans can hope, can’t they?” award
I close this nonsense with an award that is actually for next year, but you can’t be proactive enough on this topic, in my mind.
Everybody in baseball has more money burning a hole in their pockets these days. Look no further than the cartoon-like numbers being offered relief pitching this off-season to show how much money the owners have laying around. The fans can hope and pray that there won’t be a work stoppage in mid-December of 2006 when the current CBA expires. Maybe this is unfair of me—thinking MLB and the MLBPA will use common sense—but hey, I’m drinking the bubbly with an eye-patch on for protection. Caution: Contents are under pressure.
Have a Happy New Year!
Maury Brown is the editor of BusinessOfBaseball.com, co-chair of SABR's Business of Baseball committee, and covers the business of baseball at his blog, The Baseball Journals. His analysis and commentary has been published in the Boston Globe, CNN/Money, Toronto Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, San Jose Mercury News, and Oregonian. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinion of the Society for American Baseball Research or its Business of Baseball committee. Maury can be contacted through the miracle of e-mail.