The wrong kind of loyalty in baseballby John Brattain
January 21, 2009
With this flaccid offseason I am left to wonder about certain things.
Some have wondered if there might be some collusion going on in the marketplace, because let’s face it—Bud Selig will pounce on any opportunity to either drive player salaries downward or “consummate” stadium deals on the public dime. Of course, when you look up the word consummate you get the following: “2. fulfill relationship through sex: to bring a relationship to completion, or gratify a desire, especially by having sexual intercourse (often passive)
3. conclude something: to bring something such as a business deal to a conclusion (formal).” When it comes to dealing with communities the line gets a little blurry between the two definitions when Selig is involved.
But I digress.
The thing is, if there’s one kind of fan I do feel sorry for are the ones whose rooting interests are owned by Selig loyalists, because unless you’re an exceptionally wealthy team with a sharp front office (or a team with an absolutely brilliant and lucky one), chances are your hopes for postseason baseball aren’t really high unless you catch lightning in a bottle.
Yeah, I’m getting ready for more whining—it felt so good last week that I just needed another session.
You see, as some of you may have divined by my past writings, I am a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.
I’ve followed the team since its inaugural season of 1977 and have dropped mild hints here and there that this is where my rooting interests lie.
At any rate, the team by all accounts should be among the big boys. Toronto is a large metropolitan area, the team has large chunks of the country as its territory, it's owned by its primary broadcast outlet, and the team owns the stadium lock, stock and barrel.
In the early 1990s the Blue Jays were just that: numero uno in payroll and a financial juggernaut. However, a three-pronged fork was stuck in the team: the strike, the takeover by Interbrew, and quite frankly, the loss of goodwill after treating fans like a snooty maitre d' at a fancy restaurant. During the glory years the team was downright nasty, forbidding fans from watching the home nine take batting practice unless they went to the Hard Rock Cafe and/or Windows Restaurant and paid a cover charge.
The organization became stuck up. The Jays thought they were the new Maple Leafs, who didn't care if they lost a customer because there were 20,000 more waiting in the wings. They were wrong. They went from blowing chunks of goodwill to just plain blowing chunks. The franchise let the fans feel that they weren’t really needed, and when the team stopped winning, the fan base returned the sentiment.
When Rogers Communication took over the franchise, it did invest money and began to promote the club. Things are looking better, but there is something holding the team back.
They’re Selig loyalists.
Why is this so damaging?
To be a Selig loyalist one must view players as an expense (something to keep to a minimum) rather than an investment (a vehicle that can be used to increase profits). Right now, the Jays’ current payroll is based (they say) on projected revenue. However, little thought is given to how wise expenditure might improve that projection.
The reason for that is because an expenditure is viewed as just that—an expense, a loss; it is not viewed as something that might bring a return.
For example: right now, Manny Ramirez could be an investment that pays huge dividends to the organization, yet Rogers Communication, like Selig, thinks only in terms of what he might cost and not the revenue he could potentially generate. It’s a risk-averse strategy that rarely does well in MLB. The Royals, Pirates and Nationals are good examples of the low risk/low return approach to player acquisition. They may bid on a player on occasion, but it is generally an exception to the rule.
Another example of this is the slotting system of the amateur draft. Yes, the draft needs fixing, but at the moment, to get top talent a team generally has to choose to pay over slot or focus on players with lesser gifts and abilities. It’s not a big problem if the club has a top-notch scouting department that is adept at consistently identifying and developing diamonds-in-the-rough and finding undervalued talent, but nobody considers the Toronto to be such an club. Sometimes you have to bite the Boras and invest in the obvious stud.
I may have alluded to the potential collusion of Barry Bonds once or twice (in a roundabout way), and if it is indeed borne out that he was indeed the victim of collusion, once again the team's front office being Selig loyalists hurt the Jays in that Bonds would have solved an obvious problem at minimal cost in both money and talent. Part of the reason for this is that when the Canadian dollar was low a few years back, Selig provided equalization payments to the team to help out. While there would be a degree of gratitude towards the commissioner it would naïve to discount the hope for more of the same.
After all, Selig loyalists are trained to be hard-core welfare hounds often gorging themselves at the teat of the tax base as well as the wealthier members of the ownership cartel. It shouldn’t be surprising that the team acts reflexively when there’s free money to be had and asks Bud if he wants one cheek or both smooched.
Nothing can harm a team in the Jays’ position (competing in the AL East) than hoping for welfare to generate profits rather than wise investment. Instead of trying to build up revenues by putting an exciting competitive club on the field, the risk-averse Selig loyalists put in just enough money to increase interest in the club without the heavy investment required to take on the big boys in the division.
This is what we’re seeing in this offseason: Rogers Communication has money to burn after enjoying a tremendous third quarter. The company is not spending it on the Blue Jays this year, partly due to the economy, but chances are good that Selig’s non-stop proselytizing about being especially fiscally conservative this offseason has the club falling into step. There are bargains to be had in the free agent market where the team needs it most (offense) but the Jays refuse to partake—oddly enough at a time when a plea for equalization payments may be in the offing.
So, from the lowest part of player development (the draft) to decisions regarding the major league roster, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to stay on the good side of the commissioner’s office lest they upset the welfare cart. Until the team has a terrific player development and scouting system in place, chances are good they’ll need to have everything fall their way before they again see the postseason since the Toronto Blue Jays demonstrate that there’s nothing more damaging to a team’s chances at October baseball than fealty to Selig.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.