Wednesday, April 09, 2008
There Goes the Neighborhood!
By Diane M. Grassi
There are times, honestly, when I have to pinch myself to make sure all of this is happening... Growth and revenue, growth and profitability, it's just been really, really, good."
This was according to Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner, Bud Selig, in November 2007, at the conclusion of the MLB owners' meetings.
And it would make one wonder if indeed MLB believes that it is but recession-proof, given the $6.75 billion dollars in revenue it took in for the 2007 MLB season and its $5.2 billion totals for 2006. But it is a reality that less and less discretionary income is available to average or marginal baseball fans going into the 2008 MLB season. And at the same time, gas prices at the pump are expected to flirt with $4.00 a gallon.
Even so, it has not deterred MLB and two of its two major league teams from cashing in on public entitlements, courtesy of the City of New York. It is well known throughout the country that tax abatements and waived property taxes are the modus operandi for many cities and counties in order to supposedly retain major corporate conglomerates, threatening to relocate elsewhere.
That brings us to New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg who in 2004 gave himself credit for ending the squeeze by corporations from getting tax breaks to remain in NYC."We've essentially ended corporate welfare as we know it, by no longer paying companies - who wouldn't have left anyway - to stay in our great city," Bloomberg said back then.
But even after Mayor Bloomberg lauded himself as the anti-corporate welfare czar, monies to the tune of $650 million in city and state subsidies were given to Goldman Sachs to build its headquarters in Battery Park City, or 9/11's Ground Zero, and $240 million were allocated in givebacks to JP Morgan Chase, also to build in lower Manhattan, after stating that it would move to Stamford, CT, and later unsubstantiated by the City of Stamford.
Under the guise of revitalizing lower Manhattan after the streets were deserted as the result of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, this ploy by Mayor Bloomberg was somehow forgivable by the legislators and politicos of NYC and New York State.
Then came the new Yankee Stadium and the new stadium for the NY Mets. Both the NY Yankees and the NY Mets essentially led successful swindles, as both stole home with the blessings of City Hall. As both stadiums near the end of construction, with both planned to be ready for the 2009 MLB season, the tallying of total costs to the NYC and NY state taxpayers has begun.
On his weekly radio show on WABC New York on February 29, 2008, Mayor Bloomberg stated that, "Hey, we got a good deal at only spending $75 million each on Yankee and Shea..er..Citi Field stadiums." He was referring to the outlay in real costs by NYC for each of the NYC stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets.
But for the owner and founder of Bloomberg Communications and self-made billionaire, Mayor Bloomberg seems to have forgotten his arithmetic along the way. For the actual costs to the city and state of NY for the new Yankee Stadium will total over $800 million and for Citi Field, or what will be known as the new Mets stadium, $500 million has been tallied for a grand total of $1.3 billion in public funding for the two stadiums combined.
This includes tax-exempt bonds, on which the government will pay the interest, tax abatements on property taxes, new street construction, a new railroad station stop for Yankee Stadium, new car garages as well as re-construction of open space for the parks outside of Yankee Stadium, which were completely destroyed.
In fact, the residents of the area outside of Yankee Stadium, a minority community, are now without 400 trees and 21.5 acres of less park space, greenery and playing fields. Although NYC and the Yankees originally promised more parkland, they now include the top of the parking garages as open space, where playgrounds will be put. And while there is no shortage of propaganda on the benefits that new professional sports stadiums supposedly bring to metropolitan areas, that topic alone is worthy of an additional in-depth report and a far more realistic and intelligent discussion.
And as much as MLB and its owners want to praise themselves for their reputed black ink, it comes but at the expense of taxpayers and local communities, whether they are baseball fans or not. And more often than not, it comes at the expense of the poorer minority neighborhoods, which are but expendable to big business and to City Hall.
But the latest feat by MLB should make even bona fide global capitalists wince. For in a coup by one of the largest realty developers in the U.S., Vornado Realty Trust, has been granted by NYC's Planning Commission a waiver to building height restrictions on 125th Street and Park Avenue, which is the main thoroughfare of the historic neighborhood known as Harlem. In addition, Mayor Bloomberg has been campaigning to rezone the entirety of Harlem allowing massive buildings as tall as 29 stories in order to attract even more major corporate partners.
As part of the waiver to Vornado, which raises the height limit to 21 stories, or an additional 4 stories, in this mixed-use residential and commercial area, the building will include 630,000 square feet of office space and will contain a variety of corporate businesses.
With the steep rise in real estate costs in NYC, many corporate entities are willing to move uptown to save on leasing costs, even at the expense of displacing thousands of people from their residences or crushing over 70 small local businesses in the neighborhoods made up of African-Americans and Hispanic communities.
Of significance, is that those 4 extra stories, most likely to be approved by the NYC Council in the near future, will be occupied by none other than MLB and its new cable television baseball channel. MLB would occupy two floors for executive offices and the top two floors for television studios.
But the Vornado organization also gave NYC an ultimatum along with the height restriction being lifted. They said that without the additional four stories it would be a deal-breaker for them attracting MLB as an anchor tenant in its building and thereby the whole deal would be off.
But it gets even worse, as Vornado also demanded $15 million in a public funding incentive package for itself and an additional $5 million package of incentives to be paid directly to MLB by the City of NY. Out of that $5 million package part of it would be allowed to cover the costs for redecorating Commissioner Bud Selig's MLB headquarter offices at 245 Park Avenue, in mid-town Manhattan. This brings but new meaning to corporate-welfare.
The projection of revenue for the MLB baseball television channel, to launch in January 2009, and to be located temporarily in Secaucus, NJ, is somewhere around $550 million over its first 7 years, with a guarantee of a minimum of $80 million per year during that time. It expects between 40 and 50 million viewers upon startup and will initially carry only 26 non-exclusive live games, with the rest of the 24/7 coverage comprised of all-things-baseball.
In 2007 when MLB threatened to remove its MLB Extra Innings packages - allowing fans to pay a premium to cable providers to access many out-of-market games - from all cable and satellite broadcasters with the exception of Direct TV, it was Senator John Kerry and the Senate Commerce Committee which pushed MLB to allow Extra Innings to continue its agreements with Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and the Comcast Corp. and they were allowed to continue to broadcast MLB Extra Innings for the 2007 season.
However, as the result of that arrangement in 2007, an agreement was made that MLB will own a 66.6% interest in its MLB television channel with Direct TV, Time Warner, Cox and Comcast divvying up the remaining shares along with a commitment from them to carry the baseball network for the next 7 years. There is no word as of yet on the status of the MLB channel on such remaining digital and cable broadcasters as Dish TV or Adelphia Communications nor confirmation that MLB will offer the channel on basic cable television.
But MLB in its arrogance, by taking its present fan-base for granted, should be doing some real world soul-searching right about now. For after 15 years of Bud Selig's reign of denial of illegal drugs in baseball and after the off-season MLB has suffered in light of the Mitchell Report, looking for handouts should be the last thing with which MLB should be associated.
It is bad enough that much of MLB's revenues come by way of the very taxpayers it seeks to disenfranchise, and namely the African-American communities in the inner cities. But for it to muscle its way into Harlem's neighborhood is more than ironic and should not merely be accepted as gentrification for a better NYC.
Some have speculated that by moving corporate jobs to Harlem, such will endear MLB to the black community it has virtually lost, both as active professional baseball players and as fans, and yet woo them back to baseball. And such speculation should be an insult to all baseball fans alike.
But until MLB makes an asserted commitment to retain its present fan-base as well as makes an investment in future generations to come, such as an in bringing African-American children and families back to MLB, it has no moral right to demand givebacks; much less in Harlem or outside of Yankee Stadium.
And perhaps a good way for MLB to make amends would be to start by using some of those givebacks to build some decent baseball fields for the kids of Harlem, rather than picking out new wallpaper patterns for its executives' office suites.
Copyright ©2008 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 10:17 PM
By Diane M. Grassi
Major League Baseball (MLB) and drugs. The two have been linked for decades and their relationship has never waned. The drug ingredients are different, the players acquiring them have changed and the performance benefits have been enhanced.
But MLB has not learned much in the past couple of decades when it comes to the integrity of the game, in obeying the law and in protecting the best interests of its athletes, its most precious commodity.
In 1985, Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney, J. Alan Johnson, implicated 19 MLB players for possession of and use of cocaine. Then-MLB Commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, imposed penalties on 11 of the 19, while none were criminally prosecuted. Similar to the BALCO case and to the recent Mitchell Report, the depth of the problem among athletes using cocaine or illegal drugs made for sensational headlines.
But the way in which the drug culture was arguably enabled by MLB and its subsequent punishments were laughable and was perhaps the precursor to the abuse of steroids and HGH in the 1990’s and into the 21st century.
Although it was documented at the time that at least 40% of MLB players were recreationally using cocaine in the ‘80’s, only a handful were punished. But such star players such as Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and Lonnie Smith were punished not by the federal government but by MLB. They were required to perform 100 hours of community service and to avail themselves to drug testing.
Four other players were suspended for 60 days. Since the drug dealers were nabbed by the feds, MLB was off the hook and essentially did what it felt was appropriate for the “good of the game.”
Fast-forward to 2003 when grand jury testimony was taken in the federal BALCO investigation involving MLB’s Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Olympic medalist Marion Jones and NFL star Bill Romanowski, to name but a few of the few implicated. Again, only a handful of athletes from the entire professional athletic world were threatened and eventually given immunity, in order to take down BALCO President, Vic Conte, personal trainer, Greg Anderson and the illicit sale, distribution and administration of illegal performance enhancing substances.
Marion Jones will serve 6 months in prison neither for buying and illegally using controlled substances nor for her check fraud to the tune of $200,000.00, but for lying under oath to a federal grand jury about the use of drugs. Ditto for Barry Bonds. His scheduled perjury trial is to be held in April 2008.
The latest fiasco with “personal trainer,” Brian McNamee, former NY Mets clubhouse employee, Kirk Radomski and MLB stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte following former Senator George Mitchell’s report on behalf of MLB, is but another failed attempt at exposing the so-called truth. But truth has been absent from baseball for a very long time. Moreover, implicating only 30 active players for a grand total of 89 for using performance enhancing drugs over the past decade is not only laughable but terribly sad.
Given the resources and legal expenses tallied around $20‒30 million and paid to George Mitchell’s law firm by MLB, the Mitchell Report’s omissions should raise as many eyebrows as its contents.
But more importantly is the absence of a cry for accountability from MLB by the federal government in essentially allowing it to be in the drug business. For its owners and its teams’ staff members not to admit any wrong doing is beyond arrogance. A lack of efforts to look into those areas in which there was first-hand knowledge of possible illicit drug use or non-credentialed employees working in the area of strength training was but blind neglect.
To wit, according to the Mitchell Report, San Francisco Giants General Manager, Brian Sabean, was alerted by the Giants’ staff athletic trainer, Stan Conte, that a player had asked him about whether he should buy steroids from Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, as far back as 2002. Additionally, the Giants’ longtime equipment manager, Mike Murphy, found syringes in the locker of catcher Benito Santiago.
Conte said he reported both incidents to Sabean immediately. Sabean told Conte that if he had a problem with Bonds’ trainer he should handle it himself. But it was obvious to Conte that it was not his place to confront Barry Bonds. And apparently no one else in the Giants organization felt it was their place either, as per their MLB obligation to report illicit drug use.
Brian Sabean stated in the Mitchell Report that he “was unaware of the obligation to report drug use to the Commissioner’s Office.” Former Mets General Manager, Steve Phillips, and Kirk Radomski’s employer, also plead ignorance on reporting illicit drug use to the Commissioner’s Office. Ironically now, Phillips is paid by ESPN to analyze and to inform the public about MLB’s policies.
Greg Anderson was given full accessibility to the Giants’ clubhouse. Stan Conte did not believe it was proper let alone legal. But in order to placate Bonds, the Giants also accorded him two additional trainers, Harvey Shields and Greg Oliver. All three traveled with the team. In fact, Oliver and Shields were added to the Giants’ payroll to account for their presence in the clubhouse, whereby they could advise other players as well.
Peter Magowan, CEO and Managing Partner of the S.F. Giants asked Sabean whether the Giants “had a problem” with regard to steroids after reading the news concerning the BALCO case and Greg Anderson, according to the Mitchell Report. But Sabean told Mitchell he did not recall that conversation.
The issue was not only that of illicit drugs permeating the Giants’ locker room but the issue of personal trainers, such as Greg Anderson giving out advice about steroids. None of Bonds’ trainers were certified to give out that advice nor licensed to either dispense of or speak about drug administration. Their certifications and schooling as personal trainers is also in question.
The lack of background checks on supposed strength coaches and personal trainers was rampant in MLB until 2004 when MLB limited access to clubhouses by personal trainers and ancillary clubhouse personnel not on the payroll. Due to the BALCO case, MLB did it more for security reasons, as the vetting of a trainer’s certification and background still has many lapses, to say the least.
In 2004, Sandy Krum, former assistant athletic trainer for the Chicago Cubs, was terminated, he believes, for informing Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry that head athletic trainer, Dave Groeschner, was operating without an Illinois state required license.
Unlike a personal trainer, an athletic trainer works under the auspices of a medical doctor and 43 states require such a license. Additionally, athletic trainers are not authorized in Illinois or NY to give injections to players. Coincidentally, Groeschner followed Cubs Manager Dusty Baker from San Francisco. In 2005, the Cubs fired Groeschner. Dusty is now with the Cincinnati Reds.
We have heard ad naseum about the McNamee-Clemens soap opera which will be played out before the Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 13, 2008. But little light has been shed upon the underlying facts about how McNamee helped weave his own web, in which the Toronto Blue Jays and the NY Yankees play no small part.
McNamee earned an undergraduate degree from St. John’s University in NY where he played on the baseball team as a catcher but did not have enough talent for MLB. He then followed his father’s lead and joined the NYPD in 1990. He was an officer for three years, serving two years undercover and then quit the force. He was suspended for 30 days at the end of his service for allowing a prisoner to escape from custody, but said he took the fall for someone else.
Former St. John’s school mate, Tim McCleary, was the assistant General Manager of the Yankees in 1993 and hired McNamee as the bullpen catcher, where he stayed until 1995. McNamee then decided to get into personal training. In 1998, McCleary was hired by Toronto, and he then hired McNamee as a strength coach and where he met Roger Clemens. He also befriended Jose Canseco who at the time was also a Blue Jay.
After Clemens was traded to NY in 1999, McNamee joined him in 2000 when the Yankees put him on the payroll as a strength coach as well until 2001, when allegations immerged of rape and illegally giving the involved woman GHB ‒the date-rape drug‒ a nearly fatal dose. Charges were not filed as the woman did not want to pursue them supposedly because she was having an affair with one of the Yankees’ married players.
But McNamee was spotted having sex with a nearly comatose woman in one of the team’s hotel pools on the night of a Devil Rays game in St. Petersburg in October of 2001. His account to police was filled with inconsistencies, including denying he was the man in the pool when spotted by security and another Yankee staffer. Again, McNamee was the victim.
GHB is illegally used by athletes to recover from strenuous workouts and was also part of McNamee’s medicine cabinet. Even so, Clemens gave McNamee the benefit of the doubt about the alleged rape. The Yankees, however, let McNamee go before the 2002 season without disclosing the reason. But Clemens hired him as his personal trainer and employed him through June 2007. Andy Pettitte also paid McNamee for his training services during that time.
McNamee’s credentials were never checked by either the Toronto Blue Jays or the NY Yankees. During their employ of his services he was never a certified strength coach. He may have been a personal trainer, but certification is not legally required to be a personal trainer, although such certification only requires an exam and no course work or field training.
McNamee’s credentials are dubious at best, not to mention his phony PhD that he acquired in 2000 from an implicated internet diploma mill known as Columbus University, supposedly located in Louisiana, and since sold off to another entity in another state due to its being nailed by authorities.
McNamee was advertising himself on the internet as Dr. McNamee, PhD in order to market his In-Vite nutritional supplements and his strength training services. He was also getting involved in other enterprises which Clemens was helping to bankroll to help out his career. Although McNamee made claims he was certified, he was not certified as a strength coach until nearly 2006.
According to Dr. Jeff Falkel, Chairman of the Executive Council Certification Commission of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, (NSCA) recently on Will Carroll’s BaseballProspectus.com radio show, stated that McNamee did not even take his Certified Strength Conditioning Specialist exam until October 2005.
And unbelievably, MLB does not require certifications of its personal trainers or strength coaches but does require its staff athletic trainers be licensed only as required by law. The NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA are also lax about certifications other than athletic trainers who work with medical physicians. They still do not require that their strength trainers be credentialed by the NSCA.
What we can conclude from this unveiling of the lack of professionalism and clubhouse culture throughout MLB is that without the cooperation of all of its participants, from the executive level on down to the groundskeepers, it cannot be trusted to police itself, based upon its putrid record thus far. And the business decisions made on the executive level from Commissioner to owner to GM to player to staff employees has been dismal and in disrepair.
Ultimately, greed has been the prevailing culprit, influencing both owners and players alike. But to single out a few super stars will never cure baseball or professional sports of its ills. It is shortsighted by MLB and not surprisingly so by our U.S. Congress. While there is no ready solution, using some common sense might be a good start.
Copyright ©2008 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 10:07 PM
Sunday, January 27, 2008
By Diane M. Grassi
Much in the way the United States government’s foreign policy is a complex and sometimes unfathomable, inconsistent exercise in supposed worldwide diplomacy, it should be noted that in 2007 Major League Baseball vastly increased its global reach, similarly leaving foreign governments, economists and U.S. business leaders scratching their proverbial heads.
But questions need to be asked, as the 2008 MLB season approaches, as to whether America’s Pastime has bitten off more than it can chew in entering the world of global politics. In order to remain a successful and positive example worldwide, it must not alienate certain countries while at the same time disguise its craving for riches garnered off the backs of the impoverished.
For MLB was not originally set up to necessarily grow the sport globally. It was always assumed, perhaps naively so, that the best baseball players in the world would end up in the U.S. And to its credit, MLB has thought outside the box in the past couple of decades. But now it does so with the risk of discriminating against some groups or cultures while rewarding others at the behest of the almighty dollar.
To wit, there has been a growing hostility between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the U.S. government, most notably when Chavez gave a speech at the United Nations in November 2006 and referred to U.S. President George Bush as “el diablo” or “the devil.” Since that time, Chavez was reelected for another 6 year term as President of Venezuela in December 2006 and most recently in December 2007, the Venezuelan people, by a slim margin, defeated Chavez’ constitutional referendum to amend the constitution in order for him to remain President indefinitely.
Chavez has already made plans to nationalize certain industries in Venezuela, since he took office in 1999. He is a socialist and self-admitted revolutionary. Namely, electricity and oil and the telecom industries would be state controlled. And the vast oil reserves Venezuela enjoys has but enhanced Chavez’ control and position amongst world leaders.
But since the 1980’s the people of Venezuela, who once lived in a thriving country due to its oil resources, have also been its victims and now face rampant unemployment closing in on 20%, with little savings for secondary education. After oil prices plummeted in the ‘80’s, the government devalued the country’s currency. Since that time, the people of Venezuela have had to deal with civil unrest. And the Venezuelan capitol, Caracas, has presently earned the unpleasant distinction of having the highest per capita murder rate in the entire world.
Ironically, subsequent to the ‘80’s, the age of the multi-million dollar major leaguer greeted many Venezuelan players, and some speculate as the direct result of the country’s poverty. At one time a family hoped their children would end up become professionals, not professional baseball players, which was never seriously looked upon as a credible way to make a living.
In 1989, however, that all changed. The Houston Astros took the risk of becoming the first MLB club to build an academy in Venezuela, through the efforts of then scouting director, Andres Reiner, in hopes of developing baseball players on a regular basis. The thinking was that it was an untapped goldmine of a country of 25 million. Soon, other teams followed and there were as many as 19 team-sponsored academies.
The likes of Luis Aparicio, Tony Armas and Andres Galarraga were among its first superstars. Their successors included shortstops, Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Guillen. More recently, its superstars include pitchers, Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Kelvin Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez; outfielder Magglio Ordonez; shortstop Carlos Guillen; 3rd basemen Melvin Mora and Miguel Cabrera; catcher Victor Martinez; among other high quality players.
There were between 45 and 50 Venezuelan players on major league rosters at any one time during the 2007 season, which has remained stagnant for the past few years. However, Venezuelan players still represent the third largest group of major league players from any one country, after the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, which numbered 105 players in 2007.
But in the past 5 years, due to the country’s heightened violence, crime and kidnappings of high profile athletes, there are but 9 teams which still have academies that remain in Venezuela. And in addition to the concerns that MLB has about the security and safety of its players and representatives, there is also equal concern about the future intentions of Hugo Chavez and his possibly nationalizing the sport of baseball.
Current Orioles 3rd baseman, Melvin Mora, in 2006 contacted Jim Duquette, the Orioles former Vice President of Baseball Operations, about wanting to build his own academy in Venezuela. Duquette advised Mora to speak to MLB’s Vice President for International Operations, Lou Melendez. Melendez’ response to Mora’s interest was, “I’m just telling you that there are movements afoot there that may impact what you want to do. When you see certain industries that are being nationalized, you begin to wonder if they are going to nationalize the baseball industry in Venezuela.”
Mora then took it upon himself to meet with the Venezuelan Sports Minister, Eduardo Alvarez. With the help of Mora, Melendez set up a meeting with Alvarez in early 2007. At that time, Melendez was assured that nationalization of baseball was not on the agenda.
But two proposals were received by Melendez thereafter from Venezuelan officials as to how Venezuela would like MLB to do business there. They included mandates such as certain employee and player protections with MLB, that MLB clubs pay 10% of player’s signing bonuses to the Venezuelan government, and to require players to apply for a license to participate as professional athletes. There also was a proposal for the Venezuelan Baseball Federation to have a hands-on role over the operations of the MLB academies.
On its face, the proposals do not look egregious. In fact, the players recruited and signed in the Dominican Republic are often victims of aggressive “buscones” or unauthorized agents who take advantage of them and their parents, leaving them with little of the agreed upon advances by MLB teams.
After all, since players in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are not subject to the First Year Draft Rule, they can be signed as young as the age of 16, as long as they turn 17 by the following July. While many of these players are drop outs from school, much more so than in Venezuela, many never make it to the big leagues, and are left with broken promises and sometimes penniless after they put all of their time and effort into training. This unfortunately makes it far easier for MLB to have its way, so to speak, with prospects from the Dominican Republic.
But Melendez interpreted these mandates from Venezuela by stating, “I made it clear to Minister Alvarez that we don’t pay federations for signing players anywhere in the world, and we don’t expect to do so. It’s certainly not a way to conduct business.” In fact, MLB has no intentions of complying with any of Venezuela’s requests, as it cut off its communications with any parties of either sport or government bodies there in March 2007. MLB fears that it would prove more costly to sign Venezuelan players under such mandates.
However, Mr. Melendez either needs to be informed or needs to refresh his memory that earlier in 2007, the NY Yankees, sanctioned by MLB, signed a working agreement with the Peoples’ Republic of China, (PRC) in the first ever contract between MLB and the Chinese Baseball Association, which is under the auspices of the Communist government of China. MLB is also providing the Peoples’ Republic of China’s National Olympic Team with former U.S. MLB manager, Jim Lefebvre, who is the manager of the Peoples’ Republic of China’s baseball team that will compete in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
The NY Yankees and MLB will also be lending additional coaches and equipment to the PRC National team prior to the 2008 Olympics. The Yankees additionally have an agreement to start development of Chinese players in Communist China with eventual plans to build academies there.
MLB is also in preliminary talks about the aftermath of the Fidel Castro regime of Cuba, upon his death. MLB is drooling at the thought of building academies there as well and formal discussions have taken place within MLB according to MLB Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, Joe Garagiola, Jr. “There may not be any significant changes with our relationship with Cuba in the near term, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about these things”, he said at the start of the 2007 MLB season.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico, after 69 years went without its winter league operating this 2007-2008 off-season, due to budget shortfalls of its league development. MLB has yet to take a stance on the state of baseball in Puerto Rico which must adhere to the same rules of U.S. born players, having to finish high school and be 18 years of age to sign a minor league contract, attend a junior college or complete at least 3 years of a 4-year college and/or be 21 years of age if the 3rd year is not completed.
It hardly seems fair for a small Caribbean island, although a territory of the U.S, to not be able to compete on an even playing field with either Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. But without the funding to develop its young prospects, it appears Puerto Rico has become too costly an investment for MLB.
And Panama, literally a banana republic, once the home for Chiquita Bananas International, until it moved to Costa Rica where labor was cheaper, also has largely been ignored by MLB. Only 5 major leaguers from Panama remained on MLB rosters in 2007, most notably NY Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, and Houston Astros outfielder, Carlos Lee. Hall of Famer, Rod Carew also hailed from Panama. But Panama development would require a long-term investment. And there too the national baseball federation is at odds with MLB.
Korea and Japan have players which are developed in their own countries, with which MLB clubs can then negotiate for hefty sums. The individual pro teams in Japan require a complex posting process and upwards of $50 million per player in addition to multi-year deals for the player. Such an example was the signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Boston Red Sox at the start of the 2007, for his services for 3 years. The total posting fee as well as his contract was well over $100 million. But after all, the Red Sox got a ready-made big leaguer without having to invest in his development. So the thinking is that it is worth such cost.
What this all comes down to is not some noble attempt for MLB to spread baseball throughout the world, such as the U.S. government would like us to believe that globalization is about democratizing the rest of world. It is all about the dollar, no matter if young boys and men of the Dominican Republic are exploited, or whether Venezuelan’s are threatened with the possibility of losing their now national pastime. And why MLB can negotiate with Communist China but does not see fit to redevelop baseball again in its own territory of Puerto Rico, also deserves questioning.
But if MLB does not proceed with caution and realize that it has not merely entered the domain of industrial globalization but the world of global politics and diplomacy, it could prove damaging. After all, the good of the game and human decency should still be a priority for MLB.
And when it comes time for MLB to count its $6 billion revenue dollars it realized from the 2007 MLB season, it perhaps should take heed, in order to remain accountable for its actions, before it becomes political fodder with unrealized repercussions on the world’s stage.
Copyright ©2007 Diane M. Grassi
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posted by Diane M. Grassi 6:58 PM
Saturday, November 24, 2007
By Diane M. Grassi
On October 16, 2007 Major League Baseball (MLB) struck out for the second time in its pursuit to limit and essentially monopolize the Fantasy League business which utilizes statistical information associated with MLB players’ names.
While this did get some coverage in the mainstream press, the ultimate impact of such a decision impacts not only all of the professional sports leagues but other commercial enterprises which make use of any kind of player statistical information such as the video game and software industries.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit out of St. Louis, MO in handing down a ruling by a three-judge panel was an affirmation of the underlying appeal heard before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler, also out of St. Louis, and her opinion issued August 8, 2006. In the underlying Summary Judgment, Judge Medler found that “the players do not have a right of publicity in their names and playing records as used in fantasy games.” And furthermore, that “the First Amendment takes precedence over such a right.”
But offering only a peripheral view of the issues involved in this case does a disservice to fans not only of MLB but the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) as well as the National Hockey League (NHL). In fact, MLB, the NFL and the NBA all partake in their own fantasy leagues through such commercial ventures run by their league websites MLB.com, NFL.com and NBA.com, respectively.
The litigation involving MLB Advanced Media, L.P. (MLBAM) as well as the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) originated over 2½ years ago when CBC Distribution and Marketing, Inc. d/b/a CDM, Inc. or CDMSports.com, of St. Louis, MO, filed a lawsuit against MLBAM for the right to operate its CDM Fantasy Sports League with the necessary statistical data on MLB players in order to do so.
But not emphasized thoroughly enough in reports is that from 1994‒2004 it was the MLBPA which licensed rights to fantasy leagues. And as such, CBC, which licensed its use of the names and data about MLB players, had agreements in both 1995 and 2002, the latter of which expired in 2005.
CBC was the very first independent fantasy league license holder with MLB, by way of its contract with the MLBPA, well before the internet played its now predominant role in the fantasy league business, now generating upwards of $2 billion annually from MLB, the NFL and the NBA alone.
It was in 2005 when MLBAM purchased the exclusive rights to use baseball players’ names and performance information from the MLBPA “for exploitation of all interactive media” to the tune of $50 million, for a period of 5 years. And it was at that point that MLBAM began to provide fantasy baseball games on its own website, MLB.com.
When CBC applied for its license in 2005, it was outright denied by MLBAM due to its claim of the players’ “right of publicity” which gave CBC no other recourse but to sue MLBAM in court. CBC saw this as a deliberate attempt by MLBAM to monopolize the fantasy league business now that small operators had turned it into a lucrative investment waiting to be swept up. In fact, in its arrogance, MLB offered CBC in exchange for a commission, a license to promote MLB.com’s fantasy baseball games on CBC’s website, provided CBC discontinue its own fantasy products.
Additionally, ESPN, CBS Sportsline, Sporting News and Yahoo! Sports were awarded licenses by MLBAM who pay $2 million annually to MLBAM for the right to run their own fantasy leagues. And it appears rather evident that the issue is not about the “right of publicity” but the right to cash in on and control another entity which MLB has yet to conquer
Since statistical information had always been considered in the public domain according to prior case law, it was a rather creative leap in legal gymnastics that MLBAM came up with in order to ward off the use of problematic future technologies or entities which could arise and make use of such statistical data.
MLB was joined through amicus briefs, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, by the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, the NFL Players Association, the PGA Tour, and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, amongst others. It is clear that there is a big business expectation of windfall profits for such a venture which at one point started out not all that long ago with a bunch of guys sitting around drinking beers talking about forming a rotisserie league for fun.
But lost in all of the legal shenanigans of this litigation is perhaps the message that ensues at its result. And that is that essentially fantasy leagues are a form of gambling. It is more than ironic, given all of the history and more recent threats to the integrity of professional sports, such as officiating in the NBA, which now prohibits any type of gambling amongst its referees year round, and MLB’s historic credo of zero tolerance when it comes to gambling on its sport.
The promotion of fantasy leagues by MLB, the NFL and now the NBA is a distinct conflict of interest. But that did not prevent MLB and the MLBPA from testifying before the U.S. Congress, prior to its passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, in lobbying for fantasy leagues to be exempt from the Act.
Yet, amazingly MLB does not consider fantasy leagues to fall under the same umbrella as gambling since it does not directly “attempt to influence the outcome of a game or a baseball player’s performance.” MLB went as far as saying that playing in a fantasy league is a game of skill not of chance such as in a gambling casino and thereby is not really betting.
Well, in its astute discretion, the U.S. Congress agreed with MLB allowing the continued organized fantasy leagues to remain on the internet and officially exempt from the 2006 law. But whether or not fantasy leagues have a direct bearing on the outcome of a MLB, NFL or NBA game, such fantasy leagues both directly and indirectly encourage gambling.
Yet, there is little distinction made in the minds of most participants and onlookers who happen to be the fans. Most associate fantasy leagues as a form of gambling as wagers are made, money is collected and a purse is paid out to the winners. Makes one think how these professional sports leagues and players associations can get away with such nonsensical drivel.
We can only rationalize it to the extent that the leagues are willing to risk such an association with gambling and their sports if there is a buck to be made. And even it is off the backs of small operators who created the whole fantasy league business in the first place.
Next up for MLB is perhaps a second appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit before a nine- judge panel or even an attempt to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, which could either not choose to hear the case or remand it back the District Court. MLB is currently thinking about its next move.
And once again, MLB is trying to control everything baseball, even at the expense of alienating its fans or even worse to encourage that which it says it will never condone: gambling.
Copyright ©2007 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 9:37 PM
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
By Diane M. Grassi
It has been quite the spring and summer 2007 seasons for fans of all three major professional sports leagues, but sadly, for many of the wrong reasons. As fans have been inundated with stories of crimes, misdemeanors and the ethical transgressions by society’s ordained role models, even including those who officiate and manage games, it is but refreshing to step back and revisit a former player who more recently reappeared on the radar.
Former Major League Baseball (MLB) player, Mo Vaughn, actually may prove more exemplary in his post-playing career than he was during his 12 years on a baseball diamond. In August 2007, he was featured on ESPN’s, Outside the Lines, following brief reports in Sports Illustrated and the New York Post, among other news outlets, recalling his latest ventures. But the publicity he received sold short the true essence and importance of the work Mr. Vaughn is doing and the mission on which he remains. As such, it deserves more in-depth coverage than that of just a feel-good story.
Most ardent baseball fans will remember Mo as the burly, intimidating first baseman who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1991 until 1998, during which time he was the 1995 American League MVP, with a .336 batting average, 39 home runs and 113 RBI in that year, while steering the Red Sox to post-season berths in both 1995 and 1996. He also, however, was singled out as having one of the most lucrative contracts in MLB at the time, earning $18.3 million over his last 3 years with the BoSox.
Mo also helped sell a lot of newspapers over his 12-year career, starting with the rift he had with Red Sox management in 1997 and 1998, more so than his stellar 1995 season in Boston. He then chose to sign as a free agent with the Anaheim Angels in 1998, which paid him a guaranteed $88 million through the 2004 season. At that time it became the highest MLB contract ever offered. But Mo was plagued with injuries in both the 1999 and 2000 seasons and was on the disabled list for the entirety of 2001. He never lived up to his previous star billing. Relations with the Angels organization became strained and Mo left on less than stellar terms there as well.
The Angels were more than glad to trade Mo to the New York Mets for pitcher Kevin Appier, who helped them to earn a World Series Championship in 2002. And the Mets accommodated Mo with a 3-year $42 million contract, partially subsidized by the Angels, but fully insured. Mo welcomed the trade to NY in a new league, where he expected to play through 2004, but it never came to pass.
Still recovering from biceps surgery in 2001 and additionally dealing with chronic knee and hamstring problems made many NY fans skeptical of the signing of Vaughn by former Mets GM, Steve Phillips, now making his living as a baseball analyst for ESPN. As feared, Mo wound up playing poorly in 2002 and in only 27 games in 2003 before being diagnosed with a permanently damaged knee, only repairable with a knee replacement, thus ending his career. Mets executives felt Mo did not do enough to keep his weight under control, which they believed was a contributing factor to his injuries.
But despite his truncated career, he had impressive stats as a 3-time All Star, and AL MVP, with 328 career home runs and a .293 lifetime batting average. Mo Vaughn was Big Papi before Big Papi was Big Papi. He was an imposing figure in the batter’s box and had a commanding presence in any lineup. Had he stayed healthy and continued to produce, Mo could have had a Hall of Fame career.
And both Mo’s fans and critics are likely to have a difficult time in finding fault with what appears to be his true calling, in providing hope and facilitating life altering changes in the lives of thousands of inner city residents. While many current and former athletes do donate funds for worthwhile causes, it is more along the lines of charity dinners and celebrity golf tournaments. But Mo has transcended his celebrity lifestyle and has rededicated his life’s goals.
Since 2005, Mo Vaughn has invested his time, resources and good will in rebuilding housing projects, left to decay by slumlords as well as ignored by local government agencies, leaving law-abiding residents to fend for themselves. The collateral damage of such negligence and the oft-ignored outcry from those in these impoverished communities caught Mo’s attention. Mo and his partner, his former lawyer-agent, Eugene Schneur, who both own and operate Omni New York, LLC, have taken on deteriorated housing developments, primarily in New York City, which have gone decades without adequate maintenance or services. The sole objective is to restore them by giving them back to their deserved communities.
Mo grew up in Connecticut, went to prep school in Pawling, NY and then played college baseball for 3 years at Seton Hall College in New Jersey, so he is quite familiar with the tri-state NY area. But what Mo did not necessarily know was how many people in housing projects for lower income residents have been living in squalor, without security in drug-infested neighborhoods, while suffering from problems with such basic services as running water, heat, or working elevators in high-rise buildings.
One of the main complaints fans have about their sports heroes is that they either forget where they came from, or have no inkling about the communities for which they play, some of which are in deplorable condition mere blocks from the stadiums in which they play. The chicken banquet circuit is fine, but it nowhere nearly supplants the real work needed to be done in such communities all across the country, where more often than not, “blighted communities” are being bought up by real estate moguls who turn them into multi-million dollar complexes for the rich, in what were once flourishing working class neighborhoods, made up of regular folk.
Since teaming up with Schneur at the end of 2004, Vaughn has closed on numerous projects with the City of NY, and in Westchester, Nassau and Seneca counties in NY State. Omni has creatively crafted contracts in collaborating with numerous federal, state and local government agencies and various government programs in order to secure financing for their renovation projects. The federal agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the NY State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (SDHCR) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) of New York City are but some of the agencies with which Omni has relationships. Municipal and industrial bonds, tax abatements, tax credits and tax-free loans are additional sources of funding.
Omni NY has proven to be quite a success since 2005 with Vaughn more than living up to his promises, having renovated over 1500 individual housing units in NYC alone. He stresses security and safety first for tenants and installs state of the art security cameras along with employing the necessary security personnel. His promise is also not to displace tenants during renovations that include replacing boilers, plumbing, roofing, windows, building facades, elevators, installing new appliances, kitchen cabinets, floor tiles, and renovated lobbies and common areas. Vaughn’s Omni is a true example of how Public Private Partnerships (PPP) should work.
Omni’s hope is to expand its sites beyond NY to parts of Boston, MA and Miami, FL in 2007 and into 2008 and has looked at numerous other states as well, collaborating with other developers. “It is the mission of Omni NY to ensure that people are able to live in decent, quality housing and have a sense of pride where they live,” says Vaughn. And his style is not to make a fast buck and disappear but to continue to manage each of the properties he restores, in order to ensure that both the properties and the tenants are protected and serviced adequately into the future.
In addition, Vaughn as become a social director of sorts, applying for grants in theses communities where after-school programs for school children are held on the properties, along with vocational skills programs for young adults and those forced to change careers in mid-life.
It is obvious that Omni NY is unique in scope and in fulfilling its goals in the way it structures its deals in the best interest of people. But more importantly, Mo Vaughn has become a facilitator on behalf of those individuals in communities which have no voice or have lost their way in negotiating through bureaucratic minefields in order to maintain decent lives. And in that respect, perhaps Mo Vaughn has found his niche and is filling a vital need where government has failed its obligations.
In conclusion, whatever disappointments Mo may have been to fans or to the organizations for which he played, not unlike other players who fail to remain healthy or play past their prime, he may prove to be far more valuable an asset now that he is out of baseball. For as he says, “I don’t know how people view me……., but we know we are doing the right thing here, and that’s what it’s all about. I want to make a difference.”
Makes one think – when God made Mo, the mold may have finally been broken.
Copyright ©2007 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 11:49 PM
Thursday, August 30, 2007
By Diane M. Grassi
Major League Baseball (MLB) fans over the past several years have not only been witness to those performances taking place on MLB baseball diamonds across America, but have also been privy to after-the- fact cover-ups, collusion, denials and authoritarian control of their National Pastime. And all this in spite of supposed lessons learned from its failures going back to the early 20th century with the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series.
But where MLB differs in the late 20th and early 21st centuries from its historic past, is by virtue of its yearly multi-billion dollar revenues it now enjoys, enabling it more unilateral power over the game of baseball in spite of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and the World Umpires Association (WUA) with which it must collectively bargain.
MLB is given great latitude granted by the United States government, which allows MLB to continue to be the only professional sports league in the U.S. not subject to anti-trust laws, except with respect to collective bargaining with its unions. And it seemingly appears it need not explain its decisions or lack thereof to its fans, employees, or even the U.S. Congress, unless of course subpoenaed, about the “best interests of baseball.”
News arose in July 2007 that now former National Basketball Association (NBA) veteran referee, Tim Donaghy, was pending indictment by the federal government, allegedly for providing information to illegal bookmakers associated with the Gambino Crime Family in New Jersey, who wagered bets on NBA games. He allegedly funneled confidential information to them on games and personnel while he was actively refereeing for the NBA during the 2005 and 2006 seasons included the post-season. Donaghy plead guilty on federal charges in court on August 15, 2007.
And in early August 2007, MLB tried to hoist its latest unilateral decision upon the WUA in light of the perception of illegal gambling and cheating ongoing in the NBA by one or more of its officials, especially with NBA Commissioner David Stern’s assertions that he thought the NBA had had the best security detail in all of sports. Such has made for nervous Nellie’s over at MLB headquarters on Park Avenue, NYC. And although there have been complaints from players as well as from fans with how discipline and policies have been decided by David Stern, there still is a perception of a rationale and accessibility to the NBA’s Commissioner.
It will take months for the NBA to come to a conclusion regarding the reach that Donaghy may have had in the NBA and who else may have been involved, if at all, and how new security options will be implemented. But Stern made it clear that he will not react swiftly with a knee-jerk reaction as to the legalities and ethics of preserving the NBA. And that is precisely what MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has been accused of by the WUA.
It has been reported that a letter dated August 6, 2007 from the WUA to MLB stated that the WUA was breaking off talks with MLB concerning its very recent unilateral decision to require extensive credit background checks to be performed on all MLB umpires effective immediately. However, due to the lack of disclosure of how the findings of any investigations would be handled by MLB, the WUA cut off cooperation with MLB until the expiration of its Collective Bargaining Agreement which expires in 2009. The points of contention which MLB was not willing to concede or even discuss with the WUA include:
“The nature, type and scope of information that you intend to gather on the umpires.”
“The sources, legitimate and otherwise, from which you intend to collect the information.”
“The persons who will have access to the information once it is collected.”
“The vendors and consultants who will assist you in collecting and reviewing the information.”
“The frequency with which you plan to conduct the investigations.”
“The uses to which the information will be put.”
“The process by which MLB, the WUA and the affected umpires will address any concerns that might arise from the information.”
“The protections that will be put in place to ensure that the information is not misused or publicly disclosed.”
“The safeguards that will be adopted to ensure that umpires will not be subject to disciplinary or other adverse job actions stemming from or based upon any of the information.”
And furthermore, WUA spokesman, Larnell McMorris, who also serves in such a capacity for the National Basketball Referees Association, (NBRA) said that the umpires also wanted to revisit their prior discussion with MLB regarding the use of an additional or 7th umpire for World Series games as well as the National League and American League Championship Series, given the need for an alternate in case of injury, illness or unforeseen emergencies. But Rob Manfred, MLB Executive Vice President of Labor Relations, depicted the umpires’ demands as an underhanded way to get an extra umpire for post-season play, again citing that such did not serve the ‘best interests of baseball’ and accused the WUA of not bargaining in “good faith.”
While MLB has no apparent problem with waving the ‘best interests of baseball’ banner when it sees fit for public relations purposes, it apparently is not concerned about it enough to ensure the game’s integrity in having enough umpiring officials on hand during the crucial post-season. And apparently such has been a previous concern to the WUA which remained unaddressed.
To date, when alternates are required for the 70 MLB contracted umpires, minor league umpires are called upon to pick up the slack. Although MLB umpires draw salaries ranging from a minimum of $87,000.00 to upwards of $250,000.00, minor league umpires, many whom have worked as much as many as 154 MLB games in one season, receive a pro-rata share of the minimum MLB salary. Minor league salaries are monthly, with a maximum of $3500.00 per month.
But are not games compromised when replacing MLB umpires with minor league umpires in a pinch? Especially with the use of QuesTec, the controversial computerized technology used to grade an umpire’s home plate ball and strike calls. Used since 2001, MLB has not made public the exact amount of such machines used in MLB stadiums. There are reports that as few as 13 stadiums have QuesTec and as many as 23 stadiums are equipped with it. But certainly not all 30 MLB stadiums have the systems.
While QuesTec has remained a contentious issue with MLB umpires as well as many MLB pitchers and catchers, umpires are graded on every game they call behind the plate and then evaluated by the Umpire Supervisor for MLB. Formerly former American League umpire, Frank Pulli, served in such a capacity prior to his retirement and now former National League umpire, Rich Garcia, succeeds Pulli.
But questions about the integrity of QuesTec remain. For example, the calibration of QuesTec varies from stadium to stadium and such nuances such as shadows and the locations of stands proximate to home plate can alter the placement of the equipment or change the end result of the scoring. This is noted with respect to curve balls and sliders which QuesTec cannot accurately discern as the ball may clip the corner of the plate initially but may end up outside of the batter’s box when caught by the catcher. Such would be scored as a strike, yet the umpire would correctly call it a ball.
Secondly, umpires are suspect of only one individual having full discretion to grade the umpires with use of QuesTec as he sees fit, and may not be an impartial judge, being an employee of MLB. And questions also remain about the revenue and financial arrangement which MLB has with QuesTec Systems and the monetizing of such arrangements which MLB to date refuses to disclose to its owners, players, or umpires.
That brings us to Frank Pulli and Rich Garcia and their own histories with the ‘best interests of baseball’. In 1989, after the completion of investigator John Dowd’s report on Pete Rose’s illegal sports betting activity, other indiscretions arose. We now know, as confirmed by Pete Rose himself in 2004, that he did indeed bet on MLB as well as on the team he was playing for and managing at the time, the Cincinnati Reds.
But what we did not know in 1989, until it was revealed some 13 years later in a report by the New York Daily News in 2002, was that then National League umpire Frank Pulli, then American League umpire, Rich Garcia, and then Chicago Cubs Manager, Don Zimmer, were found to have been involved in illegal sports betting on sports other than MLB, with members none other than the Genovese Crime Family in New Jersey.
At the time, then MLB Commissioner, Fay Vincent, disciplined Pulli and Garcia for associating and doing business with gamblers and bookmakers in violation of Major League Rule 21 or “the best interests of baseball.” Both came forward early on when called upon and satisfied both Dowd and Vincent. “With these guys, there was nothing involving baseball in anything they did. Anybody who doesn’t understand that misses the crux of the whole point, said Vincent.”
But the aforementioned quote was not from 1989 but from 2002, in the NY Daily News report which stated that Pulli and Garcia were put on 2 years of probation at the time. It was ultimately kept secret not by one Commissioner but two, when Bud Selig succeeded Vincent. The secret remained in Selig’s office for over 10 years and had it not been for Don Zimmer in his 2001 autobiography mentioning that he was also reprimanded by MLB, the secret might still be just that.
Now that the ‘best interests of baseball’ has reared its head again with respect to the gambling issue in the NBA, that which has never been addressed, is why sports betting by MLB umpires Pulli and Garcia was not divulged until 2002? And why were both Pulli and Garcia then subsequently rewarded by Commissioner Selig by becoming the exclusive individuals who oversee the QuesTec System and grade umpires on their calls from behind the plate? And fans are also aware, ad nauseam, about the failed oversight of performance enhancing drugs having been used throughout Selig’s administration.
It is evident now, however, as Selig nears the end of his contract with MLB which expires in 2009, and paid him a salary of $14.5 million in 2006, that he measures the success and integrity of MLB through eyes of a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. He regaled at the beginning of the 2007 season that MLB revenue for 2006 was a resounding $5.2 billion. Yet, Selig’s continual foot-dragging on issues of concern to the fans are never addressed unless push comes to shove, such as intervention by the U.S. Congress or the threat of MLB’s losing its anti-trust exemption by the U.S. government.
But as long as MLB has benefit of Rule 21 to hide behind and use whenever it becomes convenient, it bears no resemblance to integrity whatsoever. And Commissioner Selig’s legacy more than likely will be overshadowed by how he looked the other way and how he may have forever sullied the hallowed records of America’s pastime in the process.
Copyright ©2007 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 1:32 AM
Sunday, July 01, 2007
By Diane M. Grassi
As Barry Bonds comes ever closer to breaking the National Pastime’s hallowed home run record, currently held by Hank Aaron at 755, the controversy regarding illicit performance enhancing drug use, which may forever taint Bond’s entire career, does accomplish taking the focus off of Major League Baseball (MLB) and its own shortcomings.
The scrutiny which has been paid, in only just the past two years, over drug use among MLB players, while having been a black eye for MLB, is also convenient as Commissioner Bud Selig need not address myriad other issues which also play their part in preserving the integrity of the game.
For example, MLB has done little exploration into the variations in equipment over just the past 10 years or so and more specifically the wooden bat itself. A number of questions come to mind. Is it just coincidence that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 after he switched his bat’s wood from that of ash to a hand-lathed maple? Is the accelerated breakage of bats over the past 5 plus years due to an acutely thinning bat handle with a larger barrel and lighter weight or is it the non-discriminate MLB approval process of the making and even storage of bats that makes them more vulnerable?
Is it a coincidence that prior to 2003, MLB welcomed smaller bat makers as suppliers to MLB players but suddenly instituted an exorbitant certification fee with nearly impossible to acquire insurance liability policies for smaller operations, costing thousands upon thousands of dollars? And is it not worth taking a look at why there is such a difference in the quality of bats Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the manufacturer of Louisville Sluggers, provides only specific big leaguers, but does not do so for others? In fact, the company proudly admits it.
Preserving the sanctity of the game is multi-faceted. Although technology and safety standards over time have essentially been a beneficial reward for players, it is hard to measure the consistency of the game of MLB if issues such as bat manufacture and its own baseball operations are done on a selective and arbitrary basis. And when it ultimately impacts the way the game is played and its future records, it should be routinely examined.
Hillerich & Bradsby, although deemed the official bat of MLB, is not the exclusive supplier of bats for its players. However, it is still the number one provider to MLB with about a 60% share of its bats supply and curries favor and power, due to its longevity and stature in the history of the game, not to mention the power which is bestowed upon it by MLB, which few other manufacturers enjoy.
In 2002, there were 48 MLB bat manufacturers, and surprisingly little thought was put into the verification process in order to become a bat maker supplier of MLB bats other than for the supplier to provide a sample bat made out of a single piece of wood. But in 2003, MLB went to the other extreme. In a form letter sent to all bat makers in December 2002, MLB stated it would start requiring that they carry $10 million worth of liability insurance, and indemnify MLB, its shareholders, directors, officers, employees and agents attached to various product liability issues.
In addition, the certification fee was increased to $10,000.00 per year, necessary to provide bat makers with the privilege of selling their bats to MLB players. Since that time, although the liability coverage has been reduced to $5 million per year, it still remains prohibitively expensive for boutique manufacturers, or most other domestic suppliers other than Hillerich and Bradsby, to do business with MLB.
MLB also requires that the insurance carrier providing coverage to bat makers must have a “best rating of A-8 or better.” Carolina Clubs, a MLB certified bat maker from Florida, was nearly denied doing business with MLB, as to find a guaranteed insurance carrier of any kind in the hurricane-ridden state of Florida in the post-Katrina era is nearly impossible. However, virtually overnight in 2003, bat suppliers were whittled down to a mere 14 for that season. In 2007, there are supposedly 20-25 suppliers, although MLB makes it difficult to even corroborate such information.
According to the head of MLB Baseball Operations at the time in 2003, Sandy Alderson, “The administrative fee was originally intended to help us defray the costs of inspecting bats, approving bats and for all administrative work and testing.” MLB needed $140,000.00 to approve the bats of 14 companies?
In 1862, MLB first restricted the diameter of the barrel, requiring it not exceed 2.5 inches. It was increased in 1895 to 2.75 inches in diameter, as it remains today. 1868 saw the limit put on a length of 42 inches, as it also remains today. No weight requirements, either minimum or maximum have ever been required. With those parameters, combined with improvements in technology and players’ bat speeds, it could be argued that it is a far different game than even Babe Ruth played. For example, the Babe used a 42-ounce bat as opposed to the average weight of 32 ounces used by today’s MLB players.
Ash bats were exclusively used for decades, after hickory was phased out, until 1997 when Sam Holman of Ottawa, Canada and his Sam Bat caught the attention of then Blue Jays star player, Joe Carter. He then supposedly talked up Holman’s bats which eventually in 1999 found their way into the hands of Barry Bonds. Bonds went on a tear hitting 374 of his total home runs with the sugar maple bats from Sam Holman and broke Mark McGuire’s 1998 home run season record of 70 by besting him with his 73 in 2001.
Holman’s bats have been used by over 500 MLB players and he is expected to furnish Bonds with the bat used for his number 756. Given the proximity of Holman to some of the best maple tree forests in North America in Ottawa, Holman’s business has thrived over the past ten years, although he is selling his business in order to retire. Ash trees also hail from a northern climate, and are harvested primarily from the New York-Pennsylvania area.
The arguments over the consistency and flight of the ball with either wood are never-ending, but there are distinct differences between the two woods. Ash supposedly has more flex, but is not as heavy a wood as maple, producing a bit less flight of the ball upon impact. Additionally, ash bats have less longevity than maple bats and break more frequently and are more apt to shatter, flake and splinter upon breaking.
Sugar or rock maple, considered the finest maple for bats, are more expensive, and range in price from $70.00 -$130.00 while ash bats range between $50.00 and $75.00, yet need to be replaced more frequently than maple. Most players using maple claim that the ball travels farther off of the barrel’s “sweet spot” as opposed to ash. But because the wood itself is a heavier grade, the barrels are made slightly narrower than the ash bats in order to accommodate a lighter weight comparable to ash. And when maple bats do eventually break, they do so in large pieces as opposed to splinters.
The lack of restrictions on weight or the lack of prescribed storage care of bats by MLB, could have a profound impact on whether or not a bat breaks or explodes upon impact. Such endangers its players and spectators. Players go through an average of 60-70 bats a season. But the moisture content of the wood upon manufacture as well as in storage, whether the bat is hand-lathed or completely machine made, as well as the bat’s weight and handle diameter, could all alter the bat’s ultimate performance and longevity. Seattle Mariner, Ichiro Suzuki, for example, has his own humidor for his entire bat supply.
And why should a bat maker, such as Sam Holman, who produces several thousand bats each season to MLB as opposed to Hillerich and Bradsby's 750,000, foot a bill of $65,000.00 per year for liability insurance? The supposed interest in increasing liability insurance fees by MLB for bat makers is an easy way for MLB not to address the incessant breakage of its bats. Perhaps it is the quality of MLB bat inspectors, or a lack of a minimum quality standard of wood or the non-requirement of prescribed weight ratio of bat barrels to handles. But instead of MLB looking for a better standardization process for its bats, it would rather thrust the responsibility onto the bat makers, and thereby still leaving players and spectators at risk.
Also of note, according to Hillerich and Bradsby’s Chuck Schupp, head of its professional division, “We have a priority list of players. A lot of it is based on a personal relationship. If someone is loyal to us, we’ll take care of them.” And although players are not required to sign exclusivity contracts with bat makers, as individual teams assume all costs for players’ bats, Schupp says there is a “Louisville Slugger ‘A’ list.” It includes Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado and Ken Griffey, Jr., among select others.
If star players are treated preferably by Schupp for their Louisville Slugger bats, does that mean that average or up and coming players are at a distinct disadvantage while not getting the best product from the same manufacturer? Should not MLB perhaps look into that?
And finally, unless MLB and its Commissioner is willing to look at all matters of inequity in its sport, whether it be an issue between players, between equipment manufacturers and its players, between baseball operations and its suppliers or a lack of standardization when it comes to equipment, MLB should not be permitted to point the finger exclusively at the use of performance enhancing drugs as the sole threat to the sanctity of the game. For that is far from the only difference-maker in varying performance results in the game of MLB today.
And if MLB wants to be taken seriously in preserving the integrity of the game, it must do a far better job of it rather than its present lethargic effort. For certainly, they are not fooling the fans and the fans and the players deserve better.
Copyright © 2007 Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 7:51 PM
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
By Diane M. Grassi
By now, the baseball nation has had time to try and wrap its head around the re-signing of Roger Clemens to the New York Yankees, for the remainder of the 2007 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Most likely, according to Clemens and Yankees General Manager, Brian Cashman, it will be around June 1st, if not sooner, when Clemens makes his 2007 MLB debut.
Sports pundits, broadcasters, journalists as well as every MLB fan has an opinion about the big dollars involved and whether Clemens is essentially a hired gun. But there are perhaps a number of questions beneath the veneer which should be discussed, which are far bigger than one Roger Clemens. For baseball history and the supposed integrity of the game dictates, at least seemingly so, that no one player is greater than the game itself.
But if we expect an ex-owner and opportunist such as Commissioner Bud Selig to be the one to honor the game, we might as well give up now. Given his wretched record of ignoring performance enhancing drugs in his sport for almost 15 years, for example, until he was ultimately squeezed by the U.S. Congress to seriously address the issue, how can we expect anything but business as usual from such a flawed figure presiding over the integrity of the game?
And when speaking about the integrity of the game, we must address the very basic idea of baseball as being a team sport, which takes the efforts of every player to be in attendance for every game, whether or not they are actually participating on the field that day.
It can be argued that Roger Clemens is being paid entirely too much compensation for his truncated season in 2007, but more importantly, is the precedent setting structure of his deal. But in order to evaluate his current deal, it is helpful to revisit his contracts of the preceding 3 years.
Those who have followed Clemens’ career, since his first retirement after the 2003 season with the NY Yankees, know that he spent three consecutive years with the Houston Astros, thereafter. Clemens returned to Houston, supposedly for the opportunity to close out his career with his hometown club.
With some prodding from good friend and starting pitcher, Andy Pettitte, who also left the Yankees to return to his home in Houston, after not reaching an agreement with NY after the 2003 season, Clemens came out of his brief 6-week retirement and signed a 1-year contract with Houston on January 12, 2004, for the entire 2004 season.
Clemens pitched in 33 games in 2004, 214.1 innings, had an 18-4 record with a 2.98 ERA. He followed that up by winning the 2004 National League Cy Young Award, the seventh of his career.
In December 2004, Clemens accepted salary arbitration from the Astros and re-signed for a 1-year deal in January 2005, for the entire 2005 season. The contract was for $18,000,000.022; almost double that of his 2004 incentive-laden salary. During 2005, he pitched in 32 games, 211.1 innings, with a 13-8 record and finished with the lowest ERA in MLB at 1.87.
The Astros made it to the 2005 World Series but were unfortunately swept by the Chicago White Sox. Clemens also disappointingly was forced to leave Game 1 of the 2005 World Series due to a hamstring injury, a chronic problem for him during his years from 1999-2003 with the NY Yankees. Primarily due to those injuries, Clemens thought long and hard about whether or not to return to MLB for 2006, due to his conditioning program, stamina and longing for his family. He eventually, however, filed for free agency in November 2005. Then the Astros denied him arbitration in early December 2005, thus precluding him from re-signing with the club until after May 1, 2006.
Clemens then went on to participate in the World Baseball Classic in March 2006 and left the door open to return for the 2006 MLB season. And on May 31, 2006 he signed a contract with the Houston Astros worth $22,000,000.022, pro-rated for the portion of the season which he completed. Clemens’ first game of 2006, however, was not until June 22, 2006. He ended up pitching in 19 games, 113 innings, with a 7-6 record and a 2.30 ERA.
It can be speculated that since Clemens lived in the Houston vicinity, that he initially retired after the 2003 season to spend more time with his wife and four young sons, and that it was the main reason he was accommodated by the Astros allowing him to stay at home in Houston, when not scheduled to pitch, while the club was on the road.
Most baseball fans, at least those outside of Houston, were reportedly not even aware of such an arrangement. Those who did know, as well as the media, pretty much gave him a pass for such an allowance, given the future Hall of Famer’s contribution to the game of baseball over the course of his career. Presently, Clemens has 348 lifetime wins and 4.604 strikeouts, second all-time. His advancing age also worked in his favor for such a request.
But Clemens’ just executed contract with the NY Yankees ventures even more so into untested waters. For not only will Clemens be playing a shortened season, but for the first time, at least in Yankees history, the storied club with the most wins in history, will allow him to essentially be a part-time player. Yes, his contract is excessive even for a full-time player, which works out to around a pro-rated amount of $4.5 million per month for the 2007 season. But he will be accorded the option in his shortened season to be away from the team on his four days between starts if he so wishes, to either tend to family, charity or other business obligations.
Ever since the DH was instituted in 1971, it has been scrutinized as it raises the question as to whether it is fair for a DH to be considered a full-time player, as he does not play the field. But it remains the obligation of the DH to cheer on his teammates, whether he is on the field or not. The same can be said for relief pitchers, pinch hitters, utility players, or pinch runners, whether or not they are used on a daily basis.
Clemens seemed rather disingenuous when he said at his news conference on May 6, 2007 that, “I didn’t know the details of my contract sitting down yesterday.” Rest assured that Roger Clemens knew exactly what he wanted and that his agent Randy Hendricks would not have deleted such a clause in the contract without checking with him first.
But, if it really does not matter to Clemens when asked specifically about such an arrangement, then he should honor his promise to work with the young pitchers on the Yankees staff when he is not pitching, and strike that traveling clause from his agreement. Otherwise, how he will have time to work with the other pitchers, given his out-of-town distractions, will remain questionable.
Where Bud Selig should make a ruling is to make it clear that such an arrangement should not be left up to any one franchise as it will ultimately lead to favoritism over other players and opens the door for other players demanding like contracts. It also leads to the probability for low team morale, and thereby a lack of team cohesiveness.
And the contributing parties to this whole scenario must be held accountable in addition to the Commissioner of MLB. They include the Houston Astros, its management and ownership, the NY Yankees, its management and ownership, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), and of course, Roger Clemens himself.
But the fate of MLB clearly rests on Bud Selig’s shoulders. However, he is once again too shortsighted to foresee that MLB’s future also is determined by his inactions and benign neglect of his obligations for the good of the game of baseball. And yes, sometimes it is not about the money but rather about the game itself and about preserving its integrity for generations to come.
Copyright © Diane M. Grassi
posted by Diane M. Grassi 8:32 PM