Play Bull!

|

The new baseball season is finally upon us, and you know what that means—more horrendous writing from George Will. His latest state-of-the-game column includes praise for the baseball's uncapitalist "revenue sharing," for its oxymoronic "competitive balance tax" on teams that choose to pay well; then he uncorks this Bo Belinsky-style wild pitch of a passage, about (I think) statistics, steroids, Homeland Security, and democratic unionism. Italics mine:

That pleasure is the comparison of players across many generations. Until now such comparisons have been complicated by only one substantial discontinuity in the game's nature—that between the dead and lively ball eras. Steroids threaten to define a second discontinuity—a parenthesis—in baseball's narrative.

The parenthesis opened in the 1990s. It must be closed to remove the cloud of suspicion that hovers over all players. Americans standing in stockings while their shoes and luggage are X-rayed at airports doubt that privacy considerations should prevent random, year-round testing, backed by serious sanctions, for illegal drugs that traduce baseball's integrity. The Players Association is too democratic, and its head, Don Fehr, is too intelligent, to continue to countenance the damage the status quo is doing.

In other words, airport security sucks, so ? urine tests for everybody! It gets worse:

[Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig has been—baseball is a game of inches, but this is not a close call—the greatest commissioner.

The greatest at pickpocketing billions of dollars of taxpayer money, maybe ? but then, Will has long lived by the credo that socialism in the defense of baseball is no vice. (Via the invaluable Selig-despising baseball economist Doug Pappas, who points out that the commish has previously appointed Will to a baseball marketing committee and a Blue Ribbon Economic Panel.)

NEXT: The State of California vs. Volunteerism

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Baseball is fine, thanks.” Football is better. Seen any attendance trends over the past 10 years?

    Chicago and Boston had three teams make the playoffs last year.

    Saying “it’s a Yankee problem” is like saying British monarchist imperialism is a “King James” problem. No, the problem is not who’s on top of the lousy structure, it’s the lousy structure.

  2. joe,

    “db, I oppose taxpayer funded venues, too. This conversation is about revenue sharing.”

    I’m well aware of the subject of this discussion–team profitability is the direct link between the two issues. If a team doesn’t make enough money to afford a new “needed” stadium or to pay big name players, then it has to find another path to success. Assuming a team’s money supply is more or less fixed due to its market size, the venue / payroll issues are all part of the same business.

    If I may borrow a quote of yours from earlier,
    “I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that the two are connected.”

    As soon as a team’s unprofitability leads to it’s demanding concessions from the public, not its investors, I lose all sympathy. If revenue sharing would enable smaller market teams to stop whining about needing new stadia with the dubious justification of drawing more fans, I’d probably support it. Unfortunately, I think it’d just encourage a greater feeling of entitlement in those franchises.

  3. Just about every “Yankee hater” I know privately dreams of having Steinbrenner’s marvelous organization as his own.

  4. But you see, db, even the “unprofitable” teams take in lots of money. The problem is, the richer teams (especially the Yankees) bid up the prices of players so high that other teams can’t compete. Revenue sharing would both allow smaller market teams to keep up (by giving them more money to spend on players), and discourage the Yankees from driving up salaries beyond the range that other teams can afford (by making such a thing all but impossible, and by reducing their ability to offer salaries so much higher than everyone else).

    As far as the argument that other factors besides financial dominance play a role in a team’s success; how many of you are ok with affirmative action hires, because other factors besides race also play a role in deciding who gets hired/admitted?

  5. “Baseball is fine, thanks.” Football is better. Seen any attendance trends over the past 10 years?

    Yep – baseball’s been going up over the past 10 years. Total MLB attendance of course dwarfs total football attendance, since baseall teams need to sell 81 games, rather than 8. Of course we’re arguing preferences here; I prefer baseball.

    Chicago and Boston had three teams make the playoffs last year.

    They did? The Boston Celtics don’t count, you know.

    More to the point, the Cubs have made the playoffs twice in the last 10 years. The White Sox have made the playoffs three times, and the Red Sox four times, in the same period. None of them have been in a World Series in almost 20 years.

    Saying “it’s a Yankee problem” is like saying British monarchist imperialism is a “King James” problem. No, the problem is not who’s on top of the lousy structure, it’s the lousy structure.

    By what objective standard? Obviously you prefer a system with enormous “competitive balance”. I prefer a system where good teams have a chance to stay good, and playoff teams aren’t more or less picked out of a hat. Neither of us is “wrong”.

    And the “lousy structure” really has only benefitted one team.

    ——–

  6. I wonder why baseball seems to attract the most pompous, sententious, terribly self-serious and overblown prose of all sports – starting, though certainly not ending, with Will. Might it be related to its articial nature (most others, it seems, boil down to a race or a straightforward battle for territory, whereas baseball – like its cousin cricket – has a strangely contrived field and rules)? It also seems to be the only sport where habitual losing is noble – you don’t see yearly paeans to the heart of the indomitable Bengals or Clippers and their devoted though often-disappointed fans, etc, etc…

    As to crowning Selig the best commissioner, by inches or not (and that would be FOOTBALL that’s “a game of inches” old chap), I say – ‘HaHa!’ Go back to vapid vapourings about politics, Mr Will, and stop pestering baseball.

  7. Jeez, Peachy.
    Talk about vapid…

    By the way, baseball fans know that “a game of inches” refers to baseball, not football.

  8. Stephen Fetchet wrote:
    “an age when many of the rest of us actually do get our urine tested at work”

    And thus we just roll over and take it? Just because many companies use this ineffective and intrusive procedure, and many individuals (due to economic exigency or lack of principle in this area) have chosen to cooperate, does that mean that we should all accept this is part of normal life? In that case, sure, we might as well have all students drug tested in schools – get them used to a lack of personal integrity, privacy, or worth.

    And sure, it’s a freedom of contract issue, but doesn’t that contract go both ways? Isn’t that what the players union is asserting? It isn’t just the league setting the rules, it’s the players agreeing to the rules through contract.

    I don’t follow baseball that much, but isn’t part of baseball’s drug testing scheme the inclusion of recreational drugs like marijuana? Will talks about steroids, but I would assume that some of the player resistance stems from the fact that the league wants to test for all drugs, whether or not they are performance enhancing.

  9. How exactly would the Expos go about “choos(ing) to pay well?”

    Oh, and people on the roster of a major league baseball team are not “everybody.”

    That’s not to say Will isn’t an ass.

  10. “How exactly would the Expos go about ‘choos(ing) to pay well?'”

    Well, if the Expos’ owners can’t pay well, then they should make a decision to go out of business or move. Nobody should stop them from moving the team to a more profitable location. So it didn’t work out in Montreal. Too bad.

  11. Well, screw Montreal, but it would be a real shame if Cincinnatti, Cleveland, or other small markets with storied baseball histories didn’t field major league teams.

    Then again, I’m writing as a fan who recognizes values other than profitability.

  12. Joe — I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to be competitive on a budget….

  13. Yes, there will always be outliers to any overwhelming trend, Matt.

    Think the Yankees will make the post season this year?

  14. The Expos should move permanently to Puerto Rico. First, San Juan just built a commuter rail line, and took large amounts of land on either side for construction staging, so finding land for the park with good access would be no problem. (Cue exploding libertarian head sounds). Second, not only would every home game sell out, but many of their away games would draw P.R. fans to ballparks that usually have low attendance.

  15. joe,

    If MLB wants to share revenue so each team can compete, perhaps there should be no separately owned teams. Why not just have one large corporation own all of them? Probably the reason this isn’t the case is that it would take away the feeling of having your own regional team, and may lead to the feling that games are fixed, a la the World Wrestling Federation (or whatever they’re calling themselves now).

    “Then again, I’m writing as a fan who recognizes values other than profitability.”

    I’m writing as a taxpayer who doesn’t particularly care whether his city fields a major league team. It’s nice to be able to go to pro sporting events, and I do occasionally, but asking me to shell out for a new stadium because the team can’t fund one itself is ludicrous. Why can’t the team afford a place to play? Because it doesn’t make enough money to do that _and_ pay its players well?

    Let me find my little violin; I think I left it in a matchbox in my desk drawer.

  16. Joe — I think it’s more than just outliers. The A’s have been (and choked) in the playoffs for four years running. The last two World Champs had mid-market budgets. The Twins have been doing pretty well, and the Jays improved to 86 wins while slashing their payroll from around $80 million to $50 million. Payroll isn’t destiny (ask Dodgers & Mets fans), and yes, I think there is chance, slim though it may be, that the Yankees, who depend on overpaid aging superstars, won’t make the playoffs (if Kevin Brown gets hurt, I’d put it at 50-50).

    It’s important to make this point, which is very contra to Selig, not only because I think it’s true, but also because Selig invariably uses this to swindle hundreds of millions of tax goodies to construct stadiums for small-market teams.

  17. Matt, the difference between the NFL and MLB on this score, is that small market teams doing well, competitiveness across the board, and every season being an open question are all so common as to not be remarkable, as is so clearly not the case in MLB. That, and the fact that there is a strong cap/revenue sharing structure. I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that the two are connected.

    db, I oppose taxpayer funded venues, too. This conversation is about revenue sharing.

  18. joe: Perhaps your genius would be better applied to operating an MLB team. To you profit isn’t the prime importance, you acknowledge that bright management can compete with rich management, and you’ve identified a large subsidized market for your team. Quit planning and get pitching!

    Stephen: Baseball can work by any convoluted set of rules the owners and players agree to, and they are all bound by their collective stupidity. The gasbags can wax on about the noble moral purity of the game. The difficulties mount when the gasbags tacitly imply that the operation of the noble game should be a model for moral government and society, with the individual suffering for the collective good, and when the owners use that same pretension to persuade fans like joe to support the taxation of non-fans like me so “storied” crappy teams in cash-poor cities get shiny new stadiums (or “ballparks”, to keep up with the romanticism).

  19. MLS (Major League Soccer) is run as a single entity. Investors choose to invest in a certain team but all players have contracts with MLS and not the team they are on. I have not met any fans that view the mls as a fixed sport. Fans are pretty much the same as with all sports.

  20. MLS (Major League Soccer) is run as a single entity. Investors choose to invest in a certain team but all players have contracts with MLS and not the team they are on. I have not met any fans that view the mls as a fixed sport. Fans are pretty much the same as with all sports.

  21. Joe is wrong. The Yankees are the outlier; if you think there’s a problem with competitive balance (I don’t) it’s not a “big market” problem, it’s a Yankee problem. The other teams in the big markets (LA, Chicago, Boston, the Mets) haven’t enjoyed any great success. Meanwhile, the last 10 years or so have seen a slew of successful mid-market and small market teams, including Oakland, Minnesota, St. Louis, Cleveland, Seattle, and Atlanta. Plus you’ve had completely unexpected World Series winners the last two years, as Matt mentioned. Baseball is fine, thanks.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.