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The Biz of Baseball :: Business of Sports Network
An Interview with MLB's New Official Historian, John Thorn PDF Print E-mail
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The Biz of Baseball - Interviews
Written by Maury Brown   
Sunday, 06 March 2011 22:47

John ThornBefore the explosion of online stats sites like Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball Prospectus, or FanGraphs, many went to the local library or plunked down money without thinking about it for Total Baseball, The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball that started its run in 1989, and was (and still is) one of the baseball researcher’s best friends. The publication, which was edited and authored by John Thorn and Pete Palmer, was basically the print version of Baseball-Reference, with essays sprinkled about. Whether BP saw what Total Baseball did, or not, that model continued with them (although, sadly, the back-of-the-book essays have disappeared), and the likes of The Hardball Times.

Palmer, to many, has been the “numbers man” while Thorn the author. He’s penned Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame, The Hidden Game of Baseball, The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957, and The Armchair Book of Baseball along with Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game set for publication in just a few weeks (March 15, to be exact). His research on the origins of baseball (technically, other stick and ball games from the past) has redefined the subject. While many had believed that baseball originated in the 19th Century, Thorn may well have shown that the game really has its origins in the 18th Century.

I was lucky enough to sit at John’s table in 2006 when he won the Bob Davids Award, SABR’s highest award, and can say that he’s one of the nicest people to ever chronicle the game. He was featured in Ken Burns’ Baseball, Burns’ recent follow-up companion The 10th Inning and he’s been a prominent fixture on MLB Network’s Prime 9 series.

So, when it was announced last week that Thorn has become the Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball, it shouldn’t have been a shock. And yet, with the passing of Jerome Holtzman, who served as Official Baseball Historian from 1999 until his passing in 2008 for the league, it was a bit in the making.

Thorn has barely got his feet wet at the new position, but we caught up with him to see what the new gig is all about. MLB, you’re in good hands. – Maury Brown

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Milwaukee Brewers New Partnership Allows Fans to Order Food From Smartphones PDF Print E-mail
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Media News (Television, Radio, Internet)
Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 24 March 2011 10:22

BrewersGo to a ballgame, and there’s nothing worse than having to leave your seat during the action. Let’s face it, Murphy’s Law comes into play, and the roar you hear from the concourse has to cursing under your breath as you ask yourself, “What’d I miss?”

Standing in line for concessions can certainly have you missing part of, or possibly a whole inning.

Fear not, mobile technology is coming to the rescue.

Case in point, the Milwaukee Brewers announced today that they have partnered with Austin, Texas-based Bypass Lane, who specializes in smartphone apps to allow you to order food and beverages by pre-ordering and paying for your grub right from your seat. The good thing is, Bypass Lane develops for a broad range of devices (iPhone, Android, Blackberry OS6, Dell Mobile, and Palm).

The app allows you to see the menu offerings that are at the concessions stands near your seat, place your order and pay for it using Bypass Lane’s secured payment platform. The nice thing is, you get a text message when your order has been filled and is on the way to being delivered.

The App is available via iTunes App Store on the Bypass Lane website.

They’ve said for years that technology is designed to make life easier. That’s debatable, but being able to order from your seat at the ballgame is a clear win for fans. Now, about that line for the restroom. The day there’s an app for that....


 

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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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Busy Day in Beantown Betrays New Budget Conscious BoSox PDF Print E-mail
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Free Agency, Trades, and Signings
Written by Joe Tetreault   
Sunday, 22 January 2012 10:54

Dan Shaughnessy, who long ago did his heel turn, had already blasted the club’s ownership for the penny pinching ways, when Red Sox GM compounded the complaints with a text book salary dump sending designated starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for righty Clayton Mortensen.

The move perplexes Rob Neyer. And the overall tenor of the offseason has largely upset legions of Red Sox Nation. The acquisition of Andrew Bailey being the primary positive among a sea of head scratchers.

But the tactics are not designed to construct a playoff roster. They are designed to avoid the newly sterner luxury tax penalties as spelled out in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement. The Biz of Baseball’s Maury Brown touched on this topic when the new CBA was announced in November:

The Competitive Balance Tax (CBT), or as it’s commonly known as the Luxury Tax that has been part of MLB, stopped at the end of the season. It’s back in the new agreement, with some undefined tweaks. In a sign that the players are happy with where the model currently is, the soft cap for the league will see no changes in the threshold from the 2011 season -- $178 million based on end-of-year salaries

The quiet offseasons that both the Red Sox and Yankees have overseen suggest both clubs find the new provisions onerous enough to pull back from their free-spending ways. The Yankees big splash came in two pieces just over a week ago. First they dealt Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and minor leaguer Jose Campos. Then they announced an agreement with Hiroki Kuroda on a one-year contract for the budget conscious price tag of $10 million.

Still, the Red Sox and Yankees both face the prospect of exceeding the tax threshold in 2012. The Yankees certainly will. Boston is working like crazy to prevent that.

Speculation centers around Roy Oswalt. The Red Sox would not have been able to sign the veteran right handed starter, even at his reduced salary demand of one-year and $8 million unless they moved some salary. Thus exits Scutaro.

Among the agida inducing activities Cherrington continues to deal with is the club’s full slate of players facing salary arbitration. And with David Ortiz seeking $16.5 million the Red Sox were looking at an even greater cash crunch.

They settled one of their cases last night, with an announcement sent out minutes after the trade was officially announced. Right-handed reliever Daniel Bard agreed with the team on a one-year deal for the $1.6125 million. The two met int he middle between Bard’s asking price of $1.825 million and the club’s offer of $1.4 million. The contract represents a raise of 219.3% over his 2011 salary. He qualified as a Super Two player.

Bard is a candidate to start for the Red Sox in 2012 after serving as the club’s primary set up for Jonathan Papelbon since joining the team in mid-May of 2009. He and Alfredo Aceves, who is also poised to go to an arbitration hearing, are both looking to shift from the pen to a starting role. Picking up Oswalt would ensure one, if not both, would be back in the bullpen next year.


Joe TetreaultJoe Tetreault is a contributor to the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball

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What’s happening to the Dodgers? Understanding and looking forward PDF Print E-mail
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Lance Gurewitz Article Archive
Written by Lance Gurewitz   
Friday, 29 July 2011 08:16

DodgersThe legal war for the Los Angeles Dodgers has officially begun. When the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy on June 27, sparks flew between the public faces of the two sides—Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. McCourt accused Selig of “knowingly and intentionally … [exposing] the Dodgers to financial risk” while Selig declared that the bankruptcy filing “does nothing but inflict further harm to this historic franchise.” How can one make sense of these and the other accusations flying back and forth? Here’s a primer on the past, present, and future of the litigation.

The Background – Proceedings to Date

The Dodgers need money. Unable to meet payroll on June 30, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy to prevent Major League Baseball from seizing the team. To maintain control of the Dodgers, McCourt must take out a $150-million loan that will let him pay the team’s creditors and submit a business plan that shows how he will maintain the team’s financial stability. McCourt wanted to finance that debt with a loan from hedge fund Highbridge Capital Management instead of the one MLB offered.

The dispute over the Dodger’s financing was the subject of last week’s hearing, which The Biz of Baseball’s Maury Brown detailed here. The two biggest takeaways from those proceedings were that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross is focusing only on the Dodgers’ finances, not their controlling interest, and that the Dodgers must negotiate a loan with MLB, not Highbridge.

Now, McCourt has eight court dates over the next six months to obtain the court’s approval of a plan to reorganize the Dodgers. The first of those hearings will take place on August 16.

What happens now? – August through December

By all accounts, the key to Frank McCourt bringing the Dodgers out of bankruptcy is his attempt to auction off the Dodgers’ future cable television rights. Currently, Fox Sports West is under contract through 2013 and maintains exclusive negotiating rights through 2012. The Dodgers sought to extend that deal, and the two sides agreed in principle to a 17-year extension worth $3 billion by McCourt’s valuation. However, MLB valued the deal only at $1.6 billion, a startling undersell, leading Bud Selig to reject it by the power of the MLB Constitution, which all team owners must ratify. Selig then reprimanded McCourt for sacrificing a wealth of long-term revenue in order to secure an immediate $385 million payment that would have kept the team out of bankruptcy and in McCourt’s control.

Now McCourt must argue that he can legally auction off the television rights to the highest bidder. There is a sequential set of points that he would have to legally prove to achieve this. First, McCourt would have to show that the only way he can make the money to pay the creditors is by selling the TV rights. Then, he would have to show that the exclusive negotiating rights belonging to Fox are null and void due to the Dodgers’ bankruptcy. This would allow McCourt to sell the television rights to the highest bidder, meaning he would have to attract cable giants like Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Viacom to compete with Fox. Finally, McCourt would have to actually execute the sale, which MLB would likely still oppose since the deal would favor short-term over long-term benefit. The question at that point would be whether bankruptcy law supersedes the MLB Constitution.

The Future – 2012 and Beyond

The scenario detailed above can best be described as a longshot. There seems to be little reason to believe that bankruptcy law would override either the Fox contract or the MLB Constitution, let alone both. In the event that it does happen, though, McCourt would be able to successfully take the team out of bankruptcy with significant long-term cost.

Even in that case, though, Frank McCourt will not maintain control of the Dodgers for much longer. If he manages to bring the team out of bankruptcy court, he will still have to spar with Jamie McCourt in divorce court. The result of that case is highly predictable. In California, which is known as a community property state, all jointly owned property must be split 50/50 in the event of a divorce. Since the Dodgers cannot be split in half, Frank would have to sell the team and give half of the money from the sale to Jamie, bringing new ownership to the L.A. franchise.

In the more likely scenario, however, McCourt’s attempt to sell the television rights will fail. In that event, since Major League Baseball is financing the Dodgers, the league will have the opportunity to use its own business plan to bring the team out of bankruptcy. This would entail selling the Dodgers, paying off the creditors, and returning the remaining money from the sale to the McCourts. This would be a faster road to a new Dodgers owner, but regardless, time appears to be running out for Frank McCourt.

Even when the Dodgers are sold, though, Frank’s legal war may continue. As this Dodgers organization chart shows, McCourt has created a company—Dodgers Tickets LLC—that sells the tickets but is not a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Similarly, McCourt also controls the land surrounding Dodger Stadium separately from the actual team, so he would retain control of it even after a sale of the Dodgers. MLB and the Dodgers’ new ownership will need to engage in some degree of further litigation to resolve these conflicts and prevent McCourt from unduly controlling any part of the Dodgers.

It is no secret that Frank McCourt will cling to convoluted litigation for as long as he can. At the end of the day, though, he will almost certainly be forced out one way or another—either by MLB in bankruptcy court or by Jamie in divorce court. The basic framework of the next several months is now in place. It is now just a matter of time until the lawyers determine which procedure will give the Dodgers franchise a fresh start and a chance to restore its former glory.


Lance Gurewitz is an undergraduate at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2014. He has served as a sales/marketing intern at ESPN 760 AM Radio and as a residential team adviser for the inaugural Wharton Sports Business Academy, a summer program designed to introduce high school students to the business of sports. His primary interest lies in the critical analysis of athletes and their contributions to winning team sports, particularly baseball.

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Why Evan Longoria Will Have A Huge 2012 Season PDF Print E-mail
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Rob Smith Article Archive
Written by Rob Smith   
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 12:23

LongoriaIt's common knowledge that Evan Longoria is the Tampa Bay Rays' best player, but he's about to get even better.

That might be difficult to believe considering Longoria is coming off a 31-homerun, 98-RBI 2011 season, which he memorably capped with a walk-off homerun on the final day of the regular season to send the Rays to the playoffs for the third time in the past four years, but it's true.

In addition to the obvious misfortune of dealing with injuries last year (Longoria missed 29 games), he was also a victim of having terrible luck when he put the ball in play. The BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) statistic illustrates this point.

BABIP has grown in popularity due to its ability to diagnose anomalous individual seasons that a player may produce. An unusually high BABIP tends to be followed by a regression, while an extremely low BABIP indicates a rebound season is forthcoming. Longoria's 2011 is a prime example of the latter.

The league average BABIP typically lands between .290 and .310. This means that for every hundred at bats in which a hitter makes contact, about thirty will result in base hits. Predictably, the better players usually have a high BABIP by virtue of consistently making solid contact. Until last year, Longoria had been one of those players. In his first three big league seasons (2008-2010), Longoria posted BABIPs of .309, .313 and .336. In 2011, his BABIP fell to .239.

In trying to keep this as simple as possible, BABIP is often influenced by the proportion of ground balls, line drives and fly balls a player hits. Fly balls produce more outs than ground balls, which produce more outs than line drives. So, the more line drives and ground balls a player hits, the better his BABIP is likely to be. Considering Longoria's BABIP fell nearly 100 points from the 2010 season to 2011, one would assume that he was hitting a lot more fly balls while producing fewer ground balls and line drives. Statistics reveal that was not the case. Although Longoria hit more fly balls in 2011 (44.7%) than in 2010 (43.1%), he also hit more grounders, too (36.6% in 2010, 37.3% in 2011). His line drive rate decreased from 20.3 percent to 18, but that is nowhere near drastic enough to explain such a large drop in BABIP.

Notwithstanding Longoria's fluky bad luck in 2011, there are other reasons to expect 2012 to be his best season to date. Despite playing in 18 fewer games than he did in 2010, Longoria drew 80 walks (his previous career high had been 72). His increase in plate discipline and power explains why Longoria's wOBA suffered only a marginal decrease (from .376 in 2010 to .365 in 2011) despite such a horrid BABIP. Further, Longoria lost 10 to 15 pounds this offseason in hopes of avoiding the muscle injuries that have sidelined him in previous seasons.

So, if Longoria's BABIP returns to even a league average figure in 2012 ( it will likely be higher), and his leaner frame allows him to play a full season, we can expect the Rays' franchise player to produce the MVP-caliber season he's capable of.


Rob Smith is a contributing writer for the Business of Sports Network. He can be reached on Twitter @RobSmithUSF or on his personal blog, http://smithersports.blogspot.com/

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