Posted on: February 11, 2012 6:41 pm


Mike Lopresti of USA TODAY recently wrote a column admitting he'd probably be subject to a breathalyzer, but why not use some of the massive revenues from TV to lower ticket prices at the ballpark? Why not, indeed.

A lot of the newfound gold will surely make its way into the hands of future crops of free agents, that's a given. Long-term, multi-billion dollar network contracts have not only paved the way for jaw-dropping deals with Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and some Japanese guy who I'm sure is nice enough but has never pitched in this country; the fact is, your grandmother, who couldn't care less about baseball, helps fill those coffers every time she sends her cable bill in (if she hasn't dropped dead of a cardiac when she saw yet another price increase). We all do. An overwhelming proportion of production expense is eaten up by sports content -- just surf the 8,000 channels in your "basic package" sometime, if you're up for yet more reruns of Law & Order, Andy Griffith and Seinfeld.

Obviously, it's the larger market teams that are able to score the most outsized network contracts, but they don't play against their shadows. Someone else has to be on the field, if only to make their $25M men appear to be worth every dime. A lot of those other teams make most of their money on attendance, concessions and (sometimes expensive) special promotions.

Good farms systems can only go so far. Meantime, the wealth and talent gap gets wider.

Way gone, obviously, are the days when you could take a family of four to the yard for a pleasant afternoon in the sun and a couple of cold ones, and still be able to make rent. But it gets kind of inexplicable when you see a half-empty stadium when a first place team is on the field. I thought it was a spectator sport.
Posted on: July 27, 2010 4:00 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2010 5:09 pm

Trade deadline dash: If I were Jim Hendry...

...I would be on the phone with Detroit so fast it would make their heads spin.

There are relatively few certainties in baseball, but every once in a while, a few do come along. One is the modest silver lining that attends the dark cloud that Magglio Ordonez's broken ankle has cast on Detroit's playoff hopes. His contract is tied directly to a convoluted formula of plate appearances and starts that will not be met due to this injury. Bottom line: the Tigers have $15 million more in the bank than they thought just a week ago for the rest of this year and next year, depending on how they wish to handle the options. It's a cold look, but as they all love to say at contract and trade time, it's just a business.

Fortuitously for everyone except Ordonez, the injury comes a week before MLB's deadline for trades that do not have to clear waivers. Motown dodged a bullet with Carlos Guillen, but can they hold off both the White Sox and Twinks without Magglio's bat in the lineup for the next 6-8 weeks? Perhaps Detroit will use 3 or 4 days to assess whether the team has any hope of remaining in contention in the AL-C, but Magglio has been more than respectable with the bat this season and it won't be easy.

At the same time, the Cubs do not look good in 2010 even for eternally optimistic Cubs fans like me, they have a serious need to get younger in a hurry (something that should have started in earnest last year, IMO), and they are still on the hook for about $16 million per year for 4 more years with Alfonso Soriano. I don't know if Detroit has the young talent that would be useful in a deal -- or how open Cubs ownership is to eating part of Soriano's contract to make something happen -- but it seems to me that a couple of creative accountants could sit down and find a scenario that's to the advantage of both teams.

And there are still a few creative accountants around. Just because we've had a global financial crisis doesn't mean anyone has been jailed for it.

Posted on: March 6, 2009 2:37 pm

The Abnormal Psychology of Fantasy Drafts

All forensic psychiatrists should observe or paticipate in a fantasy baseball draft at least once in their lifetimes. It's the world's biggest laboratory of truly abnormal, delusional behavior, behavior that would be evaluated for fitness to stand trial, temporary insanity, mitigating circumstances and obsessive/compulsive extremes.

Fantasy league owners are fundamentally neurotic personalities. They fall into the same traps over and over and over, mostly so they can worry about them.

  • The Injury History Trap: Will life change for Scott Kazmir now that he's on a bona fide contender?
  • The Head Case Trap: Will Milton Bradley refrain from beating up game announcers now that he's a cuddly Cubbie?
  • The Walk Year Trap: Two words -- Andruw Jones.

Obviously, the age of the internet has changed the way we game. While it has depersonalized us on the one hand, it has allowed for coast-to-coast and even global fantasy leagues on the other. Sometimes I get a little paranoid that fantasy owners in Russia might be trying to lay the groundwork for Commie mind infiltration because I don't trust Putin as far as I can throw a piano, but that's a discussion for another neurosis.

One year I asked owners in an on-line league to send me pictures of themselves saying, "Dammit!" My intention was to stick them to my monitor during the draft, to complement my fantasy that I was plucking their next picks out from under them as I went merrily along filling out my roster. Now I know this sounds a little creepy, but four of those owners actually did send photos. What were they thinking?

And speaking of delusional thinking -- everyone is guilty of this one: There's a player out there who has never done crap, but some kind of weird bug gets planted that he's about to break out, and I mean BIG TIME. You fret that the bug has been planted in every owner, and sense that if you don't reach for him somewhat...say, by about 10 rounds or so...he'll be long gone, your season will be a train wreck and you'll be kicking yourself mercilessly. So you pounce, glance around all self-satisfied at your fellow owners pictures' mumbling, "Dammit," and never even notice that in the chat window they're asking, "Who?" "Isn't he like a Toyota dealer or something now?" and "Do you think his daughter would go out with me?"

In an auction-style league where you draft offline and in-person, the challenges are far greater. There, the object is to deplete your opponents' funds as much as conserve your own and get the players you want for impossibly low salaries. There, you need a poker face, and there's little room for poker faces within the bounds of idiocy. You can try getting another owner to overpay for a worthless piece of garbage by placing a bid or outbidding with your most practiced Hollywood smirk, but chances are pretty good you'll be met with blank stares.

Then, all you can say is, "Dammit."



Posted on: September 17, 2008 1:50 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2008 11:59 pm

The David Foster Wallace I Sorta Knew

By now you may have learned that writer David Foster Wallace died over the weekend. He apparently committed suicide at age 46 in California, where he taught creative writing at Pomona College.

My wife, seven years his senior, was his babysitter during their childhoods in Urbana, Illinois. Her mom -- my mother-in-law -- was particularly fond of him as he came of school age. He'd let himself in through her kitchen door, demolish the batch of chocolate chip cookies she'd made and recount the rigors of kindergarten. They stayed in touch for the next forty years, though I didn't know of their friendship when I showed up at her house one weekend ten years ago with a copy of his novel, Infinite Jest, in my shoulder bag. I was completely absorbed in the book, which totaled over 1,000 pages, had footnotes that were longer than the chapters of most books and required a dictionary at the ready. IJ, which established Wallace as a literary superstar, was a dark comedy that you either put down after ten pages or attempted to read without putting it down. I was in the latter group, totally absorbed and flipping pages like a runner who sets off knowing that only a good muscle burn will bring relief.

Mom knew Wallace had become an author, but hadn't known that I was making my way through everything he'd written -- novels, shorts stories, magazine articles, essays, literary criticism. She sent him a note to say hello and let him know that his Number One fan had married his babysitter. His reply contained a brief thank you to me, and a long recollection of their time as neighbors when he was young. It was full of trust, respect and a genuine affection that had never left him after four decades and hundreds of thousands of words.

But so I sat down to write a tribute to him (using the term "But so..." to start a paragraph is a device I'm blatantly ripping off from him) because I know a lot about him, the sad circumstances of his death, etc. and so on ("etc. and so on" being another trademark device (as is this wacky use of parentheses within parentheses) by the way). In the end I concluded that they're all just words, a bunch of inadequate words to say we've lost somebody's son, somebody's brother, somebody's husband, somebody's family friend. Somebody's favorite author.

I realized anyone can Google all that in the form of literary tributes and fan sites, but the community on this site might not know of Wallace's enthusiasm for sport, and tennis sport in particular.

He was a competitive player on the Junior circuit during high school, and described himself to interviewer Charlie Rose as "good, something short of very good." He practiced drills with my brother-in-law, who was bigger, stronger, more athletic and had better hand-eye coordination than Wallace, but was no match when it came to studying and comprehending the poetry, math, physics and metaphysics of the game. When he stopped playing on a competitive level, he started to write about tennis on a level that hadn't previously made it to print. Following are some of my favorite excerpts from his writings on the game. (Note: The scene in this first excerpt comes immediately before a mini-tornado strikes during a practice drill...what we called a vortex or dust devil in the cornfields. It picked Wallace up and slammed him face-first into the cyclone fence surrounding the court. His sister later said he looked like a waffle).

"Hessel Park was scented heavily with cheese from the massive Kraft factory at Champaign's western limit, and it had wonderful expensive soft Har-Tru courts of such a deep piney color that the flights of the fluorescent balls stayed on one's visual screen for a few extra seconds, leaving trails, is also why the angles and hieroglyphs involved in butterfly drill seem important. But the crux here is that butterflies are primarily a conditioning drill: both players have to get from one side of the court to the other between each stroke, and once the initial pain and wind-sucking are over--assuming you're a kid who's in absurd shape because he spends countless mindless hours jumping rope or running laps backward or doing star-drills between the court's corners or straight sprints back and forth along the perfect furrows of early beanfields each morning--once the first pain and fatigue of butterflies are got through, if both guys are good enough so that there are few unforced errors to break up the rally, a kind of fugue-state opens up inside you where your concentration telescopes toward a still point and you lose awareness of your limbs and the soft shush of your shoe's slide (you have to slide out of a run on Har-Tru) and whatever's outside the lines of the court, and pretty much all you know then is the bright ball and the octangled butterfly outline of its trail across the billiard green of the court."
-David Foster Wallace, "Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern Boyhood". Harper's Magazine Vol. 283, No. 1699; Dec. 1991. [NOTES: Collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" as "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley".]

"Tennis is the most beautiful sport there is. It is also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires SMARTS. Just one single shot in one exchange in one-point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical abilities...Basketball comes close, but it's a team sport and lacks tennis's primal mano a mano intensity. Boxing might come close— at least at the lighter weight divisions— but the actual physical damage the fighters inflict on each other makes it too concretely brutal to be really beautiful— a level of abstraction and formality (i.e., "play") is necessary for a sport to possess true metaphysical beauty (in my opinion)...
...One answer to why public interest in men's tennis has been on the wane in recent years is an essential and unpretty thugishness about the power-baseline style that's become dominant on the tour. Watch Agassi closely sometime...he's amazingly absent of finesse, with movements that look more like a heavy-metal musician's than an athlete's...what a top PBer really resembles is film of the old Soviet Union putting down a rebellion. It's awesome, but brutally so, with a grinding, faceless quality about its power that renders that power curiously dull and empty...
...John McEnroe...was arguably the best serve-and-volley man of all time, but then McEnroe was an exception to pretty much every predictive norm there was. At his peak (say 1980 to 1984), he was the greatest tennis player who ever lived—the most talented, the most beautiful, the most tormented: a genius. For me, watching McEnroe don a blue polyester blazer and do stiff lame truistic color commentary for TV is like watching Faulkner do a Gap ad."
-David Foster Wallace, "The String Theory, " from Esquire Magazine.
Posted on: February 4, 2008 12:16 pm

The time for Roberts is NOW!

OK, Brian, I want your promise. That roid was just that one time, promise? DO YOU PROMISE???

Because here's what I think is going down. Bedard is going to the M's soon for Adam Jones and 4 minor leaguers and Angelos is going to need Pie like another hole in the head. That takes care of the major sticking point among not only our organization, but all of Cubdom. Unfortunately, Angelos still has a man-crush on you, so you will not come cheap.

Nevertheless, we're coming after you. You might not have noticed, but we boast a solid pitching staff -- not spectacular but very, very solid -- and all we did is get deeper in the off-season. You might not have also noticed that we blew last year when it came to advancing runners -- not just in the playoffs, but all season long -- and all we did is go on a shopping trip in Tokyo. That's a start.

Can you get used to the idea of being one of the best leadoff guys in baseball, hitting out of the #2 hole? Because no matter what anyone might prefer, Soriano is our leadoff guy. He sorta owns us...and not the other way around...for the next five or six years. Something happens in his head when he's not in the #1 hole, but so be it. We kinda like the look on an opposing pitcher's face when he comes off the mound down 1-0 at the end of the 1st. Now the thing is he sometimes racks a few K's too, or swings at crap and hits it to somebody, but you'll notice on his way back to the dugout he's always smiling. He's a happy-go-lucky guy.

And you should be too. That's because at those times when he doesn't hit a bomb, you'll essentially be our leadoff guy! Your job will be to get on base, maybe swipe one, and let's see if D-Lee, A-Ram or Fuku-San can get you home. (You can bring your own nickname from Baltimore...we're easy).

It will probably cost us some young pitching to get you. That's OK. We have a history of developing good pitching, but being a little weak on developing good hitting. I know what you're thinking: Won't Mark DeRosa have his feelings hurt, especially after his great efforts last year. The answer is a resounding NO! He hates playing second base, and has told me personally that he was born to be an uber-utility (his italics, not mine). He can occasionally stand in for Theriot (who's electric but ran out of gas last year), A-Ram (whose knee is not getting any younger), Soriano (who should see what it's like to NOT throw someone out at home so he can count his blessings) and Fukudome (who will realize soon enough that it's hard to maintain a super-high level of concentration with all that beaudacious ta-ta strutting through Wrigley on an afternoon in June).
Category: MLB
Tags: Chicago Cubs
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