Monday, October 15, 2007

The Boss has left the building?

  • According to a report in the New York Post, George Steinbrenner has essentially given over day-to-day control of the Yankees to his sons, Hank and Hal. After The Boss went public with his displeasure with Joe Torre, there were some questions raised about the true extent of the Boss' decision-making power in the Yankee hierarchy these days. Those questions gained some legitimacy when the Yankees did in fact lose to the Indians, but it did not result in the immediate firing of Joe Torre. Torre may indeed be on the way out, but both sides are in talks right now, which is not what Steinbrenner indicated would happen.
    If Steinbrenner's days as the true power of the Yankees are over, it will indeed be the end of an era. It wasn't always easy, but Steinbrenner's run as principal owner of the Yankees saw the team reemerge as the most successful franchise in sports. He took home 7 World Championships during his tenure as owner. A lot of the team's success may have come in spite of him (for example, Brian Cashman's emphasis on the team's youth movement), but it must be said that Steinbrenner's agressiveness and his embrace of the free agent market (while most teams were still in denial) were instrumental in reestablishing the Yankees brand. The team is in fine shape and will survive the transfer of power, but it's worth noting what a huge effect Steinbrenner had on the New York sports world and especially on the game of baseball.
  • The Rockies are outperforming even my expectations, as their 4-1 win tonight gives them a 3-0 lead over the Diamondbacks and an easy run to the NL pennant. In many ways, the D-Backs have actually outplayed the Rockies, but it has yet to result in a win. But considering all the good fortune the D-Backs have had so far, it's fitting that bad luck should end their season.
  • In the ALCS, the Red Sox and Indians are tied 1-1 heading into Cleveland for Game 3 on Monday. The Indians kept themselves alive with a close win in Game 2, a game that showed off the Indians' advantage in bullpen depth. That said, I have to give the Sox the edge in the Matsuzaka/Westbrook matchup for Game 3, and maybe even Game 4, when a semi-injured Tim Wakefield takes on Paul Byrd. And given the poor performance by C.C. Sabathia so far this postseason (it looks like fatigue), I don't like the Indians' chances.
  • BIG news came out of Atlanta this week, as GM John Schuerholz abruptly announced that he would be moving upstairs to take over the position of team President. Frank Wren was named as the team's new GM, taking over fully from Schuerholz. The last time the Braves named a new GM, another George Bush was president. The Braves have built up an admirable organization, but with the departure of Leo Mazzone, John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox someday (Cox turns 67 next May), the remnants of the 1990s dynasty may finally dissipate.
  • Speaking of Mazzone, he was fired as Baltimore pitching coach this week, after two seasons of poor pitching and little sign of improvement. It should also be said that Mazzone can't have been expected to stay long after the firing of childhood friend Sam Perlozzo as manager. While Mazzone's poor showing in Baltimore must temper our opinion of him at this point, I think he's still got some good coaching to do, and I expect that several teams will be after him this offseason.
  • Any hopes of a grand reorganization in Cincinnati, with Tony LaRussa and Walt Jocketty riding in to save the day, circled the drain when news leaked out that the Reds have agreed to a 3-year managerial contract with Dusty Baker. I really think they'd be better off setting fire to the stadium. The only real hope for Reds fans is that Baker gets fired quickly, before he can ruin Homer Bailey's arm and give Jeff Keppinger 700 PAs.
  • After years of being a stick in the mud, Bud Selig has said that he'd be willing to let major league GMs study the issue of instant replay. To me, it's just a matter of time, and given some of the woeful umpiring performances this season, it wouldn't really bother me.
    If the umpires were really thinking, they'd institute policies to police themselves and develop strict standards of performance. As it is, they seem to be sticking their heads in the sand and just waiting for the MLB to strip away their powers. The best way for the umpires to prevent the loss of a great deal of their power would be to voluntarily surrender a small piece of it. But I doubt that will ever happen.
  • ESPN's Amy K. Nelson has written an excellent piece about the life and death of Rod Beck.
  • According to baseball/business guru Maury Brown, Game 1 of the NLCS was the lowest-rated LCS game in history -- by a longshot. The Rockies/D-Backs matchup on TBS drew a 3.6 national rating. The previous low was 4.9. That's an amazingly significant drop.
    Not only that, but the previous record-holders for the lowest rating were both in the middle of a series -- Game 4 of the 2005 ALCS (a mis-match of a series that the White Sox dominated over the Angels) and Game 3 of the 2006 NLCS (Mets .vs. Cards). Ratings tend to dip in the middle of a series, especially if it's not a particularly compelling one. The fact that people have given up on the D-Backs and Rockies before the series even started is disturbing. And with the Rockies cruising to a 3-0 lead so far, the returns aren't going to be any better.
    What are the reasons for this? Well, the fact that the series in on TBS has something to do with it. LCS games have been broadcast on ESPN and FOX in recent years, and while ESPN is a cable channel like TBS, it also has a higher profile. And while I don't have the numbers on this, my guess is that ESPN reaches more households than TBS.
    The other reason is that the D-Backs and Rockies aren't ratings winners. Phoenix and Denver are actually pretty large media markets (our perception of big- and small-market teams in baseball have very little to do with the demographic realities). But both teams are new and neither one has a nationwide fanbase (Arizona has enough trouble getting fans in Phoenix to show up). And this isn't as important, but it's worth noting that the biggest name in this series is either Todd Helton or Brandon Webb, neither of whom are likely to appear in a Gatorade commercial anytime soon.
    My take on this is that the media's appetite for big-market teams has been profitable in the short run, but isn't a good policy for the long run. Instead of simply feeding off of regional passions by exposing big-time teams on the national level, baseball should be cultivating a league-wide passion for baseball. In short, they need to get people to watch baseball, regardless of who is playing. Right now, they're just exacerbating the problem of the ratings gap between the "big teams" -- the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, and maybe the Dodgers and Angels -- and everyone else. With this policy, the media has adopted an all-or-nothing approach to the postseason: either the right teams get in, or they don't, with the latter meaning pretty poor ratings. This is disastrous, and a better long-term plan would be to raise the profile of low-exposure teams such as Colorado and Arizona, so that when the postseason comes along, the network executives won't have to spend their time praying for the Yankees and Red Sox to win. Because the increased parity in the game means that we're going to be seeing more postseason series like this, and the networks need to accept this and work on selling baseball as an entity rather than just selling a few teams and hoping they win.
    This may sound like a long shot, but it's not. Everyone watches the Super Bowl, because it's the Super Bowl. Does it really matter who's playing? In the old days, World Series results used to be displayed in real time on downtown billboards with thousands crowding the streets to watch -- and this happened in all the cities, even if their team wasn't playing. All it takes is some people in high places with a strong vision to help restore the marketing of baseball as a sport instead of marketing a half-dozen teams and praying that they're the ones left on TV in October.
This would be even funnier if it weren't so true.

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