Archive | Baseball

Yankees Admit that they are “Baseball’s Evil Empire”

Fans of rival teams, especially Red Sox fans, have long known that the New York Yankees are the Evil Empire, as well as major recipients of corporate welfare. But in a recent legal proceeding, the team has now officially admitted it [HT: Josh Blackman]:

A panel of trademark judges in Washington, D.C., earlier this month denied a request from a private entrepreneur, known as Evil Enterprises, Inc., to register the trademark for the phrase “Baseballs Evil Empire.”

Evil Enterprises wanted the exclusive right to market merchandise using that phrase, which was coined in regard to the Yankees by Larry Lucchino, the president and chief executive of the Boston Red Sox, back in 2002….

Evil Enterprises initially applied for a trademark back in July of 2008.

But the Yankees objected, arguing that they had the rights to the phrase—at least when used in connection with baseball.

Part of the Yankees’ argument: a concession that in the baseball world, they are, in fact, the “Evil Empire.” In its legal papers, the team referenced a number of articles from the past decade using the term in connection with the Yankees, and conceded that the team has “implicitly embraced” the “Evil Empire” theme by playing music from Star Wars during their home games.

Not only did the Yankees admit that they are an evil empire, but we now have a legally binding judicial ruling to that effect:

The panel of judges sided with the Yankees, ruling that the Yankees are strongly associated with the phrase. Allowing anyone else to use the phrase exclusively would likely cause confusion, ruled the judges.

“In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees,” wrote the judges. “Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable

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Johnny Pesky, RIP

Boston Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky passed away today. Gordon Edes of ESPN has a good obituary here:

More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky embodied the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky loved the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky shared that love with anyone who ever asked for a picture, an autograph, a smile, a story. And often, you didn’t even have to ask.

On Monday, just more than a month before his 93rd birthday, Johnny Pesky died in … Danvers, Mass….

The Red Sox lost the greatest ambassador they ever had, and a damn good ballplayer too, a shortstop who had 200 hits in each of his first three seasons, a lifetime batting average of .307 and, like [Ted] Williams, might have put up even gaudier numbers if he hadn’t joined the Navy during World War II.

The rest of us lost one of our own, a guy…. who never embraced the notion that playing for the Red Sox entitled him to the prerogatives of royalty.

Pesky worked for the Red Sox for over sixty years and was one of the most important public faces of the franchise long after he retired.

Pesky was one of those players who lost a shot at the Hall of Fame by missing three years of playing time due to World War II. He posted HOF-worthy numbers in his first three seasons (1942, 1946-47), and likely would have done the same in the three years he missed in between. Modern sabermetric analysis strengthens his case somewhat, since his .307 batting average was backed by numerous walks, resulting in a lofty .394 on base percentage ( modern analysts consider OBP the single most important offensive stat).

Red Sox fans everywhere will miss Pesky. [...]

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A Too Big to Fail Parking Lot at Yankee Stadium?

Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas has an interesting column about a massive financially dubious parking lot at Yankee Stadium, which Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. claims requires a government bailout to prevent a local financial crisis:

If the Zuccotti kids want to protest Wall Street bailouts, they should go occupy the Yankees’ luxury parking garages in The Bronx. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wants to give the garages’ private investors a fat-cat rescue at the expense of Gotham’s Main Street mice.

Four years ago, the Yankees wanted a souped-up parking “system” for their new ballpark, and Mayor Bloomberg obliged. City Hall helped a previously unknown outfit, the Bronx Parking Development Co., borrow $238 million to build and run a $300 million parking paradise on city land under a long-term lease. (The state supplied the balance of the cash.)

ut the mayor didn’t put the city’s credit on the line. Instead, the city’s Industrial Development Agency — which is not guaranteed by city taxpayers — sold the debt to bondholders.

No one ever said so outright, but bondholders were plainly supposed to assume that, because Bronx Parking’s board is stacked with city officials and city officials talked up the bonds, that the city was there should the deal run into trouble.

It sure didn’t make sense on the merits. The old parking lots generated $7 million a year, but the new lots were supposed to pay twice that in annual debt costs. And Bronx Parking can’t just raise prices to fill the gap. Not many folks will pay $35 to park when there’s a new Metro North station right there.

Reality has caught up. Last week, Bronx Parking made its payment to bondholders only by tapping an emergency fund. The firm must make two more payments by next October —

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Farewell to Terry Francona

The Red Sox and manager Terry Francona have decided to end their relationship in the wake of the teams’ painful September collapse. Despite the disappointing end to his tenure with the team, Francona will surely be remembered as the most successful Red Sox manager in almost a century, if not ever. During his eight years with the team, the Sox made five playoff appearances and won two world championships. Most important of all, they put an end to the Curse of the Bambino and repeatedly vanquished the Yankees. Even this year, they went 12-6 against them.

Francona was not a great tactical innovator like Earl Weaver or Tony LaRussa. But he still impressed me with his skill, as I followed the team closely during his tenure. His single greatest virtue was avoiding dumb mistakes. He rarely if ever lost a key game by doing something stupid. This is an underrated quality. Sabermetric analysis shows that it is much more common for managers to lose games by making foolish errors than to win them with some brilliant insight. Just ask Francona’s predecessor Grady Little, who provided a textbook example of the former in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Francona avoided those kinds of mistakes, in part because he was open to the use of sabermetric statistical analysis to guide his decisions.

Francona’s other great virtue was the way he handled the insane media circus surrounding the Red Sox and managed to work with the difficult personalities of some of the team’s stars. It is often said that the manager of the Red Sox gets more media and public scrutiny than the governor of Massachusetts or the mayor of Boston. No Red Sox manager in my lifetime handled it better than Francona. It also wasn’t easy for him [...]

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You Knew I’d Say Something About This:

A somewhat dispirited series of highly-anticipated matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid was elevated to high art through the remarkable play of the remarkable Lionel Messi. If you didn’t see his goals in Wednesday’s game — the second one in particular is a thing of sublime beauty — check them out

here (the UEFA official website, with a pretty niggardly 45 second clip)

or here (from a broadcast clip of the 2d goal)

The matches have been dispiriting because Jose Mourinho (Madrid’s coach) made the tactical decision to play the most conservative brand of static football imaginable, in the hopes of suffocating Barcelona’s attack. He’s got no faith, as my son Sam put it, that his players can compete with Barcelona if both teams are attacking. Aside from the fact that the strategy is failing, it has deprived us of what could have been some magnificent games – Madrid showed last weekend, in demolishing a very good Valencia side (on the road, no less) 6 -3, that they have the potential to be a terrific attacking side, and a game in which the two teams were at their attacking best could been truly wonderful side to watch.

But at least — thank goodness — there’s Messi. I know I’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating – we’re lucky to be around to watch him. Those Madrid defenders he’s running by are not clumsy oafs, or statues – they are world-class soccer players, made to look like clumsy oafs and statues. And they’re not the ones with a ball bouncing around unpredictably at their feet!! Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth – sometimes someone not only is better than everyone else in the world at what they do, but better by a prodigious margin, and it’s really something to see.

And [...]

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New York Yankees Co-Owner Hank Steinbrenner Denounces “Socialism”

New York Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner recently denounced Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing system, calling it “socialism”:

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner [the other co-owner/co-chairman is Hank's brother Hal] says baseball’s revenue sharing and luxury tax programs need changes…..

“We’ve got to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way,” Steinbrenner said. “Obviously, we’re very much allies with the Red Sox and the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, whoever in that area.”

“At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor,” Steinbrenner said. “Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer.”

I don’t have a strong view about the revenue-sharing system. As a tool for maintaining competitive balance, it’s much less effective than the salary caps adopted by the NFL, NBA, and NHL. Moreover, the revenue-sharing system suffers from the flaw that the low-payroll teams that receive the money paid in by wealthier franchises can simply put the money into their owners’ pockets, as opposed to investing it in improving their teams.

That said, comparing MLB revenue-sharing to socialism is absurd. Socialism is government control of the economy, not a private arrangement to divide up profits from a joint enterprise. You might as well say that a law firm is “socialistic” if individual partners don’t keep all the profit generated by the clients they bring in, and instead have to transfer some of it to the other partners.

If the Steinbrenners really believe that socialism is “never the answer,” however, they should return the record $1.2 billion in government subsidies that they recently got for the building of the new Yankee Stadium. Even the USSR [...]

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Moneyball the Movie

Sports columnist Rob Neyer has an interesting post about the making of the movie based on Moneyball. Michael Lewis’ famous book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful efforts to build a great team with a small payroll by relying on statistical analysis to identify undervalued players. The movie will be directed by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing fame. Billy Beane will be played by Brad Pitt.

I previously wrote about Moneyball here, here, and here. My own employer, George Mason Law School has successfully used Moneyball-like strategies to identify and hire undervalued scholars. If Sorkin’s movie turns out to be a big success, perhaps there will be a sequel focusing on Moneyball strategies in legal academia. That film will surely be a box office megahit. I can’t wait! [...]

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A Billionaire Corporate Welfare Cheat?

Sportswriter Jeff Passan describes evidence indicating that billionaire Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria may have lied about the team’s finances in order to secure massive public subsidies for the construction of the Marlins’ new stadium [HT: VC reader Eric Robinson]:

A look at the leak of the Marlins’ financial information to Deadspin confirmed the long-held belief that the team takes a healthy chunk of MLB-distributed money for profit. Owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson for years have contended the Marlins break even financially, the centerpiece fiscal argument that resulted in local governments gifting them a new stadium that will cost generations of taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion. They said they had no money to do it alone and intimated they would have to move the team without public assistance.

In fact, documents show, the Marlins could have paid for a significant amount of the new stadium’s construction themselves and still turned an annual operating profit. Instead, they cried poor to con feckless politicians that sold out their constituents.

The ugliness of the Marlins’ ballpark situation is already apparent, and the building doesn’t open for another 18 months. Somehow a team that listed its operating income as a healthy $37.8 million in 2008 alone swung a deal in which it would pay only $155 million of the $634 million stadium complex. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County agreed – without the consent of taxpayers – to take $409 million in loans loaded with balloon payments and long grace periods. By 2049, when the debt is due, the county will have paid billions.

More on the Marlins stadium subsidies from Matt Welch here.

Even if the Marlins’ financial state were as tenuous as Loria claimed, it still would not justify massive government subsidies for a new stadium. Stadium subsidies almost never create benefits [...]

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How Baseball Gets It Wrong, and Hockey Gets It Right

The sports world is  atwitter over Major League umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call in the ninth inning that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a well-deserved perfect game.  The play at first base was made to end the game.  It would have been the 27th out on the 27th batter, but Joyce called the runner safe.  But he was wrong, as instant replay showed.  The game will go down in the books as a one-hit, complete game, as those are the rules.  Only an asterisk will show it should have been recorded as a perfect game.

This was not the only big blown call last night.  There was another in the middle of the second period during game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers.  The game was tied 1-1- and the Flyers were on a power play, and it appeared Scott Hartnell deflected Chris Pronger’s shot past Blackhawk netminder Antti Neimi.  The siren sounded, but no call was made, and play continued — for another minute-and-a-half.  Yet at the next stoppage, the refs asked the video booth to review the call.  The video was unmistakable, and the call was corrected.  Score a goal for the Flyers, reset the clock, and pick up the game as if the proper call had been made in the first place.

Professional hockey, like most professional sports, uses instant replay to help ensure that game-changing calls are made correctly. Accommodations are made to maintain the integrity of the game — such as waiting until a natural stoppage before reviewing the tape — but instant replay is still used to make sure saves are saves and goals are goals, and it works.  Indeed, during overtime there was another close call, a shot that could have been called a [...]

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“Temporary” Tax to Pay for DC Baseball Stadium Becomes a Permanent Cash Cow for City Government

I have often criticized government subsidization of sports stadium construction, including the biggest such boondoggle: the record expenditure of over a billion dollars in government money on the new Yankee Stadium (see here for my most recent post on the subject and links to earlier ones). As I pointed out in my very first post on this issue, such subsidies almost always fail to produce economic benefits that justify their exorbitant costs.

New York, however, is not the only city that has indulged in this particularly egregious form of corporate welfare. Washington, DC spent a great deal of public money to build a stadium for the Nationals. Now, however, the city is extending the life of a tax originally intended to pay for the stadium so that they can divert the funds to other projects [HT: Taxprof Blog]:

A citywide business tax the D.C. Council passed to help to help pay for the $611 million Washington Nationals ballpark has become such a cash cow that the city is now using it to help close its nine-figure budget gap.

D.C. passed a tax on businesses’ gross receipts to help finance the construction of the stadium. From fiscal 2005 until the end of this fiscal year, more than $129 million will have been collected, finance office records show. Overall, the city will have netted more than $135 million in all taxes and rent above what the city is paying back in bond payments from fiscal 2005 to 2010.

But instead of using the surplus funds to pay the stadium off, Mayor Adrian Fenty and the city council are using the money to plug monstrous holes in the District’s budget.

“They took all the money,” Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, said of his colleagues. “They’re spending every dime.”

Many business leaders are

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A Great Law School Dean Doesn’t Have to be a Great Scholar

Conservative blogger Paul Mirengoff and liberal law professor Paul Campos argue that Elena Kagan is poorly qualified for the Supreme Court because of what they argue is a weak record of scholarship. Mirengoff expresses incredulity that “you could publish so little and still become the dean of a major law school.”

I have a much higher opinion of Kagan’s scholarship than Campos and Mirengoff. Still, I agree that she’s not one of the very top scholars in her field. But Kagan’s greatest accomplishment is not her scholarship but her record as Dean of Harvard Law School. The real flaw in Campos’ and Mirengoff’s argument is the implicit assumption that being an outstanding dean requires you to be an outstanding scholar. It doesn’t.

The job of dean is primarily managerial and political. The dean has to manage the faculty and staff, maintain good relations with the university, and raise money. He or she must be a good judge of others’ scholarship, since she plays a key role in faculty appointments. But she doesn’t have to be an outstanding scholar herself. As Campos concedes, most deans don’t do much in the way of scholarship anyway, perhaps because they rarely have the time.

I have previously compared law school administration and faculty hiring to the growth of Moneyball strategies in baseball (e.g. here and here). Billy Beane’s effective use of Moneyball strategies as general manager of the small-market Oakland A’s contains many lessons for academic institutions. One such lesson comes from Beane’s own background. Many baseball pundits used to think that to be a successful major league executive or manager, it was important to be a good player. Beane, however, was the greatest executive of his generation even though he was (by major league standards) a terrible player. Indeed, as Michael Lewis [...]

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Dubious Grousing over the Percentage of African-American Players in Major League Baseball

USA Today recently published an article lamenting the supposedly low percentage of African-American players in major league baseball:

Major League Baseball is celebrating Jackie Robinson Day today. But 63 years after he broke the game’s color barrier, the number of African-American players continues to suffer, with 9.5% of them making opening-day rosters, according to USA TODAY research.

“He would turn over in his grave if he saw the lack of African Americans playing ball,” Minnesota Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson said.

MLB had its first increase in African-American players in 15 years in 2009 when the number climbed to 10.2%, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. This year, though, there were 17 teams with two or fewer African-American players on their opening-day roster.

“It makes you wonder a little bit what’s going on,” said Hudson, who this week questioned whether racism was a factor in former All-Stars Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield being unsigned.

Dye has hit at least 27 home runs in each of the last five seasons but batted .179 after the All-Star break in 2009. He and Sheffield, 41, have turned down several contract offers.

This is not a new complaint and the numbers in the USA Today article give it some superficial plausibility. African-Americans (including mixed-race people) are about 13.5% of the overall US population, so the figure of 9.5% representation in baseball may seem low. However, it is important to remember that almost 28% of MLB players are foreigners. In recent years, Latin American and Asian players have flocked to major league rosters, displacing the weakest American players of all racial groups. If you consider the African-American percentage of US-born players, it is just over 13%, almost exactly on par with the black percentage [...]

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Did Anti-Semitism Prevent Hank Greenberg from Breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record?

In this recent New York Times article, Howard Megdal revives the longstanding claim that anti-Semites on opposing teams tried to prevent Jewish Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg from breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1938 because of anti-Semitism:

Evidence has finally been published that seems to resolve a 72-year-old mystery. When Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers made a run at Babe Ruth’s season home run record, falling two short with 58 in 1938, was he pitched around because he was Jewish? …

Some members of Greenberg’s family and legions of his fans believed that anti-Semitic pitchers had walked Greenberg often to keep him from a fair shot at Ruth, who set the record in 1927….

Greenberg received many more walks as he chased Ruth in 1938 than he did in the rest of his career. Almost no other hitter going after the home run record had anything like Greenberg’s late-season spike in bases on balls. He had 119 walks to lead the A.L., the only time he did so, and they accounted for 17.5 percent of his 681 plate appearances.

But the way pitchers handled Greenberg early in the season was clearly different than the way they approached him as Ruth’s record came into view….

Over all, Greenberg walked in 15.9 percent of his plate appearances through the end of August 1938. In September, that rate jumped to 20.4 percent. His walk rate was 14.5 percent in 1937 and 15 percent in 1939.

Megdal points out that other hitters who threatened Ruth’s 1927 record of 60 HRs did not have a higher walk rate in September than earlier in the season. He concludes that opposing teams wanted to prevent Greenberg from breaking the record in 1938 because he was Jewish.

The idea that Greenberg was a victim [...]

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The Say Hey Kid:

There was a delightful review, by Pete Hamill, in last week’s NYT Book Review, of James Hirsch’s “Willie Mays: The Life and Legend.” Can’t speak for the book, but Hamill’s little love letter to baseball in New York in the Fifties is wonderful. There never was, and never will be, anything like baseball in New York in the Fifties – NY teams completely dominated the post-season highlight reels (8 championships in 9 years, the Dodgers’ great win in ’55, “The Catch” in ’54, The ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ in ’51, Larsen’s perfect game, . . . ) and the rivalry between the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees was life-and-death stuff to pretty much everybody in town. [The clearest evidence ever (though there's lots and lots more, mostly from the world of soccer) of how incredibly stupid the owners of US sports franchises are with their desperate "exclusive geographic area" strategies].

Hamill captures many things about the era, but what I liked best was his observation (that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen made before) that

“He [Mays] could hit, he could run, he could catch, he could throw. And he brought to the playing of baseball a mysterious, almost magical quality that has disappeared from the professional game. Willie Mays brought us joy. All of us.

Even those of us who from birth were fanatical acolytes of the secular church of the Brooklyn Dodgers. . . . Above all, I remembered Mays getting a thunderous round of applause when he first came to bat in games at Ebbets Field (the only other visiting player to hear such cheers was Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals). Even the most fanatical Dodger fans wanted Mays to go 3 for 4, steal two bases and make one astounding catch in center field,

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Coakley vs. Curt Schilling

Former Boston Red Sox star Curt Schilling has been campaigning for Republican Massachusetts Senate candidate Scott Brown. In response, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley called Schilling “another Yankee fan.” Schilling responds here:

I’ve been called a lot of things….

But never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could….

Score one for Schilling here, with the minor caveat that ignorance about pro sports teams doesn’t necessarily equate to general ignorance about the state they’re in.

On a slightly more serious note, I don’t see why anyone should pay any particular attention to the political views of Schilling and other celebrities. As a longtime Red Sox fan, I yield to no one in my admiration for Schilling as a pitcher. I also think he’s an interesting commentator on baseball issues. But if you read his blog (which I very much like for the sports content), I think it’s clear that his expertise on political issues is not much greater than that of the average voter. I would say the same thing for most of the other sports and entertainment industry celebrities who make political endorsements and expound on political issues. Voters should generally discount such statements, except in the rare instances where the celebrity in question has some genuine insight into the subject. That’s not a criticism of Schilling and the other celebrities. He has his field of expertise, and he’s certainly been more successful at his profession than 99.9% of the rest of us have been in ours (myself included). And of course celebrities are entitled to their political opinions. The real fault lies with the voters and media who pay much [...]

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