Thursday, July 22, 2010

At That Point, What's The Difference?

  • Isn't team payroll a drop in the bucket?

In an excellent and entertaining article in ESPN the Magazine about the divorce between Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, the whole circus is broken down by Molly Knight----Link.

I'm not getting into a who's right, who's wrong, ill-informed analysis of the relationship between Frank and Jamie McCourt; if you tore apart the personal lives of anyone and everyone, I'm quite sure that a large part of what they do and how they behave would be considered strange. To me, part of the vitriol directed at the McCourts is based on their ostentatious spending; their Beverly Hillbillies, fish-out-of-water "weirdness", which in the context of the world in general and Hollywood in particular, shouldn't be considered weirdness at all.

In short, they're getting divorced; they have a lot of "stuff" that they co-own, some of which is very lucrative and prestigious to own (Um, the Dodgers? I'd like to own the Dodgers); they're battling it out in court. It will be resolved somehow, some way.

Here's my question regarding my focus, team affairs: when an owner is so in debt; when he's secured the number of loans to buy the team and then has used the team value to acquire even more cash to buy other things, why is the team payroll such a factor?

By that I mean when marriages come apart as the Moores' did when they owned the Padres and as the McCourts' is currently, is there that great a difference between a team payroll being say $110 million $80 million; $60 million; and $40 million?

I realize that I'm throwing around these numbers as if they're meaningless, but in the grand scale of things and taking into account the amount of money owed to the banks and creditors, it is relatively meaningless.

To put it into simple terms, if you own something that's in dispute between you and another party, and that something is worth $1000, you're not going to fret on $80-$120 of that $1000. The Dodgers are worth far more than the club payroll whether it's $90 million or $120 million. So how much is the slashing of player salaries at the big league level going to help?

I've never quite understood the logic behind the drastic sell-offs that have occurred when owners are having personal and financial difficulties. It happened with the Marlins under Wayne Huizenga after they won the World Series; the Padres several times with several owners; and now the Dodgers are said to be planning a payroll slash after this year.

There have been owners in sports who literally haven't been wealthy while they owned their clubs----Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns for example----but what people fail to understand is that much of so-called wealth in today's world is actually access to credit; we're not talking people with Warren Buffett liquid money; we're talking people who own something upon which they can borrow more and acquire other things. It's more about negotiating with banks than it is anything else.

Did the Marlins detonating their championship team after 1997 really mean all that much financially to Wayne Huizenga with his empire? Of course not.

If you owe someone $1000, then what's the difference if you add a negligible amount to the debt?

I would think that it would be better for an owner to have a competitive team on the field in order to sell it. You're not going to get as much for a team in disarray as you would for an organization that has its house in order on and off the field; and it's becoming increasingly evident that even the best-run clubs have little inter-organizational battles over credit and control. Wouldn't post-season revenue for a team be just as valuable as tearing it down to the bare bones?

As for the McCourts themselves, they're despised for the aforementioned extravagance, but in my mind, they've been better owners of the Dodgers than News Corp was----they've certainly had more success. They've paid for players; they've wasted money in many cases like Jason Schmidt; they paid for the most recognizable manager in Joe Torre; and they've made the playoffs in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009; plus they're not out of contention in the National League this year despite all the distractions. With a little luck here and there, they could easily have won a championship or two in those playoff years.

Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, was also seen as a classless hick who purchased the club and used the success----that few expected given his wild statements and meddling----to buy his way into power and Texas high society; he's won three Super Bowls and the team was a financial disaster when he took over. Look at them now.

It's part of doing business that these things happen. The McCourts' assets will eventually be sifted and divided; then things will move forward for the team and the owners. Life will go on.

I vaguely remember Ralph Houk as the Red Sox manager in the early 80s, but I do have a recollection of what Graig Nettles said about him in his biography, Balls.

To paraphrase from memory (my recollection for these things is pretty good), Nettles and the players revered Houk and loved playing for him. In what was a clear violation of tampering charges, Houk said to Nettles while Nettles was playing for the Indians that he wanted him for the Yankees; when Nettles became a Yankee, he was thrilled to finally have a manager who understood how players thought and treated them accordingly.

If a player challenged Houk due to playing time or whatever, Houk would close the office door and challenge said player to a fight. Houk was George Steinbrenner's first manager when he purchased the team and harassed the veteran manager with phone calls and suggestions; but Houk also appreciated the way money was not an object to Steinbrenner.

Houk took over the Tigers and managed them for five years; then the Red Sox for four. He was a "baseball guy" who'd been a player, a manager, a GM and a scout and dealt with all the types of lunacy one could imagine; part of his success was a breadth of understanding of all aspects of the game----something that is sorely missing today.

He lived to 90 and maintained his lucidity and usefulness; to me, that's playing with house money. He also survived managing for George Steinbrenner and left before he could get fired. I can't tell whether he deserves more credit for the longevity or for not being among the fired rabble in the wreckage left behind by the Boss as casualties of his ownership.

Just like everything else, it's a toss-up as to which is more impressive.

The coin might land on its edge. That'd be fitting.

  • Viewer Mail 7.22.2010:

Max Stevens writes RE the Mets:

I agree with your take on the Mets. Things will have gone a lot better than I envisioned if they finish the season over .500. What do you think is Jerry Manuel's threshold as far as keeping his job next year? Do they have to make the playoffs for him to come back? I don't particularly like Manuel as a manager - letting Reyes play in Puerto Rico after he tweaked his oblique during BP was about as dumb as it gets in my book - but, in a way, doesn't it make sense for Manuel to come back next year for the last year before all those big contracts are gone?

I can't blame Manuel for many things with this team including Jose Reyes. The front office is notoriously paranoid after the implication of medical malfeasance and they're taking a hands-on approach with the players----especially the more valuable ones like Reyes. It wasn't left up to Manuel.

It's going to depend on perception and how the club finishes the season with Manuel's possible return. If they end the season respectably and miss the playoffs----go 85-77 for example----and the young players develop, then there's a good chance Manuel is back. He does some odd things, but the odd things he does aren't covered up by talent as have the odd maneuvers made by the likes of Joe Girardi, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel.

Many times, the only way to judge a manager is to say, "well, it worked, didn't it?" even if it was tactically ludicrous.

No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Mets have refurbished their images sufficiently to attract marquee players or those with no-trade clauses. Granted, given the hatchet job perpetrated on the Mets by the media, Richard (The Night Stalker) Ramirez had a better image for much of the winter. The development of the youngsters is a large part in the idea that it's not that bad in Flushing.

If I had to guess right now, I'd say that the Mets will have a new manager next year. They could go after any number of available names. Bob Melvin is already in the organization and maximized his talent with the Diamondbacks; Eric Wedge and Fredi Gonzalez are out there and respected; then there are the big guns like Bobby Valentine and maybe Joe Torre.

Put it this way, if Manuel wants to keep his job, he'd better win some games.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Lou Piniella and Joe Torre:

I'm not sure about Piniella. In fact, I think he'll be as retired as Valentine and Showalter.... just waiting for the next offer he can't refuse.

As for Torre, he didn't do anything special as the Redbirds skipper in the early 90s. In fact, those were some of the worst years of baseball I've ever seen in the 'Lou.

Piniella's rep has taken a beating in recent years. Like I said in my earlier response about the Mets, it's a matter of perception with managers and Piniella has always had his own unique way of running a game----when it worked, he was a big-time manager in part because of his wild personality and hot temper; but now that it's not working and he's mellowed to the point where his commitment is questioned. I think this is it for him.

Buck Showalter's still young and is a "manager"; he's not a booth guy. Bobby Valentine is an "unfinished business" type who is eventually going to surface somewhere on the field.

That Cardinals team wasn't particularly good and Torre's magic worked with Gregg Jefferies. In the end, it comes down to talent. There are managers who maximize what they have and rightfully deserve to be called "better" than others like Tony La Russa and Valentine; but that doesn't necessarily translate into on-field success and hardware that can be referenced as validation. Torre's people skills and calm are his main attributes and they can't be discounted; treating it as something other than that is a misunderstanding of what goes into winning and why.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Joe Torre:

Now the question is...will Torre manage the Cubs next season?

The Cubs have a stat zombie named Ari Kaplan in the front office now; I cannot see Jim Hendry coming back as GM and with the Piniella speculation out of the way, there's no way they're going to move forward with this current group and try to crank it up again. They're going to clean house and if they don't a full blown teardown, they will have a re-tooling. Torre won't want to deal with that.

I'll tell you where he could end up on a 2-year deal if he still wants to manage----the Mets. And I bet his wife would be dead-set against it.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Cubs:

Ryne Sandberg seems to be the popular choice right now for Cubs skipper even though here in NY Girardi's name got thrown in. I say Sweet Lou, Torre, Showalter and Valentine are all managing next year. Question is where? Jerry Manuel will probably be unemployed in 2011. Is Sweet Lou in a NY state of mind? It really is time for Mets fans to start thinking who they want their 2011 manager to be. Torre and the Cubs would be weird.

The Cubs fans are a sentimental lot and Sandberg would be a good choice for the fans. He's worked his way up through the minors managing as well, so it's not as if they'd be hiring a Hall of Fame player to placate the fans and said player doesn't have a clue how to manage. He'd be respected by his players for his accomplishments and be given a lot of leeway by the media.

If I had to guess now about 2011, I'd say Manuel's not back as Mets manager; Valentine is managing the Marlins; Showalter the Orioles; and Piniella and Torre are both sitting out with Torre more willing to listen to an offer than Piniella. The Mets-Piniella thing made sen2010BaseballGuideCover.gifse in 2003. Not now.

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She-Fan said...

I was very hopeful when the McCourts bought the Dodgers. They did do a lot of good things. But you make a good point about the team being of greater value to sell if they don't leave it in disarray.

Jeff said...

I know Cubs fans are giddy about possibly promoting Sandberg, but I think -- like most sentimental things the Cubs tend to do -- it's gonna end up a sour situation.

I'm just going on past experiences; and the past says: the Cubs just can't get right.