Tag Archives: MLB

The Cubs join an exclusive club

The Cubs join the 10,000 loss club

With Sunday’s 5-2 victory, the Braves wrapped up a series sweep over the Cubs. The Cubs fell to 12-24, 10.5 games out of first place, dead last in the NL Central. But the embarrassment didn’t end there.

Sunday’s loss marked the 10,000th in club history for the Cubs, joining only the Phillies (10,480) and Braves (10,176) in the five-figure gang. The Cubs got there a bit sooner than they would have liked, having won games at a meager .417 clip since the start of the 2010 season.

The Pirates will become the next team to join the ignominious club with 55 more losses. And unless the Reds lose 142 games between Tuesday and the end of the 2015 season, the club won’t see a fifth member until 2016.

The list:

  • Phillies: 10,480 losses (.473 winning percentage)
  • Braves: 10,176 (.502)
  • Cubs: 10,000 (.511)
  • Pirates: 9,945 (.503)
  • Reds: 9,858 (.508)

Related: Things that have happened since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series

How Athletes Go Broke

Basically it is easy come, easy go.

What the hell happened here? Seven floors above the iced-over Dallas North Tollway, Raghib (Rocket) Ismail is revisiting the question. It’s December, and Ismail is sitting in the boardroom of Chapwood Investments, a wealth management firm, his white Notre Dame snow hat pulled down to his furrowed brow.

In 1991 Ismail, a junior wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, was the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Instead he signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts for a guaranteed $18.2 million over four years, then the richest contract in football history. But today, at a private session on financial planning attended by eight other current or onetime pro athletes, Ismail, 39, indulges in a luxury he didn’t enjoy as a young VIP: hindsight.

“I once had a meeting with J.P. Morgan,” he tells the group, “and it was literally like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.” The men surrounding Ismail at the conference table include Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, Cowboys wideout Isaiah Stanback and six former pros: NFL cornerback Ray Mickens and fullback Jerald Sowell (both of whom retired in 2006), major league outfielder Ben Grieve and NBA guard Erick Strickland (’05), and linebackers Winfred Tubbs (’00) and Eugene Lockhart (’92). Ismail (’02) cackles ruefully. “I was so busy focusing on football that the first year was suddenly over,” he says. “I’d started with this $4 million base salary, but then I looked at my bank statement, and I just went, What the…?”

Before Ismail can elaborate on his bewilderment—over the complexity of that statement and the amount of money he had already lost—eight heads are nodding, eight faces smiling in sympathy. Hunter chimes in, “Once you get into the financial stuff, and it sounds like Japanese, guys are just like, ‘I ain’t going back.’ They’re lost.”

At the front of the room Ed Butowsky also does a bobblehead nod. Stout, besuited and silver-haired, Butowsky, 47, is a managing partner at Chapwood and a former senior vice president at Morgan Stanley. His bailiwick as a money manager has long been billionaires, hundred-millionaires and CEOs—a club that, the Steinbrenners’ pen be damned, still doesn’t include many athletes. But one afternoon six years ago Butowsky was chatting with Tubbs, his neighbor in the Dallas suburb of Plano, and the onetime Pro Bowl player casually described how money spills through athletes’ fingers. Tubbs explained how and when they begin earning income (often in school, through illicit payments from agents); how their pro salaries are invested (blindly); and when the millions evaporate (before they know it).

“The details were mind-boggling,” recalls Butowsky, who would later hire Tubbs to work in business development at Chapwood. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

What happens to many athletes and their money is indeed hard to believe. In this month alone Saints alltime leading rusher Deuce McAllister filed for bankruptcy protection for the Jackson, Miss., car dealership he owns; Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad put his mansion in Charlotte up for sale on eBay a month after news broke that his entertainment company was being sued by Wachovia Bank for overdue credit-card payments; and penniless former NFL running back Travis Henry was jailed for nonpayment of child support.

In a less public way, other athletes from the nation’s three biggest and most profitable leagues—the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball—are suffering from a financial pandemic. Although salaries have risen steadily during the last three decades, reports from a host of sources (athletes, players’ associations, agents and financial advisers) indicate that:

• By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

• Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

The Braves are leaving a 20 year old ballpark

This comes from Hardball Talk

Turner Field in Atlanta

I’m still processing the announcement that the Braves are abandoning a 17 year-old ballpark for a new ballpark in the Atlanta suburbs. But in the meantime, here are my initial thoughts:

  • If anyone sees what the Braves are doing and STILL argues for public funding of ballparks, they should have their head examined. Turner Field was built for the Olympics and converted for baseball at great cost — some private, some public — and remains a more or less new and near state-of-the-art ballpark. Now Cobb County is going to pay for a new park. At some point it should begin to dawn on governments and tax payers that professional sports teams are playing them, but I’m not sure when that point is.
  • We live in a world where the Rays are stuck in Tropicana Field and the A’s are stuck in the Oakland Coliseum, yet we will soon have two perfectly wonderful ballparks in the Atlanta area, serving a team that rarely fills one. Thanks antitrust exemption. If baseball owners were forced to deal with the same competitive environment as most business this wouldn’t happen. Someone would come take over Turner Field. Or move to New Jersey. Whatever the case, this is sorta perverse.
  • That said, the impulse for the Braves to want to move makes some amount of sense. The Braves are a business and their goal is to make money. They have a crappy TV deal so stadium revenue is paramount for them. They are clearly making a calculation that they can make way more money in the new ballpark under new circumstances than they can hope to make in Turner Field. The Braves released a map today which shows how large a proportion of their ticket sales come from the northern suburbs, where the new ballpark will be. They’re not idiots. The financial incentives in play are probably pretty compelling.

Down with Pete and Ichiro on the schoolyard

Joe Posnanski talks about Pete Rose, Ichiro and 4000 professional hits

You can change the numbers any way you like. I honestly do not see how a healthy Ichiro Suzuki, drafted as an 18-year-old in the U.S., does not have MORE than 4,000 hits right now in the Major Leagues.

Rose could have said that, of course. I like when Pete Rose acts generous. Maybe he doesn’t always mean it, but generosity suits him. He’s at his best when he’s talking about how great a player Johnny Bench was, what a joy it was to be teammates with Joe Morgan, how much he admires Derek Jeter, how much he loved playing in New York when the fans booed him, the kick he gets out of watching Bryce Harper play the game (Harper has met Rose and, in some ways, patterned his all-out style on Rose). I like the Pete Rose who is brash but openhanded enough to say, “Hey, man, I don’t know if he would have stayed healthy, but if Ichiro starts here, whew, I’m sweating.”

He has nothing to lose by saying that. It’s a free shot at generosity. Rose’s hit record is completely safe. Nobody is contemplating a change in the record books to allow Ichiro’s Japanese hits to count. How much better does it make him look if he simply says, “What an achievement. As someone who knows how hard it is to get hits whether you are, I can tell you that getting 4,000 hits around the world is absolutely fabulous and I applaud him?”

Pete Rose was a marvelous baseball player. He lined singles and doubles all over the park, he scored runs like nobody of his time, he played just about every position, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played, he was the MVP of perhaps the greatest World Series ever played.

Ichiro Suziuki is a marvelous player. He slashed and blooped and beat out singles all over the park, he stole a lot of bases, he unleashed jaw-dropping throws, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played and, more than that, opened their minds to the idea of just how good a Japanese baseball player can be.

Rose could have paid tribute to Ichiro without reminding people of his own greatness. But, I guess there’s a part of Pete that is always defending his turf. It might not be the best part of him. But it is certainly a part of him.

A-Rod is as successful on Twitter as in life

A-Rod has been on Twitter for a day and has already upset Brian Cashman and the Yankees

“You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, [we will],” Cashman told ESPN New York. “Alex should just shut the f— up. That’s it. I’m going to call Alex now.”

Rodriguez tweeted Tuesday that he has been cleared to play in rehab games. Rodriguez’s comments seemed to contradict what Cashman told ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews on Monday.

“Visit from Dr. [Bryan] Kelly over the weekend, who gave me the best news – the green light to play games again!” Rodriguez tweeted.

On Monday, Cashman shot down a report that Rodriguez had been given the go-ahead to play in games.

“He has not been cleared by our doctors to play in rehab games yet,” he said. “He’s getting closer. There’s no doubt about it. But we don’t have a date for him to start playing games yet. It could be July 1. It could also be July 5, or maybe June 25.”

Cashman explained that Dr. Kelly had no jurisdiction over Rodriguez’s rehab once the third baseman left New York to go to Tampa. Dr. Kelly had been approved by the team to perform the surgery and oversee Rodriguez’s recovery in New York.

Cashman ended up emailing Rodriguez and did not get an immediate response.

The Yankees’ relationship with Rodriguez has been tense since the end of the 2012 playoffs. Team officials were aware that Rodriguez asked for a woman’s phone number in the stands during Game 1 of an ALCS loss to the Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez was pinch-hit for and benched throughout the playoffs.

This isn’t the first eruption that Cashman has had this year over A-Rod and I doubt it will be his last.  Personally I think the Yankees are trying to come up with a strategy to let him go with cause so they can void his contract.  If this was Jeter doing it (not that the Captain would), it would have been handled very differently.

Lack of sleep’s impact on a MLB season

This is fascinating.  A lack of sleep has a huge impact on plate discipline for ball players.

After finding a spike in swings outside the strike zone throughout the 2006 to 2011 seasons using FanGraphs’ O-Swing Percentage stat, Vanderbilt’s neurology and biostatistics departments replicated that research for the 2012 season. The study showed 24 of 30 MLB teams posting higher O-Swing rates in September than in April. Combining results for all 30 teams produced an average O-Swing rate of 31.4 percent in September versus 29.2 percent in April.

That plate-discipline erosion over the course of the season, the researchers say, stems from fatigue.

“Think about the tools required for a batter to swing at a strike versus a ball,” said Dr. Scott Kutscher, assistant professor of sleep and neurology at Vanderbilt. “It’s reaction time and fast judgment. Both of those have been shown to be very sensitive to fatigue. Baseball has a unique schedule, a long season where players are frequently traveling and playing nearly every day. It’s an ideal setup for chronic sleep deprivation.”

This is the part where old-school baseball men roll their eyes. Today’s players take charter planes on every road trip. The second they deplane, they’re whisked onto buses waiting on the tarmac to take them to their hotels. Those hotels are four- and often five-star palaces, where you can get any service imaginable. Want a bellhop to stand at your bedside and make ocean sounds with his mouth until you fall asleep? No problem.

Compare those travel arrangements to what ballplayers experienced back in the day. Pick up The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter and you’ll get not only one of the best baseball books ever written but also harrowing accounts of travel in the early 20th century, when players would sleep fitfully on noisy, all-night trains, arrive in the next city by morning, then start a doubleheader a few hours later. Hell, read Jonathan Abrams’s interviews with retired NBA legends on their travel nightmares in the ’50s and ’60s; baseball players had it no better, other than maybe being a few inches shorter and thus not quite having to eat their knees on five-hour flights.

No matter how exhausted you were after a long journey back then, no one would dare ask for a day off just for being tired. And while athletes, coaches and managers, and the overall culture have evolved some since then, most players still won’t dare ask for a night off on fatigue alone.

“I’m going to be honest, that’s tough,” said Nationals center fielder Denard Span. “Especially when you’re a certain age. You only have a certain amount of time in the big leagues. Maybe when you get older, when you’ve been around for 10-15 years, you’re in your upper 30s, maybe. But as a young guy, it’d be hard for me to go in there, volunteer and say, ‘I’m tired.’ I’ve had managers come up to me and say, ‘If you’re tired, let me know.’ But I’m not going for that one.”

Even with enlightened managers, the combination of wanting to play and fearing repercussions when they don’t play dissuades players from using the fatigue card. Like Span, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis has never asked out of the lineup because he’s felt tired. As a catcher, Ellis knows he can’t and won’t be in the lineup all 162 games. But when Dodgers manager Don Mattingly tells him he’ll be sitting the next day, Ellis often gets upset anyway. Toiling in the minors until age 27 and not landing a starting job until 31 will do that.

“I’m always going to have that mentality as a player that this could all get taken away at any time,” Ellis said. Even sitting out 15 days on a recent DL stint made him antsy and anxious. “Just seeing other guys catch, other guys play, that’s something I should be doing. I want to be out there as much as I can, making up for lost time, for the later start that I got.”

That kind of attitude might seem honorable, but Kutscher says players really do need to get more rest, both for performance and health reasons. Kutscher cautions that even when players get an adequate amount of sleep in luxury digs, it might not be the kind of quality sleep they need to get sharp. Many players sleep fitfully or not at all on flights. The best-case scenario for a cross-country flight might be four hours of half-decent Z’s. Then you get to the hotel, maybe grab some breakfast, and take a nap for two or three hours more. That kind of interrupted sleep “kind of leaves you feeling off for the rest of the day,” said Ellis. “MLB always schedules an off day for us when we’re going to the East Coast. But even still, that second-day adjustment is so tough to do. So many guys will show up at the field and say, ‘I didn’t fall asleep until 5 a.m.'”

Though Kutscher’s study focused on hitters and their plate discipline, pitchers can get fatigued as the season wears on, too. We recently discussed relief pitchers’ need for adrenaline, and Troy Percival’s habit of pounding 10 cups of coffee and two tins of chewing tobacco per day just to stay ready to pitch the ninth back when he was an elite closer. Non-closers (and non-eighth-inning guys) can have it even tougher, needing to stay ready to pitch at any one of multiple points in the game, often warming up multiple times a night. If Percival had coffee and chaw, today’s relievers lean more toward energy drinks.

“You’re going to mix in Red Bulls with that natural adrenaline,” said Nationals reliever Drew Storen. “Then after the game you’re just crashing. I guarantee that affects your sleep, having to wind down quickly while digesting whatever you put into your body.”

To make a long story short

“There’s a good chance we’re overestimating the importance of preparation and underestimating the importance of rest,” he said. “The classical thinking is that repetition and practice, the more you do things, the better you’ll be. But we found the opposite. It stands to reason that the more players rest, the more time away from the field they get, and the better it might be for them.”

I would love to see these stats locally on the Yellow Jackets who would be riding the bus, playing, and then heading home.  I wonder what their plate discipline is like after a gruelling trip vs. a home stand.

Sources: Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria personally mandated pitching lineup change

Jeffrey Loria continues to solidify his position as the worst owner in professional sports.  As Jeff Passan writes

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria personally mandated the lineup card change that flip-flopped starting pitchers Jose Fernandez and Ricky Nolasco in a doubleheader Tuesday and left Marlins players furious with his continued meddling, three sources with knowledge of the situation told Yahoo! Sports.

Loria insisted Fernandez, the team’s prized 20-year-old rookie, pitch in the first half of the doubleheader at frigid Target Field instead of the scheduled Nolasco because the day game was expected to be warmer. The temperature at Fernandez’s first pitch (38 degrees) was actually colder than at the beginning of Nolasco’s start (42 degrees).

Rookie manager Mike Redmond delivered the news to Nolasco about 2½ hours before the first game against the Minnesota Twins, and it did not go over well with him or his teammates. Standard protocol for doubleheaders is that veterans choose which game they want to pitch. Not only did Loria ignore that and further alienate Nolasco, the Marlins’ highest-paid player who has previously requested a trade, he sabotaged Redmond less than 20 games into his managerial career.

By overstepping boundaries no other owner in baseball would dare, Loria presented Redmond with a Catch-22: listen to the man who signs his paycheck and risk drawing the players’ ire, or refuse to kowtow to Loria’s requests and find himself at the mercy of the owner’s short fuse.

So there was no short term payoff and a long term cost but Loria did it anyway.

Following an offseason in which they shed more than $100 million in payroll during an epic fire sale, the Marlins are 5-17, the worst record in baseball. Their beautiful new stadium sits practically empty on a nightly basis, even as the team gives away tickets. Neither free seats nor a public-relations barrage meant to spin Loria and Marlins president David Samson in a positive light seems to be working.

The arrival of Fernandez tried to maximize goodwill. For a low-revenue team such as the Marlins, prioritizing service-time consideration instead is of the utmost importance. Loria ignored that, preferring the splash the young Fernandez could make upon a sterling debut.

And indeed he has started well – too well, arguably, to send him to the minor leagues, which means Fernandez will be a free agent after six seasons. Had the Marlins stashed him in the minor leagues for the season’s first 11 days – a time during which Fernandez made only one start – he would not have been eligible for free agency until 2019.

No players enjoy hitting the open market more than the Marlins’, some of whom refer to free agency as parole. The only true way to build a winner, absent another misguided spending spree, is by changing that perception – by making Miami the sort of franchise for which players want to play.

The latest incident from Loria is simply another reminder: That will never happen as long as he runs the team. After more than a decade as an owner, Loria remains naïve to the real goings-on of a clubhouse – of how an incident such as this doesn’t just affect Nolasco but filters down to his teammates and even the purported beneficiary, Fernandez.

Fred Wilpon

Jeffrey Toobin has an excellent in-depth New Yorker profile of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, long known as an honourable businessman who has been caught up in the Bernie Madoff scandal.

The Wilpon team believes that Picard and his top deputy, David Sheehan, have shown excessive zeal in pursuing the case. Madoff agrees. “When Sheehan and his assoc. were down here taking my statements for four days, I kept on insisting that Fred and Saul knew absolutely nothing of my crime,” Madoff e-mailed me. “He kept on rolling his eyes at me. I have always said that there is a big difference between the Banks and Funds (who had complete access to my financials in their files, and the sophistication to realize that the information they disclosed did not reconcile with their individual clients’ financials, including their [Madoff company] account statements), and the individual clients who had no access to that information, ie: Fred and Saul as well as most other individuals who were not complicit.” The person close to Picard denies any improper motive or conduct in the investigation.

There is something troubling, however, about the way the Picard complaint portrays Stamos as the Cassandra of the Madoff scandal—the person whose persistent warnings were ignored by Wilpon and Katz. Wilpon’s lawyers at Davis Polk discovered that Stamos had given a deposition during Picard’s investigation, and the transcript gives a very different picture of Stamos’s state of mind from that portrayed in Picard’s complaint. “I’m embarrassed to say that I said to Mr. Katz on a number of occasions that my assumption is that Mr. Madoff is . . . among the most honest and honourable men that we will ever meet,” Stamos testified. “And number two, that he is perhaps one of the—my assumption is he’s perhaps one of the best hedge fund managers in modern times. . . . All the way to the time when the fraud was discovered, I had the same conclusion.” In fact, it appears that no one in the Stamos firm had any words of warning about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme until after his fraud was discovered.

Complaints in civil cases are designed to be argumentative documents, but Picard’s words about Stamos seem typical of an approach that seems to find malevolent intent in virtually everything Wilpon and Katz did. Picard notes, for example, that the Sterling accounting department “created what was known at Sterling as the monthly ‘Hell Sheet,’ which calculated” the balances in all Madoff accounts. According to Sterling, the document was known as the “Hell Sheet” because it was compiled by a bookkeeper named Helene. Last week, in a new brief filed in the case, Picard again mocked the “implausible” notion that “the Sterling Partners are unsophisticated investors who were duped by a trusted friend.” He argued that Wilpon, who had served on the board of directors of Bear Stearns, and his partners “were anxious not to ‘look behind the curtain’ as they profited at the expense of Madoff’s new victims.” Picard also pointed out that the Sterling group, in 2001, had considered purchasing fraud insurance for its Madoff accounts, though it ultimately decided against doing so. The trustee asserts that in the case against Wilpon his legal burden is modest. He says he must show only that a reasonable investor would have been “on notice” that Madoff was a fraud.

Picard must be doing something right: he has already achieved considerable success in recovering funds for Madoff’s victims. According to a press release he issued in early May, he has recovered “more than $7.6 billion, representing 44 percent of the approximately $17.3 billion in principal that was lost in the Ponzi scheme” by customers who filed claims. To do so, Picard has filed more than a thousand lawsuits. Many of these cases have settled; none have yet gone to trial. Picard has also said that he expects his own investigation to cost more than a billion dollars. His law firm has already billed more than a hundred and forty-five million in fees.

From Wilpon’s perspective, the Picard lawsuit could scarcely have come at a worse time. In addition to the losses from his Madoff accounts, the Sterling real-estate portfolio has been hurt by the recession. The Mets’ troubles have also taken a financial toll. In 2009, the year Citi Field opened, the Mets drew about 3.2 million fans. Last year, attendance fell to 2.6 million. This year, with another poor team, the Mets are on track to draw perhaps 2.4 million, though their payroll remains a hundred and forty million dollars, one of the highest in the major leagues. Last year, the Mets were forced into the embarrassing position of having to borrow twenty-five million from Major League Baseball, to tide them over for the year.

Darren Rovell of CNBC takes a look at the profile and looks at how Wilpon’s comments about some Mets players (while honest) damaged the franchise.

Contract the A’s and the Rays?

Bud Selig has been thinking about contraction again.

The Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays have had a hard time making it financially in recent years. A person involved in baseball labor told the New York Post that there had been some conversation in the offices of Major League Baseball of contracting the two teams.

Has no one learned from Minneapolis and the revival of the Twins?  Apparently not.

Spring is here

Spring Training is almost here with the catchers and pitchers about to report.  Here is what the Blue Jays have going on in 2011.

There is a sense of renewal that is inherent to spring training, and that feeling will be particularly strong for the Toronto Blue Jays when pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout on Monday.

While general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn’t radically overhaul the roster, several significant changes were made in the off-season. The clubhouse will be a very different place minus departed veterans Vernon Wells ,Shaun Marcum and Scott Downs.

Add in that John Farrell is taking over as manager from the retired Cito Gaston after 2 1/2 years of stewardship from the franchise giant, and change will definitely be in the air in Dunedin, Fla.

I hate dat Derak Jeter

Several years ago I was in Boston and staying at the Midtown Hotel when it started on fire.

Fire at the Midtown Hotel in Boston  

As we were wandering out of the front door, these rather round, handlebar wearing mustache, firemen come waddling in to put out the fire.  You would expect these firemen to have their game faces on as they were facing danger and fire.  Nope.  This is what they said as we walked out the lobby and the first fireman came in.  “I hate dat Derak Jeter too!”  Only in Boston would a fireman’s hatred for the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter takes their focus away from fighting a fire.

I can’t even imagine what they are saying after Derek Jeter faked being hit by a pitch.

The Blue Jays in 2010

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports breaks down the Toronto Blue Jays chances in 2010.

Toronto Blue Jays logoAnthopoulos recognized quickly what Tampa Bay and Baltimore did a few seasons back: Competing in the AL East, particularly against New York and Boston, often takes an organizational retooling. He can’t rid himself of Wells, so Anthopoulos took his most valuable chip – one he was going to lose in six months anyway – and cashed it.

Now comes the fun part: figuring out how to execute the plan that will oust the Yankees or Red Sox. Anthopoulos immediately invested money into scouting, an area somewhat abandoned under Ricciardi’s watch and seen by Anthopoulos as cost beneficial. One thing of which Anthopoulos can’t be accused: copycat management.

This doesn’t make Toronto a threat this year. The Blue Jays rolled out a plethora of young pitchers last season, all of whom looked great at times and mediocre at others. Shaun Marcum is back from Tommy John surgery to anchor the staff, joined by left-handers Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski – pronounced Zep-CHIN-Skee, for those curious – and their respectable strikeout rates.

Some pieces will click, some won’t. That’s what happens when a team rebuilds. The Blue Jays are in the first phase, and it’s going to feel awkward for a while, trusty, reliable No. 32 not coming out every fifth game, replaced by some kid on the mound. And don’t forget the kid in the front office, either, the one whose wee trade gets bigger by the day.