Sports Perspectives by Mark Elder

Friday, 16 January 2009


Filed under: Economics of Sport, New York Sports — Mark @ 11:26

Folks, this is a hard post for me.  Those podunk bastards in New England have seriously become a thorn in my side over the past few years, and while it is clear that anyone who bets against the city of New York will rightfully be crushed like the foolhardy insect drawn to the bright blue light on a Mississippi back porch, it seems that will yet again require a herculean effort on the part of our beloved Yankees to make that happen.

Now, listen, everybody who is reading this knows that I don’t like Boston or Massachusetts or whatever other states are up there in New England.  I’m told that there is syrup up there somewhere but I go to Canada for my syrup.  I know that there is beer but A. I don’t drink beer and B. who gives a shit?  I’m also told there is lobster.  I don’t eat seafood because it makes me ill, but if I did, I’d eat good old-fashioner Maryland crabs and leave the lobster for those Harvard types.  Until I see Obama coating a lobster in Old Bay at some restaurant that calls itself a “Shack,” I don’t want to hear it from the lobster people.  Get your snobby New England cuisine out of here and back to Cape Cod where it belongs. 

Boston is a podunk college town.  Rhode Island is not an island (or a peninsula, I’m told).  Half of Connecticut wants to be NY and the other half wants to be Massachusetts.  I’m not even sure what else constitutes New England, but I know that rich kids go to camp in Maine, which really should be a part of Canada, I think.  How it is that the lowly Red Sox can compete with the juggernaut Yankees is beyond me.  Except that it’s not.  It’s easily explained with a few simple facts.

1.  Although the Boston metropolitan area is less than 1/4 the size of the NY metropolitan area, they spend roughly 7/10 of what the Yankees spend in terms of player personnel and management.  This is almost exactly the maximum that they can spend, under MLB rules, without contributing millions of dollars to the payroll of poor teams.  Why welfare teams like the Royals and Brewers even bother is unclear, but how is much clearer:  they use the Yankees’ money to supplement their own income.  Regardless, the Red Sox spend, relative to their city, WAY more money than other teams, including the Yankees.  Think about this:

The Florida Marlins’ payroll, including their Manager Joe Girardi, in 2006, was under $15 million.  That same year the Red Sox payroll was over $120 million.  The Yankees rightly spent the most in the league at $194 million.  Let’s do the math as compared to the population of their respective metropolitan areas.

Yankees:  $10.20 per person

Red Sox:  $26.80 per person

Marlins:  $2.77 per person

Okay now think about that for a second, and then answer this question:  are the Yankees really spending too much money?  Should the Steinbrenners really be pocketing all that money instead of spending it on players to make their team better and make their fans happier?  I will address that issue in more depth another time.

For now, let’s get back to the contracts issue.  The Red Sox bid $175 million for Mark Teixeira, but he wanted to play in New York, so he signed with the Yankees for #180 million.  It’s possible, though I wouldn’t say likely, that he wanted to play in New York because of the extra $5 million dollars, but, over 8 years, that doesn’t seem likely.  What can you buy in NY on $22 million/year?  Not much.  It’s not some little college town, you need big boy money in New York if you want to live a rich, lavish lifestyle, and I’m not convinced it can be done with new money, never mind a simple annual salary.  Regardless, he came to the Yankees and fans rejoiced, but yesterday my stoic visage turned downward to an outright frown.  Word broke that Kevin Youkilis re-signed with Boston for $40 million.  A staggeringly low number, but even more incredible is that he’s signed for the next FOUR YEARS, with an option for a fifth at the same rate.  That’s insane.  How is Kevin Youkilis making $40 million when Mark Teixeira just signed for $180 million?  I don’t know where Bill James grew up, but he obviously has something against New York.  This guy is killing us.  We should be paying HIM $40 million dollars over 4 years.

Let’s see if the number reflect the contracts:

Youkilis in 2008 for Boston:  .312/.390/.569 with 29 HR and 115 RBI in 145 games for 1 team

Teixeira in 2008 for Atlanta/Anaheim:  .308/.410/.552 with 33 HR and 121 RBI in 157 games for 2 teams

Teixeira is one year younger than Youkilis and is a switch hitter.  Obviously Youkilis benefited from being a right-handed hitter in Fenway Park, but he is not a creation of Fenway Park.  His road OPS is lower, but still good at .900, identical to Mark Teixeira’s road OPS.  His home OPS is actually lower than Teixeira’s at 1.019 compared to 1.026 – but that’s due to Teixeira’s patience at the plate – he walks more than Youkilis does.  Regardless, looking at these numbers, they are all virtually identical.  One year younger, with the ability to switch hit and a slightly better glove.  That got Mark Teixeira an extra $140 million?  I don’t think so.  Additionally, Teixeira can’ t play 3rd base, which Youkilis can.  Granted, that’s immaterial to the Yankees, who are set on not playing guys out of position anymore, and who have Alex Rodriguez holding things down at the hot corner.  Still, Youkilis more than approximates Teixeira’s value, he is essentially a Fenway Park Mark Teixeira, making less than half as much money and on a contract that is half the duration.  I am a die-hard Yankees fan who hates Boston and pretty much everything about it, but I have to give them this one.  They didn’t deal us a blow, per se, because we never had a shot at Youkilis, who wouldn’t play in New York anyway and in whom the Yankees are uninterested, but from an objective baseball perspective, if you tell me I could get Teixeira-like production from a player who should have been the league’s MVP in 2008, with similar defensive prowess and the ability to play both corner infield spots, and you tell me I could get it for a $40 million commitment instead of a $180 million commitment, I’d be crazy to say no. 

All that said, I want to go on record now, before pitchers and catchers even report to camp, and say that Robinson Cano will have a better season than Dustin Pedroia and maybe even a better season than Kevin Youkilis.  His OPS will rival either of them and he will defensively be more valuable because he has better range and a better arm than Pedroia.  He has made more errors, traditionally, but I am going on record and saying that he will be very sure-handed this season, with an excellent shot at a gold glove AND a silver slugger award for his play in the new Stadium in 2009.

Right now, though, I’m really wishing that Mr. Youkilis had been awarded his rightful MVP for this past season.  Certainly with an MVP award in hand he wouldn’t have signed this paltry contract.  Seriously, his contract is so low compared to Teixeira’s, which was signed first, creating a precedent for Youkilis, that it makes me want to investigate.  Is Boston paying Youkilis the extra 4 million he deserves annually on the side, so as to avoid luxury tax payments to the MLB?  How did they talk sports agents into signing below market value?  It defies all logic.  Why can’t Scott Boras represent more Red Sox players and fewer Yankees players?

And for that matter, can we please start the WBC already?  I miss baseball!  The Knicks are terrible!  I find myself rooting for teams I hate, like the Lakers, and teams that are irrelevant, like the Magic, because I have nothing in New York.  We were undefeated for the first three days of the season and since then it’s been downhill.

Enough blabbing for today.  Back to work.


Friday, 9 January 2009

Collective Bargaining Agreements

Filed under: College, Economics of Sport, New York Sports — Mark @ 16:49

Stuff Sports Fans Like:  #1:  Sports.  End of blog post.  You see, sports fans, unlike “white people,” “educated Black people,” or “white trash people,” which have all been blogged about by fellow wordpress users, do not have an extensive list of likes and dislikes.  We like sports.  We dislike anything not related to sports.  Nothing supersedes sport.  In that way, we’re a lot like heroin addicts.  Now, back to Sports Perspectives…

 Greetings again.  After a brief hiatus we at Sports Perspectives are back in full effect.  There’s a lot to discuss in the wonderful world of sport, so let’s get to it.

 Today’s topic is collective bargaining agreements between Players’ Unions and Leagues.  Notable CBAs include those of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.  The CBAs themselves will be discussed in depth over the course of a few posts during the week.

Collective bargaining agreements caught my attention when NBA commissioner David Stern suggested that it is now time to increase the minimum NBA age to 20, just one year after increasing it to 19.  This is ridiculous.  I hate the idea that gainful employment be denied to perfectly deserving and capable individuals in need of gainful employment.

Now, in anticipation of the comments supporting this seemingly unconstitutional rule, allow me to admit up front that, for 99.9% of the world’s population, this rule is beneficial.  NBA teams will not be responsible for developing prospects, they won’t be caught investing millions of dollars (and valuable draft picks) into high school students that will never develop into NBA-level talents.  This benefits fans, players currently in the league, and of course the Association itself — most of the time.  So given that, why complain?  Consider the following list of players who were under the age of 20 when they began their respective NBA careers:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Tracy McGrady

Dwight Howard

Amare Stoudemire

Shaun Livingston

Kevin Garnett

Tony Parker

Andrew Bynum

Andray Blatche

Al Harrington

Stephen Jackson

Monta Ellis

Tyson Chandler

Gerald Green

Josh Smith

Al Jefferson

Sebastian Telfair

Eddy Curry

Kendrick Perkins

Kevin Durant

Carmelo Anthony

Andris Biedrins

Chris Wilcox

Kwame Brown

Luol Deng

Brandon Wright

Jermaine O’Neal

I could go on,  but I think this is a pretty solid sampling already.  I trotted out this list for a simple reason:  to show that the NBA doesn’t just have  a solid history of under-20 stars (Magic Johnson, at age 19, wins rookie of the year and NBA Finals MVP; Moses Malone leads league in rebounding six times and is a rebounding legend today), it has an impossibly good precedent thanks to under-20 draftees.  Ask yourself: were those players harmed by their entry into the professional game prior to turning 20?  Perhaps some were, but is it the Association’s responsibility to save them from themselves, even at the expense of the development, happiness and livelihood of others?

Forget generalizations, let’s examine specific examples:  Would Chris Paul be the NBA’s best point guard already if he had stayed in school and 2007-2008 was his rookie season?  Would the resurgent Hornets be where they are today if not for Paul and Chandler?  As I see it, the top 6 candidates for MVP in the 2007-2008 season were all drafted under the age of 20:  Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady — in that order.  Can we really sit here and argue that those players benefited from going to the NBA when they did?  Would 2 years of college education have helped Kobe Bryant?  We’re talking about a man who speaks three languages and, your hatred for him aside, is one of the smartest and most devoted players ever to play the game.

Still, I hear people say “what about the failures?”  What about them, jerk?  Kwame Brown could have gone to school.  Wouldn’t have a degree or anything to fall back on, he’d just have two fewer years of income under his belt, and the income would be a lot lower because he wouldn’t have been a #1 overall pick, he would have been a second-round pick.  Sure, Jordan doesn’t get banished from the Wizards for drafting him, but as I recall Michael Jordan is a man who knows how to land on his feet.  Someone told me he won six NBA championships and made about a billion dollars in the last quarter century. which, all things considered, doesn’t seem so bad for a philanderer and degenerate gambler.  My uncle Louie had a bad habit of gambling and cheating on his spouse, and he has yet to appear on any Forbes list.  His chances are getting slimmer every day his body goes unfound.  Who knew the East River led to the Atlantic Ocean?  Oh, the mob, you say?  Huh.  Back to the lecture at hand:  you can talk about busts who were drafted too young, but college is no solution to the problem of draft busts.  Here is a list of the Association’s Ryan Leaf wannabes who attended accredited institutes:

Adam Morrison

J.J. Redick

You know what, let me pause right there.  How’s that working out?  Oh, not so good?  I hadn’t heard.  No, really, I haven’t heard anything about them since they were drafted, because they’re not good at basketball, and according to they play it professionally for whatever reason.  And they are by no means the exception.  Wally Szczerbiak stayed in school.  Now he’s regarded as a 3-point specialist who makes only one fourth of his wide-open threes and therefore plays  for a new team every season – sometimes two.  I just heard that the Cavs want to trade him.  Honestly, I’d rather have Marbury, despite his failures against Madison – err – at Madison Square Garden.  How are either of these guys in the league right now?  Can’t they go tear it up in Europe like the mighty Earl Boykins?

Speaking of Europe, international players are no different.  High school players are difficult to scout, but so are guys from Turkey, France, and the Czech Republic.  Think about this- Tony Parker and Frederic Weis were both drafted out of France.  Parker was younger (18 on draft day), and was drafted lower, but has won three NBA championships and a host of awards and accolades including NBA Finals MVP in 2007.  Weis, all 7’2″ of him, was literally hurdled and dunked on by Vince Carter DURING A GAME after Vince stole his telegraphed outlet “pass” in international competition; thus leading to his quiet divorce of Eva Longoria, who, like, Jordan, landed on her feet.  Weis cannot be seen playing for the Knicks (who drafted him) but he can be seen on being embarrassed while the world watched in amazement.  My jaw literally drops if I watch that video after having not seen it for a month.

The fact is that you do NOT get a statistically significant increase in likelihood of success by drafting players at an older age.  Understand something about  merit-based, capitalist economy (or some variation thereof, in this case):  if it was good for the player to wait to put his name on the draft board, then you’d be able to convince him to do so without this preposterous and possibly unconstitutional rule.*  For some of these kids, college is worthless.  If they want to go to actually get an education, they can do that after playing in the NBA, and it will be their choice.  That’s how it should be.  If we’re so concerned about these men being educated, then we should let them choose their school based on academics, not based on who has the best basketball coach and who will give them a chance to be seen in the NCAA tournament in March.

The NCAA exploits these young men for free labor and the NBA engages in tacit, lawful collusion by making rules that force players into this ridiculous system of unpaid labor.  The scholarships that students receive, which supposedly make up for the lack of financial compensation, are a joke.  Every player receives the same scholarship, but not all players are equal.  Furthermore, the coaches in college are pathetic.  How do you look yourself in the mirror knowing that you’re earning 5 million dollars in a given season even though your players do all the real work?  Look, I’m not saying coaches should work for free – I wouldn’t (read: couldn’t afford to eat if I did) – but seriously, the players get INFINITELY less than the coaches do.  And please, drop the “free education” bullshit.  As fantastic as it is to get a degree from Cincinnati or Louisville or UConn, these players aren’t even getting that!  Their busy athletic schedule prevents them from putting forth a proper effort academically, and then they leave before they’ve taken any difficult classes anyway.  I’m seriously getting worked up just thinking about this.  This is crap.  Why, after seeing what a resounding success Lebron James has been, would we say “let’s never let that happen again.”  Who is complaining that guys like Lebron are employed as professional athletes? 

Unrelated point – imagine if a Lebron or Kobe played tennis instead of basketball, how do you think Andy Roddick would be doing?  Not so good.  Not so good.  Ms. Decker might have to reconsider her allegiances.  Unless she married him because she loves him or something; in which case he’d be doing just fine.  

Back to college – the system is broken and nobody cares to fix it, it would seem.  People STILL, to this day, tell me that they prefer college basketball to the NBA.  Why don’t foreigners suffer from these moronic allegiances to the less talented, underpaid athletes?  Where are the Londoners who can’t stand how Chelsea’s players make so much money and don’t attend university?  Shouldn’t they play for the love of the game and not get paid?  Doesn’t it ruin soccer for you when players earn more money than you do without having a college degree?  Or is it okay when your country isn’t plagued by the spectre of 400 years of oppression of black and brown people?  (No, I didn’t have to make it about race.  It just is.  Like Ice Cube once said, I’m just CNN, I just report this shit)

To bring it back to where I began:  Stern needs the NBA players union and owners to sign a new CBA that would prevent any team from employing the services of a 19 year-old player.  To me, it’s pretty clear that this is a bad idea.  The benefit to teams is that they don’t have to scout high school talent in earnest, they can let the colleges and universities handle that, and then watch players play in college against better competition for two years or more, allowing the NBA scouts to, allegedly, better project an individual’s NBA viability.  As I’ve mentioned before, that doesn’t work, but that’s besides the point.  The point is actually that this practice is anti-competitive.  Some teams have scouts who can correctly identify young talent, other teams don’t.  The teams who do not employ someone with that skill set will therefore lose, which is fair and just.  Why shouldn’t the well-run organizations who place proper emphasis on scouting and, to a lesser extent, player development, be rewarded for their intelligent and responsible practices?  This idea that somehow we have to account for a small-market team’s lack of financial resources is stupid, but not nearly as stupid as the notion that we must account for a poorly-run organization’s lack of good decision-making ability.  We’ve run through this discussion before.  A classic socialist’s conundrum:  should we compensate for differences in ability as well as differences in financial resources?  The answer, for most of us, is no.  Doing so is inefficient and foolish.  If David Stern is so clever, as media-types seem to believe, then why doesn’t he see that?  I think he does.  Owners who don’t want to pay good talent evaluators their proper due are simply have his ear and may also be fattening his wallet.  I can’t make that accusation officially, but it seems like a logical and objective conclusion to draw.  If you have a better explanation, let me hear it.


*not actually unconstitutional, but I had a discussion with a law professor from Harvard (who COULD have been a Con Law prof, I didn’t ask) on the train and he agreed that the rule is bullshit.  No lie.

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