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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Recent times have not been kind to Fred Wilpon.

The last five seasons haven’t been very kind to the Mets. Whether on the field or in the board room, the team has been besieged by a myriad of unfortunate circumstances ever since Carlos Beltran was mesmerized by a Adam Wainwright curve ball to end the 2006 NLCS. Not surprisingly, the Mets’ hardship has led to much ridicule, particularly from the less compassionate segment of the Yankees’ fan base. Despite the dark days still ahead, however, there is every reason to think the Mets could still have the last laugh.

In the three years since Bernie Madoff’s massive securities fraud was uncovered, Fred Wilpon has been desperately trying to maintain his hold on the New York Mets. Despite insisting at the time that the scandal would have no impact on his ownership of the team, subsequent events have proven otherwise. Since that time, which, unfortunately for the Wilpons, coincided with poor play on the field and a corresponding decline in revenue, the current ownership group has relied on debt to remain afloat. According to a recent report in the Daily News, those loans are about to come due.

The team is not for sale, not a piece of it, not a part of it. We are not for sale. We have no reason to sell. We have other money. Just because you guys don’t know how much money we have, we have other money outside of this, from diversity.” – Fred Wilpon, quoted by the New York Times, December 17, 2008

Despite Fred Wilpon’s fervent desire to remain as majority owner of the Mets, the prospect of looming debt payments and even further deflated revenue in 2012 could soon force his hand (while creditors, and perhaps even the commissioner, slowly pry loose his fingers). As Frank McCourt has learned with the Dodgers, the weight of debt can become too much of a burden, especially when the alternative is selling out and making a handsome profit.

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Albert Pujols, one of the greatest players in the history of the game and most revered figures in the city of St. Louis, is a coward who lacks leadership skills, at least according to the headline writers at Yahoo! Sports.

Judging by the solemn photo of Pujols, crouching low after allowing a relay throw to slip by his glove, you’d think the Cardinals’ first baseman did something heinous. Was he caught cheating on the field? Or, maybe he put a personal accomplishment ahead of team goals? Perhaps he had an argument with his manager, or disrespected a teammate in full view of the country? Pujols did none of those things. He simply skipped out on reporters by leaving the clubhouse soon after the game.

Yahoo! Sports Teaser for a Column by Jeff Passan

Source: Yahoo! Sports

Yahoo! Sports wasn’t alone in criticizing Pujols for his early exit. In columns and tweets, media members took turns lambasting the MVP for his refusal to live up to his post game obligations. Not content to simply cover the World Series, many in the media instead decided to make their role a central story line.

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Toward the end of Friday afternoon’s edition of the Michael Kay radio show, which was being co-hosted by Don La Greca and Bill Daughtry, the conversation shifted toward the favorite myth of the middle-aged sports media (and many older fans): baseball’s decline in popularity.

Lincecum Meets the Mets on May 4 at Citifield (Photo: AP)

Every objective piece of statistical evidence suggests that baseball is more popular now than it has ever been. From attendance to revenue to local RSN television ratings, more people are enjoying the national pastime than ever before. However, that didn’t stop La Greca and Daughtry from lamenting about waning interest in the game.

As evidence for their opinion, the hosts pointed to the attendance for Tim Lincecum’s recent start at Citifield. Before the game, the Mets were averaging 27,022 fans per game, but 29,333 poured through the turnstiles to see the Wednesday evening game against the Giants. Considering the persistent rain that fell earlier in the day, a 9% increase seemed like a solid boost, but La Greca and Daughtry were not impressed.

Back in the good old days, the hosts fondly recalled, a marquee name like Lincecum would have created such a buzz in the city that fans would have flocked to Shea to watch him, even during the franchise’s darkest days in the late-1970s and early-1980s. The relatively tepid response to Lincecum, La Greca and Daughtry argued, was further evidence that baseball no longer resonated like it once did.

There are two obvious counters to that argument. The first is the proliferation of baseball games on television has removed the urgency to see star players when they come to town. If a fan in New York wants to watch to Lincecum pitch, he can catch every single start on television or over the internet. What’s more, because of the advancements in technology, the best place to actually observe Lincecum’s pitching style is from the living room couch, not the ballpark.

Another fact neglected by this argument is the precipitous increase in baseball attendance versus 30 years ago. If the Mets maintain their average attendance, the number of people watching baseball in Flushing will be two to three times greater than at any point between 1977 and 1983. What’s more, the average attendance would also be higher than the one recorded by the 1969 championship team.

Even if you acknowledge baseball’s unprecedented popularity, La Greca’s and Daughtry’s point could still be valid. Regardless of the reason, it’s certainly possible that big names no longer serve as drawing cards. Verifying that claim would take mountains of research, but it isn’t that difficult to analyze the specific suggestion that Shea Stadium used to fill up for legendary mound opponents.

In order to test the veracity of this claim, games between 1974 and 1984 were considered (all years in which the Mets’ attendance lagged). Then, a list of 14 Hall of Fame pitchers active in the National League during that period was pared down to four indisputable legends: Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Bob Gibson. Finally, the attendance at Shea Stadium for every game started by that quartet was compared to the season average. The results of that comparison are presented in the graphs below (click to make larger).

Drawing Cards: A Look at Shea Stadium Attendance for Select Legends, 1974-1984

Note: Blue area represents actual game attendance; orange outline represents season average.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Captain’s Blog has uncovered secret video of an ESPN staff meeting that helps shed some light on the curious unanimity of the network’s baseball predictions.

When ESPN’s 2011 season forecasts were first revealed on its website, many in the industry were surprised to see that all 45 “experts” picked the Red Sox to win the American League East. Since that time, several allegations of wrong doing have emerged. According to one unidentified source, although ESPN employees were permitted to pick against the Red Sox in the World Series, choosing another AL East leader was strictly prohibited. Despite the New England-based network’s widely perceived Boston bias, most media watchdogs dismissed these early claims of coercion. However, the following video, which was given to The Captain’s Blog by a confidential informant, tells a different story.

As evident in the video, at least two ESPN employees wanted to select the Yankees as AL East champion, but their refusal to toe the company line resulted in severe repercussions. The Captain’s Blog has not received confirmation about other similar methods of coercion, but at least one unidentified source confirmed that the hard line stance taken by higher ups had a chilling effect on the predictions of others.

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Among baseball teams, the Cleveland Indians have been at the forefront in embracing social media. Instead of taking a combative position toward platforms like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the Indians have actually gone out of their way to not only encourage, but support them. It’s time for the rest of baseball to follow their lead.

In 2010, the Indians established a "Social Deck" for bloggers to attend games at Progressive Field free of charge.

Last year, the Indians created the “Tribe Social Deck”, an information-age version of a press box with 10 seats reserved for bloggers and other social media users who create content about the team. As an encore, the Indians have chartered a more encompassing social media strategy for 2011, including the creation of Twitter accounts for several players, coaches and executives. Talk about “Progressive” Field…apparently, the Indians home ballpark is named for more than just a corporate sponsor.

Baseball has never shied away from integrating itself with prevailing social trends, and has certainly never turned away from adding new sponsors. Social media presents an opportunity to accomplish both, so Bud Selig and the rest of the power brokers in the game would be wise to follow the Indians’ lead and embrace the many possibilities.

The best place to start would be by holding a league-wide “Social Media Day”. Just imagine the possibilities. Every team could host its own selection of bloggers, perhaps by inviting them to take part in the game’s broadcast. What’s more, the last name on each player’s uniform could be replaced with a Twitter handle (the Yankees could use a patch on the sleeve), and in-game segments on the big screen could feature the Facebook pages of not only players, but randomly selected fans. The possibilities are endless, and so too would be the publicity surrounding such an event. What’s more, the benefit wouldn’t be a one-way street. Although social media has enjoyed impressive penetration, the addressable market remains much larger. Who knows how may baseball fans would be introduced to Twitter, for example, if they knew their favorite players were only 140 characters away? The time has come to find out.

Baseball already has a very successful arm that is heavily involved in social media: MLB Advanced Media. In addition to running websites, fantasy services and a blog platform, MLBAM also provides streaming and archived media as well as real-time information across various platforms, including Apple’s iPhone and iPad. MLBAM has already enjoyed immense success, but additional lucrative opportunities could be created if it was even more heavily integrated with the likes of Facebook, WordPress and Twitter.

Baseball is a very traditional institution. It doesn’t take to new ideas very quickly, but the time has come to hop fully aboard the social media bandwagon, even if for no other reason than there’s a lot of money to be made along the way.

MLB and Social Media

Team Likes on Facebook Players on Twitter
Yankees 3,373,852 5
Red Sox 2,176,824 6
Cubs 1,083,096 1
Giants 864,058 4
Phillies 804,291 2
Cardinals 650,515 2
Braves 617,229 4
Tigers 559,524 4
Dodgers 554,156 1
White Sox 546,569 4
Twins 535,513 10
Rangers 518,650 2
Mets 355,534 3
Brewers 335,159 2
Reds 311,000 4
Indians 305,037 7
Mariners 281,749 5
Rockies 259,230 2
Rays 256,697 7
Astros 255,669 4
Athletics 247,274 3
Angels 231,264 9
Blue Jays 227,785 6
Padres 219,420 3
Orioles 210,281 3
Royals 184,509 3
Pirates 157,066 5
Marlins 141,782 9
Dbacks 115,561 4
Nationals 78,110 7

Note: Data as of March 24, 2011. Twitter accounts are for players verified by @MLB and consenting to be listed in the directory.
Source: Facebook.com and twitter.mlblogs.com

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One of the first lessons learned by a journalist is to never bury the lead. In his latest SweetSpot blog post about Bo Jackson, longtime ESPN.com analyst and godfather to a generation of baseball bloggers did just that (and so have I).

The real news in Neyer’s post was the announcement that he is leaving the worldwide leader. Although no details were given, the circumstances seem to suggest that it was ESPN who decided to sever the relationship. Then again, maybe Neyer’s departure, which coincides with the final day of Rob Iracane’s www.walkoffwalk, foreshadows a future collaboration between the two? Regardless of the reason for the split, Neyer’s voice isn’t likely to remain silent for long.

Once upon a time, Neyer’s writing was like a voice in the wilderness. At a time when the internet was viewed as a second class medium, he brought forth a fresh perspective and carved out a niche that would evolve into the myriad of blogs that exist all over the web today. Sports journalism had long been home to features, game stories, editorials and rumor mills, but Neyer became the first person to regularly engage in analytics. Long before OPS became a household word and sabermetrics began to make a foothold in the mainstream, Neyer was writing about these emerging concepts (often while thinking aloud).  Although not a statistician, his open mindedness allowed him to uncover not only a whole new way of thinking, but a whole new group of talented thinkers. All around the internet today are successful bloggers who essentially got their start because Neyer was willing to have an online dialogue about their new ideas and fresh perspective. He probably never thought of himself as a trailblazer, nor endeavored to be one, but his writing did lead the way for many.

As mentioned, Neyer is likely to resurface quickly. Therefore, there really is no need to eulogize his career. So, while we wait for Neyer’s future work, why not take a look back? Fortunately, besides blogs, one of the wonders of the internet is its ability to crack the code of time travel.  Thanks to the wayback machine, vintage Neyer (here and here) is still accessible, so sit back and enjoy the past, and then marvel at how far sports on the internet has come. 

A screenprint from a January 29, 1998 Neyer article on ESPNet.SportsZone.com.

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Joe Girardi welcomes Rafael Soriano at his press conference, but the sentiment of Brian Cashman’s comments was not as warm (Photo: MLB.com).

Rafael Soriano may not be asked to save many games for the Yankees, but at the press conference announcing his signing, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was forced to save face.

The biggest news from yesterday’s media gathering was not the player being introduced, but the back story behind his acquisition. As has now been widely reported, Brian Cashman was not on board with the decision to sign Soriano because he wanted to protect that first round pick that was ultimately forfeited to the Tampa Bay Rays as compensation. So, it was with great anticipation that media members gathered at the press conference to grill Cashman, and not the Yankees’ new reliever.

Let me put it this way, I think 29 GMs would love their owner to force Rafael Soriano down their throat. I don’t think that’s something that anyone would want to complain about. I took a stance and I’m not running from that stance. It doesn’t mean I was right, or that it’s the best approach, but that’s who I am and still am. But we are better in 2011 for this, there’s no doubt about it.” – Brian Cashman, quoted in the New York Daily News, January 20, 2011

Despite his frankness, yesterday’s media event couldn’t have been very comfortable for Cashman. After all, it’s not easy to listen as your authority and autonomy are called into question. Although he seemed at ease with the decision, the now public split could put both Cashman and the organization in line for more uncomfortable questions as the general manager enters the final year of his three-year contract.

For Soriano, the introduction must have been a little surreal. Not only was he forced to play second fiddle at his own press conference, but then he had to sit by as the team’s general manager talked about having him forced down his throat. Hopefully, the Yankees instructed the interpreter (Soriano answered all questions in Spanish) to not use a literal translation. If he is even the least bit sensitive, a comment like that could make Soriano’s transition to the team a little more uncomfortable.

Perhaps anticipating some of the potential awkwardness, the Yankees decided not to air the press conference on YES. Of course, that did little to quell the stories about the latest bizarre happening in what has been a very unorthodox offseason for Cashman and the Yankees.

Immediately after the signing was announced, I noted the potential negative ramifications that could result from the emergence of a split in the Yankees’ baseball operations. As Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s HardBall Talk  replied, however, the decision by Hal Steinbrenner to override Cashman’s recommendation really wasn’t unprecedented. Both before and since Cashman demanded more autonomy from the Boss, the Yankees utilized a committee approach to making decisions. As evidenced by the Joe Torre situation, Cashman has not always gotten his way, even on matters as significant as hiring a manager. Viewed in that light, the Soriano signing really shouldn’t be considered so ominous. As he noted at the press conference, Cashman was fully aware of the negotiations, despite not being in favor of the transaction. In other words, he was not bypassed in the process, as had been the case during the days of Billy Connors and the Tampa faction (not to mention signings like Gary Sheffield and David Wells that were almost exclusively transacted by the Boss). As long as the Yankees maintain a chain of command in which Cashman presides over all baseball recommendations, it shouldn’t be an issue when the owners of the team decide to go in a different direction.

Finally, because of the uniqueness of the situation, it’s easy to see why Cashman and the Yankees have been held to more scrutiny on the matter, but the reality is every single ownership group plays a role in baseball personnel decisions. The only difference is that with 29 other teams, ownership’s constraint revolves around saving money, not spending it. As Cashman noted, it really isn’t a negative when your owner is willing to spend beyond your recommendations. If the Yankees had given Cashman a mandate to cut spending, no one would view it as a blow to his autonomy, so the same inference shouldn’t be made because the Yankees collectively decided that signing Soriano was an affordable cost of doing business.

If Cashman had expressed concerns about Soriano’s ability or his clubhouse presence, then there might be reason to worry about the Yankees’ decision making process. However, when the owner overrules the general manager on what essentially amounts to a financial decision (and does so in order to spend, not save, money), the organization and fans alike should be grateful. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too…even when it’s forced down your throat.

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Earlier today, the Captain’s Blog was invited by TheYankeeU to address some of the issues involved with comparing MLB and NFL TV ratings. If you haven’t checked it out already, by all means head on over. And, while you’re there, be sure to enjoy all of the other great work being done over at TYU.

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The 1958 Yankees are enjoying a bit of a revival thanks to their status as the franchise’s only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a seven game postseason series. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman took a look at how Casey Stengel guided his team back from the brink of elimination, while TYU examined the players who made up the 1958 squad.  Perhaps the most interesting part about looking back at baseball’s past, however, is learning that the narrative hardly ever changes.

The press pin used by writers covering the 1958 World Series. Fifty years later, many of the same storylines from that Series apply to today.

Just like the 2010 NLCS opener (and again tonight’s game five) featured a much anticipated showdown between the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the 1958 World Series opened with White Ford squaring off against Warren Spahn, an encore of the previous seasons’ World Series opener that Ford won 3-1.  After Spahn’s victory in the rematch, noted sportswriter Jimmy Cannon crowed that the Braves’ perennial 20-game winner was still the best in the game, even if more scholarly observers preferred dynamic young arms like Don Drysdale, or veterans like Ford, who had much better peripheral statistics despited failing to win more than 19 games. Sound familiar? Needless to say, Cannon probably wouldn’t have been swayed much by the fact that Spahn only ranked tenth in ERA+ in 1958.

Baseball is not a complicated game, but those who know most about it appear to resent the simplicity of it. So they have a tendency to reject the standards by which all players must eventually be judged. Numbers count in baseball as much as they do in dice. You measure a man by the record he leaves behind him in the guides. There is no other way and, in time, the book wins all arguments. This makes Spahn the greatest pitcher now throwing for a big league club.” – Jimmy Cannon, North American Newspaper Alliance, October 2, 1958

Showing that he was fair to all parties, Cannon also wrote about the Yankees’ mystique after they came back to win the series. “It does no good to be influenced by the final conclusions of the accountants who compute the worth of ballplayers as if they were figuring a grocery bill. The Yanks are a special breed of ballplayer and they are loaded by some magic you can only comprehend vaguely,” Canon penned after game seven.

In addition to Cannon’s hyperbole, the storylines from each game would all sound familiar if written today. After going up 2-0, the main story was Braves’ manager Fred Haney’s cautious declaration that the “series is far from over,” but that quickly changed to the “worried Braves getting set to face the carefree Yankees” once the series reached a seventh game. Managerial second guessing was also rampant, particularly with regard to Haney’s decision to use Spahn on two days rest in game six. Of course, Spahn only gave up two runs in eight innings, and his mound opponent, Whitey Ford, who was also going on two days rest, didn’t make it out of the second inning, but just about every decision by the losing manager was fair game. When the Yankees polished off the comeback, they did so by beating Lew Burdette, the Yankee killer who bested the team three times in the 1957 World Series, and in the process stopped being the old, fading dynasty and resumed their rightful status as champions. Or, as Sarasota Herald-Tribune Sports Editor Nick Robertson wrote, “since this is the dairy state, it seems apropos to point out that cream always rises to the top”.

It remains to be read what the modern day scribes will write about the 2010 Yankees when all is said and done, but as Yogi Berra, the catcher on the 1958 team, once quipped, it could very well be “déjà vu all over again”.

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When Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin was hit in the chest by a splintered maple bat back in late September, many in the media and blogosphere reacted with outrage. The question most asked was something along the lines of how could the selfish owners and disinterested players sacrifice safety for economics? Apparently, those sounding off had never seen the NCAAF or the NFL.

Over the weekend, there were two particularly violent injuries in college and pro football. On Saturday, Rutgers’ defensive tackle Eric LeGrand went from the gridiron to intensive career after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle on a special teams play. LeGrand’s injury required emergency surgery, but the 21-year old remains paralyzed from the neck down (apparently, student athletes can sacrifice their bodies for their universities’ sporting glory, but the idea of receiving compensation is abhorrent). Then, on Sunday, Philadelphia Eagles’ WR DeSean Jackson suffered a “severe” concussion after being demolished by Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson.

Obviously, football is a violent game, but more and more the sport has seemed to glorify the bone rattling hits that regularly produce serious injuries, particularly to the spinal cord and head. Concussions have become a major epidemic, yet each week those in and around both the college and pro game seem to have no problem glossing over the issue. At least football doesn’t have to worry about those scary maple bats.

The statistics involving concussions and the NFL are downright scary. According to the New York Times, a 2000 survey of former players found that an overwhelming 60% had suffered at least one concussion, while over one quarter had experienced at least three. What are the ramifications of these injuries? The same Times articles cited a University of North Carolina study that found links between multiple concussions and depression as well as a University of Michigan study with similar findings. Another study done at Purdue University conducted on high school football players has gone even further, suggesting that multiple impacts to the head, even if not strong enough to cause concussion, could lead to permanent brain impairment.

The worst part about the violent injuries that occurred over the weekend is that they are not unique. In fact, you could pretty much pick out any given Saturday or Sunday and find an injury that is a part of this alarming trend. And yet, no one seems to be bothered that much.

Congress has made overtures about looking into the problem of concussions, but hasn’t yet mustered the same level of outrage it expressed about the use of performance enhancement drugs in baseball. I wonder what happened to all of the concern about “the kids”? After all, there are an estimated three million children between the ages of six and 14 playing youth football, and many of them face the same risks of serious injury. Just ask Zackery Lystedt.

Football is violent. I get that. I also understand that America loves to watch violence, especially when it is packaged in a vehicle that facilitates our equal desire to place a wager. Although it would be nice if football was held to the same high standards as baseball (concussions are at least as serious as maple bats, right?), the fact that it is not only proves a point that I have long been making: baseball remains our national pastime, while football has become our national vice.

The NFL’s bread and circuses may seem like they are more popular now, but baseball should resist the urge to appeal to the same lowest common denominator. Just like baseball outlasted the popularity of boxing in the first half of the 20th century, it will also endure long after the nation’s appetite for football’s combination of gambling and violence moves on to another sport. And, if America is really starving for crushing hits and crippling blows, then let them eat cake.

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