Pirates prove that the current structure in baseball doesn’t work for fans

July 18, 2010 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America - 18 July 2010: The view from behind the plate at PNC Park prior to the National League game between the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates Paul Maholm.

The Associated Press released information this morning that should make Pirate and general baseball fans sick and Yankee fans even more appreciative of what they had in George Steinbrenner.

The AP reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been able to turn a profit over the last three years – the same Pittsburgh Pirates that haven’t had a winning season in over 18 years.

According to the financial documents that were obtained by the AP, the Pirates took home $15,008,032 in 2007, $14,408,249 in 2008 and $5.4 million 2009. That’s chump change compared to what a team like the Yankees have been able to take home, but they also win.

The Pirates claim that principal owner Bob Nutting doesn’t take a salary and that may be the case, but it’s also clear that they’re not using all of their resources to win on the field. How could they be? If they were, former All-Stars like Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson wouldn’t be suiting up for other teams tonight. Nor would arbitration eligible or players close to becoming free agents like Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett be playing for other clubs right now either. (Let’s not forget that the Bucs also dealt Jose Bautista – the current home run leader in the AL – to the Blue Jays for 20 shake weights and an instructional shake weight at-home video.)

The Bucos say that they’re trying to win through the draft and with players like Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie either on the big league roster or in the minors that may be case. They say that they’ve paid nearly $12 million for amateur draft picks and have raised their draft expenditures to $31 million over the last three years.

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The 10 Dumbest Things in Sports

I love sports, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Here are ten things that drive me crazy on a regular basis, in order of increasing stupidity:

10. The scoring system in tennis
Love? 15? 30? 40? Deuce? Actually, I kind of like “deuce.” But why not just go to four, win by two. It’s the exact same thing and a lot easier to follow when you’ve already thrown back a couple of Bloody Marys.

9. The overkill of NASCAR
Does it really take 500 laps to figure out which car and driver are the fastest? Here’s an idea: Make every race 50 to 100 laps and limit the number of pit stops. Every decision will be magnified and second-guessed and strategy will become an even bigger part of the sport.

8. Offsides (in soccer and hockey)
Anytime that you have defenders trying to encourage offsides calls by pulling up as they run/skate back to protect their goal, it’s not a good thing. There’s no offsides in basketball and it works just fine. When Randy Moss outruns a cornerback, play doesn’t stop because he has a clear path to the endzone. Why not reward anticipation and speed, and make soccer and hockey that much more exciting by creating a flurry of one-on-one situations between the striker/forward and the goalie?

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2008 Year-End Sports Review: What We Already Knew

While every year has its own host of surprises, there are always those stories that simply fit the trend. Sure, it can get repetitive, but if we don’t look back at history aren’t we only doomed to repeat it? Every year has its fair share of stories that fell into this category, and 2008 was no different.

Our list of things we already knew this year includes the BCS’ continued suckiness (Texas-Oklahoma), how teamwork wins championships (KG, Pierce and Ray-Ray), and the #1 rule for carrying a handgun into a nightclub – don’t use your sweatpants as a holster. (Come on, Plax. Really? Sweatpants?)

Don’t miss the other two parts of our 2008 Year-End Sports Review: “What We Learned” and “What We Think Might Happen.”

Brett Favre can’t make up his mind.

The biggest story of the summer was all the drama surrounding Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. This saga has been covered to death, but there’s one detail that never seemed to get that much play. At the start, it looked like the Packers were making a bad decision by moving on so quickly even when Favre decided he wanted to return. But when the news broke about Favre’s near-unretirement in March, the Packers stance became much more clear. They were ready to take him back after the owners’ meetings, but he called it off at the last minute. At that point, the Packer brass was understandably finished with Brett Favre, much to the chagrin of a good portion of the Packer faithful. – John Paulsen

The Chicago Cubs’ title drought is not a fans-only phenomenon.

The 2008 Cubs were easily the best team the franchise has assembled in decades, but they still couldn’t win a single game in the playoffs, and the reason is simple: the pressure finally got to them. Sure, they said the right things to the press about how they didn’t care about what had happened in the past, but don’t believe a word of it; there wasn’t a single person in that dugout that wasn’t fantasizing about being part of the team that finally, mercifully, ended the longest title drought in sports history. Once ESPN picked them to win it all, however, they were doomed. Ryan Dempster walked seven batters in Game 1, which matched his total for the month of September. The entire infield, including the sure-handed Derrek Lee, committed errors in Game 2. Alfonso Soriano went 1-14 with four strikeouts in the leadoff spot, while the team as a whole drew six walks and struck out 24 times. The team with so much balance in the regular season suddenly became the most one-dimensional team in baseball; take Game 1 from them, then sit back and watch them choke. And now that this group has lost six straight playoff games (the team has lost nine straight dating back to 2003), it isn’t about to get any easier. Get a helmet, Cubs fans. – David Medsker

If you’re going to wear sweatpants to a nightclub, leave the gun at home.

If winning a Super Bowl is the pinnacle of an NFL player’s career, than shooting yourself with your own gun in a nightclub has to be rock bottom. Case in point: Plaxico Antonio Burress. Just 10 months after helping the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg while at a nightclub. Apparently the (unregistered) gun was slipping down his leg and when he tried to grab it to keep it from falling, the lucky bastard wound up pulling the trigger and shooting himself. And that wasn’t the worst of it because as Plaxico found out, New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. He was arrested, but posted bail of $100,000 and is scheduled to return to court on March 31, 2009. If convicted of carrying a weapon without a license, he faces up to three and a half years in jail. He shouldn’t expect special treatment, either. The mayor of New York wants to be sure that Burress is prosecuted just like any other resident of NYC. The Giants, meanwhile, placed him on their reserve/non-football injury list and effectively ended his season. While “Plax” definitely deserves “Boner of the Week” consideration for his stupidity, what’s sad is that in the wake of Washington Redskins’ safety Sean Taylor’s death, most NFL players feel the need to arm themselves when they go out. Maybe players can learn from not only Taylor’s death, but also Burress’s accident so further incidents can be avoided. – Anthony Stalter

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All I want for Christmas…

The world is a mess. Osama Bin Laden is still at large, the U.S. economy is in a recession and our country is still fighting two different wars on two different fronts.

But I can’t control any of that. On the whole, 2008 has been a pretty good year for Team Paulsen. My wife and I had our first child, a happy and healthy son (97th percentile in height = future 6’10” power forward), and I still have a job and a roof over my head.

I write about sports, so in the spirit of Christmas, which – let’s be honest – is really about getting, not giving, I scribbled down a few things that I’d like to see gift-wrapped underneath the tree.

So, without further ado, all I want for Christmas…

…is a college football playoff.
This drives me nuts and I know I’m not alone. I’m a casual fan of college football and I only watch maybe 10-15 games the entire year, including one bowl game – the BCS title game. If there were an eight-team playoff, I would make a point to watch every single one of those seven games. Not only that, but I’d start watching more of those late-season games that feature teams that are fighting for a playoff berth. I know money is a big issue with the BCS, but if casual fans are going to increase the number of games they watch by 50-70%, how can this not bring higher ratings and more ad revenue? This whole situation is mind-boggling.

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Brennan misses the point about baseball postseason

Christine Brennan of USA Today writes that the format for the baseball playoffs needs to be redone.

Angels-Red SoxTo pique fan interest, lure sponsors and maximize TV ratings, MLB has, over time, adopted a three-tiered playoff system — four divisional series leading to two championship series to, finally, the World Series — which by definition diminishes the meaning of the regular season.

Talk about your mixed messages. On the one hand, the game is at its pastoral best when it is played out over time, when it meanders through the summer like a lazy river, when patience is rewarded, when one game by itself may mean so little.

Then, once we hit October, baseball becomes manic. The marathon turns into a sprint, especially in the division series, which still are the quirkiest of arrangements, just a quick, best-of-five-games test.
Of course, every team knows what the rules are. None of this is new to them. And what infuriates purists delights the masses. When teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were only six games above .500 and had the 15th-best record during the regular season, are potentially just four games away from the World Series, that’s the kind of story that brings people running to their TV sets.

But let’s examine that sentence again. A team with the 15th-best record in baseball is four games away from the World Series. And the teams with the two best records in the game are at least 169 games from the World Series — next year’s World Series.

Like all other big U.S. professional sports, baseball elongates its season not necessarily to crown the year’s best team, but to meet and perhaps exceed all financial, marketing and entertainment goals.
But not every last bit of regular-season integrity need be lost. It’s time for MLB to go back to two divisions in each league, with the top two teams in each division making the playoffs. In other words, no more 15th-best teams allowed.

Brennan makes a great point that in the end, baseball wants to market itself in the best way possibly to make more money. But MLB is a business, so of course it wants to make more money and will continue to think of ways to do so.

Where she misses the point is that it’s not the league’s fault that every infielder for the Cubs made an error in the same game against the Dodgers, or that the Red Sox continue to own the Angels in the postseason. And only four teams in the postseason? How is this fun for fans? Without a salary cap, more times than not the teams that spend the most will go to the playoffs. (And before anyone says anything, I know that the Rockies and Rays made the playoffs the last two years with small pay rolls. But look at the Rockies – they couldn’t sustain their World Series momentum this year because they don’t spend enough to compete year in and year out.)

The postseason format is fine. It’s getting a cap in place that should be the league’s top priority. But that will never happen.

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