The Baseball Report Volume IV Issue 18
December 22, 2000
From The Editor,
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House Cleaning in Wrigley by Eric D. Larson
The Chicago Cubs are in a transitional phase, and they have been for almost a century. Their World Series drought has become somewhat legendary, on level with the Boston Red Sox and “The Curse of the Bambino.”
The emergence of superstar Sammy Sosa has bolstered attendance in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, but the team itself has not followed suit. Sosa has used the last five years to fine-tune his game, adding to his league-wide appeal as a true franchise player, but the Cubs seemingly get worse each year that he gets better. This might result in a change in teams for the slugger. In fact, Chicago’s interest in Sosa’s value has perhaps turned from the playing field to the accounting books.
“I want to go to a place where somebody loves me,” Sosa told reporters on Tuesday. He will become a free agent in 2001 and is supposedly seeking a six-year deal worthonly $17 million. These are meager numbers, especially in today’s rapidly inflating professional sports market. But the Cubs are not biting.
And then there is Chicago’s first-baseman, Mark Grace. Several teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, contacted the fan-favorite and his agent, clearly intent on signing Grace for the future. The Cubs, on the other hand, made no move to keep him and his $5.3 million a year payroll, despite the fact that the solid-hitting Grace expressed interest in returning to his old team. As a result, Grace signed with the Diamondbacks.
Grace responded to the media, “When your boss doesn’t want you back, you have to get work elsewhere, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Sosa and Grace are arguably two of the best players to wear a Cubs uniform in the last 10 years. Sosa’s contributions at the plate are remarkable, and his shaky fielding skills have definitely improved in the last few years. Grace has had 2,201 career hits in the last 13 seasons and has shown superior skill at first base. He has also provided a steady bat behind Sosa in the recent line-up. Pitchers are hesitant to walk Sosa to get to Grace, augmenting “Slammin’Sammy’s” home run numbers. Why, then, has Cubs management acted so lackadaisical about losing both players?
President and general manager Andy MacPhail appears to have another agenda, one that does not include the one-two combination of Sosa’s right fist and Grace’s left jab. With his pursuit of Mike Hampton and Turk Wendell, it is obvious that management is looking to improve their seriously dismal pitching staff.
Another factor is age. Sosa and Grace are sailing toward the latter part of their careers, and the Cubs have not been able to capitalize thus far. Plus, the recent acquisition of Matt Stairs may help fill th ehole left by Sosa, both offensively and defensively. Even if they have to lose him, a smart transaction may give the Cubs valuable assistance in other areas or, at the very least, deepen their pockets for valuable free agents.
As far as losing Mark Grace, MacPhail believes he has some legitimate options. 21 year-old Hee Seop Choi was recently recognized as one of the top prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Julio Zuleta batted only 68 times with the Cubs last year, but managed a .294 average with three home runs. Aside from this, his triple-A numbers do not disappoint.
Cubs fans have waited long enough for a World Series Championship. Headliners like Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa may not have been the players to make that happen, at least not without a stronger supporting cast. “If you really want to get better, you’re always going to have to takesome chances…” MacPhail commented. Apparently, he believes that the Cubs’ current high-dollar stars have had their chance. The Wrigley Field faithful will have to wait and see.
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Introduction to Economics: Supply and Demand by Hollis T. Russell
While most of the fans of the ”Grand Old Game” were sitting around trying to recover from the excesses of Thanksgiving Day, management of the revered Boston Red Sox organization were plotting to release 2001 ticketprices.
They chose to release them on Friday, the day after Turkey Day, historically a time when the public is relaxing with friends and relatives and not paying attention to news worthy items. When Tom Hanks, who played the character of the manager in the movie, ”A League of Their Own” said ”There’s no crying in baseball,” he certainly could not invision the Boston Red Sox ticket price increases for the 2001 season.
Not only are the Red Sox on the bidding block for what ultimately will be the highest price ever paid for a professional sports franchise, the 2000 ticket prices were already the highest in Major League Baseball.
Now get this, the cheap seats in the upper bleachers in right field are going for $18.00 apeice for the upcoming season. To take a kid to Fenway Park to see the Sox, be prepared to dig deep. Two ducats, 36 bucks; parking, 20 bucks; Hot Dogs, Cracker Jacks and soda, another $25 if they hold 2000 prices. Add that up and it comes to about 80 smackers before the cost of a program to figure out who the new guys are...and there will be new guys.
Sox General Manager, Dan Duquette wrote in his press release, ”A high payroll doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot, but keeping pace financially is crucial to remaining competitive in today’s market and competing in baseball’s smallest ballpark.” It is generally known around Boston’s baseball circles that the Sox spend what they rake in on attendance and television so they will attempt to improve the team.
Their needs are basic; starting pitching and another big bat, so it is concevable that a closer division race will be in store for the fans this season, as they have already signed Manny Ramirez. But listen closely because the Yawkeys just turned over in their graves. When Tom Yawkey ran the show, he wanted the game to be entertaining and affordable for the fans of New England who have always supported the team. Now, a box seat close to home plate goes for $55.00. That makes an 81 game package for a season ticket holder worth $4455.00. For one seat! Nobody buys just one seat either, so that is $8910.00 for two seats. For baseball!
Granted, everything is relative to the times, but never before was there a need to check the mortgage envelope before a kid was told to jump into the jalopy and head off to that little band box called Fenway Park. Tom Hanks was wrong; there is crying in baseball.
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The Calm Before The Storm by Kevin Burke
As Fall woes and triumphs begin to slowly fade from memory, Major League Baseball teams around the country get themselves prepared to try their hand at the largest talent pool of free agents that baseball has seen in a while.
At the top of the pile there are the “Big 8,” the players to which almost any and every team will extend an offer. After the “Big 8” there comes a second tier of players that can still help a ballclub, but do not have the superstar power of an Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez. Yet, even after the “Big 8” and the second tier of players, there are still even more players that could add depth to a team. With all these talented players available, the 2001 season and quest for the World Series should no longer be held in a stranglehold by the constant and near omnipotent New York Yankees.
Any team could easily start the season off with a bang with the right players. However, choosing which players to add to a team and how much money there to spend on these players is the question of utmost importance. For example, take the case of the Texas Rangers, a team that struggled for the first time in along time last year and are now making offers to whomever they can. The Rangers obviously wanted a big-time player, so they signed Alex Rodriguez. The players that have filed for free agency and have put themselves into the talent-pool, are there because they either want a chance at playing for a World Series caliber team or money, and lots of it.
The drama of the quest to obtain one of the “Big 8” or any of the players in the talent pool will be what captivates baseball fans nationwide. Baseball fans want to find out where these players are headed, and hope that they make it to the teams that for which they are rooting.
Still fans will complain about players switching teams every five minutes and that there is no player loyalty to any one team anymore. Jim Caple of ESPN.com even says, “There is so much player turnover that not even charter subscribers to Baseball America cannot name the complete roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers, even if they tape‘Baseball Tonight’ each night.”
There is a sad aspect to the fact that a fan can go see the local team play and have no idea where any of the players came from or even how they got there, but players switching teams has become part of the game. Baseball is one of, if not the most psychological sports out there where each team is constantly trying to get the other to falter. Free agency only adds another dimension to the game.
However, instead of the players and managers trying to psych each other out, now there are owners flashing larger amounts of cash at players in order to get the other teams to up the ante and offer those players even more money. Here is where greed breeds in baseball, and is actually the darker side of the sport. Money now becomes the tenth player on the field.
Unfortunately these days, World Series titles are being bought more than won on the field. Yes, free agency is good for the game of baseball because it allows for an extradimension to the game that only makes the struggle for the Series more difficult. At the same time though, greed is beginning to take over the game and change the face of it forever.
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