Prognosticating 2009

My 2009 predictions for Major League Baseball:


Like last year, the key races will be in the East in both leagues. In the N.L the Mets have fixed the back-end of their bullpen, but their rotation and corner outfielders are a mess. They don’t have enough. In the other divisions, the Cubs will outlast the Cardinals, pulling away in early September. The West race will last much longer, but the Dodgers have the offense to prevail.

In the A.L. I think the Rays will slide slightly from last year, but the Red Sox will deal with injuries and the Yankees will see less-than-expected production from their free agents. The pitching and hitting will surprise for the Indians, holding together long enough to pull it out in the end. The West won’t be close.

I’m picking the Phillies to repeat, defeating the Red Sox in the World Series. I admit I’m clouded by homerism, but the team already had the talent. Now it has the experience. The leaders in the clubhouse won’t be satisfied just to win it once. There will be the usual roller-coaster ride, but the Phillies finish it again.

For extra fun, the N.L. will win the All-Star game to give the Phillies the advantage in the World Series. So, Phillies in six.

Ted Poe Field at House of Representatives Stadium?

Following up on a story I discussed last month, six U.S. House members from New York urged Treasury to ignore the call to cancel Citigroup’s naming-rights deal with the New York Mets:

“It is deceitful and unreasonable to single out Citigroup for an agreement signed several years ago,” they wrote, “without referencing the many other companies who have stadium naming rights deals and also received federal assistance.”

“Are we ready to remove their names from those stadiums?” Engel asked in a statement. “Or is this a rule to apply solely to Citigroup and the Mets?”

Naturally one of the original instigators, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), gave a rebuttal:

“All companies that came to Washington with their hands out for taxpayer money should have to answer to the taxpayer as well,” he said. “This is the consequence of getting in bed with the federal government — they are going to tell you how to spend your money.”

Isn’t it interesting that Rep. Poe refers to this as “getting in bed”? A responsible government leader would’ve rebuffed such advances. Instead we have an excuse to force control of resources and business decisions – retroactively – upon those companies. This includes the companies that tried to refuse former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s “take or take it” offer.

I have no reason to believe that the six New York representatives are acting out of principle. But the push is correct. And the Treasury Department is playing along:

“While we have implemented new restrictions on executive compensation and luxury perks, we will not get involved in individual companies’ marketing decisions,” Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker said Wednesday.

We’ll see.

Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don’t win it’s a … Congressional takeover?

You knew that TARP would lead to public shaming and Congressional indifference to contracts, right?

U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ted Poe are urging the Obama administration to demand that Citigroup drop its $400 million, 20-year naming rights deal for Citi Field, the New York Mets’ new stadium scheduled to open in April, because of $45 billion the bank received in government aid.

“At Citigroup, 50,000 people will lose their jobs. Yet in the boardroom of Citigroup, spending $400 million to put a name on stadium seems like a good idea,” said Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat.

Citigroup and the New York Mets signed a contract. Now, because it’s not a populist expenditure, it’s invalid and Congress thinks it can tell the two parties that the contract is worthless. Surely demonstrating that contracts can’t be relied upon will strengthen the long-term economy.

However, notice how Rep. Kucinich refers to Citigroup spending $400 million. That is spread across 20 years. Are Reps. Kucinich and Poe suggesting that the economy will be bad for the next 20 years? Are they suggesting that the banks will be under Congressional control for the next 20 years? I know the answer to the latter, but I want to know if they’re invoking the politicians favorite power grab, the permanent crisis. That’s the safe assumption.

I also wonder if Reps. Kucinich and Poe have evidence to support their implicit assumption that naming rights do not work as a marketing tool. Being seen on television at least 81 times per year, as well as every sports highlight show after those 81 home games, are valued at less than $20 million per year? Based on what evidence?

Returning with a bit of this and a bit of that.

My schedule’s been a bit chaotic over the last two weeks. It’s too late to start any in depth blogging tonight, so instead, here are a few quick recaps of the news items I’ve logged as interesting over the last week or so.


First, I know nothing of the legal argument involved in the recent case of Major League Baseball and “its” statistics. I don’t doubt that the Supreme Court was correct to reject the case because there’s just no property right there to describing what happens during a game. The recap from a specific service provided would easily meet a licensing requirement, but I’m not paying a fee for saying that Chase Utley has a home run in five straight games or that he was 3-4 with a homer and two singles last night.

That said, anything that gives Commissioner Bud Selig a figurative black eye is good. He had “good enough”, which was more than the owners could legitimately claim. Yet they let greed at the expense of fans interfere with basic long-term business sense. Again. More than any other sport, statistics dominate baseball. Let fans have that and they’ll continue to demonstrate their love for the game by buying tickets and jerseys and the $200 television package. This is not complicated.


I haven’t paid enough attention to the FLDS case in Texas to remark on the judge’s ruling that the State must return the children to their parents. However, this is not proof for those libertarians who believe that the state has no role in parent-child relationships. An anecdote makes a strained theory, at best. Many libertarians have made convincing arguments that the state has a legitimate role in the parent-child relationship, principally in protecting the rights of the child.


Sebastian Mallaby misses on “pro-growth”:

… Given the yawning budget deficit and the coming demographic crunch, tax cuts aren’t affordable anyway.

The same goes for deregulation. Getting the nanny government out of trucking and airlines yielded huge benefits in the 1970s and 1980s. But the “price-and-entry” regulations that used to cosset such industries have long since gone, and remaining regulation is harder to demonize. We are left with government rules to protect the environment, check the safety of medicines and prevent systemic financial crises. These rules are generally helpful. There’s nothing “pro-growth” about bashing them.

“Generally helpful” is enough? Is Sarbane-Oxley hard to demonize for being only generally helpful? On what criteria may we base future decisions to cause just a little, allegedly inconsequential harm?


Like extending movie franchises 20 years later, old habits die hard:

Members of the Russian Communist party have called for the new Indiana Jones film to be banned in the country because they say it distorts history.

St Petersburg Communist Party chief Sergei Malinkovich told the Reuters news agency it was “rubbish”.

“Why should we agree to that sort of lie and let the West trick our youth?”

He said many Russian cinemagoers were teenagers who would be “completely unaware of what happened in 1957”, when the film is set.

Good thing the censoring communists are no longer in charge in Russia. Oh, wait.

(I liked last year’s Die Hard movie, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new Indiana Jones movie.)

Baseball and Labor Markets

Numerous Major League Baseball teams have signed young players to long-term deals recently. Yesterday the Milwaukee Brewers signed Ryan Braun to an eight-year, $45 million deal by the Milwaukee Brewers. At under $6 million per season, that’s a bargain if Braun merely puts up similar numbers (.313 with 44 homers and 127 RBI in 153 games) to his first full year in the majors, which he won’t reach until late next week. Baseball contracts are guaranteed, so the contracts to players whose career busts will be a significant mistake (e.g. Pat Burrell’s contract with the Phillies). But the upside is more than defensible.

(Braun is also an interesting example because he developed in the Brewers’ minor league system as a third baseman. His copious errors last year, his rookie season, forced the Brewers to convert him to left field this year. Do 41 games and spring training constitute sufficient evidence that he can be a competent major league outfielder?)

Squawking Baseball discusses the incentives involved :

But there’s another dynamic that is in play here: as more and more players sign these deals, the supply of premium players on the free agent market will continue to drop. That, combined with the growing war chests many teams have already put together, will create excess demand for whatever talent ends up on the open market.

In fact, this has likely already happened in the past few years. Teams have a certain amount of money they can spend on payroll; as revenues rise and each win becomes more valuable, those budgets increase. With a limited supply of free agents, there will inevitably be high demand for some mediocre players (i.e. Carlos Silva).

The real question is this: at what point does the potential reward of becoming a free agent outweigh the risks of turning down $30+ million when you have nothing in the bank? If supply continues to dwindle, free agency may simply become too rational a choice to pass up.

I think that is the real question. This is just basic economics. The intersection of supply and demand fluctuates over time. In the early to middle portion of the next decade, we could see some very interesting outcomes in the baseball labor market. It appears we’re going to see flatter incomes across players, while the players on the high end of the extreme will be distinct solely for their salaries rather than their merits as on-the-field talent.

I assign no judgment to this, of course. Participants on both sides of the baseball labor market are experimenting with new ideas to meet their individual, subjective needs. Good for them. This refining is an outstanding attribute of any free market.

For me, the more interesting questions are how will fans react to this when the results are known rather than speculated, and how will teams react to this reaction? Looking at the Pat Burrell example mentioned above, there was significant praise for then-Phillies General Manager Ed Wade’s decision to sign Burrell for a cheap $50 million after his breakout season. Yet, hindsight has proven that an unfortunate burden on the team for years. (In his defense, Burrell has been spectacular for much of the last calendar year.) Phans have booed Burrell regularly, and the team has since been quite reluctant to invest money in players. Until Chase Utley’s recent long-term deal, the free agent signing of Jim Thome was the lone commitment longer than 3 years.

An apprehension to buy out arbitration and free agent years from Ryan Howard has become a prominent discussion for Phillies phans. His salary jumped from $900,000 last year to $10 million this year, through arbitration. No long-term deal appears likely, for multiple reasons. (Fear, greed, animosity – pick two) But this may not be a bad outcome. Only now does Howard show signs of emerging from his devastating slump to start the season. A player who will predictably inhibit the middle of a team’s lineup for the first quarter of every season is a huge risk. If the Phillies had Howard to a long-term contract in 2006, when he was in his MVP campaign, they would’ve acted before Howard fully revealed the player he would become. That does not necessarily disparage Howard, but it does reveal that teams won’t always have a complete understanding of a player’s developmental trajectory after one year.

Long-term, I suspect we’ll see this trend of locking up players early continue. But I think we’ll see more deals for third- and fourth-year players rather than second-year players. It’ll mean a bit more money to those players, but I suspect the team executives will figure out that the total money paid will change little. Individual commitments will reflect merit more than the current mixture of merit and potential. The NFL rookie salary structure demonstrates the risk involved in offering high rewards for potential rather than long-term performance. I doubt Major League teams will veer much closer to that, or stay as close as a few now appear to be heading.

Via Baseball Musings.

Post Script: I think the Chase Utley deal was the correct move, both then and now. He’s shown in-season consistency and a general improvement over several years. The core indicators for long-term success are there, shining as brightly as they could for any player in baseball.

It’s early January? It’s Dale Murphy time again.

The Baseball Writer’s Association will continue ignoring Dale Murphy for the Hall of Fame when it releases this year’s voting later today. I will continue writing posts supporting Murphy’s candidacy. And like every year, I will recycle each year’s format and quote the sanity of Jayson Stark.

And the forgotten stars of the ’80s keep on coming. No player of his generation has been more outspoken about the steroids era than Murphy. And, sadly, it’s possible that no great player has had more damage done to his candidacy by that era — and its inflated numbers — than Murphy, either.

His 398 homers and that .469 career slugging percentage look downright ordinary nowadays. But remember, this is supposed to be about what these men did in their era. And back in the ’80s, Murphy led all National Leaguers in runs and hits, tied Mike Schmidt for the most RBIs and finished second to Schmidt in home runs. He also was a back-to-back MVP, a five-time Gold Glove winner, a proud member of the 30-Homer 30-Steal Club, a guy who once got more All-Star votes than anyone else in the whole sport and one of the classiest clubhouse citizens ever.

Every voter who votes against Mark McGwire should be required to vote for Murphy. Otherwise, the ballot is nothing more than a forum for bias and moral preening.

Actually, the ballot is already about that. It shouldn’t be, but the evidence tells the truth. No one admits it. Nor do they acknowledge the logic of what Mr. Stark wrote about Jim Rice’s candidacy in the same column. He could’ve written it directly about Murph, as well, as I have many times.

I keep waiting for the backlash against the steroids era to start working in the favor of players like Rice. It hasn’t happened yet. But backlash or no backlash, we’re supposed to be comparing players to other players in their time, not anybody else’s time.

That’s the only criteria for statistics.

I can’t wait to see how many writers botch it this year. Not that it matters. Murph is in his tenth year of eligibility. He has five years left after this vote. Many worthy players trend to election as their eligibility wanes. Goose Gossage is the current example. And Murph reversed his downward slide last year, so Hopefully Murph will start to get more respect. But I don’t believe he’ll ever reach election via the writers. The process is too subjective and in the hands of incompetents. His only hope rests with the Veterans’ Committee. I don’t know how much hope to place in that, but his chances can’t be worse there.

Go Murph!

Update: I’ve fixed one inaccurate sentence, since Murphy’s vote total declined last year. However, he received 75 votes this year, up from last year’s 50!

The clowns are piling into their car in preparation.

Who said this?

“If players believe they are wrongfully accused in the report,” [he] told the paper, “they are welcome to volunteer and we’ll take it under consideration. But as I understand it, all these players had a chance to cooperate [with Mitchell], and everyone declined to cooperate.

“So, to an extent, that’s what they get.”

That would be Congressman Tom Davis, who I believe was sworn to uphold the Constitution when he entered office. Allow me to unpack his assumption of what is acceptable:

  • Absence of a trial by jury.
  • Absence of a trial.
  • Absence of an indictment.
  • Absence of criminal charges.
  • Absence of Fifth Amendment rights.

I’m reminded today of all the reasons I despise being represented by a moronic, meddling malcontent.

Rejecting a collectivist concept of human rights.

Following up on my entry questioning Dr. Richard Shweder’s analysis in defending subjective justifications of male genital cutting by eliminating any consideration for the individual. He responded with more:

In an earlier comment (comment #59) I made brief note of some of the weaknesses in the standard human rights discussions of this topic (both there and here I am recounting published material in the two essays for which links were provided on the November 30 and December 5 Tierneylab). What I did not note in my earlier comment was that one of the more problematic aspects of a human rights argument for those engaged in the global eradication campaign is that the global eradication campaign itself appears to violate several recognizable or conceivable human rights. A short list of such rights includes the right of peoples and nations to autonomy and self-determination, the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit, the right of members of a family to be free of government intrusion into decisions that are private, the right of members of a group to favor their own cultural traditions in the education and socialization of their children, even the right to freedom of religion. …

I can only believe that Dr. Shweder is making this up as he goes along. He has a desired outcome. When no map to his outcome exists, he’ll create one and pretend it represents reality. Note the key foundation he uses, “recognizable or conceivable human rights.” He’s on an island with his conception. The whole notion is absurd.

Conceivably, conceivable could work. Standards of civilization progress, as evidenced by so many changes mankind has brought about demonstrate. Two hundred years ago, slavery fit within the widely accepted notion of a natural order. Today we not only know that to be false, we do not pardon those who believed such blasphemy over what they should’ve known. We understand the context, of course, but it doesn’t alter the fundamental problem.

Dr. Shweder doesn’t seek to progress properly. He ignores the individual’s supreme role in the existence of competing rights. Should the individual’s right face conflict from the group’s alleged claim on his body, Dr. Shweder does not dismiss the latter as subservient. The individual may choose to submit, but choice must exist. Dr. Shweder leaves as reasonable that the group may legitimately override the potentially contrary wishes of the individual. If enough people agree, the majority owns the minority. Unless we’re resurrecting the notion that slavery has a place in mankind, the conflict Dr. Shweder imagines is a mistake. Without medical need, it can never be correct to force bodily modification on another person. The “right of members of a family to be free of government intrusion into decisions that are private” does not grant members of a family to harm other members of the family.

Dr. Shweder writes of the “right of peoples and nations to autonomy and self-determination,” but only the individual has such a right. Collectively groups must reach their own outcomes. Extraneous, subjective input may be provide guidance, but it must never dictate. Still, that outcome must be a never-ending series of individual choices resulting in macro-level reality within society. Dr. Shweder’s suggestion leaves open the question of whether or not it’s legitimate to force downward from within, when that question is a settled “no” beyond the realm of the individual.

The uniquely American love of baseball throughout the 20th century is an example. Citizen or immigrant, rich or poor, white or black, distinction didn’t matter; Americans loved baseball. It inspired heroes and poetry, dreams and faith. The individual who did not embrace baseball may have faced scrutiny, but attempts to force him to love baseball would’ve violated a core more valuable and basic than baseball. No man is less an American if he fails to include baseball in his life.

The same truth exists for the individual who wishes to reject the surgical alteration of his or her genitals. He may not exercise his right to reject it, but he must be given the choice. Any category of supposed rights that excludes this is a fallacy not consisting of actual rights. Such a category must be discarded from the debate.

Steroids can’t make a pitch curve.

I don’t have much to say about the newly-released Mitchell Report. It’s an illegitimate waste of government time in pursuit of a political quest for ever-expanding power. Not interested. As I wrote when Rep. Tom Davis first brought this nonsense into the federal sphere:

When Rep. Davis called the inquiry into steroids in Major League Baseball, how was that not a conspiracy to seize power? It may have involved one sport industry, but Rep. Davis seemed to enjoy threatening MLB with greater congressional control if it didn’t implement a policy banning a drug that’s already illegal. I don’t think any major sport in America explicitly bans its players from money laundering, drunk driving, murder or income tax evasion, yet we never have hearings about those, even though players have been involved in all of those offenses.

My stance is unchanged. And my basic understanding of liberty requires that steroids be decriminalized.

As for the situation at hand, Major League Baseball would ban steroids in my ideal world. As a group of consenting individuals, it would be free to do so. It would level the playing field to talent alone, which is what I want to see as a fan.

Of course, it would be free to ignore my preference, too, which it clearly did throughout the latter part of the ’90s. John Cole expresses my sentiments on the shock at the report’s finding:

Imagine if, in ten years, the GOP and the media decide to get outraged about intelligence being finessed before the Iraq war, they launch an investigation, and then get shocked when they see what they find. That is the level of stupid this baseball steroid report is right now.

Naturally that doesn’t preclude politicians from going to the for the children defense of our collective outrage:

Recalling that he had raised the steroids issue in a State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, Bush said he did so “because I understand the impact that professional athletes can have on our nation’s youth.” He urged athletes “to understand that when they violate their bodies, they’re sending a terrible signal to America’s young.”

When we force our subjective opinions onto the actions of others, it sends a terrible signal to America’s young that it’s okay to be meddlesome moralists opposed to the liberty of the individual. For the mental development of our youth, I’d say what we’re teaching is far worse than what a handful of athletes are (allegedly) teaching.

Post Script: Russ Roberts sums up the best way to read the names on the list and how detrimental these allegations are (not) to my opinion of the players.