Figures of Attendance, Part III—the Genius Can’t Conjure Fans to Come to the Park

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When discussing attendance and its connectivity or lack of connectivity to publicity and results, how can we ignore the Athletics? They’re still pining for a new park in San Jose with the Giants an example of how a new, fan friendly park can help attendance. Would a new ballpark in Oakland help the A’s replicate what the Giants have done? No. The A’s have rarely drawn fans when they were on top of the world and not; when they were the subject of creative non-fiction like Moneyball to turn their GM Billy Beane into a deity or when they were awful for years and living off their GM’s reputation of being “smarter than the average bear”. A new ballpark in Oakland isn’t going to fix that. It’s a football town and the current population doesn’t have the money to pay for the seats no matter how reasonably priced some of them are. The A’s of the late-1980s were an anomaly because they were the highest-paid team in baseball despite not having the resources to be that if the owner ran the club as a business. The Haas family saw the team as a local and public trust; they were willing to take a loss financially to win on the field and they did. When the landscape changed, so did the attendance and payroll. When the Beane-A’s were in their heyday and winning 100 games in 2003, they still wound up 8th in attendance. The 2012 A’s have a good, young team and are 12th in the AL in attendance. That won’t change unless they get the new park in San Jose, something the Giants are understandably resisting.

The Giants did it right for their market. They build around Barry Bonds when he was the home run king and putting up cartoon numbers to go along with his cartoon muscles; they let it decline to 90 losses when they were making the transition from “build around Barry” to “build around pitching” and they’re drawing near the top of the NL again.

Much like the simplistic nature of the argument from stat people who suggest that every team should be run a certain way, it’s a logistical impossibility for the Yankees or Red Sox to allow their clubs to degenerate to 100+ losses and maintain fan attendance, advertising, concession sales and other ancillary moneymakers as the Rays, Astros and Athletics have. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to maintain a winning club while preparing for the future with a deep farm system when he basically exchanged Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and prospects in a frenzied series of deals. But it didn’t work and fan anger was palpable enough, team struggles so evident that the plan was abandoned in the middle of the 2010 season when he traded for Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee as a free agent after the 2010 season. He signed his veteran players like Ryan Howard to ludicrous contracts; imported Jonathan Papelbon; ignored the draft and gutted the system. The team has come apart and the Phillies’ oft-mentioned sellout streak has ended.

No kidding.

The Phillies’ fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon and boo everything that goes by while on it. The team is 10 games under .500 and has conceded the season with their trades of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and by again listening to offers on Lee. Of course the fans are going to find other things to do.

With these clubs, it’s win and they’ll come back. Simple.

The Rays are allowed to run their team as they do because of the lack of interest on the part of the fans; because the media isn’t hounding them to do something; because they’re not maintaining attendance—there’s no attendance to begin with.

The Astros are in total flux right now and are tantamount to an expansion team preparing to play in the American League in 2013; they’re on the way to losing 110 games and GM Jeff Luhnow has cleared the decks of every veteran on his roster. He’s getting a pass because the team was so rancid when he arrived and there’s a new owner in place and they’re as bad as a team gets right now. He’s new and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Read Part II here.

Read Part I here.

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The Yankee Mentality

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When I wrote my prior posting about CC Sabathia’s pulled groin I said that Yankees’ fans were loading up the phone banks to Mike Francesa’s show to call for the team to trade for a big name starter like Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Cliff Lee or anyone who’s an All-Star caliber starter to replace their All-Star caliber starter.

It was ironic humor because as much as we don’t want it to be true; don’t want to believe that there’s that level of entitlement anywhere in the world, it came true.

It wasn’t Sabathia’s injury that created the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, but Andy Pettitte’s fractured ankle sustained in this afternoon’s game that was the catalyst for Francesa to begin speculating on which All-Star pitcher they were getting.

“Are da Yankeez gonna getta pitchuh? Will dey getta Gahrza? Will dey getta Lee?”

I’m paraphrasing, but it’s pretty much dead on.

Who came up with this game of telephone that Lee is even available?

The Phillies are getting Chase Utley back tonight; they’ve played badly but they’re still in contention in the Wild Card and are a hot streak from being right back near the top of the NL East. The Phillies are unlikely to be sellers, but if they are it’s Cole Hamels (Francesa mentioned him as well) who’s going and not Lee. Lee has a no-trade clause to 10 teams and you can bet the house that the Yankees are on it.

He didn’t want to pitch for the Yankees when he was a free agent after the 2010 season and after the stuff that was said about him following his spurning the Yankees’ advances and when he revealed that the Yankees were his third choice after the Phillies and Rangers (the last choice since they were his only serious suitors), what don’t you get? He’s not interested.

Ruben Amaro Jr, the Phillies’ GM, admitted the mistake in trading Lee by acquiring Roy Oswalt during the 2010 season and then by re-signing Lee after 2010. Do you really believe he’s going to ruin his reputation among the players and toss in the towel on the Phillies’ season by trading Lee to the Yankees for prospects? And what prospects are the Yankees giving him?

It’s just crafted nonsense that’s not going to happen even if the Phillies come apart.

This mentality lends itself to the greed that takes a 97-65 season and ALCS loss and dubs it a failure. It engenders the hatred other fans and teams have for the Yankees and their fans because no one wants to hear this garbage that they can’t possibly function without an All-Star or post-season hero pitching for them every night.

What world is this?

It’s not good enough to have a terrific bullpen and a lineup that’s leading the Major Leagues in home runs with superstars at 5 of the 8 starting positions and a very good background cast?

It’s this thought process that labeled an athlete like Mariano Rivera—who got hurt doing athletic things—something more than what he is: a baseball player. That’s how an injury to a human being who plays a sport for a living was called a “tragedy”.

It’s not a tragedy and the Yankees aren’t “supposed” to have a potential Hall of Famer, Cy Young Award winner, MVP or legend playing every single position every night.

They wonder why they’re hated and it’s a joyful event when they lose and they have to do a postmortem on the season that wasn’t; a failed plotline that didn’t result in a World Series win (as has happened every year but one for this whole century). This is why.

It’s called reality.

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Josh Lueke and the No-Tolerance Policy

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The Mariners traded right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke and a minor leaguer or cash to the Rays for catcher John Jaso.

Jaso isn’t very good defensively, but he gets on base and has shown some minor league pop. Today the Rays signed Jose Molina; they have Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and have expressed interesting in bringing back Kelly Shoppach.

They’ll be okay behind the plate without Jaso.

But will they be okay with Lueke?

Lueke became known not for of his blazing fastball, but because he was part of the deal that sent Cliff Lee from the Mariners to the Rangers and a dispute ensued as to whom knew what about Lueke’s arrest record in which he was charged with sexual assault and lying to the police, then pleaded no contest.

The whole episode could have cost Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik his job.

The Mariners dumping of Lueke for what amounts to a backup catcher isn’t simply a trade; it appears as if they want to put the whole Lueke experience behind them as an organization, were presented with this deal and took it.

I don’t blame them.

I wouldn’t touch Jose Lueke.

You can make the case that in every organization there are a fair number of people who’ve been a bit too aggressive or behaved inappropriately with the opposite sex.

I’m not only talking about players; I’m talking about employees in every facet and it’s not always just men.

But the Lueke case is on the record. You can also make the contention that since it was his word against the accuser’s and that the episode sort of went away that he deserves another chance as long as he doesn’t get caught up in anything else.

It’s not unreasonable.

With the Rays however, their rise to prominence since 2008 came, of course, as a result of the high draft picks accrued from being so awful for so long; by making intelligent trades and savvy free agent signings; and a fair amount of luck.

An underreported aspect of their leap into contention was that they also ceased taking crap from their employees.

There’s a power in the act of not taking crap.

In relatively rapid succession over the course of a year-and-a-half from 2006-2007, the Rays had dealt with the DUI arrest of pitching coach Jim Hickey; the repeated and increasingly violent transgressions of Elijah Dukes; the bat-throwing suspension of Delmon Young; and the continued sobriety struggles of Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was left unprotected in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and selected by the Cubs who immediately sold him to the Reds. Hamilton restarted his career in Cincinnati in 2007, was traded to the Rangers and became a star.

Apart from a few minor disputes with manager Joe Maddon, Young played and behaved well enough in 2007 that the Twins—historically a team that doesn’t take any garbage either—traded for him in what wound up being a coup for the Rays in acquiring Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. Young’s been a mostly solid citizen since then.

Dukes was incorrigible and traded to the Nationals for a nondescript minor league lefty, Glenn Gibson. He continually got into off-and-on-field trouble and the Nationals released him after the 2010 season.

At that time, since the Rays were such a running joke and a team that few paid attention to unless they were in the front of the newspaper as opposed to the back (where they belonged), they were in a position to draw a line with their employees and eject those that crossed it.

That may no longer be the case as they’ve succeeded and increased in stature and positive attention.

You can also say that the Rays have taken a load of stuff from B.J. Upton that a “not taking crap” template would’ve required they get rid of him; but Upton’s problems don’t stem from him being an off-field violent offender—he’s just lazy on the field and doesn’t listen.

There’s a difference between that and being arrested/suspended for violent acts. Those other cases were individuals who were already with the Rays; they’re trading for Lueke.

The Rays could issue the no-tolerance policy to Lueke. Or they could be trying a pump-and-dump of rebuilding his value, then include him in a trade. It’s not as if they gave up all that much to get him and releasing him will cost them nothing if he does give them cause. Lueke has a great arm. In normal circumstances, I’d say “why not?” and see how he behaves and pitches; but with the Rays, having learned the lesson of enough’s enough combined with “if you don’t want to be here and act appropriately, we’ll get rid of you” and seeing it work, I have to wonder why they would bring this person into the organization, due diligence and no-tolerance policy or not.

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