Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lessons not learned from Moneyball – the 2011 Boston Red Sox

There is a scene at the end Moneyball where actor Arliss Howard, playing the role of Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, and Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane are sitting in an empty Fenway Park. The scene featured Henry pitching Beane about joining the Red Sox. Henry was offering his feelings on what having money was all about. The gist of what Henry tells Beane is “having money allows you to do what you want even if it makes sense to no one else.”

The New York Yankees and Beane’s Oakland A’s both won 103 games during the 2002 regular season and captured their respective division titles. Meanwhile Henry’s Red Sox won 93 games and missed the playoffs.

Beane is reminded by Henry it cost the Yankees $1.308 million per win (based on the Yankees $133,429,757 payroll), while Beane’s A’s cost per win was $441,000 (based on the A’s team payroll of $41,942,665). Henry paid $1.18 million per Red Sox win (based on the Red Sox 2002 team payroll of $110,429,535).

Nine years later Henry’s Red Sox disastrous 2011 season came to an end Wednesday night. The Red Sox, sporting baseball’s fourth highest payroll paid $1.73 million per win, the second highest total of the 30 MLB franchises.

The Tampa Bay Rays, with baseball’s second lowest payroll clinched an improbable playoff birth Wednesday night overtaking the Red Sox, had a cost per win ratio of $406,000. The Rays are a shining example Billy Beane baseball and the so-called Moneyball impact.

All one needs to do is look at the Red Sox 2011 player payroll to begin to access the blame as to which players failed to deliver for the organization:

RK PLAYER Salary (US$)
1 Josh Beckett
2 John Lackey
3 Carl Crawford
4 J.D. Drew
5 David Ortiz
6 Kevin Youkilis
7 Jonathan Papelbon
8 Adrian Gonzalez
9 Dustin Pedroia
Jon Lester
11 Marco Scutaro
12 Conor Jackson
13 Dan Wheeler
14 Jacoby Ellsbury
15 Tim Wakefield
Jason Varitek
Trever Miller
18 Erik Bedard
19 Matt Albers
20 Jarrod Saltalamacchia
21 Mike Aviles
22 Daniel Bard
23 Darnell McDonald
24 Jed Lowrie
25 Franklin Morales
26 Felix Doubront

Leading the way for the Red Sox was John Lackey. On December 16, 2009, John Lackey signed a five-year $82.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Lackey was a loser both on and off the field in 2011, finishing the season with a 12-12 record but the dubious distinction of the highest ERA in Red Sox history for a pitcher with 150 innings pitched in a season.

There are three years left on Lackey’s contact and given his soiled reputation there won’t be much interest in his services from the 28 other teams.

A close second was newly signed Carl Crawford and his seven year and $142 million deal. Crawford’s season was a colossal disappointment and the once-great left fielder hit .255 and stole 18 bases, his fewest since his rookie season. Crawford failed to catch the pivotal line drive hit by the Orioles’ Robert Andino Wednesday night. Great fielders make clutch plays, Crawford failed to deliver time and time again throughout the 2012 season.

J.D. Drew and his $14 million annual salary has, in all likelihood, played his last game for the Red Sox. Drew hit .222, played in parts of 81 games and had 222 at bats.

Kevin Youkilis made $12 million this year. Dubbed the “Greek God of Walks” Youkilis played through pain all year and ultimately ended the season on the disabled list. He hit .258 but will be back playing third base for the Red Sox in 2012.
Coming into Wednesday night’s 162 game of the season, the Red Sox were 77-0 when leading after eight innings. Lights out closer Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and the Red Sox lost their first game of the season when leading after eight.

The greatest reliever in Red Sox history saved 31 games, but blew two saves against the Orioles, the worst team in the American League, in a one week span. If Papelbon had saved both games, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs. He made $12 million and is the team’s most high profile free agent this year.

John Lackey, Carl Crawford and J.D. Drew were collectively paid $34 million. The Rays entire payroll was just north of $40 million.

Jacoby Ellsbury made $2.4 million and was the best player on the Red Sox and arguably the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Daniel Bard earned $505,000 and was proved to be one of the most effective set up men in baseball. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was paid $750,000 and has a very respectable season.

In the days and weeks ahead Red Sox Nation is going to play the 2011 blame game. In his eight seasons as manager Terry Francona accomplished what no other Red Sox manager had done in 86 years, he won a World Series in 2004. He won again in 2007.
The club holds options on Francona for 2012 ($4.25 million) and 2013 ($4.5 million). Each option comes with a $750,000 buyout.

There’s an old saying that baseball managers are hired to be fired. Did Francona lose the Red Sox clubhouse? Were the Red Sox not prepared?

If Red Sox owner John Henry is going to make a change at the helm then this may be the time. It could be Francona, but it could also be General Manager Theo Epstein who accepted the job after Beane turned it down nine years ago.

If John Henry calls Billy Beane this time he may be much more serious then he was after the 2002 season. Memo to Billy Beane – take the call.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time for the NHL to look inside, really inside the game

In 1995 the National Hockey League introduced NHL Diversity as a major component of the league's "Hockey is for Everyone" initiative. The issue of inclusiveness in the NHL is at the forefront of the news the last week. An ugly incident at an NHL pre-season game in London, Ontario and an alleged incident Monday night in Philadelphia has media talking about hockey for the wrong reasons.

Last Thursday night during an NHL pre-season game at London’s John Labatt Centre, someone threw a banana at Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who happens to be black.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called the incident “an obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual.” An investigation is ongoing to find the person responsible. There is even an reward for any information leading to the apprehension of this individual.

A few nights later during a game in Philadelphia, Simmonds is alleged to have made a homophobic comment directed at New York Ranger Sean Avery. This is the same Avery who back in May became the first NHL player to openly support New York’s bid for same-sex marriages.

"The places I've played and lived the longest have been in West Hollywood, Calif., when I played for the L.A. Kings, and when I moved to New York, I lived in Chelsea for the first four years," Avery said in a phone interview. "I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends."

Avery, who lives in the SoHo section of Manhattan and keeps a home in Los Angeles, said some of those friends had wanted to marry, and he saw no reason they should not.

"I'm certainly open to it," he said. "Maybe I can help, and I jumped at this opportunity."

Avery joined Larry King, Julianna Margulies, Michael Strahan, formerly of the New York Giants and Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns in their support of the cause.

Various sources report that Avery confirmed what Simmonds said to him, while Simmonds vaguely said “language was exchanged.” Simmonds said he didn’t recall the specific words he used.

Here are some quotes from both sides according to Puck

“To be here now having to answer the questions about what he did is disappointing for me. I’m disappointed for him,” Avery said.

“Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there,” Simmonds said. “I don’t recall everything that I did say to him but he said to me some things I didn’t like and maybe I said some things that he didn’t like. I can’t recall every single word I said.”

Tuesday Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke joined the debate stating, "that type of comment has no place in the game."

"If that happened, that is just so embarrassing and the league should not tolerate it," Burke said. "That should be treated on the same level as a racially charged incident. It's the same level of offensiveness and inappropriateness." Burke became an advocate for gay rights after his son Brendan announced he was gay. Brendan died tragically in a car accident.

Brian Burke reminded ESPN that Miami of Ohio men's hockey coach Rico Blasi was supportive when Brendan, a student manager for the team, told his teammates he was gay and would not accept any backlash that Brendan faced.

"Rico said, 'This has to stop,' and it stopped," Burke said about the pervasive use of anti-gay language. "I stopped. It's possible to stop and the league should definitely feel the need to use discipline in fines or suspensions."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation contacted the NHL and the Philadelphia Flyers in hopes the league and the team would act take action on Simmonds.

"Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink," GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson said in a statement. "The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility. He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable."

Colin Campbell, the league’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations and former disciplinarian, said because of “conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom.”

“All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision,” Campbell continued in the statement. “This is the National Hockey League’s policy and it will remain so going forward.”

“It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice,” Campbell said. “While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.

“We have for many years emphasized to our clubs and players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful—including as it may relate to sexual orientation—is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” he added.

Wayne Simmonds happens to be connected to two deplorable incidents, one as the victim as one as the alleged offender. Whatever Simmonds may or may not have said to Avery isn’t the point. The mere suggestion that Simmonds may have used a homophobic slur hurts the NHL’s image.

The National Football League dominates the sports pages, Major League Baseball grabs their share of available space, and the NCAA occupies much of the rest of the white space.

The NHL fights for as much coverage as the league can get but this is the not the way they hope to grab the headlines.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NBA Armageddon 2011: How and why the NHL’s cancelled 2004-05 season will destroy the NBA

The two sides in the NBA labor dispute met yesterday and today in New York in hopes of moving closer to settling their differences. Who is are they kidding? They have as much chance of success as Kim Jong-Il has of joining President Barack Obama for a burger and fries at Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries.

Early Tuesday morning, hours before the two sides met in New York, ESPN released the contents of a letter NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher sent to each NBA player.

Fisher wrote: "Our game has never been more popular and we're poised to see tremendous revenue growth over the next 5 to 6 years. ... We must share fairly in the continued growth of our business. Any deal that decouples us from a fair share of the revenue growth in the years ahead is a deal we cannot accept. Period!"

“There are a number of team owners that will not lose the season over the hard cap system. We've been clear from Day 1 of this process that we cannot sign off on a deal that attempts, in any way, to include a hard salary cap for our teams. That has not changed," Fisher said. "Unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise, we are prepared to hold the line for as long as it takes to preserve the system we've worked so hard to build."

"We still haven't been presented with any real specifics or proposals that include what a new revenue sharing model will look like," Fisher said. "It is my belief that if they can get us to be short-sighted and agree to an unfair deal they won't have to share more revenue amongst themselves. They will have gotten what they need from us. We can't allow that to happen guys. Not under any circumstances.

"It is also my belief that once they have worked out more of their internal issues, the opportunity to negotiate and get a fair deal done is there."

Last week the NBA postponed the opening of training camp and the start of the NBA’s preseason. It’s not a matter of if, but when, the NBA will postpone the start of the regular season set to begin November 1.

Fisher’s letter suggests NBA owners are “divided” and that great divide will lead to NBA owners capitulating to the players. Who is Derek Fisher kidding? It will be the NBA Players Association who will fall in line before the National Basketball Association plays another basketball game.

There are many reasons the NBAPA will crack before the owners do. We’ve seen this before, specifically the 2004-05 protracted NHL season. We’ll look at the example from 04-05 to show why the union will break before the owners.

Five current NBA owners also own their cities respective NHL franchises:
• Kroenke Sports Enterprise own both Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets.
• James Dolan owns both the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks.
• Ed Snider owns both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Philadelphia 76’ers.
• Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment own both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors.
• Ted Leonsis owns the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards.

These five owners know what it takes to shatter a professional sports players association – stick to your guns and stand as one because the players long-term will never stand together.

The real connection between the NHL and the NBA lies in the synergy created not only by the five groups who own both NBA and NHL franchises but in the NBA and NHL teams that share the same arena:
• The Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins both play in the TD Garden.
• The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Kings all play in the Staples Center.
• The New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets currently share Newark’s Prudential Center and during the 2004-05 NHL lockout shared East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Izod Center.
• The Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks share the United Center.
• The Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars share the American Airlines Center.

It’s reasonable to assume that the 11 NBA franchises that are either currently owned by NHL owners or share a building with an NHL team have a tremendous understanding of what it takes to break the backs of a players association – resolve and commitment to the task at hand, united we stand, divided we fall.

History taught the National Hockey League Players Association a very tough lesson, a lesson inflicted by the resolve of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL owners in 2004-05. If we stand together as one the players will fall and the owners will win.

NHL owners began their lockout on September 16, 2004, the day after the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) expired. The negotiating teams reached an agreement on July 13, 2005, and the lockout officially ended nine days later.

Then-NHLPA leader Bob Goodenow suggested numerous times, as Fisher did in his letter Monday, that owners would break sooner rather than later. By the time the two sides reached an agreement the NHLPA agreed to a salary cap and Goodenow lost his job NHLPA executive director.

Goodenow was steadfast in his belief NHL players would never agree to a salary cap. Once NHL players realized Goodenow was wrong, he lost his spot on the NHLPA’s top line and was soon on the unemployment line.

The owners’ requirement of a salary cap was the major thing keeping NHLers from the ice. The same issue of a hard salary cap is the major issue keeping NBAers from the hardwood.

The current NBA collective bargaining agreement allows for a soft salary cap, easily manoeuvred around by crafty NBA general managers and owners. The NBA suggests, as a league, they’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few years and a hard cap is the only way to save the owners from themselves.

There is currently a large gap between large and small market NBA teams. Not the group of 11 NBA teams that have the history and understanding to support a long NBA lockout, but a group of NBA teams with issues because of their market size and the local marketing, sponsorship and media revenue these teams can generate.

These NBA franchises likely include: the Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz – there are at least three of four more teams that could be added to this list.

All told there more than 20 NBA teams prepared for a long lockout. The next time Derek Fisher and the NBAPA sends a letter to players they had better get their facts straight. In the end it will be the players, not the owners, who will be waving the white flag.

And the final note to NBA players. "We started the fight because we didn't agree with the introduction of salary caps," forward Jaromir Jagr, then with the New York Rangers, told a Czech hockey website. "Now, we'll be happy to get them. We didn't expect the owners to be so tough and persistent. It was a risk that didn't pay off."

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, September 26, 2011

John Lackey – paying the price, time to accept the responsibility

On December 16, 2009, John Lackey signed a five-year $82.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Lackey, who has been one of, if not the biggest reason for the Red Sox 2011 collapse, should be ashamed of his behavior following Sunday’s potentially season-saving performance.

The Red Sox, leading the American League East on September 1, nine games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, are now in the midst of accomplishing what seemed unthinkable on Labor Day, missing the playoffs. At the center of it all – John Lackey.

The Red Sox won the second half of their Sunday doubleheader with the New York Yankees. In his post game press conference Lackey demonstrated a complete lack of judgement in attacking the media. This from a professional athlete being paid more than $14 million a year, from a professional athlete who has become his team’s albatross.

Lackey has the highest ERA in Red Sox history for a pitcher with 150 innings pitched in a season. He was given the start Sunday night in game two of a day/night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. This was arguably the most important game in the 2011 Red Sox season.

After giving up three runs to the Yankees in the bottom of the first inning, the Red Sox appeared destined to lose their 18th game in September and end the night tied for the Wild Card with Tampa Bay. They were able to come back and win in extra innings thanks to the heroics of MVP candidate Jacoby Ellsbury.

The story, however, became what happened immediately following Sunday night’s Red Sox. It may have shown more about the man John Lackey is and may provide some of the answers for why John Lackey’s has become the reason why the Red Sox have gone from World Series contender to ticket holders on their own version of the Titanic.

A little more than two minutes into his post game press conference Lackey exploded on the media.

It all started with a harmless question from The Boston Herald’s Mike Silverman. "How do you think you pitched?" asked Silverman.

Lackey lost it and responded by saying, “thirty minutes before the game I got a text message on my cell phone from one of you, somebody in the media, talking about personal stuff. I shouldn't even have to be standing up here dealing with it.

"I'm sitting here, listening to music. I don't know who got my phone number, but that's over the line.

"Anything else you want to talk about?"

According to several members of the media covering the Red Sox minutes before what was the most important game of the Red Sox 2011 season Lackey was engaged in what ESPN Boston’s Gordon Ede called an “animated discussion with a club official about the text message and how his phone number had gotten out”

Lackey’s rant directed at the media ended with Lackey saying “"I can't believe … any of you who would get into that is going to have a serious problem." At the very least Lackey’s abusive comments bordered on being a veiled threat to members of the media who have followed the Red Sox throughout the 2011 season and whose job it is to report on the Red Sox and John Lackey.

What led to John Lackey’s post game rant may speak more of the man, than the pitcher. What led to John Lackey’s post game explosion may speak more of the character or lack thereof.

A celebrity gossip website (allegedly the people who sent Lackey what was an offensive text message 30 minutes prior to his Sunday night pitching appearance) reported that Lackey filed for divorce from his wife, Krista ... who is in the middle of battling breast cancer.

Lackey filed on August 30th, according to court docs in Texas claiming "the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities." The couple married in November, 2008.

Sources close to the family tell TMZ ... Krista underwent a double mastectomy back in March and underwent chemo as recently as June.

The divorce petition says John and Krista had a prenuptial agreement. It also says Lackey has "separate property" he wants to keep for himself.

Lackey filed the divorce papers using only his and Krista's initials -- a tactic other celebrities like Tony Parker and Eva Longoria ... and Sandra Bullock and Jesse James also used in their Texas divorces.

There is little, if any, debate as to what TMZ represents. What is at issue is Lackey’s behavior in his post game press conference and to a lesser extent the public perception of his alleged actions.

There is no excuse for Lackey’s reaction at Sunday night’s post game press conference. Even if Lackey is afforded the benefit of the doubt, given that Lackey had no idea who sent the terrible text, he had no business attacking members of the Boston media who have been justified in assailing is 2011 on-field ineptitude.

If the Red Sox miss the 2011 playoffs, John Lackey will have been one of, if not the key reason, the Red Sox failed to succeed in 2011. Lackey had no business attacking members of the media when he had no idea who had attacked his character.

The actions between a husband and a wife should be kept between that man and that woman. However the age of instant information athletes, entertainers and those living in the pubic eye have come to loathe have had to learn to live with the likes of TMZ.

Sad as it may seem they have no choice but to accept they are living their lives in a fishbowl. That said there is a sense of responsibility these individuals have to accept. In the case of John Lackey, he is paid more than $14 million a year to pitch and to represent the Boston Red Sox. Given his complete ineptitude on the pitching mound, his actions in representing the Boston Red Sox are worth looking examining.

If TMZ’s report proves accurate, then Lackey’s actions need to be examined by the Boston Red Sox. Do those allegations if they are indeed proven to be true, harm the reputation of the Boston Red Sox?

Does that suggest if he pitched effectively throughout the 2011 season his alleged actions with his wife would be acceptable? That’s not the issue. The issue is by agreeing to an $82.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, John Lackey agreed to pitch for and represent the organization.

Ultimately, Red Sox owner John Henry, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, or General Manager Theo Epstein will be the ones who decide if Lackey’s alleged off field actions have done damage and harm to the storied franchise’s reputation.

Late Monday afternoon the Red Sox issued the following statement regarding Lackey: "John Lackey is dealing with a deeply personal family issue, and it is one the Red Sox do not feel is appropriate for public debate. The Red Sox request that John and Krista’s privacy be respected.

The Red Sox will not have any further comment.”

Needless to say once the Red Sox 2011 season is over, the team may have a great more to say about John Lackey and his 2011 season with the Red Sox. What they decide to do in the event they determine he did damage is anyone’s guess.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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