The 2010 Biggest Story of the Year Debate… The Decision

January 2, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

It takes a lot to shock Americans these days. After all, we are a culture where pop icons have to don suits of raw meat at awards shows, and stay-at-home moms have to have eight children at once to make a name for themselves. But, the free agent contract negotiations of one NBA player did seem to capture the attention of the nation for the better part of a month.

For a short while last summer, the LeBron James free agent saga unfolded in such a way almost no one could have predicted, in the process running the cities of Cleveland, New York, Chicago, and Miami through an emotional ringer. It was THE story of the year. LeBron James, arguably the most coveted free agent of all time… for any sport… was weighing his options, and in the process potentially altering the landscape of the NBA for years to come. Would he stay in Cleveland – the city that loved him like no other could? Or would the bright lights of the Big Apple lure him away? The options were many, the tension palpable, and it went on like this for weeks.

LeBron news dominated sports coverage around the country. Many joked that the attention that ESPN was paying the spectacle warranted its own channel (perhaps ESPN12…The King’s News) and that was before they decided to give him a one hour signing special – The Decision. James coverage was so all consuming that before it was all said and done many viewers were reporting symptoms of LeBron-lash (a disease marked by anxiety, irritation, and nausea from too much hype).

The whole fiasco climaxed in a nationally televised sit down interview with Jim Gray. It had the potential to be an edgy interview as Gray had a reputation for asking tough questions, instead it turned out to be a lot of coy skirting around the matter at hand before finally getting down to the business of determining where King James would sign. After some trivial banter which prompted SNL head writer Seth Myers to Tweet “Foreplay from Jim Gray just as satisfying as I’ve always imagined it would be” … LeBron finally announced he would be South Beach bound.

Miami rejoiced. Chicago scratched its head. New York went back to the drawing board (chants for Car-mell-o, Car-mell-o already filling the streets outside of The Garden). And Cleveland went through the seven stages of grief.

But the real story wasn’t so much that King James was on the move, but rather how he announced it. He did it in the most grandiose, spectacular way in all of NBA history. The obvious self-promotion of the event rivaled on a publicity stunt of Spencer Pratt or P Diddy. Whether it was good publicity or bad publicity, it was indeed the greatest publicity I have ever seen attributed to one individual athlete or team in my lifetime. Barry Bonds’ steroid scandal never hit such a fevered frenzy. The Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak drama didn’t even come close. Even Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and the Red Sox 86 year drought-breaking World Series victory all pale in comparison in terms of media coverage and pop culture significance of The Decision.

Popular support for James and the move was split. Americans either fell into the Pro-LeBron camp, which supported the move and the super team which it created, or the Pro-Cleveland camp, which despised the abandonment of the city and team that supported him during his rise to superstardom. It was eerily reminiscent to the Team Edward and Team Jacob controversy which had divided America earlier. (Side note – it’s not really even a choice. Clearly Jacob is right for her. He loves Bella and she wouldn’t have to change for him.)

Even the fallout from The Decision was headline news. Within minutes the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, released a passionate and critical statement about James’ choice to leave Cleveland. That reaction (which won him Bleacher Fan’s nod for Debate of the Year) prompted a response from Jesse Jackson, who compared the whole ordeal to slavery and not so subtly questioned the racial bias of Dan Gilbert and anyone who questioned LeBron’s choice. It seemed that anyone and everyone had an opinion about The Decision and it was being made as public as possible.

The Sports Debates is no different. We have tried to hash out the issue in debates both on the website and off. In fact, we are still arguing the issue to this very day. Sports Geek and I quite frequently try to hash out never really finding common ground. Perhaps I just root for the villains too much or perhaps LeBron isn’t the orphan hating kitten strangler the city believes him to be (another side note – I actually think Cleveland might prefer an orphan hating kitten strangler to LeBron at this point). But the fact remains that LeBron’s decision is still a polarizing entity in the sports world, even today.

In some respects, LeBronmania is still in full swing. But the question remains, why? Is it that he is the greatest, most important sports figure of all time? Probably not. Is it that his decision was so shocking that we simply cannot or will not accept it? Again, I think not. I believe the issue is and always was the spectacle of it all.

Americans like drama and LeBron is drama. Michael Jordan playing for a team other than the Bulls would have at one time been unthinkable, although not impossible. But even if the Jump Man had jumped ship it probably would never have been done in quite so flashy a way, and might very well have been received by the public in a very different way. The difference is in the approach. LeBron’s legacy is flash, and The Decision was the biggest flashpoint of 2010, if not of all time in the NBA.

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The Best League of 2009 Debate – The NFL Wins In All Aspects

December 28, 2009

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan about which league they believe had the best 2009.

Another year, another dominant performance by the NFL. One of the world’s best businesses (even the bad teams make money), it is easy to see why the NFL always captures so many eyeballs nationally (and internationally, if we are counting those games played in Wembley Stadium, London).

The NFL is one of those rare parts of society and life that equally appeals to the brainy and brawny folks. Complex week 15 playoff scenarios, the off-the-field news stories, the draft scenarios per team, and the in-game strategy are all examples of aspects of the NFL that appeal to brainy people (like, say, for example… sports geeks…). “People hit hard, fall down” is an example of why the NFL appeals to brawny folks (uh, not sports geeks).

The NFL has an amazing ability to be in the news – and create positives out of potentially negative news situations. Consider the case of former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth. He struck and killed a pedestrian while driving intoxicated – a terrible tragedy with the ability to cast a large shadow of negativity over the league. Instead, the NFL’s punishment of Stallworth turns out to be more effective and harsh than the penal system. And, out of the this incident is berthed the official “NFL Conduct Policy” – a legacy of active commission Roger Goodell. The NFL is the first league to put a stake in the ground and muddy the lines between personal and professional lives. If the penal system fails to punish, the NFL will not. Tough.

The NFL is also about brand… about creating and protecting an image. While the Stallworth situation conveyed toughness, the idea of toughness was born and now thrives in the locker rooms of every NFL team. For example, remember all of the hubbub about concussions in the NFL, and how some serious changes were on the way to being made to make the game safer, and force players to sit out extra time to avoid long-term damage? Yea, that noble imperative lasted a week, and now it’s “toughness as usual” in the NFL. No league demonstrates – or values – its tough brand more than the NFL (paying attention, NHL???).

One more example of PR prowess… there is a terrible fight going on between the owners and the players association right now… even to the point that there is legitimate talk of a work stoppage before the 2011 season. But, how much of that story do we find in the mainstream media? A couple of random mentions, at best. The one story I found to support my argument is dated in March.

The NFL had the best 2009 of any league because it has the ability to dominate any sports news cycle any time it wants. From future hall of famers making playing or not playing choices to Tom Brady’s return after a devastating injury to the Saints fast start to the season, to the Colts near perfection, etc., “The League” dominates the news. The NFL is a television ratings draw, an ad space seller for sports websites, and the recipient of more ink in newspapers and online than any other league – no matter what time of year. The NFL has the uncanny knack of making relative non-stories into major stories. For example, it seems only in the NFL are teams achieving (see the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, and New Orleans Saints) as much of a story as teams not achieving (see the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New York Giants, and Carolina Panthers). Heck, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden was RUMORED to return to coaching and it was a major story that helped him capture a long-term deal with ESPN. Being in an NFL story is neither bad news nor good news – but it is always news.

Whether evaluating business, brand, public relations, or fan enthusiasm, no league demonstrates more of each than the NFL, making it the best league of 2009.

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The [League Name] Network Debate – Let the ESPN Viewer Attrition Begin

December 16, 2009

Read the debate intro and the arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan about whether or not league affiliated cable networks are beginning to come into their own.

I am really partial to these media debates (as you may have noticed since I seem to draw the judging straw for the majority of them). I am extremely fascinated by how and why fans choose to consume sports content. The development of so-called “niche” sports networks – those dedicated to a single sport or league – carry forward the immersion perspective to sports fandom. As the popularity of these networks grows within the diehard fan community (and make no mistake – popularity is increasing), ESPN viewer attrition is a plausible reality. Fans are beginning to shift their focus from a holistic perspective on all sports to a concentration only on the sports and leagues they like the best. Before these networks existed ESPN owned 100 percent of sports fans’ eyeballs. The only possible outcome is for ESPN to no longer own 100 percent of the market. Thus, competition.

The argument from Loyal Homer leads me to believe ESPN viewership will be replaced by the most diehard of information-hungry fans. Therefore, the debate victory is awarded to Loyal Homer.

The first paragraph of Loyal Homer’s argument won me over. The exclusive immersion of content is a tremendous advantage these networks have over what is now becoming a general sports aggregator in ESPN. For ESPN to compete with these exclusive networks they would need to serve almost every conceivable sports master. It is an impossible task, even for ESPN and its many distribution touch points.

Loyal Homer also proved that “niche” networks have improving reporting and are capturing a larger share of the all-important live events. League-affiliated networks also provide access to previously inaccessible events for fans. As Loyal Homer pointed out, NFL junkies love understanding what is happening at the pre-draft rookie combine. The NFL Network provides exclusive access and content never before seen for even the most enthusiastic of fans.

Bleacher Fan made some interesting points, specifically about specialization. While the argument is correct in pointing out these specialist networks’ singular focus, it is precisely the enthusiast audience the content is designed to appeal to. Live events will draw bigger ratings, but the diehard fans are the ones that watch the analysis and other network content on any network, including ESPN. The specialization of each network is designed to appeal to an audience that has previously not been catered to by ESPN’s more holistic sports approach.

Bleacher Fan is correct that the league-owned networks are unable to carry live events year ‘round that draw big ratings. However, as previously stated, that goal is the not the stated purpose of these networks. They are designed to appeal to the 365 day fan of a single league or sport, not the occasional seasonal fan that only watches when their team is doing well. Competition is well-defined and relative in this case. Is the MLB Network looking to displace ESPN? No. But the minds behind the MLB Network have recognized that the diehard 365 day fan is not well served, so they are providing a product to serve the need.

Bleacher Fan is correct that the not every sports fan NEEDS a 24-7 view of MLB’s Winter Meetings. However, if some do (and Loyal Homer points out how value that content is), what’s the harm in filling that void? Passionate fans are a highly sought after crowd for advertisers because they buy the products that sponsor their passion. Those purchases are viewed as if the viewer is giving to a political cause or a charity. If the sponsors are happy the content lives on. And the exclusive networks are now better at attracting these types of fans than ESPN is.

The basic differences I have with Bleacher Fan’s argument boil down to the comparison between shopping for specialty food items and watching sports television. One requires a great deal of effort, the other requires a flip of the channel. Also, those seeking 10 varieties of milk and 50 choices of cereal prefer two separate stores for the depth they seek. Depth trumps efficiency. Therefore, both stores exist for a reason and serve an audience, just not as big of an audience as a general store. Bleacher Fan’s so-called “snob” audience is a real, valid, money-spending audience deserving of content they wish to see. To define the audience for sports as singular is not only invalid, it misses the huge money-making opportunity locked within the enthusiast.

Taking the MLB Network example ever farther, the content, guests on shows, and personalities on the network are all solid. The reporting is solid. The bar was set high in these pillars of sports broadcasting from the start, and that foundational philosophy allowed the network to also be very aggressive in how it penetrated markets. Rather than the soft launch approach many of these channels have used – a few homes while trying to cut sweetheart deals with the various carriers and cable companies – the MLB Network sold minority ownership stakes in the network to all of the big broadcast distributors like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and DirecTV. Instead of launching in a few million homes as many of the other networks have, MLB Network launched in 53 million homes – including Sports Geek’s home – from day one. For perspective, the MLB Network was in as many homes on day one of its broadcast life as the NFL Network was after six years on air. The MLB’s updated and more aggressive model is better for its stakeholders while also providing a blueprint for the success of present and future niche networks.

That long-winded example is essential to prove a point – these networks are competing with ESPN in every way shape or form, and the viewer attrition just beginning will hit light speed as more networks adopt the successful MLB Network model (keep an eye out for the NHL Network in most homes in 12-18 months). I know when I want baseball news or scores at night during the season I no longer turn on Baseball Tonight – I go for the MLB Network to get stats on the scroll, highlights, and live look-ins at games that are not in my market (this is key for an Indians fan… especially late in the season). The MLB Network is a better baseball product than ESPN, and fans will slowly wake up to a new sports information/broadcast reality – ESPN is no longer mandatory viewing.

The truth is, the more ESPN tinkers with formats, lets columnists clumsily anchor Sportscenter (yes that is YOU RICK REILLY, STOP IT!!!!), and takes credit for reporting done by competitive organizations, the more fans will turn away. ESPN is still a primary destination for the holy grail of sports broadcasting – live events – but it is losing the battle in analysis. Live events are the next target from the networks (see the NFL Network’s model and MLB Network’s Thursday Night Baseball for two examples). Because of the close league ties, getting the live programming will not be an issue, as the league’s sensitively dance around the current but temporary structure of potentially airing competing live content on two networks.

ESPN will always fulfill the needs of the devoted sports fan who desires broad coverage of every sport. But that all-inclusive sports fan has been taken for granted by ESPN. Fan fragmentation is the new reality of sports content, and competitive niche channels are popping up to prove the point. The 100 percent share of eyeballs the network enjoyed for the majority of its life is gone. The answer to the fundamental question – Could ESPN be replaced by viewers? – is yes.

Stay tuned – the next time ESPN must renew rights to a major sports league’s games, the deal will look different. And that is a positive trend for diehard fans.

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The [League Name] Network Debate – Could ESPN Be Replaced?

December 15, 2009

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan about whether or not league affiliated cable networks are beginning to come into their own.

Smart fans – like the kind that read informative and fascinating debates on modern sports – demand information. Well, check that. Smart fans demand GOOD information from reliable sources. Historically sports fans have become extremely reliant upon ESPN. For better or worse, whether we agree with all of the editorial decisions or not, ESPN has been the most reliable, easily accessible source for immediate sports news and information for more than two decades.

But, the way fans are accessing and consuming information is changing. ESPN was the primary information source. Now league-owned and powered networks are beginning to create an alternative to ESPN.

Competing with ESPN requires insightful commentary, solid non-news programming, instant information, access, and great reporting. ESPN has been a champion in each category in recent years. Now niche networks are creating competitive content. The MLB Network is showing it can attract top talent like Harold Reynolds and Peter Gammons. The NFL Network has exclusive rights to very important games like the upcoming games for the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts as those teams attempt to preserve undefeated seasons. The NBA Network and the NFL Network also have exclusive content that diehard fans want to see.

The number of households a network has penetrated does not matter in this situation. Network growth sometimes comes after the content is proven to be solid. For example, the Big Ten Network was kept out of the majority of households in its first year of existence in much of the Midwest despite the ownership of exclusive content. While not the primary driving force in negotiations, when the non-event related content improved the cable companies and the network did manage to strike a deal that fans benefitted from.

MLB Network is an excellent example of a cable station that is coming into its own. It employs excellent analysts ranging from Harold Reynolds to Al Leiter to Barry Larkin to Sean Casey to Billy Ripkin to some former general managers – former GMs with much better luck staying away from interns. The non-event programming is excellent, too. While Bob Costas is not a personality everyone finds appealing, his show, Studio 42, is widely acclaimed as an excellent interview show. The purpose build, baseball-diamond shaped studio is ideal for creating atmosphere and giving the former players ample space to demonstrate the finer nuances of the game. The lengthy, in-depth documentaries are ideal for the baseball fan that appreciates history and statistics. It is a themed network in the same way Disney is a themed park. Down to the details, MLB Network is appealing to the baseball fan.

So, why would a baseball fan bother with ESPN any longer for baseball content? Sure, Baseball Tonight is a great program, but MLB Network has an hour of pregame for the night’s games, then live look-ins and analysis of each of the night’s biggest moments. In short, ESPN no longer offers any type of content that makes it a destination for baseball fans.

With league-owned networks creating competitive content and reporting to ESPN, will ratings follow? Will these series of networks supplant ESPN as the go to source as fans begin to favor depth over a cursory overview? Fortunately the world has a gift. That gift is called The Sports Debates.

Today’s debate topic: Are league-affiliated networks finally coming into their own?

Loyal Homer will argue that league-affiliated networks are starting to come into their own, citing moves like the MLB Network’s recent announcement that former ESPN baseball reporter Peter Gammons is leaving the worldwide leader for the MLB Network. Bleacher Fan will argue that the niche league-affiliated networks are not coming into their own and ESPN will remain the supreme source for sports news and information.

Now, begin the debate. I’m going to flip on the MLB Network and watch Hot Stove.

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The [League Name] Network Debate – I Want More Information… NOW!

December 15, 2009

Read the debate intro and the argument from Bleacher Fan.

I absolutely love Hot Stove time in Major League Baseball. I was eating up all on the information last week during the Winter Meetings. Outside of maybe the NFL draft, it’s my favorite non-game related sporting event of the year. One day I am going to be in the same town as the Winter Meetings just so I can feel the buzz from possible trades and free agent signings. Being a huge fan of baseball I am constantly looking for information. I often need a baseball fix 24-7, even during the off-season. Having a cable channel focused fully on baseball is a dream come true. Unfortunately, I do not have MLB Network on Dish Network. Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek both have it, and they often like to rub that fact in just a tad (Editor’s note: It is more than a tad. We rub it in a lot.). I have a fever, and the only prescription is MLB Network! The point is that it is a huge benefit to have a channel devoted exclusively to a sport. Exclusivity is a tremendous advantage to over other sports networks like ESPN.

As Sports Geek stated in the intro, MLB Network has recently hired Peter Gammons, who was employed at ESPN for twenty years. You will not find many more credible people in sports media than Peter Gammons. He is well respected in the business by players, front office personnel, and by other members of the media. You may recall that Gammons is the journalist Alex Rodriguez chose to interview him back before the 2009 season began when it was deemed that A-Rod tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. By leaving ESPN, Gammons leaves a void there, and fills a void at MLB Network.

As you can probably tell from my previous articles I am also a huge fan of the NFL. Finally, after switching from cable to satellite two years ago, I have access to the NFL Network. I did not have the channel for quite some time… and it aggravated me because I wasn’t able to watch the Thursday night NFL games and the Saturday night December games. In fact, the network has a big game this Saturday night featuring the undefeated New Orleans Saints against the Dallas Cowboys in a huge game for Dallas. The network obviously also has ‘round the clock coverage of games from the previous week, analysis, classic games, and much more. It is the perfect channel for NFL junkies like me

I do not have to wait for NFL Live to come on ESPN. I do not have to listen to the latest developments on Tiger Woods. I can just watch a show that is 100 percent football and get the in-depth knowledge I crave. I know ESPN covers professional football heavily, and I have no problem with its coverage. But if, in the middle of the day, and I want to watch football I am turning the channel to the NFL Network. I also change the channel in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, as the NFL Network provides hours and hours of coverage, even televising the scouting combines. ESPN does not do that.

My point is not to diss ESPN. My point is that the niche networks are able to carry exclusive content and are able to focus solely on one sport, year-round. ESPN has several sports to cover and obviously cannot go as far as NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, or the NHL Network with its coverage.

Now, excuse me while I go call Dish Network to complain again about not having the MLB Network.

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The NHL On Versus Debate – The NHL Made a Fixable Mistake

October 21, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument that the NHL deciding to give their broadcast rights to Versus over ESPN was a good move.

The rumors started back in March of this year with words like “no immediate talks.” Despite outright denials about the validity of the reported stories and the persistence of the rumors, the NHL is still vehemently denying a return to the mother ship – read: giving their broadcast rights BACK to ESPN. But, criticism of the NHL’s contract with Versus persisted into April. And then July.

The question is… why? Why are there rumors continuously swirling around the NHL’s return to ESPN? Because of the failure that is the NHL’s “Versus experiment.” To call Versus an obscure television channel is a bit of an understatement. The channel, formerly called “OLN” or “Outdoor Life Network” made a splash when securing the exclusive cable broadcast rights for the NHL… coming off of a hockey work stoppage in 2005 that many believed would cripple the league beyond repair. Instead Versus placed its bet that a once thriving league could be relevant again and offered $130M for the league’s broadcast rights. ESPN said, “take ‘em… enjoy!” ESPN made the right move, correctly diagnosing a constant truth – the NHL needs ESPN more than ESPN needs the NHL.

While the NHL still does solid attendance figures for games, TV ratings are dwindling. Network television broadcast partner NBC is in its final season of its NHL contracts with signs pointing to no renewal. While ratings have increased slightly season over season, the TV watching population is hundreds of millions of eyeballs. Versus averaged just 246,154 viewers for the 2006-2007, and has remained nearly flat year over year. Obviously those numbers are not strong. And, those numbers are not getting substantially better.

As of this article’s publishing, Versus – and by extension the NHL – still does not have a distribution deal with DirecTV. So, of the millions of folks on DirecTV that would actually watch the NHL, they are all in the dark. DirecTV is the nation’s largest satellite provider, and dumping Versus chopped nearly a third of loyal Versus viewers from getting access to the content they want. Oops.

Shortly after hopping into the sack with Versus, the league launched its own network in 2007. While the NHL Network is hyped as being available in 75 million homes, the truth is that fewer than seven million homes actually pay to receive the NHL network, whether consumers get their service through cable or satellite companies. While this move is surely seen as shrewd by some, most perceive it as a failure. Jody Shapiro, the NHL’s group VP of television and media ventures, told TV Week, “We think our fans will come and find us.” But, the NHL will also not release the number of channel subscribers. Hmm.

The point to all of this research is this analysis: the NHL is not very good at working television contracts that benefit the brand, grow its franchises, and appeal to its fans. You know, the three most important marketing objectives of any television deal.

Versus deserves some credit for trying. The Comcast-owned network is attempting to align itself more with real sports enthusiasts by broadcasting college football, the Tour de France, boxing, and MMA events. But, those sports – and even the college football conferences that Versus signed to broadcast – share the network’s inherent obscurity. While the network has 74 million subscribers, that number is still shy of ESPN – and even ESPN2 – by well over 20 million subscribers.

Versus and the NHL agreed to stay tethered until the 2010-2011 season is complete. At that point the bidding will likely reopen. If the NHL is smart – and it needs to be – it will listen to what ESPN has to say and spend time thinking about VALUE (distribution, cross-promotion, advertising, ratings, etc.) more that it thinks about ego… ahem Gary Bettman ahem.

It can be properly surmised from reading my past articles that I am no ESPN cheerleader. I feel what the worldwide leader is doing in local markets verges on a monopoly. However, the NHL is silly to refuse reuniting with ESPN. ESPN has so many different content distribution channels, cross-promotional opportunities, and hype-machines in overdrive that the NHL is harming its own product by refusing a broadcast partner with the capacity to grow the product. The experts were as correct two years ago as the building majority is now – NHL, go back to ESPN and see the league flourish again.

A healthy and viable NHL is good for sports. The negativity about American sports that emanates from stories like NHL great Jaromir Jagr deciding to play in Russia can be stunted with better, positive exposure for the NHL in North America. The league simply has not received the type of exposure it needs to enhance its brand and grow its fan base. It is time for the NHL to move back to ESPN. The Versus experiment was a failure.

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The New York Mets are the Worst Debate – A Tough Mets Season Does Not Make Them The Worst Franchise in Baseball

August 13, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that the New York Mets are the worst franchise in baseball.

Image your team’s staff ace is Mark Maroth, the league leader in losses (21), earned runs allowed (123), and home runs allowed (34). Image your team’s number two starter is Jeremy Bonderman, second in the major leagues in losses (19), and second in the American League in wild pitches (12). Imagine your team’s first baseman/cleanup hitter is Carlos Pena who leads the American League in errors at his position (13), hit a robust .248 with an impressive 50 RBI. Image your team’s number three hitter – the player who gets the most at bats during a season, outfielder Dmitri Young, is fifth in the American League in strikeouts (130).

If your team was the 2003 Detroit Tigers, you do not have to use your imagination. They lost an epically bad 119 games that season. They managed to break their old record of losing 104 games in a season in 1952. A tough year all around and terrible top to bottom. An ideal example of the worst franchise of a particular season.

If the Detroit Tigers are the poster team for bad franchises, the 2009 New York Mets are not the worst franchise in the 2009 season.

It is nice is that I do not have to rehash the litany of injuries the New York Mets have suffered this season. Loyal Homer did that accurately. The amount of hitting the Mets have lost is extremely high. They lost their table setting speedster in shortstop Jose Reyes, their cleanup hitting slugger in center fielder Carlos Beltran, and their RBI/home run producer in first baseman Carlos Delgado. They lost their prize offseason acquisition, closer Francisco Rodriguez, for nearly a month, too.

Sure, the Mets stink this year, but injuries have the most to do with that. Losing that kind of production will cripple any team. Injuries have nothing to do with how the organization is run either on the field or in the front office. It is a reflection of bad luck… bad luck on a grand scale for these hapless Mets.

It is impossible to argue that general manager Omar Minaya has avoided controversy this season. The tumult within the upper echelons of the organization is obvious when Tony Bernazard, Vice President of Development, was recently fired for what amounts to conduct detrimental to the organization. If the public is hearing about an issue in the front office, it is easy to say that the front office is out of control. However, Minaya apologized for his own actions, and promptly fired the individual who also made the organization look bad (in his own unique style). Is it the best front office in baseball, in performance or organization? Clearly it is not. But, it is not the worst, either.

In fact, it is possible to make an argument for the San Diego Padres, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Washington Nationals as the worst franchise in baseball. The Mets have managed 53 wins this season – 13 better than Washington, seven better than Pittsburgh (who traded away every good player they have any may not win another game this year), and four better than San Diego who constantly invent new ways to stink (and should have more losses if their division was not so bad).

It is easy to blame the manager, the players, and the front office. But a keen look reveals the real issue – injuries. The Mets do not have the worst record in baseball (there are nine worse teams than them). They did not trade away every good player to hamstring them for the coming seasons, either. Sure, the Mets stink. But the worst? No way.

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