The Winning versus Wealth Debate Verdict

September 10, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Writing this article has been one of the biggest challenges of my TSD writing career. Not because of the merits of the opposing arguments, (although they were both very well written).

This is a challenge because I am watching the NFL season opener between the Vikings and the Saints, but am trying to write an article about the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s like trying to rate a bowl of ramen noodles while you are sitting in a steakhouse.

Nevertheless, I persevered!

After considering the arguments presented by both Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer, I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer.

I agree with the points raised in Babe Ruthless’ argument that a team should be free to spend the money it earns however it wishes. Where I disagree with Babe Ruthless is in the presentation of that point. The examples used, such as the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves, are not a fair representation of the concern the Pirates have raised.

The intention behind my question for this debate was not to design a process to eliminate or punish losing. Obviously a championship cannot be awarded to everybody, and in sports competition, there must ALWAYS be a loser.

The issue at hand was whether or not major sports organizations like Major League Baseball should tolerate the actions of a team that clearly do not place competition among its highest levels of priority. In the case of the Washington Redskins, the business may have demonstrated profitability while losing, but the organization’s actions nevertheless demonstrate an ongoing commitment to winning. The Redskins were a playoff team in 2007, and finished 2008 with an 8-8 record. Entering 2009 the front office brought in the highest priced talent that could be found. After finishing the season with a record of 4-12 the front office brought in a new head coach (who happens to be a two-time Super Bowl champion), and a very talented quarterback to try and correct what I expect to be a short-lived trend of losing.

Likewise, the Atlanta Braves may place a high priority on developing talent from within, but the organization does not support that priority with a history of releasing talented players and aggressively trying to keep payroll as low as possible.

What the Pirates have done, as highlighted by Loyal Homer, sets them apart as the bad example MLB should ABSOLUTELY take action against. The Pirates have manipulated the system SOLELY for the purposes of profitability.

The model of profit sharing employed by MLB, and similar programs like those in the NFL, does not exist to help make all the league owners wealthier. It exists to help promote parity in the league. The luxury tax that the New York Yankees (for one example) pay annually because of their high-priced talent is not intended – nor should it – as a bonus payment to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is extra money the team can pipe into the organization to help make sure the Yankees, and other “haves,” cannot simply run away with the season each year.

The Pirates are presented to the public as a baseball team that wishes to compete in Major League Baseball. However, behind the scenes management continues to hamstring the team, making that process of winning exceedingly difficult. The current system is being USED… not as a means to enhance his team’s viability, but instead as a means to enhance profitability.

Nutting’s operation of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is no different than that of a slumlord. He provides his consumers with nothing more than a shell of the product they pay for. He provides them with no means for long term viability, and intentionally undermines any chance they would have at success because he absolutely refuses to expend any cost other than the bare minimum to remain functional.

As long as he gets paid, he doesn’t care what happens to the organization or the public.

The business of sports and the purpose of sports are two separate things. While I completely understand and agree with the notion that a team must remain financially viable, competition must also remain the sports organization’s top priority.

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The Winning versus Wealth Debate

September 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

It has been a while, but we have another TSD first on our hands.

They said it couldn’t be done. But I, Bleacher Fan – for the first time in The Sports Debates history – am about to include a Broadway Musical reference in today’s article.

In Mel Brook’s hit Broadway musical The Producers, main character Max Bialystock is a theater producer who discovers a loophole where he can actually make more money by producing flops than if he were to produce hits. Armed with that knowledge, Max convinces accountant Leo Bloom to partner and embark on the ultimate scheme: Find the world’s worst play, hire the worst director, raise a bunch of money, hire the worst actors, close the play after it flops and take all the extra money raised and run.

Now I am sure you are wondering how this could possibly be related to sports. Well, have you ever heard of the Pittsburgh Pirates?

In a recent reporting of their financial records, it was found that the Pirates, owned by Bob Nutting, are actually PROFITING despite being deep in the throes of having the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons – not just in baseball – but in ANY major American sport in history.

The team continues to lose on the field, but has a history of being a successful business.

Pirates’ officials claim they have simply been unlucky in developing their talent, but some are now saying that the Pirates have stopped trying to win.

For the few fans of the Pirates that still exist, it would be extremely heartbreaking to think that Nutting was following Max Bialystock’s lead in the running of their beloved baseball team.

Which brings us to our question of the day: Should governing bodies in sports, such as the MLB or NFL, force teams to pursue a winning strategy, rather than simply a profitable one?

This question is not intended to focus on what the rules would or should look like, but rather to ask whether these major sports organizations should tolerate teams that consistently take cost-cutting measures which appear to directly lead to poor performance on the field.

Loyal Homer will argue that leagues should enforce policies where winning always takes precedent over profitability, while Babe Ruthless will argue that profitability is a form of success that can and should also be pursued.

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The Winning versus Wealth Debate… The Bad Business of Winning

September 9, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Recently some leaked documents blew the lid off of one of the worst kept secrets in sports – the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t exactly trying too hard to win. Absolutely shocking, isn’t it? But breaking news reveals the mind blowing truth, that a team which hasn’t had a winning record in 18 seasons may not have their financial priorities set on winning.

Now that the sports world has officially lost its innocence – having been to Oz, met the man behind the curtain, and learned the ugly truth that some teams value dollar signs more than a W – what does this mean for the future of sports? And what next? I suppose someone will try to tell us that mascots aren’t real either. Yeah right. Like I’m going believe there isn’t a mute, jersey wearing gorilla. that likes to dunk basketballs off of trampolines in Phoenix, Arizona, or that there never was a real-life giant yellow, baseball loving chicken roaming the greater San Diego Area. That will be the day.

The answer to today’s debate question – whether or not governing agencies of professional sports force teams to pursue winning rather than earnings – is a resounding no! Profitability is its own form of success. Not every team can win the championship, but each season teams can try to earn more money than the last and use that income to sign better players, make stadium renovations, or improve in any manner they see fit. Don’t believe me? Ask the Washington Redskins, who routinely rake in a pile of money. While the franchise’s win-loss record may not seem like they are accomplishing that much, the bank account is another story entirely. And it is that same bank account that makes the signing of players like Albert Haynesworth possible (whether the aforementioned signing works amicably with others is a different story entirely.)

The point is a few bad apples (the Pittsburgh Pirates) should not ruin the whole bunch. Some small market teams have devoted fan bases that simply want to watch their town’s pros play on a regular basis, even though they may have no hope of being a contender for the league championship (I’m talking to you, fans of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Royals, and Minnesota Timberwolves). Should these teams be forced to scrap their individuality and adopt the culture and spending strategies of their bigger market counterparts, robbing them of their uniqueness? The answer is another big no, because it is impossible to regulate such an intangible subject as a “winning strategy.” There is absolutely no way to effectively regulate the approach teams take towards winning, largely because no single path leads to success.

Baseball illustrates this point perfectly. Where one organization may build its roster around dominating pitching, another club may feel that a potent lineup will carry the club to the pos-tseason. Strategies vary even more when you consider that some teams prefer to groom prospects from the minors (e.g. the Atlanta Braves) while other clubs prefer to take advantage of trades and free agency (e.g. the New York Yankees) to acquire their big guns. Those are very different approaches which will come with very different price tags.

Any plan to encourage teams to emphasize winning over economic success would certainly place rules on minimum spending and participation in financial ventures such as free agency. Baseball, football, basketball, and other professional sports all have a fair share of underachieving teams that probably don’t put as many resources into teams as they get out of them. But any effort to stipulate how teams spend money in pursuit of a winning strategy would surely end in disaster. Such capricious disregard for an organization’s autonomy undermines most teams’ efforts at rebuilding and would create unnecessary bureaucracy during the off-season. While encouraging teams to reach their full potential is a noble goal, this simply isn’t the path to accomplish it.

But if, perhaps, the brain trust behind this conformist push were successful, the most likely scenario would be minimum team salaries and quotas for off-season spending. This would raise the bar for a leagues lowest achievers, but it certainly wouldn’t put them into contention with the biggest spenders. The Yankees, Lakers, and Cowboys are still going to acquire the highest price talent on the market, and the miserly teams like the Pirates are still going to do the bare bones minimum to meet league regulations. This approach does not eliminate the existence of “haves” and “have nots” in a sport, it mandates that penny-pinching teams go through the motions of acting more competitive. Forcing a team to spend arbitrarily to meet a predetermined benchmark is not a means to the intended end of encouraging teams to pursue winning. It’s an exercise in futility.

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The Winning versus Wealth Debate… Money On The Field, Not In The Pocket

September 9, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

It’s appropriate that we’re doing this debate today because, as I gathered my overall thoughts on the topic, I had the displeasure of watching the majority of a three game series featuring the Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates over past three days. It was unfortunate for two reasons. One reason is the Braves lost two out of three to the lowly and dirt cheap Pirates. Two, it was extremely sad to see such pathetic crowds (a combined 39,513 for the just completed three game series, including a holiday crowd on Monday) on hand at beautiful PNC Park. It surely seemed like there were more people canoeing up and down the Allegheny River than were at the actual park. It’s depressing because, as Sports Geek and I can attest to thanks to a trip to PNC Park in 2006, it really is a beautiful park.

Why the sparse crowd you ask, especially with a good team in town to play the Pirates? Quite frankly, the home team is not any good as anyone can see by taking a look at the team’s 47-92 record. You also don’t have losing seasons for seventeen consecutive seasons by accident. Why is this happening? Because ownership, despite the fact that the city of Pittsburgh has proven in other leagues that it will support a winner, refuses to spend enough money to operate a “successful” franchise in terms of putting a winning product on the field.

Obviously, Bleacher Fan’s question isn’t solely about the Pirates organization (or about Broadway for that matter). But that franchise, more so than perhaps any other franchise in all of sports, is Exhibit A on what is wrong with this situation, and it’s why governing bodies must take some sort of action.

The revenue sharing system currently in place in Major League Baseball allows for teams like the Yankees (ugh, I am giving credit to Babe Ruthless’ favorite team) to pay a luxury tax and a portion of their profits (yes, it really is a profit sharing system) back into a pool set up by the league. It’s not much different than the profit-sharing plan you may have at your place of employment. That money is then sent out to other franchises, with much of it going to small market teams and low payroll teams like the Pirates. It’s essentially free money. It’s set up as a way to promote parity and competitive balance within the sport. It’s not set up as a way to make a team more profitable just for the sake of that money going into the owner’s pocket. That money is supposed to be put to good use. Putting in one’s pocket-sized wallet is not what I would call “good use.”

Most teams, including Pittsburgh, have stadiums like PNC Park that were at least partially funded by taxpayer dollars. As a fan, if my taxes have been spent on building that stadium, I want a quality product out there… within reason of course as it’s unrealistic to expect every team to have a $100M payroll. As a taxpayer in this country I want my tax money put to good use. I don’t want the funds wasted.

The Pirates made close to $30M in 2007 and 2008. That money, which likely indirectly came straight from the Yankees, could have been spent on payroll. But instead the organization hides behind a blanket statement like, “We’re building for the future.” Folks, Pittsburgh has been building for the future for 18 years, ever since Sid Bream slid into home plate in game seven of the 1992 NLCS. Tampa Bay correctly built for the future the past several years and are reaping the benefits now. Pittsburgh, however, continues to face the demons of another 100 game losing season.

The leagues have to do something. Obviously, the bottom line should be to make money. That’s usually what matters to owners. Believe me, I fully understand that, and the average person does too. But it’s possible to make money and still field a quality team. There are examples in every league. A happy medium is within reach. It’s up to the respective leagues to make the owners understand this.

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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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The All-Time Most Hated Person in Sports Debate – Loyal Homer is Not Loyal to Bonds

August 7, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument on why George Steinbrenner is the most hated person ever in sports and Bleacher Fan’s argument for Art Modell.

Thank goodness it’s Friday, guys and gals. A long week has come to a close. Be sure to check back next week as we have multiple football topics on the horizon. In the meantime, let’s have a good King of the Hill debate today. Usually, we like to spread the love here at The Sports Debates. But today we are spreading the hate! Who do you hate the most in sports? They don’t even have to be” active” in sports right now! Upon hearing the criteria, one name came to mind for me immediately… and that name is Barry Bonds.

My dislike for Bonds started in the early 1990’s, long before he became linked to performance enhancing drugs and was an important figure in the BALCO scandal. Being a Braves fan, I gladly rooted against him when he was with Pittsburgh in the 1991 and 1992 NLCS. It tickled me to death to know that slow footed Sid Bream beat his throw to the plate in the 1992 NLCS. Then the Braves were in a pennant race with the Giants in 1993, his first year out there in Trolley Land. This all happened before the cloud (actually I should say clouds) of suspicion came over his head! He was a skinny and fast left fielder back then. Go back and look at then and now pictures. Then and now! He says he grew all his muscle by following a strict workout regime. Hmmmm…

If you think about it, what is there to really like about Bonds, unless you are a San Francisco Giants fan? There’s no denying the fact that he is a tremendous hitter, before and after the accusations. But, what about his ties to BALCO? What about being indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice? Heck, he has had so many legal problems that there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to it. What about withdrawing from the MLBPA licensing agreement? Because of that, when I played a video game on Playstation, I had to pitch against some phantom player instead of against Bonds? Too good for your own union, huh, Barry? He’s had two books written, basically, against him. Game of Shadows and Love Me, Hate Me. What about just being a complete jerk to the media? One good thing came out of Barry Bonds’ career though. I developed an appreciation for Jeff Kent after their altercation back in 2002.

Unfortunately, Bonds ended his career with a record 762 career home runs, including 73 in one season. Whether or not they are tainted will not be addressed by Loyal Homer. Perhaps another debate. Time will tell if he makes into the Hall of Fame. That, too, is perhaps another debate on down the line. But, what is not up for debate is Barry’s status as an anti-hero. Just typing about him makes my blood pressure shoot up. The next time the doctor asks me why my blood pressure is high, I’m going to say, “Well Doc, I’ve been eating healthy, I’ve been walking a lot, and I’ve been drinking a lot… but dadgumit, I saw Barry Bonds’ name on TV today and it just made my heart race.”

There is one thing I can cling to though… I never have to see him in uniform again, unless it is a prison uniform maybe!

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The 2009 Trade Deadline Damage Debate – Steel City’s Baseball Team is Falling Apart

August 3, 2009

Read Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan’s arguments on which team did themselves the most harm at the trade deadline.

The major league baseball deadline has passed and many teams have positioned themselves for the stretch run. The Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and a few other teams, have made acquisitions they hope will put them over the top and into the playoffs. But, there are also so teams who did not position themselves well. They have completely shredded their team by not getting enough in return for the players they dealt. Or maybe they just didn’t make a deal and should have. For me, the Pittsburgh Pirates really have dropped the ball and owe their fans an apology.

This all started last year at the trading deadline last year. Actually, in truth, you could say it started at the end of the 1992 season when the Atlanta Braves knocked off the Pirates in a dramatic Game seven of the NLCS. Perhaps when Sid Bream slid into home plate, he literally kicked the life out of the Pirates’ organization because since that game the Pirates have yet to contend. Last year, they traded outfielders Jason Bay and Xavier Nady at or near the deadline, and earlier this year they traded outfielder Nate McLouth and first baseman Adam LaRoche. At the deadline this year they traded away longtime fan favorite in shortstop Jack Wilson, starting pitcher Ian Snell, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and rehabbing starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny (who Sports Geek and I have seen start a game in person… and pitch well) and reliever John Grabow. In fact, only one player is left in the starting eight (minus the pitcher) from Opening Day last year and that is catcher Ryan Doumit. With the way things are going up in the Steel City, he better not be getting too comfortable.

Yes, it’s true that they unloaded a lot of salary and they unloaded some players that either had fallen out of favor within the organization (Snell) or had struggled offensively on the field (Wilson). But, Wilson has long been a fan favorite of Pirates fans (which are dwindling… see attendance figures. That’s a shame because PNC Park is a beautiful baseball stadium. Sanchez was perhaps the most recognizable name on that team. Without him, the casual baseball fan possibly couldn’t name a single player on the Pirates team today.

Even more frustrating for a Pirate fan is the fact that this team has been in rebuilding mode for quite some time now. I’m all for rebuilding when it is necessary, but how much rebuilding actually has to take place before something actually gets built? How long do Pirates fans have to suffer? Remember the early 1990’s when the Pirates made the NLCS three straight years with a young and significantly smaller left fielder named Barry Bonds? Those days are long gone!

As a baseball fan, and someone who sympathizes with Pirates fans, I really hope the city of Pittsburgh has a winning baseball team to support. But from the looks of things, the rebuilding cycle is going to be stuck on repeat.

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