Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Bleak Future

Let me say it right off the top: it's not Billy Beane's fault. It's not Lew Wolff's, either. But I don't blame Oakland A's fans for wanting to blame somebody for the latest dismantling of the ballclub.

And make no mistake about it, the A's are being broken up. It's not like they were a juggernaut; the A's finished 14 games under .500 in 2011 and have about as good a chance of catching up to the Angels and Rangers as I do of cracking a big-league roster myself. Now? Minus Gio Gonzales, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney, David DeJesus, Coco Crisp et al? Fat chance.

Of course all this is being played out against the backdrop of the team's stalled efforts to move to San Jose. It's no longer just idle talk; Beane is out-and-out saying that the cheapening of the A's is a way of hunkering down until the team can move to a brighter financial future in a new stadium.

Some think Wolff and Beane are blowing up the ballclub in hopes that it'll pressure The Lords of Baseball into approving the San Jose plan. Maybe so, but that gambit has a low probability of success. Remember, the roadblock here wears orange-and-black. Until and unless the Giants are compensated to their satisfaction for an A's intrusion into Giants territory, this deal is dead. And do you think MLB would step in and anger one of its marquee franchises (the Giants) in favor of one of its weak sisters (the A's)? Not likely.

So back to my opening line. If not Beane and Wolff, who do A's fans blame? Well, actually, they should be angry at the entirety of Major League Baseball. The sport continues to operate under an absolutely unfair set of financial rules which allow the wealthiest clubs to run payrolls more than 5 times the size of the poorest clubs. The "luxury tax"? A complete joke. Only two teams are paying it in 2012--the Yankees and Red Sox--and the total of around $18 million doesn't even begin to address the disparity between baseball's haves and have-nots.

Look, money is no guarantee. The Tampa Bay Rays are proof that you can win with a low budget, and the Cubs (and others) have certainly managed to spend plenty with little to show for it. But wouldn't you rather see baseball teams compete on a level financial playing field? OK, Yankees and Red Sox fans, you're excused from the conversation.

While baseball's rich get richer, A's fans get screwed. What the A's really should do is express solidarity with the Occupy movement. In fact, maybe that's the answer. Re-name the team "Occupy Oakland". Refuse to leave the Coliseum until the 1 percenters share the wealth.

Oh, and don't forget to buy a program on Opening Day. It's the only way you'll be able to identify the guys wearing green and gold.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baseball's New Dress Code

This is how bad things have gotten: Major League Baseball has just issued a dress code.

Not for players, or managers, or even front-office folks.

For reporters.

MLB thus becomes the first of the major North American sports leagues to tell the people who cover the games that they, in some cases, need to cover up. The policy forbids flip-flops, short-shorts, tank tops, and visible underwear.

San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser is a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America committee that worked with MLB to develop the dress code. She is probably well-understating the issue when she says, "Personally, I believe the baseball media in general could dress slightly more professionally."


You know what they say about stone-throwers in glass houses, so I'll be careful here. But let's just say very few of the people who cover pro sports are going to show up on any Best-Dressed lists. For every on-camera sideline dandy (yes, Craig Sager, I'm talking about you), there's a horde of guys (and gals) in torn jeans, ratty shorts, and T-shirts.

Some of them might get a free pass because they're pulling cables and schlepping cameras. But most are hauling nothing any heavier than a notepad or MP3 recorder.

The "how to dress for the ballpark" story blew into the headlines a year or so ago when a reporter for a Mexican TV channel showed up in the New York Jets training camp dressed for...well, I'm not sure what. Maybe a dance club? There have also been numerous sightings of Miami TV reporters who looked like maybe they mistook Sun Life Stadium for a trendy South Beach nightspot.

Clearly, some of this has been "look at me"-driven. But it's also true that the art of personal presentation has been in decline for many a year. Have you looked around you at a nice restaurant lately?

Social norms have evaporated, but there's also something else at work here. MLB's Pat Courtney points out that many of the people who cover baseball no longer work for "a bigger organization that may have a dress code." In other words, they're freelancers, bloggers and the like. They're their own bosses and they don't have anyone telling them what's OK to wear to the office.

Now MLB is telling them. The rules may improve the look of the media corps, but it's doubtful the ballplayers will be any more impressed with the people with the notepads. After all, they know how to dress.