The Journey, Not the Destination

If the first three hapless efforts in the Bronx had lulled me into a baseball-induced coma, last night’s effort was electro-shock therapy. I’m back baby. (Anyone notice Desmond Jennings shout “CLEAR” right before his at-bat in the top of the first?). I was all set to sit down and write about Matt Moore. There isn’t a lot left to say about his 11 strikeouts but, I had this idea working about the stoic nature of our burgeoning pitching staff.

But I can’t focus on that now because I just finished Gary Shelton’s column in this morning’s St. Pete Times. Everytime we get this thing pointed in the right direction. Everytime a baseball fan base starts to emerge. Something like this happens.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Shelton. He’s a decent writer and usually hits close to the point. But this column is crap.

Here’s where Shelton steps in it:

Fair or not, this season will be remembered largely for the week to come. Ask yourself: If the Rays finish shy of the postseason, will you remember a resilient team that performed beyond its expectations, beyond its flaws, beyond its budget? Or will you remember it for not seizing an opportunity? Will you remember coming back or falling short?

Anyone that chose ‘falling short’ should stop reading right now. You aren’t going to like my take on baseball. In fact, if you are that focused on the playoffs, you probably want to just stop reading this blog altogether. I write for people that like baseball. Not for people that want cool playoff merchandise.

Here’s the thing. Shelton is judging the Rays by a football standard. In football, the end result is all that matters. That is partly due to the fact that it is so easy to make the post-season. There are now 490985460985340546309 different bowl games to qualify for and 12 of the 32 NFL teams make the playoffs.

Baseball is different. Football has to be judged by postseason success because the season is so short. You simply cannot get a feel for a team’s real capacity in 12 or 16 games. In baseball, every wart and beauty mark are on full display. Baseball teams are judged by their entire body of work. Regardless of this week or next week, the 2011 Rays have an incredible body of work that I’m glad to have watched.

Every night, we sit down with our television or radio and know that the Rays can win. Most nights, we know that the Rays should win. That has been going on for six solid months. That is not common and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The 2011 Rays were entertaining every night.

This team gave us their blitz back from the brink after an 0-6 start. They gave us the LegendofSamFuld. They gave us the expectation that James Shields would go 9 every night. They gave us revenge against Carl Crawford and total domination of the Red Sox. They gave us Johnny Damon’s consecutive walk-off hits. They gave us Desmond Jennings’ explosion onto the scene and Matt Joyce’s all-star first half. They gave us Sam Fuld’s ridiculous, game-ending, 360-foot sprint. They gave us pajama night, and grunge night, and letterman sweater night. They gave us Joe Maddon’s season-long mullet, Dave Martinez’s beard, and Jeremy Hellickson’s game face. They gave us the Astro doll on the dugout, David Price’s dugout pranks, chocolate whip cream pies, and missed flights due to missing passports.

How can you not like that?

Every night of this season has been a blast. If you didn’t enjoy it, that is because you are either have unrealistic expectations or are late to the party. Anyone that remembers the Devil Rays era enjoyed this season because they know it isn’t always this fun.

Look, there are 80-win seasons in our future. There are 70-win seasons in our future. There may even be another 60-win season in our future. When those days come — and they come for everyone — we’ll remember how much fun this summer was when the gang of no-names made this run.

Gary, welcome to the club. We have seat for you over there.

A Two-for-One Special

It’s been a while since I posted in the Blow-It.Com section. But I noticed two things this week worthy of induction into the exclusive Blow-It.Com club.

1) The St. Pete Times (I don’t know who is behind this, the writer or the editor, so we’ll just throw the whole publication into the arena):

In both of the summaries of games 1 and 2 of the Rays-Royals series this week the St. Pete Times referred to the crowd as “a gathering.” I think that is such an underhanded dig at the fan base. Not only that, but to use it on consecutive days is particularly offensive. It’s like being around a kid that says something he thinks is funny, realizes no one laughed, so he says it again. Hey, Times, why don’t you get back to running multi-part “exposes” on some low-level government bureaucrat. Because you have to be better at that than you are at sarcastic humor. A “gathering?” Really? Sounds like an adjective that better describes your readership than the fans of this club.

2) Fox Trax

Uncle already. Just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

First, we saw Fox Trax on the occasional pitch-by-pitch replay of an at bat and I thought it was marginally interesting. Then we started seeing it on the replay of close calls by an umpire, and I thought it was a little less interesting because, in slow motion, it was easy to tell if a pitch was a strike or not without the graphic. Then, either BA or his producer decided it was a good idea to use Fox Trax anytime a pitch was replayed, regardless of whether it was close or not, and I started to get annoyed.

Now, it is a permanent fixture on the screen and is animated with an aerial shot of the plate? Who thought that was a good idea? Maybe FSN could throw a blue halo around the ball so we always know where it is? Can we just watch the game please without feeling like we are looking at a heads-up display or playing a video game? Real life is just fine for me, thanks.

“Makeup” is just journalistic cover

Joe Smith and the St. Pete Times ran a lazy story about Rays’ first-round pick Taylor Guerrieri today that basically concluded that Guerrieri [side note, this kid needs a nickname fast, I have only typed his last name twice and I am already worn out from all the Rs, Is, and Es] fell to the Rays at 24 despite top-10 talent because of a “makeup” problem.

As Dirk Hayhurst pointed out on Twitter yesterday “makeup” is a “loosely defined term” that is a “key factor in the future of aspiring people.” (I don’t know how to link to specific tweets but Hayhurst’s timeline is here and you should all be following him because he is an entertaining read.) I’ll go further, “make up” is Joe Smith saying ‘I think this is a bad kid but I didn’t bother to get any proof of that other than unattributed rumors so, rather than reporting, I am just going to write that he is a bad kid using ambiguous terms that baseball fans will understand but, that will never amount to anything in a lawsuit for libel.’

Don’t believe me? Here is Joe Smith’s evidence that Guerrieri has a “makeup” issue:

He was not drafted in the top 10 even though Baseball America thinks he’s a top 10 player;
He tranferred high schools;
There are unconfirmed rumors about some unidentified incident; and
He won’t talk to the press even though the other first-rounders will talk to the press.
I know, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it must be truly bizarre for a newspaper reporter to get denied an interview from a suddenly (marginally) famous person. But you have to take yourself pretty damn seriously to think his refusal to grant you an interview proves he is hiding something. I mean, why else would a high-school senior not talk to a reporter? It couldn’t possibly be because that reporter works for a newspaper famous for taking minor stories and blowing them all out of proportion, could it? I don’t know who the shadowy “advisors” are referenced in the story but, I hope their his parents because, as a parent, I would never let my kid talk to some nosy writer about some minor thing on one of the best days of his life.

Hey. Joe. You are a baseball writer, not Woodward and Bernstein. Go write about baseball. But, if you insist on doing this investigative journalism and you are going to write a story that will follow a kid for his whole career, the least you can do is, you know, some reporting. The kid shoots down your interview and that’s it? I am not a reporter but, if this kid really did something as bad as you imply in your story, then someone else saw it. Right? Or at least heard the rumor and can tell that. Right? Because if no one else has any information, then I think you should have just called your editor and said “doesn’t look like there is anything here.”

Unless someone decides to do some reporting, I am just going to assume that this kid did something we all did when we were 18. Unfortunately, in the world of high-priced amateur athletics, if you can play ball, you are not permitted to be an a-hole when you’re 18 because it gets written up in Baseball America.

OK. Fine. I’ll Take the Bait.

Dummy McDumberson (alternate nicknames I rejected “Moron McMoron,” “Hanky McMouthpiece,” “Hairdo McJackA–,” and “YESsy McSteinbrenner”) over at Forbes is back on the internet trolling for controversy. While I resisted his first pass, I cannot hold my tongue any longer.

Here is his latest moronic take on the Rays. WHAT?!?!? The Rays cut back advertising on WGUL? OH NO!

Look, I don’t know anything about WGUL, and I really like Paul Porter, who I think does an awesome job on the PA at the St. Pete Times Forum and the O-Rena (or whatever the new place in Orlando is called) but, how exactly does Paul Porter’s conclusion that the Rays are “clearly cutting back” mean anything? Is Paul Porter now an advertising analyst? Does he even do ad sales for WGUL? Isn’t he just a talk-show host? Does Ozanian do any, you know, background research?

At best, Porter’s opinion can be limited to WGUL right? Do we think a radio station that features The Best of Michael Medved, Best of Mike Gallagher, John Gibson Show, Phil’s Gang, and Bloomberg – First Word, has a big following of baseball fans? Why exactly were the Rays advertising there in the first place?

More importantly, so what if they cut back on radio advertising? Does that mean that didn’t increase marketing in other avenues? Did this guy even bother to do any, you know, reporting?

If Ozanian were a music reporter, he’d be writing breaking stories claiming that Michael Jackson is still alive after hearing a Michael Jackson song played on the radio. At this rate, Ozanian is going to need his own category.

How do I get his lazy-ass job?

I Refuse to Write about the C-word

Yesterday, the “C” word was in the news because some lazy writer at Forbes regurgitated some lazy rumor about the Rays.

Maybe Stu could be the closer? (Roy Betancourt / IOS / PR Photos)


There is a lot of good analysis on the web explaining all the reasons the Rays are not going to get contracted. If you like, I will link to it.

I just refuse to spend any more time in this space obsessing about the club’s financial health (they made some money last year), the market, the fan base’s loyalty, or the likelihood that the Rays will remain the Tampa Bay Rays for a long time.

Do not worry about posturing principals and their mouthpieces. This IS a baseball town.

Hey Forbes Stick to Business, or the Flat Tax

Sweet Spot economics expert Larry (from IIATMS) shot me a quick email this afternoon passing along

Forbes Magazine’s recently released team valuations for Major League Baseball. Larry has written extensively about the Rays and the economic conditions MLB has created that limit the Rays’ ability to succeed. Go read his stuff at IIATMS, it’s awesome.

There is a lot of information in the Forbes valuation but, I can’t take any of it seriously for two reasons.

1. Forbes went beyond its area of expertise to expound on the Rays’ potential on-field success for this season. Apparently, parsing through Forbes’ logic, Carl Crawford was the reason the Rays won 2008-2010 and his departure means the team will lose and move. (This conclusion is ironically in a story that features a photo of Evan Longoria, who is and has been better than Crawford.)

2. Forbes couldn’t even be bothered to use the Rays’ “new” logo. I put quotes on new because the logo is more than 3 years old.

The First Hall of Famer in the club.

The fraternity gets a little more prestigious this morning with the addition of Hall of Famer Tracy Ringolsby.

Ringolsby spent tens of minutes researching and writing this piece for Fox Sports.

His two most-entertaining arguments:

1. “The franchise has drawn 2 million only once — the inaugural season of 1998.”

No one showed up to see the stinkers Vince put on the field from 1998-2007! The outrage! Anyone that wouldn’t plunk down $150 to see Ryan Rupe and Jason Tyner clearly doesn’t appreciate baseball and doesn’t deserve a team.

2. “As Rays players reach free agency, they become members of the Tampa Bay alumni club. If the ticket-buying public doesn’t care, why should ownership?”

The Rays can’t afford to pay free agents because they don’t sell tickets! The only reason people don’t buy tickets is because they are ungrateful neophytes who don’t know how to spend their money! There is no other way to measure fan interest beside ticket sales! (What’s that? The Rays had great local TV ratings but attendance numbers were crushed by the economy — which was hit this market harder than others — and a bad stadium? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! To quote the great Homer Simpson: “Facts schmacts. Facts can be used to prove anything that is even remotely true.”)

Hey. Tracy. There is a whole world outside of baseball that, amazingly, actually affects the game.

By the way, sweet cowboy hat.

Teaching Peter Golenbock why [Big] apples are not [Tropicana] oranges.

Peter Golenbock is an important author. Just ask him and he will tell you just how important he is.

(I once shared a pre-game meal with Mr. Golenbock in media dining. The next day, when I said hello to him, he said “oh, you probably recognize me from ESPN Classic.” Seriously. I just ate with him 24 hours earlier.)

Mr. Golenbock has descended from whichever ivory tower he is currently hanging out in to compare the Rays to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the most recent issue of Creative Loafing. (Note to CL. Publishing poorly researched stories in a desperate attempt to make some waves is what landed you in Chapter 11 earlier this year. Maybe it is time for a different editorial philosophy…no?).

Golenbock’s comparison is based on the fact that Brooklyn Dodgers played in Brooklyn and Stu Sternberg grew up in Brooklyn and, well, not much else.

Attention Rays fans. Do. Not. Drink. The. Kool-Aid.


This is not a repeat of the Dodgers’ story for two GIGANTIC reasons:

The markets the Rays are rumored to be heading to are not Los Angeles; and
Bill Foster is not Robert Moses.
According to Golenbock the Rays have considered a move to “Charlotte, San Antonio, Sacramento, Las Vegas, or if [Sternberg] could, northern New Jersey, or in a perfect world, Brooklyn.” That, somehow, is akin to the Dodgers decision to be the first Major League Baseball team in the nation’s second-biggest city and the first Major League Baseball team in ALL OF CALIFORNIA. Sounds about the same right? I mean, Charlotte has never had a team.

Tell me why local leaders should be scared of Charlotte, San Antonio, Sacramento or Vegas? Those are all markets that are similar to the Tampa Bay. They are named as potential locations for the Rays because the Rays can’t credibly threaten to move without identifying some place they could, in theory, go. When O’Malley threatened to move, he could hold Los Angeles over New York’s head. Stu is stuck with the bustling metropolis of San Antonio or forclosure-ridden Vegas. Those are not threats that strike fear in the hearts of men.

More importantly, the struggle between Walter O’Malley and Robert Moses was a clash of the titans. O’Malley was one of baseball’s most powerful and wealthy owners. Moses, in case you have never heard of him, is one of the top-5 most powerful political leaders in the history of this country (excluding Presidents). If you don’t believe me, read Robert Caro’s 1200-page tome on Moses titled The Power Broker. O’Malley and Moses shaped the City of New York and were not accustomed to opposition. There was simply no way that either O’Malley or Moses was going to compromise simply because neither of them ever compromised. They both had to win because their entire future in the City of New York was built upon their unbending power. Plus, both O’Malley and Moses were holding guns. Moses had full authority over O’Malley’s request for a stadium and O’Malley had a real option to re-locate in Los Angeles. That deal could not happen without one man blinking. And neither man had eyelids.

Stu Sternberg is a finance-geek and Bill Foster is the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida. Hardly a confrontation that will be remembered in the annals of history. (Why else do you think Creative Loafing is the only paper willing to print this?) Sternberg is, by his very nature, a dealmaker. Foster, has no leverage. You don’t have to be a professional mediator to see that this is a situation full of bluster that will ultimately end in compromise. Neither guy can afford to call the other’s bluff because they have no alternatives.

Peter Golenbock, however, sees beyond our obvious read on the situation. And, if you don’t see it, that only proves you aren’t as smart as Peter Golenbock. I mean, just ask him, he’ll tell you just as soon as he is finished with ESPN Classic.

*By the way, I think Peter Golenbock is the most distinguished inductee in the fraternity…

Edwin and Josh: The Two Sides of BJ Upton

Among Andrew Friedman’s many talents in building the Rays, perhaps none is more important than his instinct to cut bait. I like to compare the Rays to the Indians. In 2007, Cleveland was a strike away from the World Series. Then, they promptly locked up the entire team, casting aside the possibility that luck had any role, and have been stuck in neutral.

Friedman, on the other hand, has dispensed key cogs along the Rays run. The moves were rarely popular but, have generally seemed to make the club better. All of this came rushing back to me last night when Edwin Jackson faced Josh Hamilton. (How that particular feat ever occurred in a World Series is tough for 2006 Mark to imagine).

Friedman is not perfect and, perhaps his biggest gaffe as GM was exposing Hamilton to the Rule V draft before figuring out whether he could play. Friedman ultimately dumped Jackson as well but not before he gave Jackson every opportunity to make himself a franchise cornerstone ahead of what we now know is a really really talented group of young starting pitchers.

Edwin and Josh are good reminders as the Rays face their biggest offseason decision: BJ. How do you solve a problem like Upton?

During September, I told Larry Behrendt at IIATMS that BJ Upton was the most frustrating player I have ever followed because, his flashes of brilliance make his long stretches of mediocrity seem almost spiteful. BJ can be both Josh Hamilton and Edwin Jackson in the same game. Has he arrived or is he still full of potential?

BJ is replaceable defensively and can be improved offensively from within the system. Combine that with an arbitration-fueled raise and this seems like the perfect winter for BJ to order some packing boxes.

But, the risk in moving BJ is that he turns into Josh Hamilton. What if September BJ Upton is the real thing? What if that was the tipping point we have waited for so patiently? That player, who hit .333/.432./606 with 9 steals and 5 bombs, is a potential MVP. After all BJ has put us through, I cannot stomach watching him star for someone else. Watching Hamilton do it is hard enough.

But BJ is just a career .257 hitter, who has struck out (851) more than twice as often as he has walked (385). And, despite brief flashes of power, he is just a career .416 slugger. Those are pretty mediocre numbers for a franchise building block. So, extending BJ means many more summers of sizzle without steak.

That is the Edwin Jackson route. There is a reason 78 franchises have employed Jackson in the last 6 months. He has tons of potential. He is just unable to access it. Do we really want to be BJ Upton’s only employer? Shouldn’t someone else share in this risk?

That leaves Andrew Friedman at a crossroads. He is simultaneously staring at Edwin Jackson and Josh Hamilton. Here’s hoping his advanced analysis can distinguish between the two. I am certainly glad I am not in his chair this winter.

Maybe We Should Vaporize Conventional Thinking

I was going to duck Stu Sternberg’s recent comments about the state of the organization but, several folks have asked for my opinion both in the comments and by email so, I am happy to at least think about what Stu said rather than brushing it aside.

Let me start by saying that I am not angry at Stu and I don’t think you should be either.

Stu made his comments in the clubhouse after an elimination game. He was upset just like the rest of us. When I get mad at the Rays after a frustrating loss, I say silly things too. Only, when I say them, it is just my wife that hears them. She makes fun of me (“right, because now you don’t think Zobrist can play”), I take it back, the world goes on. I think it is a natural reaction. The difference between Stu and me (in this single scenario, because there are a lot of other differences, for example, I am much better looking) is that my wife doesn’t work for a cable news network. In 2011, public figures do not have the luxury of speaking extemporaneously. So, I’ll give him some rope and chalk the tone of the comments up to his frustration with the outcome of the game.

Second — and get ready because this is a bitter pill — we shouldn’t be angry at him because, in a lot of ways, he’s right. The Rays situation is currently unworkable.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons that we are not selling out the Trop. We have discussed them all at length and none of them have to do with fan loyalty. I think this club has some of the most loyal fans in the game and I have been consistently impressed by the high level of conversation we’ve had here this summer. But, we have to be honest and at least admit that there is a problem for the Rays economically, regardless of the cause. No business can function on declining revenue and that is just what the Rays are being asked to do. Maybe Stu made his point inartfully. (I have to believe he’d like another shot at it without the emotion of a season ending loss). But his point is solid.

Think about it. If we cannot get people to the Trop because of the economy, and its location, and the infancy of the club, and there is no sign of an economic revival, or a new ballpark, or deep club loyalty in the near future, then the situation is unworkable. The problems, regardless of their cause, do not seem to have good solutions. Yes, we are unlucky that such a remarkable run of success hit right in the middle of the worst American economy of our lives. But it is not unreasonable for Stu, as a business owner, to be frustrated by that reality. More importantly, despite what you might read in the newspapers, Stu doesn’t have any moral or civic obligation to keep funding a financially unworkable endeavor.

I think the sting of all this comes from Stu’s tone. He’s a successful guy that saw what he thought to be low-hanging fruit. He saw a team in a solid market with a poor public image. Of course some investment in the ballpark, investment in the community, investment in the fans, and investment in the on-field product would automatically equal a sold-out house every night. He did his end, but didn’t get the result he expected. That’s frustrating and he lashed out.

In the end, though, I think Stu and his team missed the bigger picture. It’s not baseball that can’t work in Tampa Bay. It’s the current Major League Baseball business model that can’t work.

We love the game. But, in a sprawling community that is filled with active, outdoor-oriented people, you can’t build your revenue model on corporate sales (we have no Fortune 500 headquarters), television revenue, and ticket revenue. You can’t just take the business plan for the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs, cross out the names and write in your own. Those markets are fundamentally different.

I think this has been the only real failure of the Stu era. For all his creativity in marketing, public relations, and baseball operations, he has been decidedly conventional in his business operations.

For example, I read somewhere that the Rays season-ticket base is about 20%-30% lower than most other teams (I can’t find the article so these numbers are coming from memory…I’ll update them if you can find it). That shortage matches, almost exactly, the percentage of season tickets that other teams sell to big corporations in their markets. Stu had to know that Tampa is the biggest American city without a Fortune 500 headquarters when he bought the team. But no one seems to be asking why he didn’t account for that in his plan. Why is he running the team as though there is population density around the park and corporate money in the system?

If we’re going to save this thing, it’s time for someone in the Rays business office to have a Moneyball idea about business modeling, rather than the bullpen. Perhaps that idea won’t get Brad Pitt to play you in a movie, but it might allow our grandchildren to see Major League Baseball in their community.