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SBD/April 2, 2013/MLB Season PreviewPrint All
The Dodgers played the season opener against the Giants yesterday before a "capacity crowd of 53,138" at Dodger Stadium that “howled with hope that this new season would live up to the promise" of a league-high $230M payroll and Chavez Ravine's $100M+ remodel, according to Bill Plaschke of the L.A. TIMES. As “christenings go, this one cracked and sprayed like the breaking of a champagne bottle over a ship's hull.” Perhaps “nobody was hollering louder than” Dodgers Chair Mark Walter, who, at the game's end, “nearly jumped into the arms of Tom Lasorda, then raced out of his owner's box to hug several players on the field.” New scoreboards “exploded in color, accompanied by thumping pregame pep-rally music, some of it played" by four members of Blue Man Group. Then the Dodgers “showed a video smartly concocted by young Dodgers employees Jon Chapper and Cat Belanger that featured a baseball being supposedly passed from the team's spring-training site in Phoenix to Dodger Stadium by a number of celebrities.” Dodgers investor Magic Johnson then walked the ball “out of the dugout to the Dodger Stadium mound.” While Johnson was preparing to throw a first pitch to former MLBer Orel Hershiser, manager Don Mattingly "suddenly ran to the mound” and summoned Baseball HOFer Sandy Koufax to the honor. But like “most chaotic openers, this one wasn't all fist pumps and high-fives.” Fans were "still plagued by the Dodgers' trademark long concession lines.” Folks on the "redecorated reserved level still required as much as 30 minutes to buy a beer." Fans standing in those lines "backed into the new reserved-level play area, dulling the excitement of the children's area." The Dodgers "removed TV monitors from some reserved-level areas, so some fans couldn't even watch the game while standing in those lines" (L.A. TIMES, 4/2).
OFF WITHOUT A HITCH: In L.A., Jill Painter writes the Dodgers' opener was “an over-the-top affair, even by Opening Day standards,” and the fans “loved it.” Johnson last year “made headlines for sitting with then-maligned owner Frank McCourt right next to the Dodgers dugout in Petco Park.” But this year “there was no sign of the ugly past that had the Dodgers in bankruptcy court.” About the “only thing missing was a fighter jet flyover, which was probably canned because of governmental budget cuts” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/2). In L.A., Vincent Bonsignore notes “no major problems were reported” for the game. It marked the “ominous anniversary of the Bryan Stow incident,” and Dodger Stadium was “well protected with a noticeable -- although not over-bearing -- park security and Los Angeles Police Department presence” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/2).
RUSH HOUR: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth wrote the Dodgers' roster received “some notable upgrades" this offseason, but the “facelift that a fleet of fork-lift trucks and other earth-moving machines were able to pull off on Dodger Stadium over the winter is as equally if not more impressive.” The team during a five-month window “rushed through" a $100M+ retrograde. Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten said, "It's a Dodger Stadium as familiar as it's ever been, only it's much more comfortable and updated. All the changes are respectful of the vintage park that Walter O'Malley originally designed." Dodgers Senior VP/Planning & Development Janet Marie Smith said that the Dodgers researched L.A. city codes "required for restrooms in a building of such size.” They then “doubled the number of fixtures in all the men's rooms and increased by 50 percent what was mandated for women's rooms.” Smith said, "I'll eat my hat if we have lines for the restrooms after all we've done here." She added, "Mark's plan wasn't do just do one level at a time. We just went for it." And there is “still more to come -- including improved Wifi reception for cellphoners.” Smith: "We don't pretend we've done all we want to do. We just ran out of time for the time being" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/1).
MONEY MAN: Johnson said of contract negotiations with P Clayton Kershaw, “We let one man do all the negotiating and that’s Mark Walter, so he’ll handle that, that’s his role.” ESPN’s Dan Shulman added, “It’s not like the Dodgers have been shy about throwing around the money.” Hershiser said the “first number just became a ‘2’ as in two hundred million-plus” (“Giants-Dodgers,” ESPN, 4/1).
Prior to a blockbuster trade this offseason, Blue Jays Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Alex Anthopoulos was not exactly a household name among baseball fans. But he orchestrated MLB’s most talked-about move of the winter, trading with the Marlins for a package of players whose salaries would drive the Blue Jays’ payroll over the $100M mark. Anthopoulos recently took some time to talk about the club’s big trade and the satisfaction he has gotten from it, as well as his thoughts on the World Baseball Classic.
Q: What has it been like for your team to be the media darling of baseball this offseason?
Anthopoulos: I’ve said this a few times -- I’d rather we’re not in a position where we have to make a trade. I’d rather we’re in a position like Detroit, where we’re coming off an appearance in the World Series, you’ve re-signed pitcher Anibal Sanchez, added a free agent in rightfielder Torii Hunter and you’re done. That’s because they’re an outstanding team and they didn’t need to do as much work. When you lose 89 games and you plan on getting better, you’re going to have to be active. I think some of the attention is a little overblown. We had more work to do than anyone else in the division because -- other than the Red Sox -- we lost the most games in the division. So we’re the two teams in the division that had to add the most payers -- which makes sense.
Q: What kind of satisfaction did you get from the Marlins trade and picking up some other big names in free agency?
Anthopoulos: We don’t have any. Everybody makes trades thinking it’s going to make your team better, but until you start playing games -- hopefully winning games and being the contending team you plan on being -- you have no idea. You’re just holding your breath and hoping things work out. But we haven’t even played a game yet. We haven’t lost a game -- which is great -- but we also haven’t won a game. There’s a huge element of “wait and see.” We gave up a lot of good players in these trades and they were not easy trades to make, because there was a lot of talent we elected to part with. There was certainly calculated risk on our part, and that’s why I think the next seven months will tell the tale, and the next few years as well.
Q: How much lobbying did it take to get ownership to up your payroll to the $120M range?
Anthopoulos: Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston is the one that deals with ownership in that respect, but I’m in constant communication with him. I keep him abreast of all our discussions and what we’re doing every step of the way. It’s daily with us. Our ownership has always said that for the right deals and the right players, we’d be able to up the payroll. But we never felt like we had the right opportunity. We felt like this was the right opportunity.
Q: As a GM, what is your strategy and how has it changed since you took the job in ‘09?
Anthopoulos: I think everyone’s strategy is the same, right? Everyone is trying to win. But I think every strategy is contingent upon your market. The strategy for the Blue Jays might not be the same one for the Mariners or the Indians or the Yankees. It’s based on your ownership, market size and resources. For us, when you look at the years in the early ‘90s when we won the World Series, we were the Yankees. We had the No. 1 payroll in the game and highest attendance. This was the first organization to ever draw four million fans. Not only to draw four million fans, but to do it two years in a row. Everyone knows that we are the only team in Canada. From that standpoint, we’re a large market club and that’s why the upside is so appealing. We didn’t have to guess what a successful franchise or a winning product would do from a revenue generating standpoint. We’ve seen the results. We’re clearly trying to get back to that point where we can be a contending team and do it on an annual basis. And with that, we expect revenues to climb and support a strong payroll, but at the same time not deviate from our roots and continue to be active and commit a lot of resources to scouting and player development. But I think you have to really tap into the upside of Toronto and Canada and the market that we have. And the way you do that is to win.
Q: Beeston has talked about smart and stupid money. How do the Blue Jays differentiate between those two?
Anthopoulos: Paul is big on the length of deal. We don’t have contracts longer than five years. That’s just a policy. Will it change one day? Sure. But it starts with Paul and I agree with it. The length of contract is what he thinks can give you issues. Ultimately, there will be good signings and bad signings. No club expects that when they get into a contract for it to not work out, but ultimately, some of them don’t. Clearly the longer term you have, the more crippling it can be to a franchise. So like anything, anytime you’re signing a player, you want it to work out. But if it doesn’t, it’s compounded by the fact that it’s a very long, eight, nine, ten years. That takes a long time to get out from underneath. So that’s why we have our cap at five years and we’ve adhered to it.
Q: Was there anyone you looked to for advice when you took over as GM?
Anthopoulos: I looked to everybody and I still do. I love to solicit advice or opinions from anybody. It could be the CEO, it could be the GM, it could be the janitor. Good ideas can come from anywhere. There are so many lists of things, there’s no black and white way to do it. Obviously you’ll talk to people who have been successful but I think everyone has their own route and way of doing it. When you look at the baseball playoffs from last year, you’ve got large market clubs, small market clubs making it. You try to take a little bit of every one and create your own style and your own way. But getting advice is a never a bad thing for me, you can get from anybody, inside or outside of sports.
Q: What is your idea of an effective business model?
Anthopoulos: Clearly it starts with winning. With our franchise, we are a large market and we can generate more than a lot of other clubs because of our upside. I think Paul has talked about this as well. We don’t necessarily want to make money and we don’t want to lose money. Everything we do make we want to put into the team -- infrastructure, payroll -- things like that. If you can operate and break even and have success all at the same time, that would be ideal. If you ask Paul about it, it’s to be that playoff and World Series contending team and to break even as well.
Q: What is your goal when you wake up every day?
Anthopoulos: When I first got the job, A’s VP & GM Billy Beane told me that you’re never going to get caught up. There’s always something to do. You can always work. There’s always time you can spend at the office doing something. And he’s right. After three years of doing this, he’s 100% right. When you look at it from a calendar standpoint, you ask yourself, “What do you have coming up next and what do you have to handle?” Rather than try and get too convoluted and say, “I’ve got 80,000 things to do and maybe 10,000 need to be done in the next nine months,” just worry about what’s coming up next on the calendar. Whatever’s first on your plate is what needs to be accomplished.
Q: What are your thoughts on the World Baseball Classic?
Anthopoulos: From a fan’s standpoint, it’s great. The games seem so intense. In a perfect world, all the best players from each country are playing. Every single player. No restrictions. But from a GM’s standpoint, that’s not a realistic thing. It’s great to see all this talent on one team representing their country and to see the passion. It’s so good for the sport. And I probably say this past iteration, I probably enjoyed it more than I have in the past. From a fan standpoint, I think it’s a great tournament. But how do we come up with a way that we can still protect the clubs and the players and their health? I don’t know what the solution is. But ultimately, it would be even better if every player would be playing in the tournament.
Q: What is a business story in baseball you are keeping an eye on this season?
Anthopoulos: I think the Cubs putting all kinds of money to change the ballpark and the infrastructure. You look at what the Red Sox did with Fenway Park years ago, and now they’ve added the green monster seats and have done a lot of things to really expand and grow the brand. It sounds like the Cubs are doing the same thing. That’s what I’m curious to see. How it evolves over time because obviously, with that franchise and the people there, that will be fun to watch because I think they’ll do a great job. I remember watching Red Sox games as a kid and now you look at how Fenway Park and the Red Sox brand has been transformed -- all in a positive way. It took them to a whole other level that you didn’t even know existed. The Cubs obviously are an iconic franchise and I think they’re going to take it to a whole new level that we haven’t seen. It will be fun to watch it evolve.
As MLB players, managers and front office execs "embrace esoteric statistics, teams increasingly want their radio announcers just as fluent in the language of WAR, VORP and BABIP," according to a front-page piece by Steve Eder of the N.Y. TIMES. Astros broadcaster Robert Ford said the team “wanted a broadcaster who is at least comfortable with exploring the idea of discussing advanced statistics and what they mean.” Eder notes announcers “face a balancing act.” He asks, “How much do listeners want to know about these advanced numbers? How much is informative? And how much would prompt the audience, a group that spans all generations, to tune out?” Listeners and announcers “alike say that striking the right balance will be a challenge.” Astros President & CEO George Postolos said, “We need them to tell the story of how we are making decisions and putting the organization together.” Eder notes some “old-guard broadcasters have resisted adding obscure percentages and acronyms to their banter and game descriptions.” Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton said that he “believed listeners would rather hear stories from the clubhouse than statistics from spreadsheets.” Hamilton said, “Nobody after a game is going to remember numbers you throw at them, but they might remember a story about a player.” Yankees radio announcer John Sterling has “shied away from the new metrics.” Sterling said, “The more numbers you keep giving to the fans, the more people don’t know what you’re talking about.” The Mets’ TV crew last season “used statistics from Bloomberg Sports.” SportsNet N.Y. Senior VP/Production & Exec Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. said, “Our philosophy on the game broadcast is to educate, enlighten and entertain” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/2).
There was "a big risk" in Chicago-based Schafer Condon Carter's first ad campaign for the Cubs, according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. After the team "chose the 'Committed' concept in December out of a half-dozen options, SCC set out to find a handful of the diehards who would be the centerpiece of the project -- taking at least part of the campaign's content out of its hands." SCC Creative Dir Michael Dorich said for most ad pitches, "everything is frame by frame listed when you go into production. It's hard presenting a campaign where you can't say, 'This is what's going to happen in this scene.'" Cubs Senior Marketing Dir Alison Miller said, "The nervousness I had going into it was, you don't know what people are going to say; they're all unscripted." Ecker noted the stories and the lines "that made the final cuts were all pretty much organic." SCC's production team "would serve up questions as a guide, and the fans would just start talking about their personal relationship with the Cubs." The Cubs and SCC said that they "wanted the group to represent the diverse makeup of the team's fan base but also that the quality of the stories trumped just finding a demographic mix" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 4/1).
The Braves every year “try to improve the fan experience, and once again they’re aiming at appetites,” as two new Atlanta restaurants are “bringing their fare to Turner Field,” according to Carroll Rogers of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. Chef Linton Hopkins Holeman & Finch Public House burgers will be “available in the Fan plaza beyond center field.” The Braves also are “selling 24 tickets to each game for an outfield seat near the H&F Burger stand and a fast pass to get to the front of the line." The cost "is $32.” Dantanna’s restaurant “will serve their crab-cake sandwiches and sesame-steak skewers at a grill cart on the Terrace Level.” The Braves have “broadened their merchandising” for ‘13 as well, introducing a shop “where fans can customize everything from T-shirts to iPhone cases.” The team also is “selling Wilson and Rawlings leather gloves.” Additionally, the Braves are "improving the in-park Wi-Fi, adding a tablet tour to the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, and offering an app for iPhone and Android users that features video highlights, Braves radio broadcasts, seating chart information, ticket upgrades and more” (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 3/30).
CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: In Atlanta, Gary McKillips writes Braves sponsors are “revved up as the result of a new TV deal” that puts all Braves games on RSNs FS South and SportSouth. Although Fox would “not release specific figures,” SportSouth Senior VP & GM Jeff Genthner said, “Ad sales are up over 40 percent compared to the same time last year and the cultivation of new clients represents over 8 percent of the Braves contracted revenue.” He said that the 8% is “considered a ‘sizable’ increase and noted Georgia-based companies YellaWood and Moe’s Southwest Grill are among the new advertisers.” Genthner added that Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and SunTrust “continue to be big investors in the Braves.” Braves telecasts on FS South and SportSouth in ‘12 “ranked first and second in prime-time cable in their time period and trounced (nearly 2-to-1) their nearest cable competitors” (ATLANTA BUSINESS CHRONICLE, 3/29 issue).
Louisville Slugger during Sunday's Rangers-Astros MLB season opener debuted its "new logo and marketing effort," along with a "social-media effort including the #LeaveYourMark hashtag," according to Jack Neff of AD AGE. The Louisville Slugger brand "commands" a 60% to 70% share of the U.S. wood-bat market, which has more than $25M in annual sales. Parent company Hillerich & Bradsby VP/Marketing Kyle Schlegel said that its bats are "used by 55% of MLB players." However, it is "losing cachet and recognition for product performance among top high-school and college players." They are the "big customers, coaches and influencers of tomorrow, and they've been migrating to newer, hipper brands such as Marucci and Demarini." In addition to the company's "first logo update" since '79, its new efforts include "a major product upgrade." Dallas-based MEplusYOU is the "lead agency on the relaunch, with Omnicom's Interbrand having handled design, including the new logo, and Doe Anderson, Louisville, handling PR." Schlegel said that partnerships with MLB, Baseball America and chains such as Dick's Sporting Goods "will also play a key role." While he declined to disclose spending, it is "well under" eight-figures (AD AGE, 4/1 issue). In N.Y., Stuart Miller noted Louisville Slugger is "selling the bats retail, the first time the top-quality wood has been made available to the general public." MLB Prime Maple bats "are $119 apiece, Prime Ash $99 and regular maple $89." In recent years, a "surge in boutique manufacturers creating their own niches has taken bat making in two directions: a return to its roots, with an emphasis on craftsmanship over automated manufacturing, and a high-tech approach." Hillerich & Bradsby Dir of Wood Bat Operations Bob Hillerich said, "We had grown complacent. ... What our competitors were doing opened my eyes" (NYTIMES.com, 4/1).
For the Yankees, a “franchise worried about the state of a decaying roster and the potential for plummeting attendance, there hardly could have been a worse conclusion for Day 1 of a new season,” according to Joel Sherman of the N.Y. POST. By the end of the Yankees' loss to the Red Sox yesterday, it was "raining and the temperature had dropped and garbage was whipping around the field, a wonderful metaphor for the junk the Yankees offered on Opening Day.” Fans “fled in the ninth inning as if somehow the stench of Red Sox 8, Yankees 2 could be removed if they just got outside the Stadium quickly enough.” The “empty stands at the end were a reminder of what could be this year” (N.Y. POST, 4/2). In Newark, Dave D’Alessandro wrote there was “little about this meeting of toothless rivals that passes the Opening Day smell test.” This is “supposed to be Grudge Week, and this game has about the same cachet as, say, Rangers-Astros” (NJ.com, 4/1). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Jason Gay writes baseball is “adapting, finding hidden value in the margins, and the Yankees and the Red Sox have been outpaced by teams that nimbly do more with less.” Big paydays “still happen all the time," but there is "no longer the confidence that outspending alone can vanquish the competition” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/2). ESPN’s Curt Schilling said, “We’re going into a different era for the Yankees.” They were “bound by a number” in terms of salary restrictions which “is not something we’re used to." They seem to be "sticking to that number.” The team has been “just devastated by injuries” to start the season. He added, “I think they’re the only team in the East that can’t win the division” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 4/1).
ROTTEN TO THE CORE: Sports Net N.Y.’s Eamon McAnaney said it was a “bad idea” for the Mets and Yankees to open the season on the same day in N.Y. at virtually the same time. McAnaney said, “Each team should have the city to themselves.” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman said MLB “never gave a real good explanation as to why” they both opened in the city at the same time. SNY’s Marc Malusis said it was a “scheduling snafu” by MLB. McAnaney said MLB Commissioner Bug Selig is “tone deaf” (“Daily News Live,” SNY, 4/1).
Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio said the team’s payroll is “as much a function of our ability to compete on the field and the availability of players as it is a snapshot of any given year's profit or loss,” according to Tom Haudricourt of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. The team’s Opening Day payroll last year was $100M, but Attanasio said it has “moved to the upper" $80M range after signing P Kyle Lohse. He added, “We also need to stay in the range of fiscal responsibility not to harm the long-term prospects for the franchise. Payroll has been in this range dating back to 2008. It is more that we stretched it last year than dropped it this year.” Meanwhile, Attanasio said of the Brewers’ ballpark, “I have always regarded Miller Park as a significant asset to the team and the community and am committed to maintaining the facility as one of the finest in MLB to optimize the fan experience.” The team this year “undertook three major upgrades to Miller Park.” The Dew Deck, a “seating area above the right-field bleachers, was renovated during the off-season to include a 25-foot high rock-climbing wall in the shape of a can of Mountain Dew.” The SKYY Lounge was “totally renovated this winter and now includes an expanded line of high-end concessions.” The Miller Lite Party Deck, situated “above the Miller Park right-field loge bleachers, is a new feature of Miller Park.” It includes “a fixed bar, buffet counter, flat-panel televisions and two levels of seating, and is available for groups at select Brewers home games” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/1).
FOLLOW THE SIGNS: In Wisconsin, Scott Venci noted it “remains to be seen if the Brewers’ signing of Lohse was a wise move, especially since the team had to surrender its first-round pick -- the 17th overall -- in order to get him.” But acquiring Lohse was “another sign that Attanasio wants to have a consistently competitive team, and he’s willing to commit some serious money to help make it happen.” The team won a “franchise-record 96 games in 2011 and have drawn more than 3 million fans in three of the past five seasons after never drawing that many in any of the first 39 years of the franchise.” The Brewers have $73.8M "committed for next season,” but President of Baseball Operations & GM Doug Melvin “sounds like his team will be able to add payroll if it is able to make a playoff push both this season and in the future” (Appleton POST-CRESCENT, 3/31).
The Yankees are the “most valuable baseball team for the 16th consecutive year,” worth $2.3B, a figure that also makes the club the “most valuable U.S. sports team,” according to Mike Ozanian of FORBES.com. As part of the deal that saw Fox buy a 49% stake in YES Network, the Yankees “got a new rights fee agreement” that will pay them $85M this year and increase annually to a payout of $350M in ‘42. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are the “second most valuable team,” worth $1.6B, and the value of the A’s “rose 46%, more than any other team,” to $468M. The average team now is worth $744M million, “23% more than a year ago and the largest increase” since Forbes began tracking MLB finances in ‘98. Values climbed “sharply despite falling profitability” because to “fully capture the value of MLB’s 30 teams it is necessary to keep score of the sport’s full portfolio of assets rather than just the cash-flow of the individual franchises.” Valuations were “boosted by the escalating television rights fees that flow to each team, and the climbing values" of MLBAM and the league’s investment fund (FORBES.com, 3/27).'13 FORBES MLB TEAM VALUATIONS
CLUBVALUE1-YEAR % +/-DEBT/VALUEREVENUEOPERATING
Yankees$2.3B24%2%$471$1.4 Dodgers$1.6B15%26%$245$3.2 Red Sox$1.3B31%18%$336$23.9 Cubs$1.0B14%58%$274$32.1 Phillies$893M24%20%$279$0.6 Mets$811M13%53%$232-$2.4 Giants$786M22%12%$262$17.6 Rangers$764M13%48%$239-$8.7 Angels$718M9%3%$239-$12.9 Cardinals$716M21%38%$239$19.9 White Sox$692M15%6%$216$22.9 Mariners$644M10%0%$215$12.9 Tigers$643M35%28%$238-$0.4 Nationals$631M31%40%$225$28.4 Braves$629M24%0%$225$12.4 Astros$626M14%36%$196$24.7 Orioles$618M34%24%$206$30.1 Padres$600M31%50%$189$29.9 D'Backs$584M31%24%$195$7.6 Twins$578M13%17%$214$10.8 Blue Jays$568M38%0%$203-$4.8 Brewers$562M25%21%$201$9.0 Indians$559M36%20%$186$22.9 Reds$546M29%9%$202$20.9 Rockies$537M16%13%$199$18.7 Marlins$520M16%29%$195-$7.1 Pirates$479M43%27%$178$26.8 A's$468M46%19%$173$27.5 Royals$457M29%11%$169$16.3 Rays$451M40%26%$167$10.0
BUSINESS IS GOOD: ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell noted the Forbes valuations indicate that MLB’s off-the-field investments have “helped boost the average worth” of the 30 teams. The money teams made from the $450M sale of the Expos in ’06 was “invested in hedge funds that are now worth more than” $1B. Ozanian said, “The value of a team used to be about a team itself. Then it shifted to the stadium value and then to the television deals, and now it's more about what's not on the field at all.” Forbes “conservatively values” MLBAM at $6B (ESPN.com, 3/27).
GOING CLUBBING: In Minneapolis, Michael Rand wrote the valuation is a “mixed bag for the Twins.” The organization went from $510M to $578M -- an increase of 13% -- but because the average MLB team increased 23%, the Twins “went down in ranking in terms of overall value from 14th to 20th across MLB.” Twins President Dave St. Peter in an e-mail wrote the drop in ranking “is likely driven by a downward attendance trend for the Twins combined with a few new local television agreements around the league.” St. Peter added that the Twins “have not traditionally put much stock in the annual Forbes franchise valuation” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/28). In Miami, Douglas Hanks noted the Marlins increase in value “probably comes at an unwelcome time," as the team is "grappling with fan ire over owner Jeffrey Loria jettisoning star players after the team’s first season in a tax-funded ballpark” (MIAMI HERALD, 3/29). In Houston, Reid Laymance wrote teams “often don’t agree with Forbes’ math, but it is certainly another way to put in perspective the recent comments” by Astros Owner Jim Crane. Crane in February said that the team had “lost money for five consecutive seasons” (CHRON.com, 3/27).
In Detroit, Drew Sharp notes there were "more than a few jeers from the Target Field crowd" when Tigers P Justin Verlander "didn't return for the bottom of the sixth inning" against the Twins in yesterday's season opener. They came from Twins' fans "apparently upset that Verlander was finished even though he had blanked their team." It "didn't matter that the Twins were unsuccessful against him." They still wanted to "see as much of Verlander as possible because he has become one of the handful of appointment-viewing superstars on the road" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/2).
RED TEAM GO: In Boston, Scott Lauber writes the Red Sox "returned yesterday to start anew," and the "contrast was undeniable." The Red Sox "left us talking about baseball -- just baseball -- once again after 19 months of daily off-the-field drama, a managerial merry-go-round and enough negativity to bring down even Dr. Phil." After yesterday there "wasn't any discussion of pitchers feasting on beer and chicken during games." Former manager Bobby Valentine was "across town, working his new job as a pregame Mets television analyst rather than turning the Red Sox into reality TV" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/2).
CHANNELING RICKY VAUGHN? In Ohio, Brandon Hannahs notes expectations "usually are tempered" for the Indians. But this offseason, "out of nowhere," Owner Larry Dolan "decided to open his checkbook." The results have "given fans hope." Indians CF Michael Bourn, RF Nick Swisher and 3B Mark Reynolds bring "bona-fide talent to the roster," and manager Terry Francona is "a proven winner in the dugout." Management is "showing the fanbase they are trying to win" (ZANESVILLE TIMES RECORDER, 4/2).
Phillies VP/Ticket Sales & Operations John Weber said of the team's ticket sales, "We are at 2.6 million (tickets sold); last year we were at 3.1 million at the same time point. We are clearly down, but to be at 2.6 million in mid-March is incredible. I’d take that every year. We have different challenges this year." He added the Phillies have capped season-ticket sales in the "past three years at 28,000 and this year we are at 24,500," putting the team "about fourth or fifth" in MLB. Weber: "As an organization, we have to be more aggressive calling past accounts and renewing customers" (PHILADELPHIA BUSINESS JOURNAL, 3/29 issue).
TWO ROADS: In Miami, Linda Robertson writes the Marlins and Nationals are "heading in different directions." The Nationals are "following a map and driving toward a dynasty, with young players signed for years." But the Marlins organization is "at another one of its funky intersections, uncertain which way to turn, idling in neutral." Marlins Owner Jeffrey Loria and President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest can "start to rebuild -- a solid foundation and good faith -- by signing" RF Giancarlo Stanton to a contract that "makes a statement about the Marlins’ future." Loria has to "stop bouncing around and find a payroll he can live with in the Miami market." Robertson: "Emulate the Braves and Cardinals and follow a consistent budget" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/2).
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: In DC, Tracee Hamilton wrote the Nationals may "wind up feeling like the entire dreadful Kardashian family rolled into one by the time October rolls around," and they have "only themselves to blame." Once you have "raised the bar, even by a few inches, no one wants to see you ratchet it down again." If the Nationals "don't live up to the promise of what they accomplished in 2012, the culprit will be the pressure of what they accomplished in 2012" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/30).
DESERT SONG: In Phoenix, Dan Bickley writes Opening Day is "a big tease." A sold-out crowd for last night's Cardinals-D'Backs game proves that the city "can look and sound like a real baseball town." But the D'Backs are in a "tough spot." They are "trapped by their surroundings, playing a summertime sport in a city where summer is loathed." D'Backs Managing Partner Ken Kendrick said of Chase Field, "We used the model of what was happening in Colorado. I'm certainly not faulting those who chose to build the 49,000 seats. Had I been making the decisions, I might have done the same thing. But in hindsight, we know we could have done better with 40,000 to 42,000 seats" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/2).
FARM SUBSIDIES: In Baton Rouge, Ted Lewis reports Triple-A PCL New Orleans Zephyrs GM Mike Schline yesterday confirmed a report that Owner Don Beaver "has been in discussions" with Astros Owner Jim Crane to sell the franchise, which "likely would be moved to suburban Houston" in '15. Crane has "expressed interest in relocating" the Astros' Triple-A affiliate PCL Oklahoma City RedHawks to Montgomery County, "about 40 miles north of downtown Houston" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 4/2).
ESPN.com's Patrick Dorsey noted Angels P C.J. Wilson and RF Josh Hamilton, along with Steelers S Troy Polamalu, last Friday "took part in a Los Angeles-based event promoting Head & Shoulders' new 'Whiff-a-Thon' to benefit Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities." The company will donate $1 "for each MLB whiff this season" (ESPN.com, 4/1).
THE NEW MILKMAN? Muscle Milk parent company CytoSport yesterday announced a deal with Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw. The deal includes a program in which Muscle Milk will donate $100 for every strikeout he throws during a given period to Kershaw's Challenge, a charity benefiting at-risk children. Kershaw will appear in L.A.-specific marketing and will be one of the brand's marquee national athletes. Muscle Milk also has a deal with the Dodgers (Muscle Milk).
I LOVE GOOOOOLD! The Giants on April 7 will wear specially designed jerseys from Majestic and caps from New Era embossed in gold to commemorate their '12 World Series Championship (MLB).
White Sox PR Manager Marty Maloney said while nearly 20% of fans utilized the Chicago Transportation Authority to commute to games last year, "We do not expect Red Line renovations to impact our attendance." The White Sox and the CTA said that they were “prepared for reducing the challenges fans may face" in getting to U.S. Cellular Field. CTA Communications & Media Relations Dir Tammy Chase said that the CTA on White Sox home game days “sees an additional 3,000-3,500 riders at the 35th Street Red Line stop” (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 3/31).
SPRING FOR THE SUITE: In Phoenix, Gary Nelson reported the Cubs’ new Spring Training complex in Mesa, Ariz., "already has landed its first major commercial development.” Mesa-based Sunridge Properties has “agreed to build a 100-room Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel on the edge of a city park that will serve as the eastern gateway to the $99 million baseball complex” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/1).
NOT YOUR FATHER'S BALLPARK FOOD: In Tampa, Laura Reiley notes Fetzer and Zipz at Tropicana Field “debuted the first single-serve wine product to be served” at MLB stadiums. Offered in “Crimson red blend and Quartz white blend at $8 each, it's 187 ml in a glass-shaped receptacle that even fits snugly in your seat's cupholder.” Concessionaire Centerplate also unveiled a natural food stand that offers a “vegan veggie tray.” Known as "The Dirt List," it sells for $79, "serves 16 and comes with skinny roasted carrots, multicolored roasted cauliflower and grilled broccolini" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/2).
GONE WITH THE WIND: In Cleveland, Karen Farkas notes, "The distinctive, plastic-corkscrew wind turbine mounted atop the southeast corner of Progressive Field was removed last Thursday, one year after it was installed.” The Indians had “agreed to host the new turbine as part of its commitment to sustainability, including adding solar panels to the stadium.” The turbine was “lighted within by colored LED lights and was clearly seen by those at the ballpark and those traveling on Interstate 90.” But Cleveland State Univ. “took it down much earlier than planned because it was damaged -- ironically from the wind.” CSU Strategic Communications Dir Joe Mosbrook said that the university decided to remove the turbine “before the start of baseball season because plastic pieces could have broken off and injured fans" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/2).
PARKING WARS: In N.Y., Juan Gonzalez reports Bronx Parking Development, which operates the Yankee Stadium garage system, "failed to make" a $6.9M payment due April 1 on more than $237M in "tax-exempt bonds" arranged in '07 by N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. The group, which "is not connected to the Yankees, thus fell into one of the biggest defaults of a New York City-sponsored bond in decades” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/2).
SportsNet N.Y. Senior VP/Production & Exec Producer Curt Gowdy said there was “no pushback” from Mets ownership about the hiring of Bobby Valentine as an SNY analyst and, in fact, “ownership embraced it.” Gowdy also said ownership, despite well-reported financial difficulties, “has not given them any restrictions on spending” (Paul Sanford, Television Editor).
RELATIONSHIP BUILDING: In Phoenix, Paola Boivin wrote MLB's "unique rhythm lends itself to a greater bond between fan and announcer." This connection is "why many in the Valley became caught up in the drama surrounding last season’s departures" of D'Backs TV analyst Mark Grace and play-by-play announcer Daron Sutton. A family-like relationship is "the goal" for the new team of Bob Brenly and Steve Berthiaume. Brenly has a "deep connection with the organization." Berthiaume "became popular with the sport’s hard-core fans and developed a strong social-media following" while with ESPN (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/30).
READING THE FINE PRINT: In Las Vegas, Ray Brewer wrote the "dirty secret" with the MLB Extra Innings package is area residents "can’t follow any of baseball’s 30 teams for every game, which is a disappointment to several buyers." The Dodgers, Angels, Padres, D'Backs, Giants and A’s "consider the city within their broadcast market" and claim it as part of their territory, which is "excessive." Additionally, ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" and Fox' Saturday afternoon coverage are "blacked out for all teams, and games on other stations aren't available during those times" to protect the nets' exclusive rights. While blackouts are "part of doing business with purchasing the package, providers need to be more upfront about the limitations" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 4/1).
PLATE APPEARANCE: CNBC's Brian Shactman said of the MLB At Bat app, "It's the most profitable mobile app in all of sports. The NFL really might be the country's most popular league, but they have not figured out how to monetize mobile like baseball has." Shactman added the app was "downloaded almost 7 million times last year. Along with MLB TV, basically with the technologies you can watch baseball anywhere on any device" ("Worldwide Exchange," CNBC, 4/1).
In N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote within two weeks the “exclusive renegotiation window for CBS Radio to renew Yankees and Mets rights expires.” CBS “very much wants to renew both teams, and is believed to have its top corporate execs closely monitoring the talks.” But both teams “know ESPN-NY at least as much wants one or the other.” Next season’s radio “winners and losers could be determined as early as May 1” (N.Y. POST, 3/31).
SWITCH HIT: In Minneapolis, Dennis Brackin wrote the “biggest free-agent move made by the Twins organization” was to move their radio broadcasts from KSTP-AM to KTWN-FM, which, “like the Twins, is owned by the Pohlad family.” The Twins have been on AM radio “since their move to Minnesota in 1961, but they joined a growing exodus of sports teams to FM.” Twins fans “won’t notice much change in the actual game broadcasts." But Twins and KTWN execs “see the move as an opportunity to build the station’s overall listening audience from the ground up.” KTWN GM Sam Elliot Gagliardi said that the station’s signal “will reach about 85 percent of the metro area, the biggest concerns being the east metro near Stillwater.” But he added that the Twins network “will have 81 stations, and every area of the metro will be covered by a station in the network” (STARTRIBUNE.com, 3/29).
SPANISH CARAVAN: The Astros and Univision announced a two-year extension of their Spanish-language radio broadcast agreement that will run through the '14 season. KLAT-AM will air all 162 games for both seasons (Astros).
Several MLB-themed books were recently published in advance of Opening Day. The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Leigh Montville reviewed DOUG WILSON’s “deft biography” of former MLBer MARK FIDRYCH, titled “THE BIRD.” Wilson in the book writes, "People remember becoming baseball fans in 1976 solely because of Mark Fidrych.” Montville wrote Wilson “covers that ride in solid, understated prose that allows both the happy and sadder moments to shine through on their merits.” He has “a fine ear for anecdotes -- which he has collected from friends and family, teammates and secondary sources -- and he never strangles the subject with too much inside baseball.” Montville: “I would have liked a bit more grit with the story ... but ‘The Bird’ is a well-written, definitive book about a good guy with a great story” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/23). In Milwaukee, Chris Foran wrote Wilson through interviews “with family, old friends and as many teammates as he could find” spends “as much time capturing the world that Fidrych came from, and never really left, as he does showing how he became a star overnight - and, just as quickly, thanks to misdiagnosed injuries and overwork, disappeared from baseball.” Foran: “The ‘Bird’ he captures is a reminder that there's still joy in the game, in playing and sharing the experience” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/29).
ANTITRUST ACTS: In L.A., David Ulin wrote among the “most compelling baseball books this season” is UCLA law professor STUART BANNER's "THE BASEBALL TRUST: A HISTORY OF BASEBALL' ANTITRUST EXEMPTION.” The book is a “look at the game's idiosyncratic legal status: Of all the major sports, it is the only one exempt from federal antitrust law” (L.A. TIMES, 3/29). In N.Y., Adam Liptak wrote the book is “a valuable corrective to the widely held view that the romance of baseball was the main reason that courts have treated it with special solicitude.” Banner is a “sure-footed historian and a legal writer of exceptional grace and clarity.” His “evident love of baseball does not seem to cloud his judgment” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/29).
PRETTY AS A PICTURE: In Philadelphia, Stan Hochman wrote if books were “judged like beauty pageants,” the N.Y. Times' TYLER KEPNER’s "THE PHILLIES EXPERIENCE" would “win from here to Atlantic City.” It is a “handsome, coffee-table book, with MIKE SCHMIDT on the cover, crispy-clean uniform, classic follow-through.” Hochman: “And if you close your eyes you can hear the joy in HARRY KALAS' voice, exultant, proud, professional, proclaiming, ‘That ball is outttta here!’” Hochman wrote "don't be put off b the title" of Indians manager TERRY FRANCONA and Boston Globe writer DAN SHAUGHNESSY’s “FRANCONA: THE RED SOX YEARS.” Hochman: "This is the best book looking inside the mind of a big-league manager I have ever read, because Francona is sharp and loves the game, because Shaughnessy is eloquent and a dazzling storyteller.” Meanwhile, former MLBer MIKE PIAZZA’s book “LONG SHOT,” written with LONNIE WHEELER, “twists the Cinderella story like a soft pretzel.” It “turns it hard, salty as tears, tough to sink your teeth into” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/31).
BOOK SHELF: Globe & Mail columnist JEFF BLAIR’s “FULL COUNT: FOUR DECADES OF BLUE JAYS HISTORY” shows why this year’s team “may be the best that Toronto has fielded since JOE CARTER’s walk-off homer 20 years ago” (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/28)....In N.Y., Larry Getlen reviewed CHRISTOPHER FRANKIE’s “THE IMPROBABLE RISE AND SPECTACULAR FALL OF LENNY DYKSTRA,” writing Dykstra’s financial career “came on the backs of the people the former outfielder -- currently in prison on charges including grand theft auto and bankruptcy fraud -- lied to, stole from and worse” (N.Y. POST, 3/24).