Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller

RIP to George Streinbrenner, who passed away today at age 80.

I will address this topic at length later, but suffice it to say that there are those who criticize Steinbrenner for his many faults while praising Marvin Miller for essentially the same thing.

Without George Streinbrenner (or more particularly George Steinbrenner's money), there would be no Marvin Miller. The reverse is true also. Without Marvin Miller, the Steinbrenners of the world would not be able to turn the business of baseball into a free-for-all or make baseball the subject of the back pages of the tabloid newspapers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron James

Free agency in baseball led the way for free agency in other sports, including basketball. The point of this post is not to lament the high price that LeBron James commands or to explore the details of his free agency or his contract.

The point is to record the spectacle that James' free agency has produced and the inevitability of such spectacle the moment the Marvin Miller era began. Adrian Wojnarowski commented on this spectacle on the eve of James' big announcement regarding his move to the Miami Heat:
The Championship of Me comes crashing into a primetime cable infomercial that LeBron James and his cronies have been working to make happen for months, a slow, cynical churning of manufactured drama that sports has never witnessed. As historic monuments go, this is the Rushmore of basketball hubris and narcissism. The vacuous star for our vacuous times. All about ‘Bron and all about nothing.

James is throwing a few foosball tables at Boys & Girls Clubs, an empty gesture out of the empty superstar. He’s turned free agency into the title of our times, a preening pageant of fawning, begging and pleading. Hard-working people are dragged into municipalities and told to hold signs, chant scripted slogans and beg a diva who doesn’t care about them to accept a $100 million contract. . .
. . . . . .
But this isn’t about kids and sports, and it sure isn’t about the credibility that comes with winning championships. Something’s changed here, and LeBron James has gone a long way to devaluing winning and losing in the NBA. David Stern has long pushed the individual over team, marketed showy over substance, and LeBron James represents the manifestation of it all.

Greatest talent to ever walk into this league, the self-proclaimed King, and now everyone gets a front-row, primetime seat for how it means to live without self-awareness, without restraint. The vacuous star for our vacuous times, live on Thursday night and fitting himself for a ring as the undisputed Champion of Me. All about ‘Bron and all about nothing.

Congratulations to Marvin Miller. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Marvin Miller Mad-lib

This blog went live on June 20, 2010. Since that time, I have received numerous comments (both here and on other blogs) from those that refer to the exceptions of baseball history as proof that free agency has changed nothing. Defenders of Marvin Miller and the free agency era base their arguments on small market teams that sometimes win and big market teams that sometimes lose.

The arguments are always the same and work like a mad-lib. Fill in the blanks:
Remember that time back in ________{fill in year} when the _________________________{fill in name of small market team} had a good year? Well that proves that small market teams can win and that Marvin Miller changed nothing. So forget this issue and let's get back to electing Miller to the Hall of Fame.

Or the following is the other side to the same coin:
Remember that time in _______{year} that the _______________ {name of big market team} had a bad year? That proves that you can't buy a pennant.

In baseball, even the worst teams win 50 or 60 games a year. The best teams lose 60 or more games a year. Anything is possible.

The small market teams can accumulate enough talent to put together a winner for a few seasons before the grim reaper of free agency comes to harvest their best players. The big market teams sometimes make stupid decisions and end up losing for several years in a row. All of these things happen despite free agency. Free agency is not a neutral factor. It weighs against the small market teams.

The irony is that free agency does not necessarily help the big market teams. Rich teams frequently squander the advantage that free agency gives them. Free agency is inferior as a strategy to building teams internally through farm systems. Big teams that buy existing talent often suffer as a result of this strategy.

But free agency does act as a veto on the success of the small market teams. Small market teams will lose their best talent, even if the result does no good for a big market team. It makes no difference to point out that the Dodgers, Yankees etc. often lose.

The tragedy of the Miller era is the hopelessness of the future for the small market teams - not the success of the big market teams.