Another baseball team, and another bad baseball team

Sunday morning I got a text:

Remember 3 years ago when the Cubs lost 96 games and you were questioning Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ plan when they were selling off all their “star” players for prospects and not wasting money on starting pitching and high-priced batters while the majority of their hitting prospects were still in the minors?? Remember when you again questioned the plan a year later when the Cubs lost 89 games in 2014 and I told you not to doubt Theo, the prospects were almost ready and they would go get the pitching they need – an ace (Lester) and a closer (Chapman), a decent 2/3 (Hendricks) – and they would dominate the Central for the next 4-5 years?? Well, Theo’s plan worked, regardless of the World Series outcome. And, hopefully I can send you a similar text in 3-4 years reminding you of this year when you ridiculed the brewers for selling of their players for prospects, not spending for quality veteran pitching or a first basemen and not really trying to be competitive this year cause they were certainly going to lose 100 games (they lost 89). Wouldn’t that be great?

Great? Yes. Likely? Where is the evidence?

The most cynical perspective says that the billionaire Cubs owners (of TD Ameritrade) screwed their fans to the tune of selling multiple seasons of bad baseball for premium prices for the chance of good baseball at some point. The most cynical perspective also says that the nouveau yuppie Cubs fans deserve to have wasted money on bad baseball. And to no one’s surprise, as the text writer noted, the billion-dollar owners went out and purchased the needed added parts to seal their win.

There is little resemblance between this Cubs team and the Cubs teams I watched, with day home baseball on free (cable) TV, and Harry Caray merrily mispronouncing names, (allegedly) drinking to excess during his broadcasts, and above all showing off Cubs baseball as something fun regardless of result. Irrespective of the benefits, or lack thereof, of Cubs ownership by the Wrigley family (a few World Series, the last in 1945, and the epic 1969 collapse) and Tribune Co. (1984, 1989, 1998, the 2003 Bartman and 2008), today’s Cubs have about 1 percent more charm than the White Sox, who have none. None of the people I know (including my father) who have been long-suffering Cubs fans will be enjoying the World Series anywhere besides their TV, or their favorite bar’s TV.

Up Interstate 94, the Brewers sucked again this season, though not to the level I thought they would. (To correct the text author: I believe I said they would lose 140 games this year.) It is impossible to say when the Brewers will not suck, and it is entirely possible their dump-players-of-any-value plan to build for the future will result in no better results than today. The ratings of minor league systems apparently don’t place any value on things like team results within their minor league or players finishing near the top of their leagues in offensive, defensive or pitching categories.

Does this look like progress to you?

  • Brewers:  73-89, 30.5 games out of first, 14 games out of the wild card.
  • Colorado Springs, Class AAA: 67-71, 12.5 games out of first place.
  • Biloxi, Class AA: 72-67, 8.5 games out of first.
  • Brevard County, Class A Florida State League: 40-97, 42.5 games out of first.
  • Wisconsin, Class A Midwest League: 71-69, 15 games out of first (though the Timber Rattlers were briefly in the Midwest League playoffs).
  • Arizona, rookie Arizona Fall League: 24-29, eight games out of first.
  • Dominican Summer League: 26-44, 24.5 games out of first.

Even if you grant that the purpose of the minor leagues is development and not necessarily wins, and even if you grant that some players may have been moved around thus harming their former teams’ fortunes, if the Brewers minor leaguers were developing better than similar-level players, the Brewers farm teams should be better than this. The supposed best minor league prospects won’t be in Milwaukee for at least three years, and at that point between the Cubs’ possibly winning the World Series and this presidential election (a major-party choice between Lucifer and Satan) we may all be dead anyway.

(This gives me an idea: Until the Brewers become contenders, they should cut day-of-game ticket prices by the dollar figure equal to the number of games they’re out of first place, down to zero. That would be their way to apologize to their fans for their team’s continued poor play.)

The Brewers’ best player is outfielder Ryan Braun. He is likely to be traded this offseason, and reports claim he’s headed to the Dodgers in return for malcontent outfielder Yasiel Puig, who is reportedly hated by most of his teammates. If that trade does take place, Puig will be hated by his Brewers teammates by Memorial Day. (Claims of the benefits of a change of scenery are usually illusory. People do not change, though they sometimes become worse. Ask the ’90s Cubs about Sammy Sosa.)

This is not all the Brewers’ fault. The economics of Major League Baseball continue to be terrible, and continue to benefit big-market franchises and a few smaller-market franchises who know how to run their businesses (i.e. St. Louis) because teams do not share their local broadcast revenues. The season is too long, which will be proven by World Series games at Progressive Field in Cleveland and Wrigley Field with lows in the 30s and 40s. TV will be fine with this; the fans may need hypothermia treatment afterward.

It should not take several seasons to build a winning franchise. The National Football League is famous for teams coming out of the previous season’s nowhere into the Super Bowl, and then going back the next year. (Tampa Bay, which finished last in its division last year, is ahead of Carolina, which played in Super Bowl 50. Dallas finished last last year and is in first this year.) If you are charging major-league prices for a minor league product, the fans have not merely the right, but the obligation to not buy tickets.

What kind of business would stay in business very long if it put out an inferior product for years and years, telling customers they’re trying to get better, ,but failing to do so? As a part of the entertainment business, every professional sports team owes it to its customers (paying fans, sponsors and broadcast outlets) to try to win every single season. Every single season, no exceptions, no excuses. Is that happening at Miller Park?

 

 

 

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