The Grapefruit League vs. the Cactus League

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Cactus League.jpgThis spring there will be 15 teams training in Arizona and 15 training in Florida. As many teams outside of Florida as in is a first, and Florida politicians don’t like it:

It’s a trend that concerns Florida tourism officials and lawmakers, who
are determined to keep the Grapefruit League’s 15 teams, if not entice
others to join. Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Crist met with owners
of the Chicago Cubs and promised to “do whatever it takes” to lure them
to the Naples area for spring training . . . Legislation being drafted would create a pool of money the state can
use to award matching grants to communities and teams that want to
build stadiums or renovate existing facilities.

I don’t want to launch a giant political debate, but can I ask why government intervention in business is almost always viciously attacked, but no one ever cries “socialism” when they give money to billionaires to build ballparks?

Anyway, I don’t know that there’s much of anything that can be done to stop the movement west. Yes, I suppose there’s some baseline that we won’t go under in Florida due to eastern seaboard teams wanting to cater to retirees and vacationers who overwhelmingly choose to go to Florida over other places, but by all accounts Arizona has Florida beat as far as spring training experiences go.

Why? Because the facilities are all clustered around Phoenix, thereby cutting down on travel time and expense while concentrating the teams in a more densely-populated area.  The weather is more predictable.  I’ve heard Floridians say that Grapefruit Leaguers get in better shape because they sweat more there, but that sounds like a bogus reach to my untrained ears. I’m guessing an exercise physiologist could debunk it on the back of a napkin. Exertion is exertion.

But the biggest thing keeping the tide from turning is that public money. According to a pretty nifty book I read last spring, through early 2009, Arizona had spent roughly $250 million in public money building and improving
spring training facilities for major league baseball teams (they no doubt spent more this year to finish off the Reds’ portion of the new Arizona facility they share with the Indians). Florida has
spent too, but probably $100 million less than Arizona has.

So, my recession and housing-market-bust-crippled Floridian readers: You want your state to spend another $100 million — and likely much more — to lure the major leaguers back for a couple months each year?  I wouldn’t. Let ’em go to Arizona. If you want to see them so bad, hop a flight to Phoenix. They’re pretty cheap, actually. 

Must-Click Link: Where’s Timmy?

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Tim Lincecum last pitched last season for the Angels and he did not pitch well. Over the winter and into the spring there were reports that he was working out at a facility somewhere in Arizona with an aim toward trying to latch on to another team. He didn’t. And, given how his velocity and effectiveness had nosedived over the previous few seasons, it was probably unrealistic to think he’d make it back to the bigs.

But now, as Daniel Brown of the Mercury News reports, he seems to simply be gone.

He’s not missing in any legal sense — his friends and family know where he is — but he’s out of the public eye in a way that most players at the end of their careers or the beginning of their retirements usually aren’t. He’s not been hanging around his old club, even though the Giants say they’d love to honor him and give him a job if and when he announces his retirement. He’s not hanging around his high school or college alma maters even though he makes his home in Seattle, where they are. He’s gone from being one of the most identifiable and conspicuous presences in baseball to having disappeared from the public eye.

Brown’s story is an excellent one, touching on Lincecum’s professional rise and professional fall, as well as the personality traits that may suggest why he’s not eager to be making headlines or posing for pictures. A good read.

 

Major League Baseball claims it will “redouble its efforts” on expanded netting

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Yesterday, during the Minnesota Twins-New York Yankees game at Yankee Stadium, a young girl was injured after a foul ball flew off the bat of Todd Frazier and into the stands along the third base line where she was sitting. In some parks that ball would be stopped because of netting down the line.

There was no netting that far down the line in Yankee Stadium, because (a) Major League Baseball does not require it; and (b) the Yankees have still not committed to expanding it like other teams have.

A few minutes ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement about the injury:

I’m not sure how baseball can “redouble” its efforts given that its efforts thus far have been to completely delegate the responsibility of expanded netting to the 30 clubs.

This delegation came in December of 2015 when Major League Baseball released its recommendation — not its mandate — that teams provide expanded netting. Teams were “encouraged” to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of the clubs’ choice. At the same time, they launched “fan education” guidelines about where to sit and whether or not they’ll be protected.

While these recommendations were better than nothing, they also seemed far more geared toward diminishing the liability of the league and its clubs than actively protecting fans from screaming projectiles.

The stuff about fan education was obviously a creature of an assumption-of-the-risk calculus. It was, essentially, a disclaimer of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety and, as such, was aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury. A way of saying “hey, we told the Yankees [or whoever] that they should do more, please don’t sue us too.”

It’s one thing to do all of that and walk away, as the league seemed content to do in 2015. It’s another thing to walk back today, as Manfred is, claiming that the league will “redouble” such transparently ineffective efforts. It’s frankly insulting. Yet this is baseball’s approach to the matter. The league is, for whatever reason, afraid to tell its clubs that it has to do something that is so clearly prudent. It, apparently, is waiting for a someone to be killed by a foul ball before mandating netting rather than meekly suggesting it.

Oh, I’m sorry. Waiting for someone else to be killed. Because it has happened before. Absent prudent protections it will, inevitably, happen again.

While Major League Baseball may have been safe from being held responsible for such things due to its ticket disclaimers and assumption of the risk arguments in the past, it won’t be in the future. One would hope it will not take death or debilitating injury of a fan for the league to accept it.