Wrigley Field

The Ricketts’ proposal for Wrigley Field is wrongheaded and deceptive

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I was a day or two late into the whole Ricketts-want-public-money-for-Wrigley Field thing, and yesterday I spent more time trying to get Joe Ricketts or someone on record about it than reading deeply into the issue.  Note: the Ricketts’ spokespeople have still not returned my calls, so I can only assume that their response to the question “do you believe it is inconsistent to campaign against wasteful government spending while asking for public monies to pay for the improvements to Wrigley Field and the construction of the Cubs’ new spring training complex in Mesa, Arizona” is “no comment.”  I’ll call ’em back, though.

But I have been reading up more on the proposal this morning.  Tom Ricketts made the rounds yesterday touting the plan as a public-private partnership that woudn’t raise anyone’s taxes or directly spend public money, but that just doesn’t add up at all.  The short version of this can best be seen in the Chicago Tribune’s editorial on the matter yesterday, which illustrates that there is no free ride here:

Under Ricketts’ plan, the authority would sell up to $300 million in bonds for the Wrigley renovations. The money would be repaid out of the 12 percent amusement tax levied on each Cubs ticket. The city and county would be guaranteed each year the $16.1 million in revenue that was generated by the tax in 2009, but everything above that would be used to retire the bonds.

That’s money that would otherwise go into the city and county general funds. Neither the city nor the county is in any position to sneeze at the loss. Mayor Richard Daley didn’t rule out helping the Cubs somehow but stressed that the city is counting “nickels and dimes.” County Board Finance Committee Chairman John Daley said much the same thing.

Perhaps the strongest argument of all: The Civic Federation’s Laurence Msall warned against taking on debt for non-essentials with a $15 billion deficit looming. “The state of Illinois faces an enormous financial crisis and will be needing all of its borrowing power just to pay its bills and continue to operate,” he said.

Both the borrowing power exerted by the State of Illinois under the Ricketts’ proposal, and the extra amusement taxes collected, could be directed in more useful directions than a Wrigley rehab.

What’s more, I think the Tribune makes the best suggestion here:

Why not private financing? The deal is largely based on hiking ticket prices to garner 12 cents in tax for every $1 dollar in higher ticket revenue. Better to put the entire buck toward a privately financed rehab.

Makes sense to me. If you’re going to increase the amusement tax on tickets — which Tom Ricketts clearly said was the case yesterday — why don’t the Cubs just increase the face price of the tickets to pay for it themselves?

I can’t think of a single reason other than that by doing so, the Cubs couldn’t claim that they’ve never raised ticket prices.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: