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A bit more on the distinction between the Wilpons and the McCourts

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In that last post about the difference between the McCourt situation and the Wilpon situation, I said that there was a difference between Wilpon’s ownership interest in SNY and the Dodgers’ ownership of broadcast rights.  That distinction led to a couple of similar reader comments. Like this one:

The situations are identical, just different structures. The major asset of SNY is the rights to Mets games, right? McCourt has Dodgers rights He could create a network and sell the broadcast rights to for $bazillion
He could then sell the network which is his personal asset to pay off his divorce. And that is OK where selling the rights to Fox is not?  SNY is just a shell for the rights that is packaged as an operating company.  No difference at all.

It’s actually even more stark than my reader says.  The Mets — as a team — likely get pennies on the dollar of what their broadcast rights would be worth on the open market because Wilpon is on both sides of the deal with SNY.   By underpaying for Mets rights, SNY is worth more and the money it keeps — as opposed to the money the Mets would have received — is not subject to revenue sharing with the other 29 clubs.  This has been going on for years, by the way. Ted Turner used to do with the Braves and TBS, albeit for some different reasons.

All of that said, I don’t disagree with my reader’s analysis. The point I was trying to make in the last post — and in hindsight utterly failed to make — is not that there is a fundamental difference between broadcast rights and regional sports network ownership interest. It’s that Bud Selig does and will continue to treat such things differently — and thus he will likely treat McCourt and Wilpon differently — even if doing so is disingenuous.

Why?  Because if he acknowledges that straight broadcast rights and the revenues of team-owned cable networks are essentially the same, the economic structure of baseball unravels.  Because it’s not really a structure. It’s an uneasy peace between big market, high revenue teams and the small ones.

That peace is predicated, in part, on the big clubs and the little clubs being allowed their respective excesses.  The big clubs can house their money in enterprises that are not subject to revenue sharing. Think the Red Sox investing in NASCAR teams and, more traditionally, big teams operating RSNs.  For their part, the small clubs are allowed to pocket revenue sharing money rather than invest it in their teams. At least within reason, as Jeff Loria and the Marlins found out last year.  Each type of team chafes at what the other is allowed to get away with, but they mostly keep their powder dry because everyone is getting rich.

Practically speaking, if the Wilpons are forbidden from using SNY money to settle their Madoff problems on a theory that doing so would harm the Mets, the fiction that this money is non-baseball-related is exposed and the Pirates and Royals of the world will demand that they be given a share of the RSN money the big teams are making.

Likewise, if Frank McCourt is allowed to use straight broadcast rights money to pay off his wife, the Pirates and other small teams — who are smaller than the Dodgers but, like the Dodgers, don’t have an RSN —  will feel free to pocket their own rights money and put even less into their teams than they already do, which will be a bridge too far for both the big clubs and the fan bases of the small teams (pocket the gate receipts and the concessions, Mr. Loria, but too many people are watching when you pocket the TV money).

If all of this sounds borderline corrupt to you — if it sounds like, hey, at some point someone should have filed a lawsuit over it — don’t worry! You’re not crazy!  Someone probably should have long ago.  But they didn’t.  Why? Because there are only like three owners in all of baseball who weren’t admitted to the very cozy ownership club before Selig took over. The price of their entry to the club: fealty to Selig and the highly anti-competitive arrangement described above.  Indeed, every year there are a half dozen things that happen that, if baseball teams were run as independent businesses who felt free to vindicate their rights through legal action, would lead to lawsuits.

But the lawsuits never come because no one is willing.  Big city teams are given monopolies over huge media markets so that they can build media empires. Small market owners are given the keys to small teams that, while not as lucrative on a cash flow basis, are almost certain to appreciate nicely and — with a few high profile exceptions like media revenues — they’re allowed to treat as their own private piggy bank.  It’s not ideal and it’s not fair, but it ain’t a bad bargain.

At least if you own a baseball team.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.