Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays, Game 1

Ken Rosenthal is beating the contraction drum again

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Ken Rosenthal wrote a column today — or maybe it was yesterday; I told you that this mountain time stuff was weirding me out — in which he said he’s “hearing rumblings that certain big-market teams want to drop the A’s and Rays.”  Meaning contract them.

Rosenthal then quickly proceeded to dismiss the contraction gambit as unworkable and admitted that it stands little chance of ever happening.

And he’s right to do so for the very reasons he cites: the union would consider it to be an assault on membership.  Politicians who are already inclined to mess with baseball over issues that affect virtually none of their constituents would go absolutely insane if their local ballclub and the many jobs and civic identity they create were threatened. And that’s before you figure that the owners of any teams that were contracted would have to be bought out.  To the tune of over a billion combined dollars for two teams, I’d reckon.

Here’s a quick financial lesson: when the very thing that is cited as a problem justifying contraction — a few teams having to pay tens or, occasionally, one hundred million dollars in revenue sharing — is way cheaper than the alleged solution, you know it’s not happening.  Especially when you consider that those complaining of the problem — the Yankees and Red Sox — are vastly outnumbered by the teams who don’t have any significant revenue sharing obligations to begin with.

No, contraction isn’t happening. The only thing that even comes close to having it make sense is if franchise values become so low that buying out owners isn’t too big a deal and overall revenues decrease to the point where not contracting a couple of team imperils the others as well.  In case you haven’t noticed, baseball is swimming in cash at the moment.  And the ones swimming in the nicest pool are the owners of the very teams who like to moan and complain about revenue sharing.

As for Rosenthal, I can’t dispute his source. I’m sure someone has “rumbled” about the A’s and the Rays recently, because billionaires love to rumble.  But it should be noted that Rosenthal himself has a bit of a hair trigger when it comes to this sort of thing.  Just last May he was floating a crazy contraction scheme involving the Royals and Pirates that was designed to save the Rays and A’s.

We all have weaknesses. Mine are “best shape of his life” stories, steroids and thinking the absolute worst about the Wilpons. Ken’s seem to involve over-the-top structural changes in the game, be it his contraction ideas or his even loopier radical realignment proposals.

They’re fun — all ideas are fun, especially off-the-wall ones — but they’re just ideas, and often there isn’t a heck of a lot to the hobby horses we all like to ride from time to time.

It’s spring training for groundskeepers too

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Or, I should say, it’s spring training for whatever automated timer thingie turns the sprinklers on and off.

This was the scene at Goodyear on Saturday as the Indians and Reds played in the bottom of the eighth in their spring training opener. Reds manager Bryan Price says that this was probably the second or third time this has happened in the middle of a game there.

Maybe investigate manually operating that bad boy? Just a suggestion!

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.