jim leyland

Jim Leyland blasts interleague play

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Jim Leyland’s Tigers begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Friday, and he’s not at all happy about it or interleague play in general:

The appeal of interleague play, Leyland said, “has worn off for me. It was a brilliant idea to start with, but it has run its course.” He knows that higher-ups, such as his good friend Commissioner Bud Selig, won’t want to hear it, but Leyland spoke his mind all the same. “I’ll probably get chewed out for (saying) it,” he said, “but I think a lot of people feel the same way … I’m on the (Commissioner’s) committee, and I’ll probably get a phone call,” said Leyland, “but I don’t really care. That’s totally ridiculous.”

This is shocking. Not Leyland’s feelings, but that he’s on one of Bud’s committees and has a dissenting view.  To hear Selig tell it, every committee he has ever formed was unanimous in its agreement with whatever proposals he had. Who knew that wasn’t the case?

As for Leyland: his beef is that interleague play is unfair.  Particularly for the Tigers who, between Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila have three great bats and only two positions in which to put them when playing in an NL park. Which does kind of stink, but there is some evening out of that when NL teams visit AL parks and have to use a bat that normally isn’t worthy of being in the lineup as their DH.

The more fundamental unfairness of interleague play in my mind is that it leads to teams in the same division playing different schedules.  If your “designated rivalry” team is really good, you’re getting a tougher draw than another team in your division who plays more games against also-rans.  Combine this with the fact that the unbalanced schedule means that wild card competitors often face varying degrees of scheduling difficulty and the unfairness of it all is exacerbated.

One game often makes the difference in a pennant race. And baseball has intentionally pursued a scheduling strategy that slants the toughness of the competition by more than a game.  Which is absolutely maddening even if the financial incentives behind interleague play are obvious.

So spout off all you want, Jim.  You’re not alone in thinking that interleague’s novelty has worn off and the benefits at this point are outweighed by the problems.

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.