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Bud Selig holds court: discusses replay, Wahoo, Montreal, chewing tobacco, and much, much more

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MINNESOTA, MN — Commissioner Bud Selig held the town hall-style meetings he always holds at baseball’s jewel events — the Winter Meetings, the All-Star Game, the World Series — and while we all argue and discuss this stuff all the time, when the Commissioner speaks, things happen. Or at least start to happen. Dormant topics are given new life, much-discussed topics are put to rest or, more often, the can is kicked down the road a bit. The point: Selig’s comments on these things shapes the conversation, so let’s buzz through Bud buzzed through late this morning here in Minneapolis:

Montreal

Selig was asked about the exhibition games held in Montreal last spring. He said “I thought that was marvelous,” and said that Montreal would be “an excellent candidate in the future” for relocation of a franchise. He did note that the ballpark was a big problem, so it’s not as if Major League Baseball would move someone there any time soon, but one gets the sense that the Lords of Baseball would like to maintain Montreal as a reasonable bluff at the very least.

Length of Games

Some contradictory comments here. As we noted earlier today, Selig said that “television wants a three-hour program” when it comes to the Home Run Derby, but also noted that he’d like to “accelerate the pace of the game.” Given that TV and the commercials they show — especially during the playoffs — often lead to long games, this is not going to be an easy nut to crack.

Chief Wahoo:

Selig was asked about the Indians racist mascot. Obviously seeking to avoid the sort of controversy which has engulfed the Washington Redskins and the NFL, Selig went to one of his favorite plays from his old playbook: feigning ignorance. Selig said “I’ve never had anybody talk to me” about Wahoo as an issue and said the Indians have had polls and studies that indicate people don’t care. Which has zero to do with whether a red-faced racial caricature is appropriate or not, but go ahead and wave a poll. Selig also famously said no one he knew ever said baseball needed instant replay. He continued saying it until the very moment instant replay was introduced.

Instant Replay/Plate Collision Rule

Speaking of instant replay, Selig said it could use some tweaking but that he’s generally pleased. I think that’s fair. Someone asked him about the stalling process managers use before deciding to challenge and was asked about whether managers could throw a flag, perhaps. Selig said:

“In certain cities you may have a whole laundry bag coming out on the field.”

I would assume he’s talking about Philly there. As for the home plate collision rule, Selig said that it will be on the books in 2015 despite it being considered an “experimental” rule at the moment and despite some criticism of its implementation. Selig said we haven’t had any horrific collisions at home plate yet, however, and that’s the point. Which also explains the logic of the rock I keep in my pocket, but we’ll leave that go for now.

Smokeless Tobacco

In the wake of Tony Gwynn’s death, Selig was asked about baseball getting tougher on smokeless tobacco. Selig said that’s a matter for collective bargaining but noted that, at some point, grown men are allowed to make their own decisions and that all the league can practically do right now is communicate to players how dangerous it is and hope they make good decisions.

Derek Jeter

As everyone else has been asked about Derek Jeter this week, someone asked Selig about the retiring Yankees Captain. Selig totally ripped Jeter a new one, saying that the game will be better once he’s gone.

Oh, wait. No. He said “How lucky can this sport be to have the icon of this generation turn out to be Derek Jeter.”

That strikes me as an odd way to put that, but Bud’s sentiments seemed quite sincere, so let’s give the Commissioner credit for being a fan with some passion. As he always truly has been if you watched closely, but it’s kinda neat to see Selig showing it in his official capacity.

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.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.