Are sports leagues listening to fans too much?

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Jorge Arangure of Vice Sports has a thought-provoking piece up today. It’s about how, in many ways, sports leagues are abdicating their rule-making authority to the fans and observers who complain the loudest:

Never before has the average sports fan had so much power. An online mandate can force change. And the leagues are willing to listen, not because it will necessarily improve the game, but because ignoring the loudest sector of the public imperils the bottom line—the money, it’s about the money. The competition for entertainment has become so fierce that the leagues will cater to their audiences’ desires, no matter the consequences.

Arangure argues that this has played out in baseball, where calls from fans and the media — mostly online, which serves to amplify the complaints of a relatively small number of people — to speed up the game and institute instant replay have served to set the league’s agenda. In football, outcry over the NFL’s disparate punishments for various offenses by players has clearly made the the league change its policies as well. Arangure worries that “Leagues are creating a dangerous precedent in allowing the public to dictate rules and policy.”

I agree that leagues acting in reactionary ways, as the NFL seems to have done regarding player discipline, is a bad move. The voice of the public had a lot of good points about how the NFL went too soft on Ray Rice and too hard on Josh Gordon, but Roger Goodell’s unilateral changing of policies regarding domestic violence was clearly a P.R. move. One which, because he didn’t work with the NFLPA, may lead to some unintended consequences and/or some harder negotiations later, no matter how well-intentioned the changes were. You would hope that some sort of vision, as opposed to the mere avoidance of bad press motivates a league’s decision making.

But I don’t think baseball has done this. At least not to any extreme degree. Yes, it instituted instant replay after fan complaints about blown calls started to get louder, but it’s not like that complaint was some random and superfluous one. The technology existed to put a system in place and getting the calls right is an absolutely good thing. If anything, they should’ve done it sooner and, if anything, they should have listened to the fans even more closely than they did. No one, after all, was clamoring for a manager-challenge system. That’s what we got, though. And not because baseball fell over itself to cater to fans. It took them YEARS to get there.

Same goes for the issue which leads off Arangure’s article: the growing chorus of voices asking baseball to speed up the pace of play. It’s been placed on the agenda in large part because it has become an increasingly common complaint among the loud hordes he identifies. But are they wrong? I’m not sure it matters where the suggestions come from as long as they are good suggestions. If anything, Major League Baseball spent far too long ignoring fans’ wishes. I’m not going to complain now that they seem to be listening to them more. Especially if fan sentiment works to curb Major League Baseball’s strange tendency to institute strange and gimmicky solutions when left to its own devices.

Arangure closes with this:

The bigger argument now is whether sports leagues have become part of an on-demand lifestyle where we can pick and choose what we like and then demand changes to the things we don’t like. There seems to be little consideration paid to whether something is good for the given sport past the moment’s rage fueling the cries.

Are leagues yielding to rage-fueled cries? Perhaps. But after a century or so of sports’ leagues acting solely in their own self-interest, I’m not gonna get too worked up about them finally listening to their customers for a little while.

Report: The Yankee Stadium charity is a secretive, self-dealing boondoggle

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The New York Times has a blistering report on the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund. The Fund is the charity the Yankees created in 2006 as a means of making up for the negative impact the construction New Yankee Stadium had on the surrounding community, primarily via its taking over 25 acres of parkland.

The idea of the Fund was a good one: to distribute $40 million in cash grants and sports equipment, and 600,000 free baseball tickets to community organizations in the Bronx over four decades. And it has been distributing funds and tickets. As the Times reports, however, the manner in which it has done so raises some red flags. Such as:

  • Charitable donations have, in an amazing coincidence, often gone to other charities which share common board members with the New Yankee Stadium Fund;
  • Funds have gone to many wealthy groups in affluent parts of the Bronx far away from the Stadium while the area around the stadium remains one of the most impoverished in the nation. For example, a private school in a wealthy part of the borough and a rec center in a gated community have gotten a lot money that, one would think anyway, could be and should be devoted to organizations closer to the ballpark that are in greater need; and
  • There has been almost no transparency or oversight of the Fund. Reports which were supposed to have been submitted have not been. And no one, apart from the Times anyway, seems to care. The Yankees certainly don’t seem to. Indeed, as the article notes, the team has worked hard to keep the Fund’s operations out of its hands. They just got their new ballpark and write the checks and hand out the tickets. Everything else is someone else’s problem.

Cronyism in private philanthropy is not uncommon. As is a lack of oversight. Often it’s the best connected people who receive the benefit of such funds, not the people most in need. This is especially true in charities whose creation was not born of a philanthropic impulse as much as it was born of a need to put a good face on some not-so-good business dealings.

If the Times’ report is correct — and the lack of anyone coming forward to dispute it on the record despite the Times’ requests that they do suggests it is — it appears as if the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund is one of those sorts of charities.

Who is the fastest sprinter in baseball?

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We’re not talking the 100 meters here. We’re talking practical baseball sprinting. That’s defined by the StatCast folks at MLB as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window,” while sprinting for the purposes of, you know, winning a baseball game.

StatCast ranked all players who have at least 10 “max effort” runs this year. I won’t give away who is at the top of this list, but given that baseball’s speedsters tend to get a lot of press you will not be at all surprised. As for the bottom of the list, well, the Angels don’t pay Albert Pujols to run even when he’s not suffering from late career chronic foot problems, so they’ll probably let that one go. I will say, however, that I am amused that the third slowest dude in baseball is named “Jett,” however.

Lately people have noticed some odd things about home run distances on StatCast, suggesting that maybe their metrics are wacko. And, of course, their means of gauging this stuff is proprietary and opaque, so we have no way of knowing if their numbers are off the reservation or not. As such, take all of the StatCast stuff you see with a grain of salt.

That said, even if the feet-per-second stuff is wrong here, knowing that Smith is faster than Jones by a factor of X is still interesting.