A-Rod: not hitting, but still trying to score

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This may be the most New York Post story ever:

After being replaced in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the highest-paid Yankee openly flirted with a pair of pretty women two rows behind the dugout — even sending them a ball bearing a note asking for their phone numbers, a witness told The Post.

“I watched him flirt with two admittedly very cute young women nearby,’’ the witness said.

But see, that part of it is actually fun. Here’s the part that makes it New York Posty:

Instead of rooting on his teammates as they struggled to stay alive during the tense game at Yankee Stadium, A-Rod, 37, had a ball boy toss the young women a baseball inscribed with a message asking for their numbers … Fans sitting behind the dugout at Saturday’s game said they were disgusted after witnessing A-Rod’s shenanigans, which were more befitting a sixth-grader than a serious ballplayer.

There is a fabulously indignant quote about it from some anonymous fan too, which sounds so spot-on perfect in its flabbergasted outrage that I’d be shocked if the person who gave it wasn’t clutching his or her pearls at the time.  RIP to all of those people who died as a result of these tragic shenanigans.  If only A-Rod had been as dour and serious as they were, this atrocity would never have occurred.

By the way, this is a good time to look back to that thing about narratives we discussed yesterday, because a story like this is the kind of thing where narrative silliness is almost certain to occur.

It’s one thing to look at this as a fluffy, silly amusing story which allows us to crack wise. That can be a lot of fun if we let it be and if we don’t take everything so damn seriously. For example: if one of the “admittedly very cute young women near by” call A-Rod back, we can all take great joy in the fact that he has finally stopped striking out.

It’s another thing altogether, however — another idiotic thing — to turn this inconsequential little tabloid story into some metaphor for Rodriguez’s and the Yankees’ postseason struggles or something. If we pretend that This Means Something, either in a baseball sense or a moral sense or a work-ethic sense that has Serious Consequences for the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez’s legacy.

I say we should feel free to have all the fun with this kind of story we want, and to let our references to it be only limited by our senses of humor (note: almost all of the jokes will be bad and beaten into the ground by noon, but it’s not like that has stopped us before) .  However, to the extent you’re reading something from a baseball writer or talking to some other fan and they want to turn this into Chicken and Beer South, be assured that you are dealing with some weapons-grade stupid.

There is little correlation between player salaries and ticket prices

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With the recent spate of contract extensions and big name free agent signings, more than a handful of fans have expressed concern that deals signed by the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado will drive up ticket prices. Research on the subject is scarce, but both pieces of research I found — by Jon Morgan at The Baltimore Sun in 1998 and Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus in 2003 — found very little correlation between the two variables.

In Morgan’s article, he cited Allen Sanderson, an economist from the University of Chicago who said, “They are either independent of each other or the causality is reversed.” Causality, in layman’s terms, is one variable explaining the other. If the data showed a high degree of correlation, we could determine that, for example, an increase in player salaries does also result in an increase in ticket prices. But that wasn’t found.

Silver compared year-to-year changes in average ticket price and total player payroll from 2002 to ’03 and found essentially no correlation as well. The reason for this is manyfold, starting with the basic observation that the equation for an owner to set team prices is dependent many more factors than just his player payroll. Things like the team’s current competitiveness and general popularity, the presence of impactful marketable players, the area in which the team resides, and the general place on the expendable income ladder most of the city’s residents stand can all impact the price, arguably much more than player salaries.

As Rob Arthur noted in his column for Baseball Prospectus today, it is also important to consider that Major League Baseball’s business model has changed substantially. Teams used to be much more reliant on fans going through the turnstiles, which results in concession and merchandise sales, as well as other ticket sales. However, with revenue sharing and the league’s lucrative broadcasting deals with the likes of ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports, a team needn’t sell out most of its home games to turn a profit. MLB’s spin-off of MLB Advanced Media, BAMTech, has also proved bountiful. Nearly three years ago, The Walt Disney Company acquired a one-third stake in BAMTech at the cost of $1 billion. Disney then bought a majority stake at another $1.58 billion in 2017. A large portion of that $2.58 billion was distributed among the league’s 30 owners, a windfall that could easily put an otherwise struggling team into the green. (The players, by the way, don’t get a cut of this directly.)

Some teams are raking in money outside of baseball. As Craig noted last month, Liberty Media — which owns the Braves — is aiming to make money through real estate, specifically office buildings surrounding SunTrust Park. The Braves saw a 14.5 percent increase in revenue from 2017 to ’18, yet player payroll has actually gone down slightly. The Braves opened last season with a $118 million payroll. According to Cot’s Contracts, the 25-man roster is currently at $114 million coming off of a 90-win, first-place campaign in 2018. The only notable free agent signing the Braves made was third baseman Josh Donaldson on a one-year, $23 million deal.

The Braves could have increased fan interest significantly by signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club could still sign flame-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel, a former Brave, or Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner. Both are as yet unsigned free agents and the club chooses every day not to pursue them. The Braves have built a competitive roster, but acutely on the (relative) cheap. They don’t need to motivate fans to come out to the ballpark with so much money coming in from so many other places.

Harper, Machado, and Trout won’t be driving up the cost for fans to see them play. If their teams have success, more fans will come to the ballpark in which case simple supply and demand will dictate ownership to increase prices. If one takes issue with that, one’s problem lies with ownership or the general phenomenon of talented, popular players making their teams better and more interesting. The issue isn’t with the handful of $300-400 million contracts having been signed recently.