Billy Beane would let ‘Jeopardy!’ champ James Holzhauer ‘ruin’ baseball

AP Photo

Recently, record-breaking “Jeopardy!” champ James Holzhauer said that his real dream was to work in a Major League Baseball front office.

He loves baseball, of course, but as anyone who is aware of the way Holzhauer has applied an analytical framework and strategy to the popular gameshow is aware, there is a certain logic to that separate and apart from a love for the game. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he has, for lack of a better term, hacked “Jeopardy!” and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the modern baseball front office is largely in the business of hacking baseball, with each trying to get the most out of it they possibly can.

Holzhauer’s comment has sparked a number of baseball-related stories about him. Today Dave Shenin of the Washington Post has a story in which he asked several front office executives, including Oakland A’s president Billy Beane — the first well-known analytical hacker of baseball — if they’d hire Holzhauer: Beane:

“My first thought when I saw him was: We have to get this guy in baseball.”

It could happen I suppose. The guy is smart and his background in sports gambling is likely pretty applicable to various tasks in a big league front office. It’d be a heck of a pay cut for him — front offices pay everyone except the top guys peanuts — but he’s not exactly hurting for money either so maybe he’ll happily do it for the fun of it all.

The bigger part of the story, though, is the conceptual piece: is Holzhauer, as many people say — my mom, a devoted 35-year “Jeopardy!” watcher who is turned off by his playing style included — “ruining” “Jeopardy!” And, given his affinity for analytically-oriented baseball, is it safe to say that Beane and his acolytes in the game have “ruined” baseball?

We’ve had this debate many times around here. On the one hand, baseball is there for the analyzing and simply making smart observations and applying them to the game is not out of bounds, right? On the other hand, it’s possible to optimize a team’s roster and playing style in a way that makes the product less-than aesthetically pleasing. On the third hand, hey, front offices are hired to win baseball games so why should they care what happens aesthetically? And, hey again, baseball revenues are soaring, so if you’re complaining, maybe you’re the one who’s wrong?

The same can be applied to the “Jeopardy!” guy too. My mom, again, a woman whose devotion to “Jeopardy!” is extraordinarily hard to overstate, told me the other day that she was taking a break from the show for a while because it’s no fun to watch Holzhauer dominate everyone. She appreciates his skill and intellect, and does not begrudge him doing what he can to rack up wins and rake in dollars, but it’s just not enjoyable for her. For his part, Holzhauer has his own retort, similar to the revenue argument in baseball, correctly noting that the ratings for “Jeopardy!” are up during his winning streak. “There’s definitely some people who don’t like the product they’re seeing on screen right now,” he tells Shenin, “but I don’t think the producers are complaining.”

When it comes to baseball and revenues, I typically observe that the problem is that, in recent years, the money is coming in from sources that aren’t as dependent upon winning games and fan interest as it used to be. Corporate sponsorships, long term TV deals and side businesses pay the way for the most part. As a result, I’ve asked, is there not a danger implicit in the new way of thinking? Specifically, if fan interest is not as important as it once was, what happens if the financial model shifts and the game which has spent many years alienating fans with aesthetically-unpleasing baseball needs to get them back?

With “Jeopardy!” it’s possibly same: maybe the ratings are up, but how much of that is based on people tuning in out of Holzhauer-specific curiosity? How many are hate-watching, hoping someone will beat him? Will those people still be around when he’s gone? Will my mom come back when he’s gone or will she have found something else to do at 7PM each evening?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I also don’t think the people in power are thinking too hard about them. Here’s Beane’s final quote about the matter:

“It’s the same thing [Holzhauer] is doing: It’s bringing order to something that’s inherently chaotic. If he’s ruining Jeopardy, and if we ruined baseball, then ruin away.”

Thats all well and good, I suppose, assuming nothing changes.

New bill to build Athletics stadium on Las Vegas Strip caps Nevada’s cost at $380 million

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature would give the Oakland Athletics up to $380 million for a potential 30,000 seat, $1.5 billion retractable roof stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bulk of the public funding would come from $180 million in transferable tax credits from the state and $120 million in county bonds, which can vary based on interest rate returns. Clark County also would contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.

The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team had sought to build a stadium in Fremont, San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront, all ideas that never materialized.

The plan in the Nevada Legislature won’t directly raise taxes. It can move forward with a simply majority vote in the Senate and Assembly. Lawmakers have a little more than a week to consider the proposal before they adjourn June 5, though it could be voted on if a special session is called.

The Athletics have agreed to use land on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the Tropicana Las Vegas casino resort sits. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has said he is disappointed the team didn’t negotiate with Oakland as a “true partner.”

Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-54. It would become the smallest TV market in Major League Baseball and the smallest market to be home to three major professional sports franchises.

The team and Las Vegas are hoping to draw from the nearly 40 million tourists who visit the city annually to help fill the stadium. The 30,000-seat capacity would make it the smallest MLB stadium.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York.

The plan faces an uncertain path in the Nevada Legislature. Democratic leaders said financing bills, including for the A’s, may not go through if Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoes the five budget bills, which he has threatened to do as many of his priorities have stalled or faded in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Under the bill, the Clark County Board of Commissioners would create a homelessness prevention and assistance fund along the stadium’s area in coordination with MLB and the Nevada Resort Association. There, they would manage funds for services, including emergency rental and utility assistance, job training, rehabilitation and counseling services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority would be up for renewal after 30 years.

Nevada’s legislative leadership is reviewing the proposal, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said in a statement.

“No commitment will be made until we have both evaluated the official proposal and received input from interested parties, including impacted community members,” Yeager said.