News for 10/31/12

All Hallows’ Evening edition.

  • The state’s Department of Finance nixed a settlement that would’ve satisfied the 49ers and Santa Clara Unified School District over the split and repayment of $30 million of redevelopment funds. The district, city, and county will appeal on November 26 with a ruling expected by December 18. If the deal remains rejected, the 49ers will sue in March. The ongoing dispute over the $30 million will not stop stadium construction, which is already starting on the upper deck. [San Jose Mercury News/Mike Rosenberg]
  • Speculation: Following along from that last story, I don’t think a deal between San Jose and Santa Clara County over the Diridon land will pass muster, even if the County finds money to fill the gap. The State appears to be putting its foot down to restrict redevelopment, at least through the rest of Governor Jerry Brown’s term. That’s not to say that Wolff/Fisher won’t be able to get the land. They may have to go through the normal sale process to get it, that’s all. [Sacramento Bee/Loretta Kalb]
  • The 45-day window for the Dodgers and Fox to negotiate a new TV deal has opened. Per the terms of the current deal, Fox has first dibs for the duration of the window. Guggenheim Partners paid $2 billion with the idea that the next TV deal would be a bonanza, so it would be not be a shock if no agreement emerges from the talks. There is a catch: the Dodgers have to name their price during the window, effectively setting the market. How much is too much for Fox, which has lost the Lakers and Pac-12 sports in the past year and has two channels to fill? We’ll see. [LA Times/Joe Flint]
  • Speaking of channels, Time Warner Cable SportsNet launched without carriage on DirecTV, Dish, and any SoCal cable operator other that Time Warner and Charter. The Pac-12 Network continues to be unavailable on DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, and Verizon FiOS.
  • From the Department of Audacity: the City of El Paso’s Proposition 3 asks voters to approve a ballpark deal. However, only recently was it revealed what would happen if voters said “No”. If that happens, the $50 million ballpark will continue to move forward, but not financed by bonds backed by a hotel tax. Instead, it’s highly likely that the general fund would have to be tapped to fund the ballpark. Cray cray. [El Paso Times/Cindy Ramirez]
  • Today an architectural review of Barclays Center was published, which I read with glee. NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman talks of the arena’s rusting metal panels being akin to “ancient chains binding a giant Gulliver”, or its technological excellence, including an “underground turntable for trucks that may sound eye-rollingly dull but makes traffic engineers like the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, swoon”. The latter half of the review rightfully critiques the arena’s lack of integration into the neighborhood and Brooklyn in general. [NY Times/Michael Kimmelman]
  • The Texas Rangers continue with $12 million in improvements to Rangers Ballpark, highlighted by an extra row of high-roller seats and a club area behind home plate. That brings the total of improvements over the last three years to $35 million. [Dallas Morning News/Sarah Mervosh]
  • For tonight’s home opener, the Philadelphia 76ers are unveiling the world’s largest (and scariest) T-shirt cannon. [The 700 Level/Enrico Campitelli, Jr.]

Be safe out there on Halloween.

Baseball comes early in 2013 thanks to WBC

The new tradition known as the World Baseball Classic returns next spring. As reported earlier in the summer, San Francisco was chosen as the site for the finals, to be held March 17-19. The schedule is out now, if you want to plan for the event.

  • Pool play: March 2-6 in Japan and Taiwan, March 7-10 in Puerto Rico and Phoenix, AZ.
  • Second round (Double elimination): Pool 1 (Japan) – March 8-12, Pool 2 (Miami, FL) – March 12-16
  • Semifinals: March 17-18
  • Finals: Tuesday, March 19

Tickets are not yet for sale for the championship rounds. I’ll post anew when tickets are made available. All games will be broadcast on MLB Network. Some qualifying pool games have already been played, with two additional pools to commence mid-November.

Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama will host Qualifying Pool 3 starting on November 15. Image: Wikimedia Commons

During the last two WBCs, much attention was paid to ensuring that pitchers don’t get overworked, since spring training is meant to ramp their workload gradually. There are even rules to give pitchers an appropriate amount of rest between appearances. Rosters for the major contending teams aren’t expected to be set until winter. While the Giants appear to have numerous players who could appear on numerous rosters, it’s unclear what A’s might play in the WBC due to their relative lower profile. Yoenis Cespedes, who played in 2006 and 2009, can no longer play for Cuba due to his defector status.

Pitching concerns aside, the great thing about the World Baseball Classic is that it forces spring training to start a week earlier than usual. 2012’s spring training schedule started on March 3. In 2013 gameplay should start on February 23, with pitchers and catchers likely to report around Valentine’s Day as they did in 2009. The A’s first game is on 2/23 against the Brewers, only 117 days away from today’s date.

The inclusion of WBC games into spring training allows for a greater variety and schedule of games to watch in March, whether you’re in Arizona or Florida. Chase Field will hold First Round pool play March 7-10, while Marlins Park will stage Second Round games March 12-16. 2009’s semifinals games brought in 43,000 fans each while the final had over 54,000 announced attendance. The final rounds at AT&T Park should sell out as teams emerge from the elimination round. If 2009 is any indicator prices may be steep. Fans back then were encouraged to buy strips, just as they would for postseason games. That and the uncertainty regarding which teams would play slowed sales a bit, as pool play in Miami and San Diego last year frequently attracted fewer than 20,000 fans per game. Tickets for the 2013 WBC are expected to go on sale on December 3.

A couple more travel tools

First, a quick note of congratulations to the Giants for winning their second World Series in the three years. The new interleague format with home/home series should be even more tension-filled in 2013.

The two tables below show distances and travel times between ballparks. There’s also a Google Drive spreadsheet if you want to download the tables. Methodology is simple. Numerous queries were done via Google Maps and Sport Map World and assembled into tables. Travel times for driving are the distance divided by an average 55 mph speed. Air travel times are air distance divided by a 540 mph speed, plus 15 minutes to allow for takeoffs and landings. Air travel times are between venues, not airports, so factor additional transit time if you are planning a trip based on air travel.

Distances between MLB ballparks in miles by air (blue) and land (green). Click to enlarge.

Travel times between ballparks in hours (Blue: Air, Green: Road). Times are approximate. Click to enlarge.

A newswrap post should be coming tomorrow.

Update 10/30 12:00 AM – Added tentative Minor League Baseball schedule in Google Drive format, Excel, and PDF. Includes all games except for Rookie/Short Season schedules, which are not yet published. The schedule has not yet be reformatted into the grid used for the MLB schedule. That’s coming soon.

Tenuous grip

Athletics Nation honcho Tyler Bleszinski (a.k.a. Blez) put up his annual Billy Beane interview yesterday, and as usual it’s a treat. Fortunately, this offseason’s conversation was more occupied by what the team did instead of looking to the future. It’s a good read.

Once you’re done with that, contrast that conversation with one held with Mark “not Rincon” Shapiro and conducted by Fox Sports Ohio’s Pat McManaman. The 2012 edition of the Indians spent the first half of the season at or a few games within first place, only to sink like they wore cement shoes after the All Star Break. Their last winning season was in 2007, when the team went to the ALCS and squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Red Sox. Back then the team was well-stocked with quality youth in the field (Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez) and studs on the mound (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez, Jake Westbrook). If the team could get over the hump, the malaise of the early 2000’s would give way to a resurgence, perhaps reminiscent of the mid-90’s clubs that dominated the AL Central. Instead, the team traded both Sabathia and Lee as they neared free agency, later traded Gutierrez, Martinez and Peralta while Sizemore and Hernandez were beset with injuries. It’s not a unique script. The A’s fortunes during that period played out much the same way, with Eric Chavez and Justin Duchscherer constantly rotating between the DL and the active roster, and Bobby Crosby simply not panning out after a RoY season. Poor yields on trades kept both teams from successfully rebuilding. It’s a script all revenue-poor teams have to follow, often with a boom season being illusory instead of trendsetting. Poor teams can afford to make fewer mistakes. Rich teams can afford to have Barry Zito suck for more than half of his contract until he redeems himself as a 4th starter. In Cleveland or Oakland, Zito’s contract is a pair of cement shoes.

That the Indians haven’t won the Series since the Truman administration is well-known. Not even a successful movie franchise has lifted the curse or healed the Cleveland fan’s psyche. No, it’s not as long as the Cubs’ endless suffering, but at least Chicago’s had other teams win in the meantime. The annual disappointment properly frames a snippet of the discussion between McManaman and Shapiro, as they talk about lagging attendance and the business side of the Indians. Shapiro was promoted to Indians president after the 2010 season, so he has his hands in more than just personnel work, now the task of GM Mark Antonetti.

Q: Is there a perception problem in town?

A: The biggest perception issue is probably the simplest one, which is we’re still to some extent always viewed in the backdrop of those ‘90s teams, when in reality that was a completely different business model. Those (Indians) teams were literally the Red Sox, the Cubs, the Dodgers. We were top five in payroll, as high as three. And our revenues generated that.

So I think there’s that general public sentiment that, ‘Hey if you win enough people will come.’ But that’s not necessarily true. We had a unique set of circumstances.

There was a new ballpark. That’s a huge multiplier. We hadn’t won in 40 years. That’s a multiplier. There was no football team in town. That magnified our revenues. The one that gets overlooked a lot is the industry was coming off a strike, so all of our revenues were amplified because all the other teams’ revenues were significantly tamped down at that point. So ours were amplified. Our spending power was amplified on the free agent market. And the city was economically in a better place. There were four Fortune 500 companies that were here that are no longer here.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While the A’s didn’t have a new ballpark, they and the Coliseum Commission teamed up to make improvements to the Coliseum that made it arguably the best ballpark in the majors in the late 80’s. They were able to do this because the Raiders fled the stadium for Los Angeles. Wally Haas had the immediately competitive BillyBall teams of the early 80’s, then a rebuilding period, followed by the powerhouse Bash Brothers teams, during which Haas was a profligate spender. Dick Jacobs didn’t time the Indians’ rise to occur with Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore, but he sure took advantage of it. The Indians cashed in big by not having a major sport competitor in their midst other than the somewhat interesting Cavaliers. Like the A’s Moneyball era, the Indians’ run lasted about seven years. Among the Once the Browns were reconstituted via expansion, the novelty at Jacobs Field started to wear off and the more Clevelanders could turn their attention to an expansion team that, by nature of expansion, was doomed to struggle for several years. Like Haas, Jacobs and his brother David sold the Indians as the era was ending, and as a football team returned. In the twelve years since, the Indians have been above .500 three times and went to the playoffs once, that 2007 season. As long as Mike Ilitch and Jerry Reinsdorf own rivals in the division, they’ll always have more revenue and spend more than the Indians, just as the Rangers and Angels will in the West.

Shapiro then delved into what it means to spend more.

Q: That was a decade and a half ago, really. Fifteen years. Do you think people, the general populace still judges in those terms?

A: I think it frames that very guttural reaction, like, “Hey, if you win it’s already been shown people will come.” That’s what you hear all the time.

Q: Do you believe that?

A: I think more people will come. But the challenge is 2.2 million instead of 1.6 million doesn’t change the way we operate. Even that extra 500,000, 600,000 people, even if that’s $10-to-15 more million in revenue a year . . . one win in free agency is $9 million. So you’re not going to change the context. Again, I don’t think people want to intellectualize baseball, and I don’t believe you should have to intellectualize baseball . . . and we’ve made a conscious decision in most of our interviews not to get into these topics and just stay positive and talk about what our aspirations are.

But that revenue swing between 1.5 million in attendance and 2.2 million in attendance . . . meaningful dollars but not dollars that will have us plan dramatically different.

Q: It wouldn’t change the amount of money spent?

A: It would change the amount of spent to 15 million dollars a year. What does that buy you in free agency? Very little. One and a half wins.

The A’s pulled in 1.6 million in attendance in 2012. At $25 per head, a rise to 2.2 million puts the A’s at an extra $15 million in revenue, the top range of Shapiro’s estimate – and that doesn’t account for costs so it will surely be lower than $15 million. While Shapiro doesn’t want to go too deep into the numbers, he knows what every front office knows: that the poor teams are hurt doubly by the current economic system. Aspiring to an $80 million payroll is great, yet it provides zero guarantees, enormous risk, and the cost per win in free agency (at least with WAR as the leading statistic) is so out of scale that it’s absolutely prudent to spend wisely in the short and long-term. It also puts the lie to the idea that if the A’s just win fans will come out, and that will save the team in Oakland. Something more fundamental has to change for the A’s to get to the point that they are no longer poor. As much as many in the pro-Oakland group want to believe that can happen in Oakland, I remain skeptical that it can. Just look at Bud Selig’s throwaway line when he was questioned by Bill Shaikin the other day.

Q: Do you believe a new ballpark in Oakland is feasible?

A: I don’t know. That is one of the things we are checking.

Oakland boosters have had three years to make the case that Oakland is feasible. I know the obstacles facing San Jose: the Giants’ territorial rights and a referendum. In Oakland, the challenge is much deeper and just as impossible to ignore. How much can revenues be expected to rise? $40 million? $60 million? What will make the franchise turn the corner in that city? How much is enough to compete regularly? After three years, Selig remains as unsure about Oakland as ever. After three years, you’d think he’d have the confidence to hammer out a deal the way David Stern did with Sacramento by bypassing ownership, or by having Bob DuPuy deal directly with a municipality as was done in Miami. The fact that Selig hasn’t should tell you something, and that something is not good. Selig claims that he’ll be guided by the “best interests in baseball”. From an emotional standpoint that should mean saving baseball in Oakland. Unfortunately, emotion and business generally aren’t compatible.

The A’s 2013 doesn’t look like the Indians’ 2008. They don’t have a bunch of pitchers that are about hit their sixth year. The roster is pretty well cost-controlled through 2015, allowing for flexibility in terms of offseason and midseason trades along with free agent signings. For the collective A’s fans’ sake, I hope that the team doesn’t regress as so many others have done. Otherwise Beane’s interview this time next year won’t read like this year’s, it’ll read like Shapiro’s.

San Jose and SC County officials working out ballpark land deal

We expected a decision on the Diridon land transfer to be released by the State Controller sometime in the late summer. Or late September. Now it’s almost November, and a spokesman for the office has said to the Merc’s John Woolfolk that “there is no set timetable” for a decision.

That hasn’t stopped City and County officials for working on a contingency plan. If the transfers are upheld by the Controller, the ballpark land deal can move forward, with Stand for San Jose’s legal challenge the last real obstacle. If the transfers are declared illegal because of the new redevelopment law, the county-led successor agency would be required to sell the land for market value, at least double the negotiated $7 million land price. The big news in Woolfolk’s piece is that San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Supervisors Dave Cortese and Mike Wasserman are working together to fill any gap that might arise.

“The county does have the capacity to assist in some manner,” Cortese said. “We do have an economic development director and are involved in economic development, so we are equipped to come in and assist if there’s a shortfall and a problem. It’s in our interest to see that this kind of economic development project goes forward.”

Wasserman added that “at the end of the day it could be a win-win if the property is sold at market rate” even if the county has to contribute toward that because “that accomplishes what the state wants and the land stays here” for a ballpark.

Reed, Cortese, and Wasserman will all say that besides the PR positives that would come with bring the A’s south, all sides, including the state, would benefit from $5+ million in property taxes every year, or possessory interest taxes that would approach that figure. When the parcels that make up the ballpark land were privately held, they were also held for long periods, making assessments and property tax bills rather low.

Behind the scenes, Cortese is a leading candidate to succeed Reed as mayor. Reed will be termed out, and the two frontrunners are Cortese, a former San Jose District 3 councilmember, and Sam Liccardo, who is the current D3 councilman. Cortese also has worked with Baseball San Jose in the past. Wasserman (no relation to the late Fremont mayor Bob Wasserman) hails from South County, representing Gilroy, Morgan Hill, South San Jose and Los Gatos.

Perhaps a tightened up land deal is the kind of signal Bud Selig needs to help him render a decision. In an article by the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin, Selig continued to the kinds of frustrating non-answers we can expect. We’ve learned not to expect, well, anything from Selig all these years, and there’s no reason to start expecting anything now. But just as an ace can get an umpire whose strike zone isn’t the size of a barn, or a grounder can bounce off the third base bag to trigger a rally, this is baseball. Anything can happen, and often does.

Update 5:00 PM – A flood of tweets have come in from local media and Shaikin as they bombarded Selig on the subject of the A’s. Selig is in town for the World Series, naturally.

As John Wooden once said, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”

NHL Islanders to move to Brooklyn, keep name as-is

Guess I’ll have to eat a little crow on this one.

It’s 14,500 because they have to cut into the seating bowl the same way US Airways/America West Arena was set up for hockey. This is not going to be acceptable long-term for either the NHL or the Islanders, no matter how much asbestos they find in Nassau.

Turns out that Barclays Center is perfectly acceptable to both the NHL and Islanders owner Charles Wang, because he signed a 25-year, “ironclad” lease at the new arena starting with the 2015-16 season. Wang, who grew up in Queens and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, has owned the Isles since 2000. He lives on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

The Islanders play at the four decades-old Nassau Coliseum and have lobbied for a replacement facility for years. Seven months ago, complaints by arena employees led to an investigation that found asbestos in the building. While airborne asbestos was not detected in public areas, a cleanup effort started during the summer to ensure that employees wouldn’t face additional exposure. OSHA then wrote up 16 citations against the arena related to the asbestos problem.

Wang and Nets co-owner/developer Bruce Ratner had talked for years about a joint arena effort, but that appeared to go dormant when Wang campaigned for his own arena and master planned development on the site of the Coliseum. That project, which would’ve required $400 million in public funding, lost by a landslide in 2011. During today’s press conference at Barclays Center, Wang indicated that talks with Ratner started up again about seven months ago, making it appear as if the asbestos problem triggered Wang’s decision to give up entirely on Nassau County.

Already stuck in a smallish arena (16,250 for hockey) with incredibly poor attendance (11-13,000 per game on average over the past few years), Wang probably figured that even with Barclays’ hockey-compromised seating bowl and low seat yield (14,500 for NHL games), it’s better than staying at Nassau. Ratner and Wang will continue to figure out ways to add another 500-1,000 seats, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. If no new seats can be added, Barclays would have the lowest capacity of any active NHL venue, with 500 fewer seats than Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

To illustrate how bad this is for hockey, take a look at the following seating chart from Barclays Center/Ticketmaster. Like Oracle Arena, the Barclays Center seating bowl is tight around the basketball court. Only one end has retractable seats, with the other three sides having poured concrete down to near the floor. Seats at the compromised end would be high above the ice, making the only good seats the first row. If you’re wondering, hockey at Oracle Arena would look much like this. If the Warriors build a basketball-first arena as has been the recent trend in the NBA, they’d have the same problem staging hockey games.

This chart indicates that most available seats will be used.

Now looking at this seating chart, released by the arena and the Islanders for an exhibition game that was supposed to be played there a few weeks ago. Looking at this in hindsight, it’s possible that the event was scheduled to help Wang and Islanders figure out how best to stage hockey games there. With the lockout wiping out all exhibition games and at least the first month of the 2012-13 NHL season, the parties may have felt that it was simply best to move forward with the announcement, knowing that the lockout could continue for some time to come.

Seats made available for sale for Islanders exhibition game.

Bettman played down the drop in capacity, noting Winnipeg’s success and the 1,000+ seat disparity between the new and old venues as being “little material difference”. Wang affirmed that the team would continue to be called the “New York Islanders” instead of the “Brooklyn Islanders”. Though, as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky pointed out, the current Isles’ logo doesn’t have either Queens or Brooklyn on it.

Barclays Center sits on top of Atlantic Yards, a long-used yard for the Long Island Rail Road. It’s across the street from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn’s rail/subway hub. By virtue of that transit accessibility, Barclays will be more accessible to fans by transit than Nassau Coliseum, though many who are used to driving (most of the fanbase) may be inconvenienced.

Black and Blueprint

At the end of yesterday’s 2-2 draw between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, the Quakes’ shoo-in MVP candidate Chris Wondolowski headed to the supporters’ sections behind the north goal to do his ritual handshakes and celebration with the fans. A camera followed him over and suddenly, in view, was a large sign featuring a drawing of Lew Wolff’s head. The banner thanked him and John Fisher for, well, being the owners of the Quakes. There were no mustaches or devil’s horns drawn on the image, no effigies of Wolff hanging nearby. Whether it’s love is based on one’s perspective. Clearly, there is a level of appreciation among Quakes fans that isn’t being felt in Oakland, and perhaps never will. Being more tuned into what’s happening in Oakland, I thought my eyes deceived me at first. Thankfully, another observer saw the image on television as well.

That appreciation was on display earlier in the day, as the Quakes held their stadium groundbreaking ceremony on the other side of the tracks from Buck Shaw. 6,256 fans showed up at 1125 Coleman Avenue for what would eventually be declared a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous participants in a groundbreaking. During the typically long __, Quakes President David Kaval thanked Wolff, his son Keith Wolff, and Fisher for bringing the team back and getting the stadium underway. That elicited hoots and hollers along with the expected applause. Lew was introduced and spoke briefly, thanking the fans. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council was there too, keeping the procession of dignitaries going.

Pretty shovels, all in a row.

Kaval and Quakes defender Jason Hernandez explained to the crowd how the groundbreaking was supposed to work. A large painted soccer ball was hooked onto the end of a crane. When the ball dropped and hit the ground, an airhorn would go off, signaling to the “crew” that it was time to start digging for two minutes. Thousands of commemorative shovels were stuck in the dirt field, which had painted lines and goals at each end. When the horn went off, the assembled crowd started digging. Since we were all in a fairly compressed space, many of us found that within a minute we had pretty much dug up most of the loose dirt in our respective vicitinities, leaving the next layer of hard clay to deal with. For me, that made the second minute of digging more a minute of manicuring. A countdown led to a second horn announcing the end of the two minutes. Public address man Danny Miller laid down a little suspense as he said that the Guinness people had to tabulate the crowd on hand. Miller announced “Six-thousand…” and was quickly drowned out by the crowd’s roar. Kaval held up a certificate in victory, and the masses started to depart.

Dig for two minutes and you get a free shovel.

It’s no secret that the stadium has taken longer than anticipated to get built. Whether it was concern over sponsorships needed to get it built or process issues like permitting, fans have been waiting long time for the first permanent, unshared home for the franchise to materialize. When AEG took the first MLS incarnation of the Earthquakes to Houston, Colts-style, after the 2005 season, a pall descended on the fanbase. The logos and branding would remain in San Jose, but there was no indication that a new franchise would materialize right away. AEG, which operates the Coliseum complex, Staples Center, and owns the LA Kings NHL team, is reviled in San Jose even more than Lew Wolff is in Oakland. Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who flew in to attend the ceremony, was AEG’s evil puppet and accomplice in December 2005.

Commemorative shovel

The expansion Quakes franchise took the field for the 2007 season, when Wolff and Fisher swooped in. For MLS, Lew Wolff and John Fisher represented enough money and local ties to keep the team going throughout what would be trying times ahead. Fisher may well have been the most interested person within the ownership group in getting a franchise. As for Wolff, building a stadium for the Quakes would be a good warmup for doing a much larger, more expensive stadium for the A’s, whatever the location. Wolff’s son Keith would focus on the details. As the recession struck and sponsorship dollars disappeared, the Wolffs pursued land deal concessions, which they received. The vision for the stadium was scaled back, then when the economy recovered, expanded. When the Earthquakes Stadium opens in March 2014, it will have been over 8 years from when the team was purchased to opening kickoff. If the Wolffs are tired of going through the “process”, the outward signs are slight. Still, Lew has talked about not being around for when a ballpark finally happens, and Keith has certainly dealt with enough that he may be gunshy about saddling up for an even bigger battle. Yet that’s what will be necessary if they want to get something built for the A’s. Maybe it’ll be in San Jose, maybe it’ll be in Oakland. However it proceeds, there are probably a lot of lessons from the Quakes stadium experience that are applicable for an A’s ballpark. Given how hard it is to get something funded and built in California, having that experience can’t hurt one iota.