10.13.2008

JC Bradbury blogs for The Baseball Project

The Baseball Project is thrilled to have J.C. Bradbury, baseball blogger extraordinaire and author of The Baseball Economist, guest blogging for us. Want to win his book (as well as some other Baseball Project goodies)? Check out this entry to find out how! - Rocpile

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Thanks For Having me

I'm J.C. Bradbury, and I normally do my baseball blogging at Sabernomics.com. My take on the national pastime is a bit unique. I'm an economist, and like many economists (the ones who actually like what they do), I enjoy using economics to analyze most every aspect of life. Because I'm a huge baseball fan---I root for the Braves---I couldn't help but see the economics in the game. So, I started a blog on the subject, and I ended up writing a book, too: The Baseball Economist.

I was asked to provide a few posts for you here, and I'll do my best to provide a week's worth of them. If you like what you see, I'll keep posting at Sabernomics. I've been doing it for four years, and don't plan to stop any time soon. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer.

JC

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Ted Fucking Williams

OK, I'm supposed to be blogging about statistics, but let me start off by writing about the opposite: heart. "Heart", as baseball commentators often use it, refers to a player's competitive drive. Sometimes, those of us who like to follow baseball statistics are accused of not understanding the human side of the game.

We sometimes hear baseball insiders praise or condemn players for their heart, even when stats say something different about the quality of a player. For example, earlier this season, Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi criticized Adam Dunn for not liking baseball. I don't know whether or not Adam Dunn likes baseball, and frankly, I don't care. Dunn has a career OPS (that's On-base Plus Slugging) of .900, which is about 30-percent higher than the league average hitter according to Baseball-Reference.com. Having a player like Dunn in your lineup is going to produce many runs, which is something the Jays could have used this year---the Jays are 11th in the American League in runs scored while they are first in ERA. I believe that all top-level athletes have heart, and if you didn't you wouldn't be in the big leagues at all. If Dunn lacked heart, he wouldn't be near the player that he is; and, I think Ted Williams would agree.

Williams is arguably the best hitter in the history of the game. He hit for average, power, and knew how to draw a walk. Yet, as he stood alone against a batting practice pitcher he would yell, "I'm Ted Fucking Williams...Jesus H Christ himself couldn't get me out!" before each pitch. As good a player as he was, Teddy Ballgame understood his own doubts were his greatest enemy. If he doubted himself, he wouldn't perform up to his capable level.

Do you ever wonder why athletes are stereotyped as assholes? There are plenty of good guys out there, and we understand that the weight of being a recognizable public face can grow tiresome. We give them some room to snarl and bark; but still, stories of marital infidelity, drunken bar fights, and profanity-laced tirades are regularly reported. Why does this happen? I think it is because you can't just be Ted Fucking Williams on the field. Even the best hitters produce outs in two-thirds of their at-bats.

Williams did a little better than that with a career .344 batting average. The omnipotent Jesus Christ would have no problem getting Williams to fan on three straight, yet Williams had to believe the rules that governed everyone else didn't apply to him. He was somehow special. I imagine this is how most professional athletes feel. For most of their lives, they've been the best player on the team---they are special.

But deep down, they all know it's a lie. And they know that believing their doubts could be the beginning of the end. That's why the greatest hitter in baseball history started every game with a vulgar self-affirmation that would have offended Stuart Smalley, but he would have understood completely. And this doesn't just apply to baseball players. In school, work relationships, etc., confidence impacts success and failure, no matter how talented you are or how hard you work. So, on you way out the door every morning, be sure to give yourself a four-word pep talk: "I'm [First name] Fucking [Last name]!" If Ted Williams needed a confidence boost, then so do you.

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Gratitude (for Gerald Scully)

Curt Flood is an important player in baseball history for his contribution to the current economic climate of major league baseball. Flood is famous for demanding higher wages for himself, and standing up to owners for not meeting his demands. Though he lost his court case, his discontent helped pave the way for the players union to successfully win concessions from owners (such as salary arbitration and free agency) that would boost the baseball player salaries.

Why should we celebrate this man, as The Baseball Project does? These people play a child's game and make millions of dollars. Flood himself was no pauper---he turned down a $90,000 contract because he didn't want to play for Philadelphia. Why should we feel sorry for any of these money-grubbing athletes?

The answer lies in the work of economist Gerald Scully. Using economic theory as a guide, Scully viewed Major League Baseball as a monopsonist employer---the sole buyer of a particular type of labor. Being the only organization that purchased major league baseball talent, players had little bargaining room to negotiate their pay. And MLB understood this, enforcing its reserve clause that required players to play for the team that they previously played for, or to play for no team at all. Scully understood that the impact of this relationship between teams and players meant that owners collected a large percentage of revenues that players generated by playing baseball.

Using estimates of team revenues and performance metrics (SLG for hitters and K/BB for pitchers) Scully estimated how much performance affected winning and how much winning affected revenues. Thus, he was able to generate a dollar-value estimate of the revenue that players generate. When he compared what players made to what the players actually earned, the difference was striking. Players earned 90-percent less than the revenue they generated through their play. This means that a player like Flood, who earned around $100,000 year was generating nearly $1 million in revenue. What was at stake was how this was shared between owners and players. It is easy to see why players were upset, owners were profiting from the low salaries of players.

The Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally cases in 1975 finally led to the repeal of the traditional reserve clause, and player wages rose accordingly. Now that players were no longer bound to a single team during free agency, teams compete for players and offer to pay them salaries commensurate with the revenues they expect players to generate.

Gerald Scully published his paper in 1974 in American Economic Review, and it most certainly had an impact on the atmosphere; although, I can't say how much. In almost any history you read of about free agency, Scully doesn't receive a mention. There is no doubt that once Scully's conclusions were published that the reserve clause would soon fall. Either a rogue league would enter the market to pay players higher wages or the courts or Congress would finally be convinced of the damage being done to players.

Players earn high salaries because they possess unique skills that fans will pay to watch. While it is had to sympathize with the plight of wealthy players in their labor struggles with owners, it is important to understand that what players don't get goes to the owners, who tend to be much wealthier than players.

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