On second and final day of the meetings with Major League Baseball’s 30 owners in New York, the topic of the pension plan for those working for clubs was discussed. The matter, first reported by Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, has been brewing for several years. According to the report, a small market club raised the issue of eliminating some pension plans, despite the league seeing record gross revenues in excess of $8 billion.
But the matter was not brought to a vote today, and no action has been taken. Sources reiterated what was said when the story first broke that the matter is not about eliminating pension for personnel, rather giving clubs more flexibility in what they offer. It was not said whether that could possibly mean the downgrading of pensions for some clubs.
At the time of the report in March, the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation had an emergency conference call to discuss the matter. Those that have been scouts for some time were reassured that they would not be impacted by any change, but it was unknown whether new scouts would see adverse impacts, if or when, the league’s owners vote on changes to the pension plan.
Major League Baseball’s 30 owners begin their two-day quarterly meetings in New York today, and with a continued discussion around expanded instant replay. A committee that includes former and current managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, and Mike Scioscia as well as executives such as Frank Robinson, John Schuerholz, and Mark Scapiro was created in 2009 to look into on-the-field matters such as instant replay. The media has focused more closely on instant replay in recent weeks after a blown call during the Angels-Astros game last week that saw umpire crew chief Fieldin Culbreth suspended two-games and fined for misapplication of the Official Baseball Rules. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports! there is “support, approval and, most vital, funding from ownership” into looking at expanded instant replay. But, according to sources, don’t expect any changes to come about immediately. While there is support, how it is implemented and to what degree is still something that could have 30 differing views.
Beyond committee meetings, nothing earth-shattering is expected to come out of the meetings that occur today and tomorrow (although, anything is possible). While “something” could come out of the meetings, sources indicate there will not be movement on two languishing issues.
As has been the case since 2009, there is not expected to be any recommendations or movement on the issue of the Oakland Athletics moving to San Jose. With San Jose being part of the San Francisco Giants territory the current World Series Champions aren’t in any hurry to relinquish the market.
The Dodgers still await MLB’s approval on what is expected to be a $6 to possibly $8 billion television deal, and there has been a massive explosion in television rights fees across the league. With it, there has been renewed focus on the league’s blackout policy. Both MLB and the NHL are defendants in a class-action lawsuit, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) last week introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act that would allow consumers to purchase channels on an a la carte basis. This could impact MLB Network and other networks, as well as league blackout policies. In speaking to the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet yesterday, McCain said that as part of the bill it, “seeks to end sports blackouts for teams that play in publicly financed stadiums. The antiquated government blackout rules were created in 1975 and are unfair to taxpayers who finance the vast majority of major stadiums these days.”
And yet with this renewed pressure nothing is on the agenda for the quarterly meetings to address the blackout policy at the local and regional level. As part of the new national television deal with FOX that kicks in next year, nationally broadcasted games that were previously blacked out on MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV due to an exclusivity agreement will be lifted. But that’s just the Saturday game of the week. The issue of local and regional blackouts—at least for the time being—are expected to remain.
The Houston Astros have announced that George Postolos has resigned as President and CEO of the club. Postolos was cited as being instrumental in working with Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane and his group in the purchase of the Astros, had been Astros President and CEO since November of 2011. He worked for seven years with Crane to acquire a sports franchise.
“I am very proud of what Jim accomplished with my help – acquiring a major league franchise with a strong and diverse ownership group, developing and implementing a good plan for the team’s future, and assembling a first rate management team,” Postolos said. “I look forward to helping other investors pursue their objectives in sports knowing that Jim and the Astros organization are off to a great start and well positioned for future success.”
Postolos will be returning to his consulting practice advising investors on acquisitions and strategy in major league sports. There is currently no information on a successor or plans to search for one, although the possibility is there that it could happen in the coming days. A looming question that will inevitably surface is the status of former Astros and Rangers Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan. Ryan, who was reportedly on the edge of resigning from the Rangers as CEO after the Rangers promoted general manager Jon Daniels and Rick George, said just after the start of the season that he was staying with the organization, but it’s unclear what—if anything—was done to make that contractually binding.
During his tenure with the Astros, Postolos spearheaded several changes within the organization, including the Astros overall rebranding process, which included new team uniforms, colors and logos. Postolos also revamped the marketing and foundation departments and emphasized the importance of feedback from Astros fans, taking part in several face-to-face meetings with Astros season ticket holders and long-time fans.
Under his guidance, the Astros nearly tripled the size of the ticket sales staff dedicated to providing relationship-based services to their clients.
“We appreciate George’s hard work in the acquisition of the Astros and his commitment to the organization,” Crane said. “I’d also like to personally thank him for the assistance that he has provided to me over the last several years and wish him the best of luck in the future.”
When it comes to sports, what every owner looks for is repeat business. And, if you want repeat business, “loyalty” is king. Through good times and bad, the stronger your fan loyalty, the better off you are.
So, with Opening Day this Sunday, Brand Keys has released their 21st annual report, the Brand Keys 2013 Sports Fan Loyalty Index. Even with a roster that’s old as dirt and a trade for Vernon Wells in the offing (believe it or not, this makes more sense than you think), the New York Yankees return to the #1 spot, knocking the Phillies off the top perch after seeing two consecutive disappointing seasons. The 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants move from the #4 to the #3 position while Cardinals and Braves move up the list. If you’re in Boston, a concern is the Red Sox who held the top position from 2008-10 and haven’t been out of the top five for a considerable period of time. After two consecutive years of controversy, the Red Sox drop completely out of the top 5.
At the bottom of the list, the Astros, who have taken on extreme cost cutting, and move from the NL to the AL this year, drop to the “least loyal fans” spot at #30 after never being in the bottom five since The Biz of Baseball began tracking yearly data back to 2008. The Royals, who continue to languish move from 28 to 29 while the Pirates “improve” from the worst in 2012 to 28th. In news that is bound to make Baltimore happy, after years of being on the wrong side of winning, the Orioles drop out of the bottom five after holding the #30 position in 2008 and the #29 position last year. Winning does cure ills. Rounding out the bottom five, the Mets, who are just now beginning to crawl out from under the Bernie Madoff scandal, and Mariners, who have languished at the bottom of the AL West standings for years now, hold their spots at 27 and 26 from last year.
The Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index was designed to help professional sports team management identify precise fan loyalty rankings in their home and national markets. “These insights enable league and team management to identify areas, particularly emotional ones, that need strategic brand coaching,” said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys’ founder and president.
Current 2013 MLB top-5 and bottom-5 brand standings are listed (Note: #’s in parentheses are team rankings for 2012):
Top-5 Teams – 2013 (2012 rankings)
1. New York Yankees (#2) 2. Philadelphia Phillies (#1) 3. San Francisco Giants (#4) 4. St. Louis Cardinals (#5) 5. Atlanta Braves (#6)
Cellar Dwellers 2013 (2012 ranking)
30. Houston Astros (#23) 29. Kansas City Royals (#28) 28. Pittsburgh Pirates (#30) 27. Seattle Mariners (#27) 26. New York Mets (#26)
The Sports Fan Loyalty Index, which measures all the teams in the four Major Leagues, provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans within a team’s SMSA support the home team versus corresponding values for fans of other teams in that market.
“That’s important because fan loyalty correlates very highly with broadcast viewership, merchandise purchase, and ticket revenues. And happier fans as well,” noted Passikoff. “Everybody loves a winner, but it’s important to note that win/loss ratios do not entirely govern fan loyalty. There are three other emotionally based factors that must be taken into account.”
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE HISTORICAL BRAND LOYALITY DATA AND HOW THE METHODOLOGY FOR THE RANKINGS
It has long been sought by the league, has had fits and starts, and will have large impacts if it does, or doesn’t happen. The topic is an International Draft in Major League Baseball, and according to a report in today’s SportsBusiness Journal, talks are intensifying on the subject. The reason for the focus on it is a June 1 deadline within the labor agreement reached between the MLBPA and MLB last year. Within the CBA, details of the worldwide draft spell out what occurs with, or without an international draft by the June 1 deadline.
As the CBA outlines, here’s what would happen if no joint agreement on an international draft were to happen by June 1
If a draft (or drafts) covering international amateur players does not commence in the 2013 season, and irrespective of whether the conditions set forth in I.E have been satisfied, the Office of the Commissioner may provide notice to the MLBPA that it intends to commence operation of a draft (or drafts) covering international amateur players for the 2014 season and subsequent seasons. Written notice of such intent must be provided to the MLBPA by no later than June 1, 2013, and such notice must include a detailed explanation of the rules and procedures that the Office of the Commissioner intends to use for the draft. The MLBPA may veto the commencement of a draft (or drafts) covering international amateur players for the 2014 season and subsequent seasons by providing written notice of its objection to the Office of the Commissioner by June 15, 2013.
But in speaking with MLBPA Executive Director, Michael Weiner in 2012, well in advance of the latest CBA being reached, he voiced that the union was for making it happen, but that there were difficulties in its implementation. Those difficulties are sizeable. As defined in the CBA, the following has to be addressed before an international draft can occur:
The Committee will be charged with advising the MLBPA and the Office of the Commissioner on the following matters:
1. If there is an international draft, whether international players should be part of a single worldwide draft (including players currently covered by the Rule 4 Draft) or a separate draft (or drafts).
2. The appropriate age at which international amateur players should be signed to professional contracts.
3. If there are to be multiple drafts, whether players from Puerto Rico should remain in the Rule 4 Draft or instead be part of an international draft.
4. The development of appropriate country-by-country plans for playing and development opportunities for players prior to draft eligibility, including expansion of the El Torneo Supremo.
5. The development of appropriate plans to provide undrafted or unsigned players (including players age 18 to 21) from Latin America with an opportunity to continue their development, including the creation of a new league or leagues, or the addition of centrally-operated Clubs in the Dominican Summer League (“DSL”).
6. Whether and how regulations should be put in place regarding representation of international amateur players (e.g., “independent trainers” and agents).
7. Improving the education and acculturation programs of Clubs at their international academies.
8. What safeguards should be established in relation to any signing bonus payments made to international amateur players.
9. The laws of the countries from which international players are signed and how those laws should affect the actions of the parties.
10. What actions are necessary in order to achieve the negotiation of a revised agreement between MLB and the Mexican League that allows players greater choice of where to play and promotes a fair and open system of player movement.
11. What actions are necessary in order to achieve the negotiation of revisions to the protocol agreements with the Korean Professional Baseball League, the Japanese Professional Baseball League, and the Taiwan R.O.C. League to accommodate a draft.
12. How Cuban players should be treated under an amateur talent system in light of the legal and political factors that affect their signability.
Those items are becoming more important as the season and the June 1 deadline near.
“There are plans to sit down and get serious about the negotiations this spring,” said David Prouty, MLBPA general counsel to Liz Mullen of the SBJ. “We are up against a deadline. If we don’t come up to an agreement, there will be more serious restrictions.”
As to those restrictions, as further reported by the SportsBusiness Jounal:
Without a draft deal, teams next year overspending their international signing caps by 15 percent or more will be subject to a 100 percent tax and a two-year restriction from signing any foreign amateur player to a bonus of more than $300,000. Even a 5 percent overspending by a club would limit an individual signing bonus to $500,000. Current international signing regulations assess only a 75 percent tax for less than a 5 percent overspend, building to a one-year prohibition on bonuses above $250,000 for overspending the pool by at least 15 percent.
The Rawlings S100 Pro Comp batting helmet can sustain pitches of 100mph and reduces the risk of concussion. All players will now be using it as part of latest labor agreement between MLB and the players.
While the NFL has grabbed the headlines on the topic, the issue of concussions in Major League Baseball is being taken seriously. The concussion policy that was implemented prior to the 2011 season was improved as part of the latest CBA. As an example, all players undergo neuro-cognitive baseline testing during Spring Training or when they join a club each season. There are various assessment tools—both on the field and off—that trainers use to determine the level of a concussion, and based on that assessment, a player goes on the DL for varying lengths of time, to as little as 7 days or longer.
To try and address the matter further, the league has been working with Rawlings on a new helmet that can reduce the risk of concussions from pitches to the head area at speeds of 100 mph. As part of the new labor agreement, the sides agreed that the new helmet would be in place for the upcoming season, and be an upgrade of the bulkier ones first developed and tested by the likes of David Wright and were given the nickname “Great Gazoo” after the Flinstones character when they were initially tested in 2009 (see details and image, here) because of the bulkiness.
Now, the design has been improved and per the labor agreement, will begin seeing use with the start of this week's Spring Training exhibition games. The new S100 Pro Comp batting helmet will become the standard throughout Major League Baseball.
Approximately 200 MLB players elected to wear the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp last year before the league-wide rule went into effect, including National League batting champion Buster Posey of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
"Collectively with MLB and the MLB Players Association, we developed the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp batting helmet to provide increased protection for the world's best baseball players, while meeting their specific functional and performance demands," said Art Chou, senior vice president of product for St. Louis-based Rawlings. "The evolution of the Rawlings S100 product line clearly illustrates how we can deliver innovative protective solutions at the very highest level of the sport while still delivering high-performing equipment so these players can continue to play at their peak levels."
According to Rawlings the helmets are constructed of aerospace-grade carbon fiber composite, the new Rawlings S100 Pro Comp batting helmet provides technologically-enhanced protection for ball strikes up to 100 miles per hour. Earlier this week, the innovative Rawlings S100 Pro Comp helmet design was named a finalist for the Edison Awards in the category of material science-composites. The Edison Awards honors excellence in new product development and innovation.
The next-generation S100 Pro Comp is 300-percent stiffer and 130 times stronger than the traditional ABS plastic helmet that was the previous standard in Major League Baseball, yet features a significantly lighter and smaller design than previous S100 models that have been tested in recent years. The similarities in weight and size to the traditional helmet allow for a seamless transition to the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp for all MLB players.
"Protecting our players with the latest innovations in protection equipment is a top priority of Major League Baseball," said Dan Halem, Senior Vice President, Labor Relations, Major League Baseball. "Last year the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp received a great reception from the MLB players that chose to wear it, and we're pleased to take the next step and roll it out league-wide."
Baseball season is not far away… MLB has released the following:
Major League Baseball today announced the game times for its master 2013 regular season schedule, which will begin on March 31st with ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” when the Houston Astros host the Texas Rangers at 8:00 p.m. (ET) / 7:00 p.m. (CT). The final day of the 2013 regular season, which features 11 divisional match-ups, is scheduled for Sunday, September 29th.
Opening Night in Houston between the Astros and Rangers marks the first-ever game for the Astros as an American League Club and it begins ESPN’s 24th season televising Major League Baseball. Twelve games will be played on Monday, April 1st, when traditional Opening Day returns to a Monday for the first time since 2010 (the 2011 season opened on a Thursday, while 2012 began with one game on a Wednesday night and traditional Opening Day on a Thursday). The first full slate of 15 games will be played on Wednesday, April 3rd.
ESPN will continue its coverage of Opening Week presented by Budweiser with four games on Monday, April 1st, which feature the winners of the past seven World Series. Opening Day coverage on ESPN begins at 1:00 p.m (ET) as the Boston Red Sox visit the New York Yankees, followed by the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers at 4:00 p.m. (ET)/1:00 p.m. (PT). At 7:00 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2, the Philadelphia Phillies will visit the Atlanta Braves, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals at the Arizona Diamondbacks at 10:00 p.m. (ET)/7:00 p.m. (PT).
MLB Network will have extensive coverage of Opening Week, featuring the return of its regular season programming lineup of The Rundown, Intentional Talk, MLB Tonight and Quick Pitch with look-ins at live games in progress, previews, highlights and analysis. MLB Network’s Showcase Game schedule will begin on Tuesday, April 2nd with the Los Angeles Dodgers hosting the 2012 World Champion San Francisco Giants at 10:10 p.m. (ET) / 7:10 p.m. (PT).
Among the other highlights of the 2013 regular season:
The Cincinnati Reds open their season against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Great American Ball Park on Monday, April 1st at 4:10 p.m (ET), marking the start of the 17th season of Interleague Play, and the first to feature Interleague contests for the duration of the season.
The San Francisco Giants square off against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park in their home opener on Friday, April 5th at 4:35 p.m. (ET) / 1:35 p.m. (PT) in a rematch of the 2012 National League Championship Series.
The Detroit Tigers open a three-game series against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park on Friday, April 5th at 1:05 p.m. (ET) as the clubs see one another again after the 2012 American League Championship Series.
The Dodgers will host the Padres at Dodger Stadium at 10:10 p.m. (ET) / 7:10 p.m. (PT) on Monday, April 15th, which is designated as Jackie Robinson Day throughout Major League Baseball.
Interleague series featuring prime rivals will have back-to-back two-game series beginning on Monday, May 27th (Memorial Day), with the host club shifting on Wednesday, May 29th. The match-ups include: Nationals-Orioles; Mets-Yankees; Marlins-Rays; Reds-Indians; Cubs-White Sox; Cardinals-Royals; Angels-Dodgers; Giants-Athletics; Phillies-Red Sox; Braves-Blue Jays; Tigers-Pirates; Brewers-Twins; Rockies-Astros; Rangers-Diamondbacks; and Padres-Mariners.
The 2013 All-Star Game, to be hosted by the New York Mets, is scheduled for Tuesday, July 16th at Citi Field.
Select READ MORE for the complete 2013 Major League Baseball regular season schedule with game times (PDF)
At 82, Earl Weaver has left the building. The Hall of Fame manager from the Baltimore Orioles passed away today of an apparent heart-attack and the baseball world is less for it. He was a brilliant manager, and colorful in ways that might make Yogi Berra blush.
His managerial record tells the story: His 1,480-1,060 record ranks 22 all-time, sandwiched in-between Clark Griffith and Bruce Bochey. His .583 win percentage is the best by any manager who started after 1960. He won four American League pennants—three in a row from 1969-1971-- and the World Series in 1970. The only time that he finished below .500 was 1986 (73-89, .451) his final season managing. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee as Manager in 1996.
"Earl Weaver stands alone as the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles organization and one of the greatest in the history of baseball,” said Orioles managing partner, Peter Angelos. “This is a sad day for everyone who knew him and for all Orioles fans. Earl made his passion for the Orioles known both on and off the field. On behalf of the Orioles, I extend my condolences to his wife, Marianna, and to his family."
Said Commissioner Selig of his passing, “Earl Weaver was a brilliant baseball man, a true tactician in the dugout and one of the key figures in the rich history of the Baltimore Orioles, the Club he led to four American League pennants and the 1970 World Series Championship. Having known Earl throughout my entire career in the game, I have many fond memories of the Orioles and the Brewers squaring off as American League East rivals. Earl’s managerial style proved visionary, as many people in the game adopted his strategy and techniques years later.
“Earl was well known for being one of the game’s most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to his wife, Marianne, their family and all Orioles fans.”
He was a man that loathed bunting and a strategy of station-to-station leaning on what Bill James would later make a cornerstone of many sabermatricians: don’t squander outs. He was often quoted as saying, “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer" win games. "The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field,” he said. Before the use of computers had made their way into the front offices of clubs in the league, Weaver had a legendary card system of notes that he had collected over his managerial career. He used the notes to his advantage and was keen on knowing particular pitcher-hitter match-ups in which hitters that might be weaker over the course of a season might have a particularly strong pitcher’s number. He knew his players well enough to know that some were weak or strong coming out of Spring Training, and adjusted for it. He knew his players, but rarely engaged with them. "A manager should stay as far away as possible from his players. I don't know if I said ten words to Frank Robinson while he played for me," Weaver once said. And his players often said the same of Weaver. Jim Palmer said, "The only thing Earl knows about a curveball is that he couldn't hit it," a reference to Weavers playing days. But, his system worked. The book, "Weaver on Strategy" is still a valuable read.
His rants with umpires were legendary, even if his physical stature wasn't intimidating (he was all of 5’ 7”). Weaver saw his position of “getting into it” with the umpires as part of his job, not his players. "The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won't hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game," Weaver said.
Finally, one wonders if this Weaver quote will become a reality. "On my tombstone just write, 'The sorest loser that ever lived.'” I can see Weaver arguing with God now... "Whadda ya mean, I'm in heaven?!? Can't you see I haven't cross the line?!?! Get some $%&#@ glasses!!!"
Goodbye, Earl. Thanks for the memories (CAUTION: ADULT LANGUAGE):
Major League Baseball has released the 2013 Spring Training schedule, and with it, the first Spring Training exhibition game will be held on Thursday, February 21st in Fort Myers, Florida, where the Boston Red Sox will host Northeastern University. Along with that, the following day four games for charity will be played, including one in the Grapefruit League and three in the Cactus League. The first full slate of games involving all 30 Major League Clubs will take place on Saturday, February 23rd.
To add a wrinkle, the teams competing in the San Juan, Puerto Rico pool (Pool C) and the Scottsdale/Phoenix, Arizona pool (Pool D) of the 2013 World Baseball Classic will participate in exhibition games against Major League Clubs on Tuesday, March 5th and Wednesday, March 6th. Teams representing the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela will each play two games at Grapefruit League sites, while teams from Canada, Italy, Mexico and the United States will each compete in two contests at Cactus League sites. In addition, the two Semi-Finalist teams to advance from the second round in Tokyo, Japan (Pool 1) will play two exhibition games at Cactus League sites on Thursday, March 14th and Friday, March 15th before heading to San Francisco for the Championship Round of the World Baseball Classic from Sunday, March 17th through Tuesday, March 19th.
In terms of games that lead up to the regular season, there are several exhibition games at Major League and Minor League ballparks that will be played from Thursday, March 28th through Saturday, March 30th. The Houston Astros, playing their first season in the American League, will host the opening game of the 2013 regular season on Sunday, March 31st, when they welcome the Texas Rangers at 8:00 p.m. (ET) / 7:00 p.m. (CT) on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Twelve games are scheduled for Monday, April 1st and seven games are scheduled for Tuesday, April 2nd, with the first full slate of regular season games on Wednesday, April 3rd
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE THE COMPLETE 2013 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)