Saturday, May 24, 2008

spirit of seventy-six

For most of his career, my late father was a public relations executive. If you asked him to describe himself, he would simply say that he was a writer. He had a journalism degree and worked as a reporter for a newspaper and for a wire service before going into p.r. Last week I posted a letter he wrote to the White House in 1978. In honor of his birthday, I will post another one today. As before, I am as interested in his writing style as in the content of the letter.

My parents listened to "Rambling With Gambling" every morning on WOR-AM. This letter is addressed to the show's sportscaster, Don Criqui. In his spare time, my father sang with the Glee Club of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. You'll need to know that when you get to the last paragraph.
April 19, 1977

Mr. Don Criqui
1440 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Dear Don:

It may be the advent of spring, retrogressive insomnia, or simple weakness of bladder as age advances that caused me to be awake this morn at 5:45 to hear your commentary concerning baseball as seen by two faculty members of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.

Much of what you reported they said appears to be sound and, from what I know of baseball through an association with it last year during its labor difficulties, a fair assessment of its problems. There is no doubt that fuller stadia and better television markets produce richer teams. Whether the 2.2 million break-even attendance figure holds for every team, it certainly seems a fair projection of what is needed through the turnstile to stay out of the red.

If you consider that last year's total major league attendance was 31,318,331 for 24 clubs, each then averaged only 1,304,930 or 895,070 below their estimated break-even level.

As politicians and marketing experts know, trying to get two million people to commit themselves to anything is a tough assignment.

It has been argued that the season is already too long, but the main part of the season still only runs from the second week in April to the end of September and has for many years. It is only the playoff system that extends it into mid-October, and this frankly is a creature of television. By playoff time, the season has already ended for 22 of the 26 teams, even though national attention (and highest television revenue) is focused intensely upon the remaining four divisional and then two league champions for the following three weekends.

The one idea the Wharton guys had that amused me, however, was their suggestion that baseball should rely more upon colleges to develop their player talent.

Are they, in effect, saying that the baseball industry should rely upon a government subsidy to train their entry level personnel?

Why not, you say, doesn't football and basketball? And what's this government subsidy stuff?

Well, isn't it? After all, a glance over the player rosters of major professional teams reveals that most of the players (as is true of most of the collegiate graduates) are from state supported colleges and universities. And those athletes that generally qualify for professional ranks do so because they have been outstanding athletes in high school and college. As such, they have been on athletic scholarships, which means that the taxpayers have been picking up their tuition, books, laboratory, and room and board costs.

As skilled athletes entering the labor field of professional sports, have they not been coached, trained, supported, and apprenticed with government funds at taxpayer expense? Isn't that a subsidy?

Sure scholarships come out of athletic department funds that are supposed to be self-supporting. But the institution that they attend isn't self-supporting. The facilities they use, the fields they play on, the classes they attend, the libraries (hopefully) they study in are all parts of the state supported institution.

It is hyperbole, of course, to talk in terms of direct government subsidy to baseball for player development. But there is an element of that existing in other sports.

In any event, government subsidized minor leagues have as much chance of catching on as does the idea of electronic voting on managerial decisions. I never viewed a ballpark crowd as an unbiased audience or considered it to hold a typical random sample of American opinion. Secondly, can you see Billy Martin reacting to the second guesser in the announcers' booth who puts the question to the crowd? I think it would make the Atlanta walk-off by the umpires last week seem like a casual perambulation. And finally, how long would those fancy electronic terminals at each seat hold up among our turf-gathering fanatics.

There is no question that baseball is faced with problems, but it strikes me that their source might be more easily traced to contracts with long-term deferred compensation clauses which can lead to the bankruptcy of franchises as the only means of getting those monkeys off the backs of a new ownership.

That doesn't bode well for the best interests of the players, the fans, or the sport. As the municipal unions in New York are learning and as the "city fathers" found out at the bond market, you can milk a good thing just so long until the day of reckoning. And that day always seems to arrive just when you are least prepared for it.

Incidentally, on the 2.2 million figure, only three clubs reached that total last year -- Cincinnati at 2.6, Philadelphia at 2.5, and Los Angeles at 2.4. The Yankees, who led the league practically all season, in a brand new ballpark managed to edge across the two million mark at 2.012, marking the first time in baseball history that four clubs had scaled the two million summit.

In the event you hadn't seen it, I am enclosing an article from Forbes magazine on this topic, and because I enjoy hearing you in the mornings, I thought (boastfully) you might like to hear some others at night. So I'm sending along two complimentary tickets to a glee club concert I am associated with. As a product of that South Bend Muscle Academy, you must have some Irish in you.

Best regards,

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OpenID JackD said...

There's a book in your dad's letters. You just have to find it!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful gift you have in your father's letters. Now, I also know where you come by writing letters and emails to companies, etc. Enjoy these memories of your dad. I know they must be very special to you.



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