Just hours before the Diamondbacks and the Yankees continued their memorable series in Phoenix and just miles south of the House that Ruth Built, the Williams Club of New York brought together an entertaining group of panelists to speak about baseball.
Jim Borton, former New York Yankees pitcher and author of the critical book Ball Four, spoke first. He began with a parody on corporation mergers and American society.
He joked that since the death of sandlot baseball, the amateur version of the sport can only be found inside prison walls, and Bouton said that by the middle of the 21st century, all the teams in baseball will be owned by one mega-media conglomeration and prisons will see the development of the PLB (Prison League Baseball).
The panelist most directly involved with Major League Baseball was Jim Duquette ’87, assistant General Manager of the New York Mets. Duquette’s comments were limited by order of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who warned that anyone speaking on the specifics of the collective bargaining agreement would be fined $1 million. Duquette was nonetheless able to give an insider’s insight to dealing with agents, player salaries and the development of Asian and Latin American players.
Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College and author of four books on the economics of baseball, including Baseball in Billions, spoke about the academic side of baseball. Zimbalist laid out the major problems ailing Major League Baseball, while stating that the problems were “not cataclysmic.” The price of going to baseball games, Zimbalist said, had changed from the equivalent of going to a movie to seeing a Broadway show.
Bill Suda ’74, Governor of the Williams Club and former Eph ballplayer, provided a fan’s perspective to the forum. Suda concentrated his comments on the inner beauty of the game, lamenting how today’s game has gotten away from the hit-and-run and the sacrifice bunt.
Frank Boulton, head of the independent Atlantic League and owner of the Long Island Ducks, was the fifth panelist and spoke from the owner’s perspective. Many of Boulton’s comments concentrated on the importance of fans in continuing the health of the game.
Rounding out the panel was Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College. Schapiro spoke as a fan of the game, as well as a former Little League coach in the San Fernando Valley.
The forum was split between a group of purists and fans who looked to bring the minutia of the game back into the fold and a group whose jobs depend on the game, and as such, needed to be concerned with more than just the double steal. The fans included Bourton, Suda and Schapiro. Bouton took his time describing the “perfect dynamics” of the game, such as the “bang, bang play to first base.” Schapiro lamented the fact that baseball cards have gone out of style with today’s generation.
On the latter were Zimbalist and Duquette. As an author on four books on many of problems that plague Major League Baseball, Zimbalist had plenty to say. He described how in today’s market, players are not valued for just their on-the-field worth, but their worth to an owner’s entire portfolio. Zimbalist took Alex Rodriguez’s $250 million contrast with Texas Ranger owner Skip Hicks as an example of how Rodriguez would never be able to bring in $250 million in “production” on the baseball field, but could as a symbolic figure for other Hicks investments.
Duquette had a good sense of the welfare of the fan throughout the forum. He supported the sentiments that weekend World Series games be played in the afternoon instead in the evening, but also noted that playing the World Series in the afternoon would never take place because of television networks. Duquette added that it was frustrating to have FOX put the playoffs on FOX Family or the regular season on cable instead of regular television, but, with the money the networks and cable companies were playing, teams’ hands were often tied.
Boulton and Zimbalist ended the forum by explaining how a franchise could assist a local city’s economy. Boulton contended that franchises help bring in other businesses in the immediate vicinity, as well as bringing in local taxes. Zimbalist claimed that every independent study had shown that cities cannot defend paying for a team on economic grounds. Instead, Zimbalist contended that teams can deliever a payoff in cultural currency.