Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too expensive.

Money And Baseball

A warm summer day at the ballpark has always held a soft spot in the heart of sports fans in America. Maybe that is a vision from back in the innocent ‘hey days’ of Major League Baseball circa 1955 when tickets were $3 and soda cost a nickel, because when you think about going to the ballpark today, you start to see why attendance is down and baseball’s position at the top of the sports mountain is fading fast. The combination of the excruciatingly long game time (can anyone spend 5 hours watching a Red Sox – Yankees game and then tack on travel time, in this day and age?), coupled with the outrageous (ludacrous maybe? is there another word we could use here?) costs kind of takes any remnants of joy out of going to a ballgame for the average fan.

Ginny Searle at Deadspin makes a pretty compelling – damning even – arguement about the fundamental issues underlying the experience at your typical Major League Baseball stadium. Let’s start with this doozy from the Washington Nationals :

Joining in the American tradition of impeding ease of access to public spaces through feckless security theater, the Nats announced that backpacks will no longer be allowed in the stadium. “The bag policy was created for the safety of all our guests,” explained the team in a statement, ignoring the fact that there is scant evidence that such security measures actually make anyone safer….The Nationals [then] waited more than a month after announcing the ban to reveal that they had partnered with D.C-based startup Binbox to “make 500 medium- and large-sized storage lockers available” in which to store bags that won’t be allowed in the stadium.

So you can’t bring back packs into the stadium but feel free to fork over some money at an hourly rate to store it in a bin outside the stadium for the 5-6 hour, super important Nationals – Rays game. Do you hear that sucking sound because that is the sound of money leaving your pocket. Later on, she does a great job of illustrating what it would now cost a family of four to attend a typical baseball game.

Let’s imagine a family of four trying to go to a baseball game a few years from now. Opening Day, 2021: four tickets cost $132 on average in 2019, so let’s say this family paid $150 per ticket. Kids have little legs, so they will need to park close: add another $50. After struggling to bring up their e-tickets on a single phone at the gate (the team recently phased out all paper tickets), our family will be informed their backpack is a no-go, and they’ll have to spend $20 to rent a Binbox. Finally, after making it into the stadium, it’s time to buy food. Hot dogs and peanuts for four, plus beer and sodas for two each will likely crest $40, and that’s assuming the parents are okay with cans of cheap frat-party beer. (For a pour of the local microbrew, it will be more like $15 each. We’ll say the conscientious parents share one.) Our imagined family had better have their credit card, too, or else they’ll need to load their cash onto a gift card before buying anything in the stadium. Maybe they will be lucky enough to have access to the State Farm-Geico Rewards Club, which the e-ticketing app will remind them of along with directions to the team store. After meandering through the State Farm-Geico Rewards Club so as not to feel like they have missed out on any perks available to them, the parents limit their children to the choice of one $25 stunt food to split. When our family returns to their seats with their Mac and Cheese Pizza Nachos just after missing a home run, they will have already spent a small fortune. If they decide not to attend another game for the rest of the season, it’s unlikely that pace of play will be a determining factor.

From what she itemized above, that’s roughly $800. For one day. At the ballpark. Let’s say it takes 45 minutes each way to get to and from the park. Let’s say the game is 3.5 hours long (average). That’s 5 hours. If they are lucky and it does not go extra innings, or if there are not 5 pitching changes in the riveting 6th inning when the batters take 6 pitches each, or if it is not a shit show getting out of the parking lot along with 50,000 of your best friends. Curious when was the last time parents had a good time taking kids somewhere for 5+ hours that was not named Disneyworld?

I used to *love* baseball. Today, I like baseball. And there is one thing I know for damn sure when I go to a baseball park: I refuse to pay $10 for a plastic cup of 3 day old Bud Light (and $6 for a Nathans Hot Dog), when I can go to a local liquor store and buy a six pack for that same price and still have $$ left over for a hot dog.

Aerodynamics of the Wiffle Ball

Let nobody fool you. Wiffle Ball is deadly serious. Not a realm just for kids in a field or city streets, there are some serious adult level Wiffle Ball leagues across the country. As with the physics of how much a curveball in baseball actually curves, the dynamics of how the multitude of trick pitches work when tossing a Wiffle Ball requires equal analysis comparing how hollow, perforated Wiffle Balls curve compared to the solid baseball.

We skewered some baseballs and Wiffle balls and used a wind tunnel to measure the forces “lift, drag, and side or lateral forces” as functions of things like the airspeed and spin rate. For the Wiffle ball, we also varied the orientation of the ball with respect to the airflow, making our own version of the manufacturer’s pitching instructions.

With perforations on either side of the ball, we found that the Wiffle balls experienced a lateral force that generally acted to push the ball toward the position of the holes. Things got more complicated when the perforations were on the upstream portion of the ball. As shown in the first image below, fog traces the airflow over a ball with the holes facing the flow, with a symmetric wake pattern suggesting that if we untethered the ball it would fly straight. The second image shows the flow over a ball with its holes facing up, and a wake that is deflected upward, meaning that the ball is experiencing a downward force.

I would be equally interested in learning the dynamics of how the hollow, thin Wiffle Bat impacts distance of hitting a Wiffle Ball when compared to a bat that was different in structure.

Photo Source: The Contentious Physics of Wiffle Ball

Memories from Wrigley

I would run outside to the small, fenced in yard behind our house in Boston and look to the right. I would see a bright glow in the sky and felt the comfort of knowing the Red Sox were home. And then, there would be this faint rumble of a roar – the crowd was happy – and that meant Dewey Evans got a hit, or Jim Ed cranked one over the Green Monster. Growing up a mere 15 minute walk from the baseball shrine that is Fenway Park can skew a baseball fan’s perspective towards a certain baseball team. So while my blind loyalty continues to be for my hometown Red Sox, it has not distorted my perspective on what I think is the best baseball experience you can ever experience – watching a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is as much about the experience in the stadium as it is the atmosphere around the stadium. It is so unique, so Chicago, and so awesome!

Wrigley is tucked away on the North Side of Chicago, on a square block that is bordered by Sheffield, Addison, Clark, and Waveland. Unlike any other baseball stadium that is still standing, Wrigley looks as though it was dropped in the middle of a Chicago residential neighborhood. Fenway is somewhat similar in this regard, as it is awkwardly wedged between Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way. But Fenway’s immediate neighborhood has, until recently, had a very industrial sort of feel to it. It had it’s charm and made the Fenway experience amazing and unique, but it has never had the coziness of Wrigleyville. But what stadium ever has, other than Wrigley?

With this year’s Cubs team making the World Series for the first time in 71 years – giving them a shot at a World Series title that has eluded their franchise since 1908 – I thought I would share a few experiences from my visits to Wrigley:

Breaking The Seal

Many moons ago, I decided to move to Chicago because I just needed a break from NYC and the East Coast. After finding an apartment on the North Side (Pine Grove Avenue), I packed up the U-Haul and took off for the midwest. I had never been to Wrigley Field at that point in my life but I knew that would change quickly. After finally arriving in Chicago with that loaded U-Haul, I happened to check the Cubs schedule and wouldn’t you know it, they were home that day. So without even bothering to unload the U-Haul that had my few worldly possessions, I went straight to Wrigley Field to catch the Cubs game. As I walked up Clark Avenue, the anticipation of going to Wrigley was high and the crowd of baseball fans started to grow. And then, as I walked past the “Cubby Bear”, the sight of the facade of Wrigley exploded in front of me…there, in the middle of the neighborhood of stores, townhouses, and city streets stood this stadium that looked like the perfect neighbor. I was hoping the pixelated marquee would read “Save Ferris”. There was a large crowd of fans mingling around the outside of the stadium and after soaking in what was in front of my eyes, I found my way to the ticket office. I bought the best ticket I could buy and with giddy excitement, passed through the gate into Wrigley. The main concourse was buzzing with fans – I was soaking it all in – and as I looked to my right, I could see the sun beating down through the stairwells to the stadium. As I ascended those stairwells to find my seat, the inside of the stadium started to come into view and all I remember was the blinding green of the Wrigley grass, the green bleachers in the distance, and the green ivy on the outfield walls. It was so green! I don’t remember who won. I do remember seeing Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning stretch. I remember stubbornly staying until the game was over because it was such a soothing, comforting baseball experience.

Beer Here!

Many months after my first visit to Wrigley, I had some friends from college visit me in Chicago for a weekend. All of us were very big fans of baseball, so inevitably, going to Wrigley was a high priority. We ended up getting some really great tickets on the lower level of the stadium along the 1st base line in short Right Field. They were amazing seats. We had already knocked down a few frosty ones before the game started and as we settled into our seats, we flagged down the nearest beer vendor. And this is why Wrigley is so awesome. The beer vendor that we found looked like he just walked in from a beach in Southern California. He had long hair, a pair of wrap around Oakley sunglasses, and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And he was slinging Old Style beer! He loaded us up and departed. The game moved along and we were enjoying our beverages, and like he had a stopwatch personalized to our pace of drinking, our “Surfer Beer Dude” was always there, ready with re-fills at just the right time. It was uncanny and, honestly, pretty impressive. Needless to say, we were four very happy baseball fans by the time the game was over.

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

Back in 2008, my wife and I went out to Chicago to visit the city and to also go to the Farnsworth House in suburban Chicago. That Friday when we arrived, we went to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley. The weather was beautiful at the start but it quickly deteriorated and some crazy rain blew through the North Side. When the rain started, the Cubs were losing by some obscene number of runs – 8 or 9 at least. The general sentiment was that the game was a lost cause. After the rain had passed and the game started up again, and my wife and I considered leaving but we decided to stick it out. And so glad that we did! The Cubs came back and won the game with a furious comeback that could only happen at Wrigley when the wind is blowing out.

Wrigley is also an important place in that it is the place where my wife and I went several times when we were first dating. It is a special place and it is a venue that every person – sports fan or not, baseball fan or not – needs to visit to just enjoy the Wrigley experience!

The Luckiest Man

This week marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth” speech when he was honored at Yankee Stadium near the end of his legendary career.

Here is a cool video where the first basemen from all the MLB teams recite his speech and then Derek Jeter concludes it:

The full transcript is below:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Lou Gehrig

Speech transcript via Lou Gehrig’s website

Ebbets Field Should Be 100 Today

ebbets_field_12


For the Brooklyn generation who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, Ebbets Field was the centerpiece of the borough. It was the baseball shrine that their fathers took them to so they could see “Dem Bums”. It was where they headed when they played hooky from school on an early summer afternoon, maybe even sneaking into the stadium to catch a game.

In 2012, Fenway Park celebrated it’s 100th birthday and this year, Wrigley Field is doing the same – the last two baseball shrines standing from that era of baseball. And if Mr. O’Malley did not move the Dodgers to Los Angeles, we may have been celebrating the same birthday for Ebetts Field in Brooklyn today.

On April 9, 1913, a cold, windy afternoon limited the attendance to about 10,000 as the Dodgers lost their season opener to the Philadelphia Phillies, 1-0, the run scoring when outfielder Benny Meyer dropped a fly ball in the first inning.

Four days earlier, in the stadium’s initial game, an exhibition against the Yankees in warmer weather, about 25,000 enjoyed a 3-2 victory as Casey Stengel, a young outfielder who later managed the Dodgers and the Yankees, hit the first home run in Ebbets Field. On March 4, 1912, when Charles Ebbets dug a shovel into frosty dirt to break ground in a Flatbush neighborhood known as Pigtown, the plan was to name it Washington Park, after the team’s old wooden home closer to downtown. But a reporter for one of the Brooklyn newspapers spoke up.

“Call it Ebbets Field, Charlie” he said. “You put yourself in hock to build it, and it’s your monument.”

But alas, all we can do today is stare at a vapid apartment building on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and wonder ‘what if’?

Besides the article linked above, here is a nice gallery of pictures from Ebetts Field Then and now via the NY Times.

Source: NY Times

Panoramics of Camden Yards

I was down in Baltimore earlier this week to catch the Red Sox play (and lose 2 of 3 to) the Orioles at Camden Yards. While there I took a tour of the ballpark and had the opportunity to take a ton of photos. I stitched together several from different angles to create the above panoramics.

Camden Yards From Field Level
Camden Yards – Field Level
Camden Yards From Left Field
Camden Yards – Left Field Club Level
Camden Yards Center Field
Camden Yards – Center Field

Toys In the Attic

A collection of around 700 baseball cards dating back to 1910 were recently found in an attic in Ohio. The cards included a perfect set of E98 (the name of the card series) from around 1910 and a Honus Wagner card that was graded mint. The unique element of this find was the near pristine condition of all of the cards.

The best of the bunch was sold in three lots — one, which sold for $286,800, was a nearly complete E98 set, the name of the the series the cards were issued under, and another was a Honus Wagner card that was judged to be in perfect condition by Professional Sports Authenticator, a company that grades cards on a 1-to-10 scale based of their condition. It brought $239,000.

Karl Kissner, who unearthed the cards in February in the town of Defiance with [Karla} Hench, his cousin, said they belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. They think he gave away the cards at his meat market and stashed the extras in his attic and forgot about them. One of Hench’s daughters kept the house until she died last October, leaving everything inside to her 20 nieces and nephews.

The cards were auctioned off Thursday evening during the National Sports Collectors Convention being held in Baltimore, MD.

via ESPN.

Baseball Flow Chart

With baseball’s Opening Day/Week (that distinction is a post for another day) upon us, here is a handy dandy flow chart for all those re-evaluating your team loyalties or transitioning from “a fan of the game” to “I need to start to follow a specific team”. Start in the middle and follow the flow. Click on the image for a larger version.

Via Interpretation By Design

Rickey’s The Best

Ricky Henderson Stealing Second Base – Oakland A’s

Twenty five random but hilarious stories about Ricky Henderson, who played for multiple MLB teams but spent the majority of his career with the Oakland A’s and NY Yankees.

The story went that a few weeks into Henderson’s stint with the Mariners, he walked up to [John] Olerud at the batting cage and asked him why he wore a batting helmet in the field. Olerud explained that he had an aneurysm at nine years old and he wore the helmet for protection. Legend goes that Henderson said, “Yeah, I used to play with a guy that had the same thing.” Legend also goes that Olerud said, “That was me, Rickey.”

Henderson played with Olerud on the Blue Jays and the Mets.

And another…

To this day and dating back 25 years, before every game he plays, Henderson stands completely naked in front of a full length locker room mirror and says, “Ricky’s the best” for several minutes.

via American McCarver

Red Sox vs The World

Earlier, I was over at Flip Flop Fly In, the awesome site by Craig Robinson that has all sorts of baseball infographics. I was intrigued by one that compared the all time records of the White Sox and the Red Sox (a venerable battle of the, er, Soxes), and it got me thinking about how the Red Sox have done against other teams. So as Craig does, I headed over to Baseball Reference to check out the details and channel my inner Cliff Clavin.

Since 1901, the Red Sox have won a total of 8,877 games, while losing 8,270 (across AL and NL teams, although the vast majority of the games have obviously come against AL teams), giving them an all time winning percentage of .518. For comparison, that ranks the Sox 4th all time behind the Yankees (.568), the NY/SF Giants (.538), and the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers (.524) and basically tied with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Red Sox have had the most success against the Baltimore Orioles, winning 1,148 games against 930 losses, for a .552 winning percentage. Sadly, the Sox have had the least success against the Yankees, with 950 wins against 1,127 losses, or 177 games below .500.

What’s worse, the Yankees are one of only two AL teams who have scored more runs than the Sox in head to head competition. The Yanks are averaging 8% (0.39 more runs per game) more runs per game when playing the Sox.

On a relative basis, the Red Sox have had the most success against the Tampa Bay Rays, winning 60% of the game against them (139-92).

Surprisingly, the other AL team that has given the Red Sox trouble is the Cleveland Indians. The Indians are averaging 3% (0.14 RPG) more runs per game vs the Red Sox, and have beaten the Sox 1,019 times (vs. 956 wins by Boston).  The only other AL team that the Red Sox have a losing record against is, of all teams, the Kansas City Royals. The Royals hold a 2 game advantage over the Red Sox as of today, however the Red Sox have outscored them by about 5% on a per game basis.

The Red Sox have the most absolute wins against the Orioles, the Oakland A’s (1,053), and the Detroit Tigers (1,018). They are the only three teams who the Sox have won over 1,000 game against. The next closest team to the 1,000 win plateau is the aforementioned Indians.

So there you go, a quick synopsis of what the Red Sox have done against the American League since 1901. You can see the full grid of stats against all MLB teams here. I didn’t include NL teams as there are just not enough games played against that league, leaving the data a bit unstable since there were so few games to draw from. One item that was interesting within the set of NL teams was that the Sox have only played the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds 6 times each during the regular season.

No Balls And Two Strikes

How can two marquee franchises in the two biggest markets in the country be in such disarray? And why are they being handled so differently by MLB? It’s because of the Major League Baseball “Buddy” system.

Bud Selig’s golf buddy Fred Wilpon got taken to the financial cleaners by Bernie Madoff, is now getting sued by the trustee of Madoff’s victims, the Wilpon’s are begging for loans and trying to sell up to 49% of the Mets (so they can still be in control…if only by the skin of their teeth) and the Mets are in an epic state of disarray. But a discussion about MLB taking over the Mets is not on the table.

The LA Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has been dragged through the tabloids because of an ugly divorce, he has run this storied franchise into financial disarray through his real estate dealings (and the hangover from the housing crisis that just won’t go away), and he’s scoring rouge loans from Fox TV (MLB’s broadcast partner) to meet payroll.

So how is it that MLB made a shotgun decision to take over operations of the Dodgers yesterday yet are letting the NY Madoffs Mets continue to beg for funding? I admit not to knowing the gory details, but you can’t tell me that the Mets are in any better a financial or operational situation than the Dodgers. The Madoff – Wilpon situation underscored a question I always had about the Wilpon’s financial “fortune” – how exactly did they do it? Smoke and mirrors come to mind. The McCourt situation is just as big an epic #fail. To me, Selig’s taking over of the Dodgers, and not doing the same with the Mets, reeks of cronyism – a “Buddy” system.

But hey, lets go ahead and keep a painfully long 162 game schedule AND expand the playoffs so we can sit in 28 degree weather off of Lake Erie (or in Fenway or in Yankee Stadium) for the first ever 5 hour long prime time baseball game in December.

The Real Rocket

There are baseball legends, and then there are baseball legends. And while I never had the pleasure of seeing Bob Feller play a game, in my mind there was always this mythical aura about career, his fastball, and his legendary and intimidating pitching skills. He was one of those larger than life personalities that you thought would live forever, but alas that didn’t happen as he died last night after a battle with leukemia and pneumonia .

Ted Williams called Mr. Feller “the fastest and best pitcher I ever saw during my career. . . . He had the best fastball and curve I’ve ever seen.” Stan Musial called him “probably the greatest pitcher of our era.”

When you have Ted Williams and Stan Musial saying that, you know he was good. I don’t have any stories of when I saw him pitch, or when I happened to meet him. But as a baseball fan and a “student” of the game, it is players like Feller who remind me of the beauty of the game of baseball when it was not corrupted by money, steroids, and judicial hearings that are rapidly eroding this wonderful sport

More Baseball Panoramics

In early June I went down to Baltimore and Washington DC and took in two games at Camden Yards and Nationals Park respectively. Two weeks ago I was in Boston at Fenway watching the Sox come back in the 9th inning to beat the Tigers and in the process created an additional panoramic of Fenway to add to my growing collection. So here are all three for your viewing pleasure. I guess the goal now is to take panoramics from every MLB stadium. Three down, twenty seven to go.

Nationals Park – Home of the Washington Nationals

Camden Yards – Home of the Baltimore Orioles

Fenway Park – Home of the Boston Red Sox

A Tale of Four Pitchers

This weekend, the Red Sox were down in the Bronx taking on the Yankees in a typical late August four game series. The teams split the series, with each team winning two games. But here is the interesting thing. The two winning pitchers for the Red Sox were Clay Buchholtz and John Lester, who combined earn about $4MM a year. The Red Sox losing pitchers were Josh Beckett and John Lackey, who combined make around $30MM a year. Now that’s NOT getting your money’s worth.

Baseball Stadium Panoramics

This past weekend, I was down in the Baltimore-Washington area with the family. The main reason we went there was to see the Red Sox play the Orioles on Sunday. On a whim, we also went to see the Washington Nationals game in their somewhat new stadium on Saturday evening (vs the Cincinnati Reds).

With these visits to these two MLB stadiums, I took a few pictures, including stitching together a series of photos of each of the stadiums to create panoramics of each one. So here they are. Click on the images to view larger versions.

Nationals Park – Washington, DC
Camden Yards – Baltimore, MD

Buy The Field of Dreams

The iconic baseball field and house that was the centerpiece of what is still the most iconic baseball films ever is up for sale. The baseball field and house in the cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa is up for sale for $5.4MM. Bringing the film’s iconic line, “If you build it, they will come”, to reality, the owners of the field have created a cottage industry around the film and the field, keeping it open for baseball pilgrims who want to play the game there. Personally, if I ever am out in Iowa, I know I’m going to make a pit stop there in Dyersville!